Tag Archives: give back

7 Easy Ways to Give Back Right Now

helping hands giving back volunteering Have you helped someone today? Did you volunteer this week? Are you waiting to “give back” when you have more money or when someone asks for your help?

Well, there’s no time like the present. You can donate your time and energy to a good cause that needs you right now.

First, think about the skills or services you have to give. Are you crafty and good with your hands? Do you like to work outdoors? Are you organized and detail-oriented? All of these skills can be put to good use helping others.

Next, what do you like to do? Trying to force yourself to help with charitable activities that don’t appeal to you will discourage you very quickly. If you’re introverted and can’t sing, you probably shouldn’t go Christmas caroling. If needles and blood make you squeamish, you may not want to help at a blood drive. Find what inspires you and do it!

And last, make it a habit. When giving back becomes part of your routine and who you are, it becomes easy to find the time and inspiration to volunteer.

Here are 7 easy ways you can give back right now:

Start in your community
Just about every community has an animal shelter, food bank or pantry, homeless shelter or senior center. These organizations can always use more hands. Many times you can get into a routine of helping once a week at the same time and same place. You can build relationships with the staff and those you assist. And, you can turn giving back into a habit.

Donate old stuff
We all have perfectly good items that we no longer use. You can go through your closet and clean out the clothes you don’t wear. You may have a storage area that is just a dumping ground for all those things you never use anymore. Get rid of what you don’t need and donate it to people who will use it.

Exercise for a good cause
You can raise money for a good cause and motivate yourself to be more fit at the same time. Participate in a charity bike ride or a run/ walk event. Many big non-profits hold these types of events all over the country. Simply go online and search for charity walks, runs or rides near you. Signing up for an event will motivate you to train and will help others in the process.

Support local arts programs
You can volunteer at local museums, community theaters or even your YMCA. Local public radio and TV stations may even take volunteers. You may be able to help out at the local library. There are many ways you can support the arts and have some fun, too.

Help in your neighborhood
You can run errands for your elderly neighbors or give them a ride to doctors’ appointments. You can deliver meals to the elderly or disabled. You can offer to rake leaves, mow the lawn or do some painting or home repairs. You may find that your older neighbors just enjoy having company.

Be a tutor
You can volunteer to be a reader at your area elementary school. Or, you might be able to mentor or tutor children. With cuts in school funding, many schools might appreciate having volunteers who can provide additional support and assistance. You may also be able to teach English as a second language or help with adult learning classes.

Connect with national non-profits
Large non-profit organizations need help, too. You can sort clothes at your local branch of the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The American Red Cross can use volunteers to help at local blood drives. The United Way is busy all across the country, and Habitat for Humanity can always use more hands.

It’s time to make volunteering and giving back part of your routine so that it becomes a habit. You can volunteer with friends or family in order to spend more time together and strengthen those relationships. Or, you can meet new people and find friends you might not have met otherwise. Giving back helps you create a greater life balance and overall satisfaction while also doing great things for others.

What are some of the groups or activities that you’ve been involved with? How have you benefited from giving back?

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How to decide where to volunteer

Find your passion choose where to volunteerEarlier this year, we wrote about the 5 surprising benefits of giving back. Volunteering can be very rewarding – for those you help and for you.

You may be thinking about volunteering, but you just don’t know how to get started or where to volunteer. It may help you to first take a look at the reasons why people volunteer.

Why do people volunteer?

Knowing why you want to volunteer may help you decide where you should volunteer. Here are a few of the reasons people volunteer:

Give back
The most obvious reason that people volunteer is to give back and do something good for others. You may feel that you have been fortunate and want to help others who are struggling. You may have a personal reason for wanting to volunteer. For instance, you may love animals and want to help out at an animal shelter. You may have had a sick relative who received home health care or hospice care, and you want assist others in that situation.

Do something new
You may like to experience new things and create new opportunities. You may want to do something that is out of your comfort zone. You can gain a deeper understanding of how other people live, the challenges they face and learn something new about the world. Volunteering can even be a way to open up your mind and learn something about yourself.

Make friends
Volunteering can be a great way to meet people and make new friends. You will find people with similar backgrounds and passions. You can feel a sense of belonging working alongside others who are interested in the same things as you.

Learn new skills
By volunteering, you can learn new skills and gain experience that you can use in your career. Many employers like to hire employees who have relevant experience in their field. You can also determine if you might like a particular career by doing volunteer work first.

Have fun
You will most likely choose to give back because it’s fun. Volunteering can be difficult, dirty, stressful, sad and rewarding. You will do it anyway because you enjoy it, or because at the end of the day your accomplishments are reward enough.

