How to Give to Charity When You Don't Have a Lot to Give

Talking about our charitable contributions is not something my husband and I do a lot of. For us, it's mostly a private matter, but we do like to promote the charities we support. When you don't have a lot to begin with, supporting a charity is not always as easy as writing a check.

Giving to charity, however, doesn't have to be about money. Charities need physical items -- new and gently used -- and you can supply these with a little shopping savvy.

My first tip may be obvious to most deal-hounds, but it wasn't always to me: Sign up for store mailing lists left and right and use those points and coupon offers to shop for charities.

It's so simple, and I find, really fun and fulfilling.

My husband and I favor women and children's charities, such as W.E.A.V.E. and the Sacramento Children's Receiving Home, both of which have wish lists of needed items. At Christmastime, they have gift wish lists. It's important to check wish lists as charities list what they don't need or do not accept -- toy weapons, as an example.

Since we don't have children of our own, we especially love toy shopping. It's the perfect excuse to browse the toy aisles and pick out the Barbies, Hot Wheels and Nerf footballs we kind of still want for ourselves.

I get the best deals from Shop Your Way Rewards (Kmart and Sears) and Kohl's. (Is it not kind of like Christmas whenever those $10 off a $10 purchase postcards come in the mail from Kohl's? I've received three in the last two months.)

Just as an example: I recently had a SYW offer for $23 off a footwear purchase of $23 or more at Sears. By shopping the sale, I got three pairs of toddler shoes without spending a cent of my own money. The order would have normally been over $40 -- ridiculous for tiny toddler shoes, no matter how stinkin' cute they are.

It may sound a bit off, but Victoria's Secret is another great store to use for charity. For one, charities need bras and underwear, but also, with those $10 off a $10 purchase coupons they send, you can buy their bubble bath/body wash/shampoo combos and only have to spend a few bucks of your own money. The charities we give to request name-brand bath products. Bath and Body Works and JC Penny send out similar coupons.

I also find that these store freebies and great deals help remind me to give year-round, and not just at Christmas.

To keep the store emails under control, I sign up with my Gmail account, so everything automatically gets filtered into one folder. I also sign my husband up to get double the deals.

Signing up for Freecyle and watching the free section on Craigslist are also smart ways to collect gently-used items for charity.  

Yard sales and estate sales are full of treasures charities need. The best time to shop a yard sale or estate sale is at the end of the day when the sellers would rather give everything away than pack it up or haul it back into the garage. Arrive prepared with bags or boxes to fill with clothes and small household items. Do a sniff-check to ensure the items are not from a smoking environment.

Some charities will even upcycle your old furniture for profit. We gave away a well-used Ikea arm chair to West Coast Mastiff & Large Breed Rescue. The charity turned it into an adorable dog bed for resell.

With store freebies, Freecycle, Craigslist and yard sales, it's really easy to give to charity when you don't have a lot to give.