The Season of GIVING… Giving Back and Giving Thanks!

The giving season has begun!

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Actually, there’s no national holiday even like it down there. After moving to the USA, Thanksgiving quickly became my favorite holiday. This will be my 13th year celebrating!

What I love most about this holiday time is seeing everyone actually showing and expressing thanks, together as friends and family. Giving is addictive, and it’s one of the quickest routes to personal happiness.

We’ve written about ways to include charity in your budget and giving methods in the past. Here’s a few more cool ideas and methods to help get you thinking about giving more this holiday season…

Pay Off Someone’s Layaway Toys

This note came from reader Jess:

Every year for Thanksgiving my mom goes to a store and speaks to the customer service department, explains what she’s doing, and asks then to search through their layaways for a list that is unpaid but mostly children’s toys. Then she pays it off. This way she knows she’s helping a family who’s struggling to pay for holiday gifts for the kids.”

What a beautiful thing, and I like that it’s anonymous! It lets you dream and wonder what type of family you are helping out. Picturing the parents’ surprise at the store, as well as the kids’ faces when they open their presents almost brings me to tears. What a rewarding way to care for strangers.

If you don’t visit big box stores much in person (like me!), there are some cool online charity organizations like Pay Away the Lay Away that make it easy to donate online! Same idea, they just pool together all the money donated and give to places like Kmart, Burlington, Walmart, and Navy Exchange during the holidays and back-to-school time.

Become an Elf With USPS Operation Santa!

Each year, hundreds of thousands of kids post letters to Santa. And the US Postal Service has now set up an online system for people to “adopt and respond” to them.

Check it out here: USPS Operation Santa. Typically the letters selected are written by underprivileged kids, who are asking for small gifts that their parents can’t afford. Starting Dec 4th, you can commit to responding to a letter (or a bunch of letters) and post gifts to the children.

You can read some of the letters online here **might want to have a box of tissues standing by**, and it looks like they’ve made a documentary movie about the whole process which comes out on Dec 4th too!

Buy Someone’s Medical Debt (for Pennies on the Dollar), Then Forgive It!

I first learned this idea from The Wealthy Accountant who wrote a blog post about buying a $20 million bundle of medical debts for about $50k, then not collecting any of the debts. Really interesting stuff!

How can you buy debt? And can you do it in small amounts? Check out these sites like RIPMedicalDebt and Rolling Jubilee. These nonprofits basically pool everyone’s donations together and buy MASSIVE chunks of packaged debt, at huge discounts. Then they “forgive” the debt.

This helps the world in a couple ways:

  • It relieves the debts of people that simply can’t afford to pay. Hopefully without these massive hanging burdens, they can start rebuilding and strengthening their financial situation.
  • It hurts the ugly organizations that profit off of other people’s financial burdens. Debt collectors typically buy large packages of debt at discounted rates, then chase all the people that owe money to make a profit. It’s sad because most people fall into debt for living necessities (medical, education, housing).

Activate Amazon Smile (FREE) for Your Holiday Shopping!

Chances are you’re ordering at least some gifts online this year… This is a way to make a difference while doing the exact same shopping activities you are already doing anyway!

Simply visit  It looks exactly the same as the regular Amazon site. Same products, same prices, and no extra costs. The only difference is Amazon will donate 0.5% of all eligible purchases to your favorite charity when you check out!  Make sure the Smile Logo is at the top of the Amazon page, and you’re good to go!

Want to activate this on your Amazon cell phone app? I just did it, it’s easy!… Open the Amazon App → Go to Settings → click Amazon Smile. Then click the “Turn on Amazon Smile” button. It looks like this:

Again, there is no cost to you! While 0.5% might not seem like a lot for Amazon to give, every cent counts! You also get to choose which charities your shopping supports! 🎗🎗🎗

Help Out at a Local Food Bank, or Host a Food Drive

Sharing holiday meals is a beautiful thing. And helping provide food for others is a good way to appreciate the basic things in life that many take for granted! This can be a great family activity also (better check first with your local food bank to make sure you can bring kids along. Some volunteering activities are for people of 18 years and older.)

You might be thinking, “But what about COVID!!?  I don’t want to congregate in big groups right now”…

Pretty much all food banks and meal related charities have adopted wicked health practices so they can continue their mission in helping people, even through this pandemic. Masks, gloves, distancing, shift work, and other best practices help both the volunteers and clients stay safe.

Personally, I volunteer at Meals on Wheels every Friday. A year ago, I remember being huddled in a tiny office, working shoulder to shoulder with 20 other volunteers, handling raw fruit and veggies… 

Oh, how times have changed! 

Now, they only allow 1 person to enter a room at a time. All the food is pre-sorted, packaged, disinfected and grouped by delivery route. I can pick up and deliver 20 meals without being close to anyone. Safety is #1 because most of the clients that need food are elderly and are in a high risk category. 🙂

Donate Your Airline Miles – They May Be Expiring Anyway!