Once you know why you want to volunteer, it can help you narrow your choices as you decide where you want to volunteer.

Here are 5 steps to help you choose where to volunteer:

1. Find your passion
What issues do you feel strongly about? You may want to help cancer patients, work with the elderly, foster animals or mentor children. You can find groups that serve the areas you are interested in. Or, you may already give money to these types of organizations. You can take the next step and become a volunteer for them.

2. Identify your unique skills
You may have unique skills that you can incorporate into your plans to volunteer. Maybe you are good at landscaping and can volunteer to help beautify local parks. You may enjoy teaching and can mentor kids or adults. You might be good at sports and could coach a youth league. You can incorporate your special skills into helping a cause you are passionate about.

3. Talk to others
Where do people you know volunteer? You can ask around in your own personal network to find organizations that others might recommend. You may be able to join a friend or colleague where they volunteer to see if it’s a good fit for you.

4. Determine a good fit
Do you want to volunteer on a regular basis or sporadically as needed? What organizations fit your passions and unique skills? Which volunteer opportunities have been recommended by others? Narrow down your choices and find one that best suits you.

5. Get to know the organization
If you aren’t already familiar with your choice, visit their website and read more about them. Call or email the organization to ask any questions you might have. As we mentioned earlier, you can also volunteer with someone who already assists the organization.

You’re ready to give back! So go on and take the plunge. You may find that volunteering means as much to you as those you help.

Do you volunteer? How did you choose an organization?

7 places to volunteer this summer

Give helping hand volunteer in summerWhen I think about giving back, donating money is often the first thing that comes to mind. We hear on the news about natural disasters, and we are encouraged to give a helping hand to others around the world.

I absolutely applaud giving money or your time to any cause that moves you. Yet, there are many worthy causes right in our own communities. Summer is a great time to volunteer and give back right in your neighborhood.

And, if you have kids, summer break provides the perfect opportunity to learn about the rewards of giving back. You can even get your workplace involved in volunteering in your area.

Here are 7 places you, your family or your company can volunteer in your community:

Local festivals
In my neighborhood, we have a local arts festival that can always use volunteers. Your community may have local festivals, bazaars, fairs, parades or other opportunities to help out with popular summer events. You can enjoy the festivities while giving back to your community.

Summer camps
You may have summer camps or day camps for the kids in your area. They are always looking for volunteers to help them with programs, cooking, cleaning or assisting with activities. You may have a special talent – such as painting, scrapbooking, sewing, etc. – that the kids will enjoy and the camp will appreciate your expertise.

Park districts
Many parks or playground areas could use some cleaning up in the summer. You can contact a local park district and see if they have certain days for park beautification and want volunteers. You can also pick a nice day and take a few trash bags with you to the park. If you make it a habit to clean up the park or playground, your kids will also learn the value of keeping their environment beautiful.

Hospitals, nursing homes or hospice
Hospitals always need help any time of year. The types of things you can volunteer to do may vary greatly. You may be able to greet people, deliver flowers and gifts to patient rooms or read to children or other patients. You can also visit your local nursing home and provide companionship, read or play games with patients.

You can volunteer for hospice. While it can be an emotionally difficult experience, it can also be very rewarding. You may become the person the family relies on to visit the patient, run errands or do simple tasks for the family.

Mentoring
Many young boys and girls have only one parent, live with grandparents or have foster families. You can make an amazing, positive difference in a child’s life simply be spending time with him or her. Summer is a great time to get started with endless fun activities available for you to get acquainted. You can contact your local Big Brother, Big Sister or Boys and Girls Club. Your area may also have summer activities or group events where you can volunteer and provide mentoring for local youth.

Church
Your church is a great place to volunteer. During the summer, you may be able to help with youth group outings, Bible school, special Sunday school trips or other events. While you may already volunteer at your church, find out if there are more ways you can help.

Animal shelters
If you are an animal lover and looking for ways to volunteer in your community, an animal shelter may be a perfect fit for you. With warm weather, the shelter animals will enjoy spending even more time walking or playing outdoors. You can get some exercise, take advantage of the weather and make an animal’s day. Plus, spending time with animals can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and just make you feel good!

So, get out there this summer and find ways to volunteer in your community. You may even be surprised by the benefits of giving back.

Do you have favorite places that you like to volunteer during the summer? Inspire us with your stories!

