How to support charitable causes while dealing with debt

The holidays are known as the season of giving, which for many Canadians includes giving to charity. But in Alberta, which has the highest consumer debt levels in the country, many people are looking to receive help from charities in December, and so far, donations have been slow to arrive. The Christmas Bureau of Edmonton is facing nearly a 12 per cent increase in families in need this year, but has only reached 20 per cent of its fundraising goal as of last week. They are hoping to provide holiday hampers, toys and gift cards for 67,000 Edmontonians this season. With there being more needy people in some provinces this time of year, there are several ways you can contribute to charity, even when you’re dealing with debt.

Giving a little goes a long way

A 2008 study from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found that giving, not earning, money can increase happiness—for as little as $5 per day. By asking 1,000 New York Times readers to record their happiness and spending habits, the study found that more money spent on other people led to more happiness for the giver.

While giving some spare change to the Salvation Army at the mall can make you feel better, if you plan on donating, it’s best to include that expense in your holiday budget. Whether you make giving to charity a priority, or intend to give only if you have extra income, you still want to keep track of any donations in your budget.

Neighbours in need

With rising household debt across the country, and recession-level job losses out west, it can’t be assumed that the needy are simply those staying in homeless shelters. Many Canadians could use a helping hand over the holidays, and it’s likely that there’s someone near you who would be grateful for your assistance. Even a simple gesture like baking cookies or offering to help with Christmas dinner could go a long way.

If you can’t give money, donate your time

Not all charitable donations have a dollar figure attached. You could always volunteer to help out at your local food bank or serve meals at a homeless shelter. Or perhaps you have some skills that you could put to use, by performing at a benefit concert or finding ways to raise money online. There is a variety of ways you can help others over the holidays, and many small gestures could go a long way.

Giving second-hand gifts a new home

Finally, if you have books, toys or household items that could use a new home, you can donate them to charity or give them to those less fortunate. Organizations like Toys for Tots generally ask for new toys, but groups like Goodwill or the Salvation Army often accept gently used goods. For someone who might not be able to put presents under the tree, a secondhand gift can still provide holiday joy.

If you’re looking for Canadian charitable campaigns you can support, has an online listingthat allows you to search by province, category and campaign type. You can even choose charitable gift ideas based on price range, to find a campaign that fits your budget. Although not all campaigns currently listed are holiday-related, you’ll still be supporting a good cause, in any case.

Has household debt affected your charitable giving this holiday season? Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #DebtFreeDecember #BDOdebthelp