Living with credit, Shopping

How a desire to help can easily lead to overspending

Kelly Dilworth

For the past several months, I’ve been hiding a series of credit card payments from my husband, knowing full well that he’d be concerned I was overspending.

Some of the payments amounted to just a few dollars here and there, tacked on my grocery bill as I was checking out, or stuffed in a donation box before I ducked into a store. But they added up.

Each time I was asked at the register at the grocery store or Petco if I wanted to help fight hunger or save a homeless pet, I’d quickly punch yes on the keypad and surreptitiously hit the button that donated $3 or $5. When the cashier thanked me for my donation, I’d blush and glance over at my husband, hoping he didn’t hear that.

Other secret payments I’ve made in recent months have been much larger, taking a bigger chunk out of our savings. Some examples:

  • $50 to a regional diaper bank after Hurricane Harvey.
  • $50 to a food bank.
  • $50 to an animal shelter.
  • $20 to a disaster relief organization.
  • $10 texted by phone to the American Red Cross.
  • $50 for a friend’s mission trip to Haiti.

As news of natural disasters and other tragedies piled up on my Twitter feed, I ramped up my donations. Giving not only made me feel good, it helped me cope with my feelings of powerlessness and anxiety over the news. My home state of Texas was hit hard by Harvey. The hurricane directly affected my family and friends in Corpus Christi and Houston.

The sadder and more unnerved I felt, the more I gave.

Earlier this month, while scrolling through Twitter in the middle of the night, I came across a plea for donations for Puerto Rico and hastily charged $100 to my card to help United for Puerto Rico.

But after confessing to my husband about my latest $100 donation, I realized I had gone too far. I wasn’t hiding my donations from my husband because I thought he would disagree with them. He supports philanthropy as much as I do. I was keeping them secret because I knew, deep down, we couldn’t really afford to give away as much as I had.

One problem with donating by card or through texting is that it’s so quick and painless that you can easily get carried away.

We used to allocate a certain amount each year for donations when we tracked our spending in Quicken and adhered to a strict budget. Our family life has gotten busier and more chaotic since then, though, and as our budgeting has fallen by the wayside, we’ve stopped tallying how much we’re spending.

I don’t regret what I’ve given away in recent weeks, but I know I’ll have to cut back – particularly now that rebuilding our emergency fund is so urgent. My husband’s employment contract ends next summer, and there’s a good chance we could be forced to tap into our savings.

My urge to help those in need is still as strong as ever, though, so I’ve been researching other ways I can contribute. If you, too, are eager to make a difference, but can’t afford to financially contribute as much as you would like, here are some less costly ways to give:

1. Clean out your closets
Look closely and you’ll likely find a number of items in your closets, pantry and drawers you aren’t using, but that would be helpful to others in need. For example, you could donate used towels to your local animal shelter, old coats and scarves to a homeless shelter or furniture to the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

I recently learned I could donate my old wedding dress to Adorned In Grace, which uses proceeds to help victims of human trafficking, or to be used to make Angel Gowns for babies who have recently died.

2. Hold a garage sale
After a natural disaster, charities are often inundated with donated toys and clothes, but they don’t have the time or staff to process so many physical goods. In those situations, it’s often best to donate money instead.

If you can’t afford to make a donation by cash, check or credit card, hold a garage sale to sell off goods you would have otherwise given away and then donate what you earn.

3. Donate your time to a fundraiser or local nonprofit.
Holidays aren’t the only time to volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Nonprofits often have a year-round need for dedicated volunteers.

If your favorite charity has an annual fundraiser but your budget is tight, you can donate your time. You’re supporting a cause you believe in, helping collect the funds for the group.

4. Publicize giving to your friends.
Another good way to maximize your impact is to utilize your social media accounts as a fundraising tool for your favorite causes. You may even inspire your friends to give a little bit themselves simply by sharing articles about how to help after a disaster or by publicizing your own modest giving.

Finally, if you can donate money to a good cause, be sure to keep the receipts. Depending on your financial situation, you may be able to significantly reduce your tax burden if you itemize your donations and claim them as a deduction.

Since I’ve given more in the past year than I ever have, I think this is the first year I’ll itemize my donations myself and see if we, too, qualify for a tax break.

See related: Charity donations made in cash are more meaningful, Giving to charity at the click of a button, 4 apps that make it easy to help others

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