Tips to achieving a balanced budget

balanced budgetWho wants to live on a budget? I sure didn’t. When I was in my 20s and newly married, I bought what I wanted when I wanted it. Then, I realized that I was spending more money than my husband and I made each month. That approach can quickly become a downward spiral into debt, stress and financial disaster.

We’ve all heard the sayings: Money doesn’t grow on trees. Money can’t buy happiness. Money is the root of all evil. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Yet, money is an integral and necessary part of our lives. The modern world revolves on money. While our ancestors may have been self-sufficient or bartered for goods and services, today’s currency is cash or credit.

Ask yourself: Are you being controlled by the need to have and spend money, or do you control your financial situation to create a more secure future?

After letting money control me when I was younger, I decided that I wanted to live within my means, save more for retirement and emergencies, and create a healthy relationship with money. To do that, I needed to create a budget. I have just recently updated my budget to meet my family’s goals and plans for 2013.

Here are some tips to setting up a monthly budget so that you can achieve financial balance and live a more balanced life overall:

Determine your income
How much is your net or take-home pay each month, including wages and bonuses? This figure also includes any taxable interest or investment income that can be used to pay bills or apply to retirement plans. This total is your monthly income to use as your starting point.

Track your spending
Write down everything you have spent for at least a month. If you can track several months, that is even better. Use your checking account statements, credit card bills, etc. to determine your spending patterns. Your list should include housing, utilities, healthcare, transportation, insurance, groceries, eating out, childcare, clothing, personal care, entertainment and more. This online budget worksheet covers most of the typical expenditures. When I used the worksheet, I wrote in a few categories that were unique to our family.

Define your basic needs
What do you need for basic living expenses? This list would include your house payment and related expenses, utility bills, car payments, fuel, healthcare, insurance (home, auto, life), groceries, etc. This number should be 50% or less of your monthly budget.

Set your wants
This category includes all the things you don’t necessarily need, but do help make life more enjoyable. Your wants might include entertainment (watching a movie, attending a ball game, going to an amusement park), personal care (haircuts, pedicures, massages), pet supplies, travel, and clothing that’s beyond the basics. This number should be 30% or less of your entire monthly spending.

Save automatically
It’s a good rule to put at least 10 to 20% of your earnings toward savings. If you can automatically deposit a certain amount into your savings account each month, that’s even better. You should also contribute longer-term to an IRA or 401(k) account to save for retirement. It’s also a good idea to set aside up to six-months worth of living expenses as an emergency fund. That way you have a cushion if you or your spouse lose your job, or if you have unexpected expenses.

Use cash
Once you have set the amounts for spending, saving and investing, now it’s time to put those goals to the test. Using cash instead of relying on credit cards is a good way to keep your spending in check. It’s too easy to pull out a credit or debit card to pay for the extra things you want. Before you know it, you have racked up a hefty credit card bill. If you get out a set amount of cash to cover extra expenses each month, you can keep a closer eye on your spending and help curtail unnecessary purchases.

Pay down debt
If you have outstanding credit card debt, it’s important to work toward paying it off. When you make only the minimum payments, you are paying high interest rates and it’s difficult to pay down the debt. Make it a point to pay off the credit cards just like you would a home mortgage or car loan. Ideally, you can eliminate that debt completely. Should you use a credit card, treat it like a temporary loan and pay it off in full each month.

Maybe you don’t have any credit card debt. In that case, make extra principal payments on your mortgage or car loan. The sooner you pay down those debts, the less interest you pay and the more money you have available to save or spend on other things.

Give back
Be sure to include gifts to your church or your favorite charities in your budget. By adding it to your budget you are showing that giving back is an important part of your life.

By setting up a budget, you take control of your money instead of letting your money control you. If you slip up from time to time, it’s okay. Your budget gives you a guideline to help you get back on track and continue on the path to meeting your goals. A balanced budget is a key step to achieving a balanced life. For more tips on financial planning and living your life in balance, check out the book A Completely Balanced Life.

5 surprising benefits of giving back

give backWhat is giving back? It can be something as simple as opening a door or carrying a package for someone whose hands are full. It can be as monumental as setting up a trust for a charity that’s dear to you.

And giving back can fall somewhere in between. You can volunteer in your community. You can donate money to cancer research, feeding the hungry, disaster relief or helping animals. You can support your church.

I know I have tightened my belt in recent years and become more cynical about donating money. It’s harder to trust that large organizations will spend it wisely. It seems like everyone is asking for money – from my kids’ school and the local fire department to my college and various telemarketers.

But, I can give freely of my time. And I should. One of my goals for 2013 is to give back more to my community. As I was looking into giving back, I discovered some surprising side effects to volunteering.

