Let's Occupy America...with Giving

12/12/2011 9:50 am EST


Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

Instead of sitting in parks and protesting, instead of lamenting our political choices, instead of waiting for the government to figure it out...let’s occupy our country with the generous spirit of giving, writes MoneyShow.com personal finance expert Terry Savage.

This is not my traditional year-end financial advice column, outlining steps you should take now to lighten your tax burden and improve your chances of a successful retirement—though I will give those reminders at the end.

While important, that advice seems to melt in the context of all the e-mails and blog posts I receive these days—comments that are overwhelmingly reflective of an economy that has failed to grow and create jobs.

Parents worry about their adult children who have lost jobs, and are now losing their homes. Adult children worry about their parents or widowed mother who used to live on interest income, which is now non-existent.

Worry about money seems to permeate both our conscious and subconscious thinking this holiday season. Who can blame us if we attempt to carry on with the traditional shopping and gifting traditions to make it seem as if all is right in our world? So we tally the consumer-spending statistics, not the consumer-giving figures.

Yet even as you shop for your loved ones, you know in your heart that many children won’t receive presents, food bank shelves will be sparse, and groups that are dedicated to giving are low on resources.

So, Do Something!
Yes, you. No matter how comfortable—or bleak—your personal situation, do something. Pick one thing to do that will help others who are not wrapping presents for a tree they won’t have, and are not checking recipes for a dinner they won’t cook.

Occupy America this holiday season. Occupy America with goodness and generosity. Don’t just sit there and wait for the government to give—do it yourself, whether you’re giving time or money. Here are some suggestions:

  • Visit your local food bank with groceries. Yes, it’s unbelievable that people go hungry in America when we shop in stores that are bulging with goodies. Take your children with you so they can see the difference.

  • Adopt a family through your church, temple, or community organization. Many shopping malls have gift trees that list kids’ wishes. Don’t disappoint a 7-year-old who only wants a warm jacket.

  • Don’t forget seniors. The saddest e-mails I receive are from elderly women with no one to remember them on holidays. Don’t just carol at a senior center...sit and talk with an elderly person. Maybe you’ll learn something about surviving.

  • Buy dog and cat food and take it to your local animal shelter. With so many people unable to feed their pets and abandoning them, shelters are burdened.

Write a Check!
And if all of that is too personal and too emotional—write a check. Write several checks. Every community has an organization appealing for funds to make the holidays brighter, likely the United Way or a fund started by your local newspaper or bank.

If you have money to give, but don’t know which charity to support, go to www.Guidestar.com—the Web site that evaluates charities based on performance and expenses. There you can search by your area of concern, whether animal welfare or domestic violence or arts and culture. There are plenty of worthy organizations.

So that brings me to my year-end Terry’s Tips, starting with a reminder that yes, those gifts are all deductible (except for your time and love). And here are a few more things you should be doing this holiday season to plan ahead:

  • Top up your 40l(k)—at least to get the “free money” in the employer match. Ask HR to take extra pre-tax money out of your final paycheck.

  • Prepay your real-estate taxes, so you can take the deduction this year. In fact, maximize all your deductions, such as state income tax, by pre-paying if you have the cash.

  • Make energy-efficient home improvements before year-end to get tax credits.

  • Use your annual gifting ability. Every year you can give up to $13,000 to any recipient, or many recipients, without paying gift taxes, reducing your estate tax obligations down the line.

  • If over age 70 1/2, gift directly from your IRA and the withdrawal is tax-free—a provision that is set to expire at year-end.

For details on all of these year-end tax tips, consult your accountant or professional tax advisor.

But for taking action on the giving ideas at the start of this column, don’t wait: Consult your heart! Your gift of time and money will be at least as rewarding as any tax tips. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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