- This Tuesday the 13th, and again on January 30th, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is offering free advice through the Jump-Start Your Retirement Plan Days-- on the 13th or 30th between 9am and 6pm Eastern, call 1-888-919-2345 or chat online to get your questions answered by personal financial advisors.
- On Thursday (January 15th) between 5pm and 10pm, bring a gym membership card to Baskin-Robbins and get a free 2.5 oz scoop of any BRight Choices flavor (50% less fat than our regular ice cream)-- find a location here.
- Big Bowl's offering a free Chinese New Year's meal to anyone born in the Year of the Ox (1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, etc...)
- And you can download a font that uses 20% less ink than ordinary fonts (because it's full of holes) yet is apparently almost indistinguishable at small sizes-- check out EcoFont.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Posted by Britt at 1/11/2009 11:56:00 PM
Monday, December 29, 2008
For people who are unlikely to itemize deductions on their taxes every year, bunching your deductions into a single year is often a very effective strategy. The general idea is that you try to combine as many tax-deductible expenses into a single year as possible in order to get maximum benefit from itemizing, and then the following year you can go back to the standard deduction. This can work with all sorts of deductions, but it's especially effective for charitable donations because there's so much flexibility in when you choose to give.
And now more than ever is a good time to give a double dose of donations to your favorite charities. Donations are down, thanks to the economy's effect on the individuals and businesses who usually do the giving. Charities are also getting fewer foundation grants, because foundations' giving is usually a percent of the total assets in the foundations' endowment (a minimum of 5% a year) and most foundations have seen their assets shrink significantly as a result of stock market declines-- even the huge Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is cutting back its planned grant-making for 2009. Charities are also having a harder time borrowing money, like everyone else. Yet simultaneously, many charities are dealing with higher demand, particularly
if they're serving the needy-- for example, food pantries nationwide are seeing an average of 30 percent higher demand, up to 60 percent or more in some places. Times are really tough for many of these charities; making bigger donations can make a very big difference.
(And there are other benefits to doubling up on charitable donations, too, especially if you like recognition and thank-you gifts... bunching can turn your usual $50 donation into a $100 donation or a $500 donation into a $1000 donation, which can snag you extra goodies or VIP treatment!)
If you're concerned about your own finances and don't feel able to give much more in cash to charities right now, donating goods (like clothes, toys, books, cars, computers, and more) increases your deductions too, so now could be a good time to gather the things you've been meaning to give away and drop them off before it becomes 2009. (Here's the details from the IRS on what receipts you need and how to figure the tax-deductible value.) If you're driving to volunteer or drop off goods, you can deduct 14 cents per mile. (And of course, regardless of the tax implications, these organizations will appreciate your volunteer hours and donated goods even if you can't afford to give much in cash.)
(You can also donate appreciated stock and deduct the full value without paying taxes on the capital gains-- yes, stocks that're worth more than when you bought them are harder to find these days, but if you have them it can be a very good deal to donate the stock rather than selling it and making donations in cash. The Motley Fool has some suggestions of stocks with positive 5-year returns.)
As for me, I'll be itemizing my 2008 taxes for the first time-- it never made sense when I lived in Illinois, with no mortgage and a 3% state income tax, but now my DC taxes are high enough that combining those with my annual giving budget gives me a total right around the standard deduction. If I gave my budgeted amount in both 2008 and 2009, I wouldn't gain much from itemizing and would probably just take the standard deduction. But if I accelerate my 2009 giving and do it all before the end of 2008, I'll end up significantly higher than the standard deduction, which means I save hundreds of dollars on my taxes in 2008 (and can still take the standard deduction in 2009, so that tax situation stays exactly the same.)
This has been my plan for months-- since well before the economic downturn accelerated-- but it's especially satisfying to know that my larger-than-usual gifts come at a time when they're especially needed. Now here's hoping that by the end of next year, when I'm giving little or nothing because I did it all in 2008, things have recovered enough that non-profits are on the upswing...
