We see it in the news every day.  Unemployment is running high, domestic production of goods is low, small businesses are struggling, etc.  Any way you slice it, our economy is really struggling.  Meanwhile, in China, factories have been gearing up to full production capacity in anticipation of another huge holiday season in America.  Consider the things you bought last year:  mass produced phones and tablets, toys, and useless gadgets that all have one thing in common… MADE IN CHINA.

Do you want to give?  I mean REALLY give, this holiday season?  You can help boost our economy and support your town during the holidays!  Going to big box stores to buy mass produced, imported items to stuff under the tree supports a handful of local workers who undoubtedly brave the elements at 3:00 AM to engage in the onslaught of mindless consumerism that is “Black Friday”.  However, there is another way.  A way to spend thoughtfully for those you care about that can create a widely felt ripple effect in your community and country with your same holiday budget.  Consider these five alternatives when giving this holiday season:

  1. Buy Local:  Look around your community and neighboring towns.  Consider giving local goods and services to spoil your friends and family while providing a much needed local economic boost.  And there is no better time then this weekend for Small Business Saturday. Plus, a lot of local businesses will be having deals to get people to come out! Everyone loves a massage, a carwash or detailing, or even lawn care or snow removal.  Buy services in advance from local businesses.  You will get a gift certificate or voucher to give to your appreciative recipient.

    Find local art supporters and artists, as well as local musicians who perform at concerts or sell their music outright.  Check out your small area restaurants as well.  Who doesn’t love a free meal at a unique and likely new (to them) restaurant.  Are they into crafts, or woodworking, or sports?  Find mom and pop craft stores, sporting good stores, etc and give gift certificates toward their favorite hobby.  The possibilities are endless when you take a good look around at area small businesses.   Try to spend 50% or more of your budget on local businesses!

  2. Made in the USA:  Consider the economic impact you could have on America if you bought American made on half or more of your gifts.  Shoot for 100%! Talk about giving…you could give cool gifts and also give economic boost and stability to millions of Americans!  Check out the search engine www.madeinusa.org for lists of American made products from toys and electronics to automobiles and sporting goods.  Give the gift of genuine concern and support for your fellow American…don’t buy unless it says “Made in the USA”.
  3. Charitable donations:  There are three avenues for giving with local charities:  You can volunteer your time and skills to an often overworked staff, you can give items to support toy and coat drives, holiday meals for the needy, etc, or you can donate money to provide an economic boost to local non-profits that are often struggling for funding and donations.

    Why not try all three?  Donate a morning helping to cook a meal or delivering gifts or meals to families in need.  Top that off with a donation to your local toy or bike drive, or perhaps a couple new coats for teens in need.  Try to donate any unneeded items that may provide local support to families.  Top that off with a generous donation of 10% of your holiday budget.  You could provide a holiday meal to a family who would otherwise go without, or give gifts to children who would normally see an empty tree on Christmas morning.

  4.  Tip, tip, tip:  Think about all of the local services you enjoy:  your morning paper is on the porch every morning, the mail delivery in your neighborhood is like clockwork, and your sidewalk is clear before you even open the door in the morning.  There are many services we purchase regularly that are likely local providers:  babysitting/daycare, salon professionals, or your favorite server at a restaurant.  Find a way to slip them an extra $10, or $20!!  Take it from a 14 year service industry veteran…we remember our tippers!  Who knows, you could just make someone’s day!
  5. Random Acts of Kindness:  Have you run out of money already, or perhaps your holiday budget is nonexistent this year.   Consider a random act of kindness.  Show up at your sister’s house ready to tackle that big project she was talking about, or shovel out the elderly neighbor.  Better yet, bring a thermos of hot chocolate and visit for an hour or so after you are done.   Volunteer your time and skills instead of meaningless gifts or no gifts at all.  Your parents would love it if you were their servant for a day!

There are many ways to make a difference, and this just feels like the time of year to get started.  Remember these five simple ways to make a REAL difference with your holiday budget:  1) shop locally, 2) buy American, 3) give to those in need, 4)  tip, tip, tip, and 5)  be kind.  Imagine the changes your town if we all took these guidelines with us to do our holiday shopping this year.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend! Be safe and remember, if possible, BUY LOCAL this weekend for Small Business Saturday!

Author Malcolm Johannessen is a HUD certified Housing Counselor at LSS Financial Counseling. Visit our website to learn more!

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