The season of giving: Financial expert suggests ways to give on a budget

Donations don't always have to be around the holidays, charities are looking for help year-round

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – It’s once again the season of giving, but many people are worried how to give on a budget.

Last year, Americans gave more than $373 billion to charities, according to Giving USA; individuals gave nearly three-quarters of that 2015 record.

But, if you still think your donation is too small to compete with big corporations, one local financial expert says it is possible to give back on a budget.

Ray Ream, owner of Cottonwood Associates, says no matter how big or small, any donation can make a difference. Plus, donations don’t always have to be around the holidays, charities are looking for help year-round.

Ream gave five simple tips that can help people give back on a budget.

The first is to crunch the numbers,

“As you’re planning your budget, include how much you want to donate to charities. You can set aside money from each paycheck. That way, you’ll have money specifically dedicated for donations and you won’t be tempted to spend it on your holiday shopping list,” Ream said.

The second tip is to start small.

“For less than $15, you can donate to a variety of causes. Don’t limit yourself to ‘trendy’ charities but think about the issues that are important to you,” Ream said.

He suggests dropping extra change into Salvation Army red kettles or the donation boxes at a store’s checkout counter. Helping out a soldier overseas by donating gently-used cell phones or electronics is another great idea. And for those who love animals, donating a small bag of dog or cat food to a local shelter can also help out.

Buying small items at a grocery store to donate to a food shelter is also an option. Many stores have bins for people to drop off a bag of groceries and they will deliver it.

Ream’s third tip is to do some winter cleaning.

“You don’t necessarily need cash; many charities accept other donations like clothing, books, toys, furniture, sports equipment, electronics and even your old car. Make sure you photograph or document your donation and also get a receipt,” he said. “Medical donations are another way to make a big difference. Donate blood, give to the National Milk Bank or donate plasma.”

For Ream’s fourth tip, he said volunteering is a great way to give and to see the direct impact of your gift, because the most valuable resource you have to offer is you.

“Find a charity close to your heart and get the whole family involved. This is a great opportunity to teach children the value of hard work, selflessness and generosity. I encourage you to look at your skills and what you enjoy doing. You may be surprised how many organizations need the knowledge and help you can provide,” he said.

Ream has links to different charities on his website and suggests choosing a charity that puts as much of your dollars toward the cause as possible.

Ream’s final tip is to get a tax deduction.

“Getting a tax deduction is a motivator for a lot of people but there are a few things to keep in mind. When possible, it’s best to avoid donating with cash. Instead, write a check or donate with your credit card so you’ll have documentation. Always get a receipt and hang onto it until tax time. It must have the name of the organization, the date of your donation and the amount. It is important to note there are additional requirements for larger donations,” he said.

He suggested consulting a tax professional since there are maximum contribution limits based on a person’s income. He said donations need to be in by Dec. 31 to be able to claim them on 2016 taxes.

“Non-profits should not be spending more than one-third of their total budget on overhead expenses. You can check out how charities will use your donation online,” he said.

Along with all of his tips, Ream wants everyone to know that making a charitable donation in a person’s name to a cause they really care about is a great gift to give to someone who might seem to already have everything.