Posted by Britt at 12/29/2008 08:10:00 PM
Saturday, December 20, 2008
We all occasionally (or more than occasionally!) have those gift-giving situations we can't figure out how to handle-- do we give this person a gift or not? Often the biggest part of the awkwardness is not wanting the other person to feel obligated to reciprocate. Sometimes this translates into no gift at all, even if you really want the person to know you're thinking of them; sometimes it means you give a small gift so as not to overwhelm, which often leads to a cycle of exchanging little trinkets that neither of you really want or will use. But this year in just such a situation, I think I've hit upon a great solution-- charity-related gifting!
There are some big benefits:
- Shows you're thinking of them. Giving a gift to a charitable organization in someone's name definitely shows them that you care and that you took the time to think about them during the holiday season. And if you can find an organization that's a good fit for their interests, it's especially thoughtful.
- Less likely to make them feel awkward or obligated about giving back to you. Because you're not sending them an actual gift, but instead making a donation in their name, there's less of a sense of "Oh, so we're gift-exchangers now." At worst, it creates a cycle of charitable giving, which is the best kind of giving cycle!
- Keeps the "stuff" to a minimum. These gifts typically do come with some kind of tangible recognition, often a certificate and/or nice photograph. To me that seems just about right-- often you want the person to have something to hold in their hands, but "a little something" is less wasteful than the kind of stuff that you might otherwise buy in this situation.
- Giving to a good cause. And then there's the fact that your money is going to a worthy cause. That's wonderful in and of itself, and it also could mean that if you consider it part of your "giving budget" then you have little or no extra expense. (Or if you don't have a giving budget and it is an extra expense, at least it's a tax-deductible one.)
As for me, I'd been struggling with how to approach giving gifts to my boyfriend's family. I haven't spent the holidays with them in person yet, so we haven't exchanged gifts so far, but after getting to know them better this year I wanted to show them I was thinking of them. Yet I also didn't want them to feel obligated to reciprocate (or embarrassed that they hadn't.) But once I started to think along the lines of charitable gifts, it all fell into place. I adopted half an acre in the Northern Rockies for his father, who really enjoys nature in general and that area of the country in particular, and I sponsored an animal for his sister, who's a real animal-lover. (There are a lot of other great choices, too; Oxfam America Unwrapped is one of my personal favorites, but there's a ton of options of all sorts listed at Changing the Present.) I think everyone wins-- I get to show them I'm thinking of them, they feel cared for, and more money goes towards conserving nature and protecting animals.
What's your take on giving to charity as a gift to others? And how else do you approach these awkward "do I or don't I?" gift-giving situations?
Friday, December 12, 2008
I had a whole post on this last year-- Holiday Gifting: 14 Ways to Give More Meaning and Less Stuff-- with tips in categories like "give to fewer people," "give to a good cause," "give non-'stuff' gifts," and "give non-purchased gifts." I'm trying to do all of those things this year! I'm particularly excited about one gift which falls into two of those categories, as both a non-"stuff" experience-based gift and a gift to a good cause-- I'm taking my Mom to Taste of the Nation, an event held in many U.S. cities in which you can sample great food from top-tier chefs and 100% of the ticket proceeds go to fighting childhood hunger. I think she'll really enjoy experiencing it with me (and vice versa!), and it's win-win for me because the ticket costs can come right out of my giving budget. (The ticket cost is partially but not entirely tax-deductible-- it goes 100% to charity but when you get something of value in return you can't deduct the full amount.) And there's absolutely no clutter or wasteful plastic packaging involved!
- At Get Rich Slowly, JD compiles a ton of terrific ideas for do-it-yourself gifts in A Do-It-Yourself Christmas: 34 Great Gifts You Can Make Yourself.
- Other do it yourself options: Holiday Gifts: 8 Homemade Gifts in a Jar (with free printable gift tags) from Squawkfox and Veggie Might: Gifts to Give Unless You Eat Them First - DIY Holidays Part One from Leigh at Cheap Healthy Good.
- The M-Network bloggers have a PDF with a compilation of articles called Money Saving Tips for the Holidays [PDF]-- check out the article called Going Green and Saving Money During the Holidays from David of My Two Dollars.
- Trent of The Simple Dollar looks at what's made it into the National Toy Hall of Fame and thinks about the simple toys and gifts that really make kids happy (and stimulate their imaginations, and cost less too) in Christmas Inspiration from a Stick and a Cardboard Box.
