Days 365+85 Thank you cardAs we approach the season of Thanksgiving and Gift Giving, my mind turns to how to be generous. What is truly helpful vs. what  just adds to another’s clutter, feeds an addiction, or stresses the environment. First, let me say that it is possible to overthink this generosity thing. At its core generosity is about letting go of money or stuff that I don’t need in order to help another person. It is a manifestation of Love. Still, there are six thorny challenges plus one reminder that I’d like to pose to you.

BeggarOne practice I decided to do last year during Lent was to give $20 to a corner panhandler each time I drove by. Fine idea, but what to do when Lent was over? Do I still give? My previous $20 donations were a stretch for me. Do I give less? Do I take a different route? I wasn’t sure.

One son said he never carries cash so it wouldn’t be an issue for him. I asked participants at a Living Lightly workshop. They suggested buying a stash of coupons for a nearby fast-food restaurant or keeping some non-perishable food like granola bars in the car. I’m well aware that giving cash can be abused since some people may use the money for alcohol or drugs, so giving food directly made sense. Still, my goal was not just to be efficient but to stretch my own attitude of generosity and not to pre-judge.

My own family has different approaches to this. When one son lived in Indonesia for a year, his policy was to give to anyone who asked since he figured he had an income and the street beggars usually didn’t. When our daughter did Peace Corps in Mali for several years she did the opposite. She said that giving to beggars reinforced their assumption that all white people had money to spare. Since she lived among the poor and on a low income she didn’t want to encourage that attitude. My husband always gives. I seldom do. I’m trying to change my practice, mostly to enlarge my heart.

I addressed my criteria for giving to charities in my last blog, Inheriting and Investing Money. In summary:

  1. Tithe (Give at least 10% away.)
  2. Give to causes that I am personally involved with.
  3. Choose causes in which my relatively small contribution can make a difference.

Yes, too much focus can be put on gift-giving at Christmas time. Still, it’s nice to know that someone is thinking about you and trying to decide what you might like as a treat. One year our family decided to buy nothing new for each other.  It was a challenge. It was humorous. Read  about it here. I’ve also collected a number of ideas for Frugal Gifts for Family and Friends.  Maybe some of them will fit you.

Days 365+110 Bling

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Have you ever been to a conference, wanted to take a small gift to a host, won a white elephant gift that you can’t use? We all pick up trinkets and bling here and there and sometimes pass them on to others. I don’t want to be ungrateful or a miser but I really don’t need one more key chain, shirt with a logo on it, or other memorabilia type trinkets. It seems to me that things that are consumable (food) or useful (pens or water bottles), would be more appreciated and make less clutter in our lives than another plaque.Days 203- Extra campaigning

Give to anyone who comes to the door asking for a donation or selling something – especially kids. Been there. Done that.
Addendum 12-12-15: I’ve just been scammed. A couple days ago an older teen came to the door selling packaged cookies for Holmes H.S. He said the requested donation was $10. I was in a hurry so, in the spirit of buying from any youth who comes to the door, I said yes. Besides several of our kids graduated from this school.
Later, my husband asked how I knew he was from Holmes and why did I pay with cash. Hmmm. I called the high school and they said they did not have such a fundraising drive going on and besides they always have an order form for goods. I then called our neighborhood communicator and asked her to send an email blast to the neighbors about this. Then I called the police to alert them to watch for this kid walking the neighborhood.
a. If in doubt, pay with a check. (A scammer will not accept a check because it identifies him/her. If it’s made to the school, they won’t be able to cash it.)
b. Don’t be in a hurry.
Although this was a rip-off, still the fellow apparently needed money. Was there a better way to respond to his need that wouldn’t reinforce lying? One neighbor suggested offering him some household chores to earn money.
PS:  The cookies were stale and unappealing.

When it comes to material things, it’s hard to know how much is enough and how much is too much? I don’t consider myself wealthy but then it often depends on whom I am comparing myself to. To avoid kidding myself or being a tightwad I’ve found that rubbing shoulders with the have nots keeps me honest. Frequent contact with those who have less material goods than I do keeps me from always measuring myself against the wealthy and feeling I’m poor by comparison.

Be grateful. The gospel about the rich young man (Mark 10:17-27) continues to make me squirm. BUT, I try to focus on the wonderful gifts – many free like nature, people, and art – that are around me. Wallowing in guilt does not glorify God. Give thanks.