However, my motives need to be pure. By being altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others – you may be blessed in your own way:

Spread joy
When you give of yourself, you will spread joy to others in ways you may not even realize. And by giving joy to others, it’s hard not to experience some joy yourself. You create a connection that you may not have had otherwise. You make the world a happier place – one act of kindness and generosity at a time.

Be happier
Giving of yourself is good for your soul. When you see a smile on someone’s face, a lightness in their step or gratitude in their eyes, it’s easy to be happy. The worries and stresses of the day drop away. Volunteering can help you feel better overall, increase your self-esteem and give you greater life satisfaction.

Live longer
According to a study published in the American Psychology Association’s online journal Health Psychology, volunteers may live longer if their motivation is truly to assist others. Now, as we mentioned earlier, if you are doing it to help yourself, there is no difference in life expectancy.

Reduce depression
Volunteering gets you out socializing and interacting with others. Research has even shown that long-term volunteering can help lift depression.

Alleviate chronic pain
Volunteering may help you feel better physically, too. Again, this could be because you are getting out, moving around more than you normally might and spending time with others. If you feel like other people are counting on you, you may be more likely to keep moving even when you are experiencing pain. Or, helping others may take your mind off of your pain. Studies have shown that chronic pain may be reduced or alleviated by volunteering.

So, make plans to give back this year. Get out and give your money and your time. You may be surprised that helping others helps you feel good, too. And that means everybody wins!

How do you give back? Do you have goals to give more of yourself in 2013?

How a budget can help you create balance

balanced budgetEvery January, I panic over the amount of money I spent for Christmas. I start looking at the bills coming due and our monthly income, and I panic even more.

After a more careful review of 2012, I know that we have over spent and could live more frugally and responsibly. Why does it matter?

First, we can live without some of the things we buy. We don’t need all the “stuff.” Second, I have noticed that my kids seem to feel a sense of entitlement. If they want something, we should just go out and buy it for them. It would be good for them to understand the importance of living within a budget.

In addition, if our finances are out of balance, we will feel out of balance. It can affect relationships, stress levels and sleep habits. Here are a few more reasons to establish a budget, balance your finances and live a balanced life:

Uncover waste
When you create a budget, you see – in black and white – where your money is going. For example, without a detailed account of your spending, it’s easy to ignore how much money you are paying for meals at restaurants and on take-out. After working on my budget, I was shocked to see how much we spend on fuel (gasoline and diesel) in a month. I know I have to do a certain amount of driving, but it makes me think about planning my trips and grouping my errands together.

Reduce stress
As the person who pays the bills, I know when our funds are tight for a particular month. It stresses me out. I lose sleep at night. By having a budget in place, I can be more prepared for the bills and unexpected expenses that come up. I won’t be guessing if we have enough money for a large purchase, or if we need to wait a few months. And I will know that we have the money available to pay all the bills.

Guide spending
Your budget can help you see where you can reduce spending on extras you may not need. At the same time, you may be able to put more funds toward eliminating debt and into savings.

Eliminate debt
There is good debt, and then there is bad debt. How can debt be good? Your home mortgage is a good debt because you are building equity in real estate, which has value. Your car loan is good debt if your loan payment is reasonable. Credit cards are considered bad debt. If you have outstanding credit card balances, creating a budget can help you pay off these debts. You may also be able to put extra funds toward mortgage or car payments to pay down the loan principal and reduce the amount you pay in interest.

Set priorities
A budget helps you get a big picture view of your finances. Your spouse may have different financial goals than you do. You may want to reduce debt, and your spouse may want to save for a vacation. By seeing your budget on paper, you can discuss the priorities you each have and find a way to align your priorities with your budget.

Build new habits
By working within a budget, you can develop new spending habits. You may think about that pair of new shoes or – in my husband’s case – new power tool before you buy it. With the big picture in mind, you realize that your budget plan is more important than these items.

Grow savings
Savings can include your emergency fund or the money you invest for retirement. If you think about saving from every dollar earned, it becomes easier to put the concept of savings in perspective and increase the amount you set aside. You can add your emergency fund and retirement contributions to your budget and make them as important as the house payment and the electric bill.

Give back
Making donations to your church or a favorite charity should also be a part of your financial plans. If you add it to the budget, then it is top of mind and is included in your monthly finances. You’ll feel good knowing that you are improving your financial situation and helping others.

Now that you know WHY it’s important to establish a household budget, next week we will write about HOW to create a budget. Do you have other reasons for living within a budget? Do you have tips for making a budget? Let us know!