- And if you're ready to think outside the box, please check out No Impact Man's post Christmas with no presents, or read his full article. Key quote: "Without stress or presents, it's not Christmas, right? But of course it was. It was the best of Christmas, the part that, research shows, makes people happiest. It was all the upside without the downside."
Posted by Britt at 12/12/2008 04:30:00 PM
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
You all know that I'm a big proponent of giving more meaning and less stuff for the holidays. But if you are buying gifts, I encourage you to look at the types of places that are in Co-op America's National Green Pages-- companies that are screened and verified as socially and environmentally responsible and values-driven. You can use their search engine to find bricks-and-mortar stores in your community, and here are some online sales currently being offered by National Green Pages companies:
- All Around Green
- Better World Club: Finally, an auto club with decent values!--Cartalk. Join at 10% discount!
- Gaiam, Inc.: Shop hundreds of green gift ideas! Save 20% off the most expensive item in your cart. Use code AFDEL expires 12.16.08
- Kate's Caring Gifts: 20% Discount - Earth Friendly Gifts for All, Treats for You
- Nubius Organics: Gift Sustainably! Save 15% on Eco-Conscious gifts for everyone on your list! Coupon Code ECO15
- Peaceful Company: Fashioning Peace One Person at a Time. Enjoy this coupon code "peace2all" for a 10% discount on your entire order!
- Simple Peace: Co-op America members receive 20% off with discount code "GREENAMERICA"
- Beauty and Body Care
- A Wild Soap Bar: Stamp out fake evil corporate soap! Get real. 10% off online. Code COOP08
- Good Clean Love: Give the gift of Sustainable Love!! 15% off all on-line orders. Use coupon code COOPAM08
- Trillium Herbal Company, Inc.: Authentic Organic Body Care ~ Dedicated to the Triple Bottom Line ~ NEW! OG BABY! 10% Off – Use Coupon Code: coop2 at checkout.
- Children and Baby Products
- Green Edge Kids: Gift clothing essentials this year! Code coop15 for 15% off lowest prices.
- TotallyOrganic.us: 20% Off. Enter code: HGG8. Best selection of organic products. Expires: 12/8/08
- Clothing and Accessories
- Autonomie Project: Save 10% off our Fair Trade, eco-friendly sneakers, tees, and accessories with coupon code "Green Guide"
- Brilliant Earth: 10% off silver pendants with promotion code CABNXG exp 12/31/2008
- Golden Touch Naturals: Warm & Cozy Alpaca Clothing. 100% Made in the U.S.A. 10% off at checkout:coop-am
- Green Label: SUPPORT LOCAL- Organic cotton T-shirts- with meaningful yet fun messages for men, women& children FREE SHIPPING promo code GLOCA08
- Three Stone Steps: Sustainable. Fair made. Style. Take 20% off and receive free shipping on orders of $50 or more. Enter code HOLIDAY08 at checkout
- Food and Drink
- Endangered Species Chocolate: Organic stocking stuffers and chocolate gift sets - 15% off with code coop15.
- Equal Exchange: Save 10% and get FREE SHIPPING on orders over $75. Use code "cawinter08" during checkout.
- Grounds for Change: Save 15% on Everything through January 9th Coupon Code:MH43
- Higher Grounds Trading: 15% off on all fair trade and organic coffees and gifts. Coupon code: "co-op"
- Verve/Glee Gum: Spread the Glee! All natural chewing gum and candy kits. 15% off code: CAHOLIDAY
- For the Home
- Eco Home Gear: Fashionable and functional environmentally responsible products. Save 15% with coupon code: COOP08
- Gifts, Art and Accessories
- Eco Express Gifts: Unique Eco-Friendly & Organic Gifts. 15% off code HGG-15
- EcoBags Products: Holiday Gifts that Give Back. 15% off web-retail only orders. Code ghol08
- Global Crafts: This holiday give a gift that shares your values. Get 10% of with coupon code GREEN
- Global Exchange Online Store: Ecofriendly Fair Trade Gifts. Shop here and take $5 OFF all orders! Enter code: coopwin08
- Lucuma Designs: Fair Trade Gourd Ornaments! Save 10% with code GOGREEN2
- One Village Gifts: Green jewelry, fair trade,handbags, chocolates,and holiday ornaments. 10% off with code Coop10
- The One Eyed Turtle, LLC: 20% off all products including sale items, Use Code: COPA208
- Viva Terra: Give Green - 100's of unique gifts under $50! Save $15 on $100 order. Expires 12/19/08. Use code CA118
Posted by Britt at 12/03/2008 09:56:00 AM
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
This Thanksgiving, whether you're interested in saving the environment, saving money, or both, check out these tips from the Cool Foods Campaign, which looks at the connections between food and global warming.
First, they have 5 money-saving green tips for Thanksgiving. Here they are, with my comments:
- Buy from the bulk foods section. This not only saves money but decreases packaging. And when stuff's transported in bulk rather than packages, more fits in a single vehicle, meaning a lower environmental impact.
- Buy dried beans rather than canned beans. It's obviously cheaper, but it's also better for the environment because the dried beans are lighter and easier to transport than beans full of water and surround by liquid. And soaking beans is easy!
- Use non-processed foods. It's cheaper, healthier, and it's better for the environment because of the energy that goes into all that processing (and typically extra packaging.)
- Avoid food waste by using your leftovers. Apparently we waste 27% of our food, and big meals like Thanksgiving are a big part of the problem. Take a few minutes after the meal to make plans for the extras. Be honest about what you'll actually eat in the next few days, and stick the rest in the freezer or send it with your guests.
- Make cheap, edible, biodegradable decorations. Rather than paper or plastic turkeys and pilgrims, why not string up some popcorn or cranberries? You can eat or compost them afterwards.
But they also have general green tips for Thanksgiving, and several of them are money-savers too. For example:
- Use less meat in your meal. It's estimated that animal production is responsible for almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (and Americans are less than 5% of world population but consume more than 15% of the world's meat.) It takes a lot more energy to produce meat than vegetables and grains, because the animals eat much more than their weight in feed over their lifetime. So if you're looking to lessen your impact, cutting back on the meat (and dairy) is a great way to do it. Plus meat's typically more expensive than many great vegetarian options!
- Don't use disposable plates, cups, and utensils. The logic-- both environmentally and financially-- is pretty obvious, even if it's tempting to find ways to do less dishes.
- Store leftovers in Tupperware or in serving dishes rather than foil and plastic bags. Ditto.
- Keeping it local means less carbon's emitted to get it to you, plus you're supporting your community and your neighbors. And a focus on local foods creates a more authentic connection to your local area's heritage (and the history of Thanksgiving!)
- Get a local, free-range organic turkey.
- Buy local produce.
- Choose local wines and beers.
- Buy organic for as many of your food purchases as possible. Organic products are free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which is not just good for your health but also for the environment-- besides the ill-effects of the chemicals on the earth, they also take a lot of energy to produce and emit greenhouse gases when applied.
- Recycle your cooking oil. I can't find a good website that centralizes the info, but in a surprising number of places around the country you can donate your used vegetable oil to be turned into biodiesel to power vehicles. Just Google your city or state, "donate"/"recycle" and "cooking oil"/"vegetable oil."
Happy Thanksgiving! And if you're interested in more about the environmental impact of your food choices, the Cool Foods Campaign website is a great place to start.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Thanks for bearing with me as I try to juggle a few different things going on in my life...
- Free Godiva truffle: from 1-3pm on November 20th, get a free truffle at your local Godiva. (Find a store here.)
- Free Dr. Pepper: request a coupon for a free 20-oz Dr Pepper on November 23rd only-- go to www.drpepper.com.
- Free coffee: get any size coffee for free on the next three Fridays (11/21, 11/28, and 12/5) at Cumberland Farms convenience stores. (Find one here.)
- Check out Feminist Finance's post Women Charged More For Health Insurance.
- There's a ton of useful tips and thought-provoking questions at the Cool Foods Campaign about greening your Thanksgiving including some money-saving suggestions, along with information about reducing the carbon footprint from your food more generally.
Posted by Britt at 11/20/2008 12:57:00 AM