You might not feel comfortable traveling right now due to COVID… Or perhaps your airline miles are about to expire? Consider donating them!

Personally I have about 4,000 United Airline Miles. That’s not enough to pay for a 1-way ticket, and I never fly that airline anyway. Donating my miles (even though it’s a small amount) can be grouped together with other mileage donations and help someone else get their travel wish granted.

The Make a Wish Foundation says that 75% of all their requests include air travel! This site lists some of the major airline’s Helplines and Guidelines for gifting miles. Easier than I thought!

Gift a Side Hustle!

One of my friends has a birthday coming up, right around Christmas time. I was thinking about giving her money, because she’s struggling a bit financially… But then I thought, maybe I could get her a gift that helps her make more money on her own

Looking through our mega list of side hustles, I noticed some have a small start-up cost. My thinking is that if I cover the start-up fees as a birthday gift, she’ll follow through and be able to start making some extra cash on the side (provided she enjoys doing whatever I sign her up for 🤣)

I think I might get my friend some voiceover acting lessons (Side Hustle #60 – Voiceover Acting).

Anyway, this holiday season if you can’t think up any good gift ideas, think about a side hustle that your person might enjoy, and buy them whatever is needed to get started. Stuff like:

  • Someone who might like a blogging side hustle… Buy them a domain name and hosting plan for a year (under $100)
  • A friend who would be great as a Podcast host or YouTube video creator… Grab them a microphone, selfie light ring, or online coaching courses. ($50-$100)
  • Artistic friends or family members that could start their own online stores… You could buy them art materials like jewelry making kits, stained glass supplies or whatever! (Under $50)
  • For the entrepreneurial spirited… they might be interested in a land-flipping course or real estate investing coaching ($100 – $500)

These are just a few random ideas. The main point is that helping people realize their full potential empowers them and gives them confidence in a way no regular material gift ever can!

Build a Donation Machine

This last idea is a bit random, but I wanted to include it as something to think about for future gifting. It came from a reader: R.S…

“One approach I’ve taken is creating a specific brokerage account where any dividends from the shares are donated. So in a nutshell it involves putting money regularly into the account and any dividends are automatically paid back into a bank account where the funds are then transferred to a charity through a bank transfer. I’ve gone into more detail here

This is kind of like setting up your own private “foundation.” But instead of having billions of dollars like the Rockefellers, you just build it slowly and start small. The idea is that instead of donating money directly to charity, you invest the money instead. Slowly when the investments pay dividends, they are given to charity, as well as the initial capital increases the size of the donation machine over time.

I might try building one of these in 2021!

Have a great Thanksgiving week!

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  1. The Millennial Money Woman November 23, 2020 at 6:24 AM


    What a great way to give back to someone by helping them financially. Buying someone’s medical debt and then forgiving it is a really neat present. It’s very practical, but I think that this is a great way to help out those who are suffering from mountains of debt (and I know quite a few people in this situation).

    These are truly great, out-of-the-box holiday gifts that I think anyone would appreciate.

    Thanks for listing these!


    1. Joel November 23, 2020 at 1:04 PM

      I really like the anonymous part of it all. When strangers help strangers, it encourages a pay-it-forward mentality :) Happy Thanksgiving Fiona, have a great week!

  2. Martinus November 23, 2020 at 10:00 AM

    Some great ideas. What would really be useful to the USA would be to go to a single payer health system like the rest of the “first” world. As a “foreigner” I have no invested interest in either system. Facts and Facts (even in the USA, where that word seems to have lost meaning). In a single payer health care system ordinary people do not go bankrupt just trying to live.

    With the editorial content over I suggest that something everyone can do is to simply be kind in your daily affairs.

    Let me wish the American people the best this Thanksgiving.

    1. Joel November 23, 2020 at 1:01 PM

      Thanks Martinus! Happy Thanksgiving to you too…. (Even if you’re not in the USA, you can still celebrate and be thankful) :)

  3. Mandy November 23, 2020 at 10:24 AM

    What amazing, out of the box ideas! Really enjoyed this and excited to try a few of these suggestions.

    1. Joel November 23, 2020 at 12:59 PM

      Awesome! I was most surprised about the Amazon Smile one…. I wish I knew about it earlier – I’ve done a ton of shopping over the years and could have been donating this whole time! It’s free!

  4. Katie @ GigBossMoney November 23, 2020 at 10:37 AM

    Wow, Joel…I’m quite the Christmas Elf when it comes to donating this time of year, but you’ve come up with some absolutely brilliant and unusual ideas here!

    This year I’m focusing my giving on those who tend to slip through the cracks, like families who work but barely make enough to get by, and also homebound/isolated senior citizens. Nursing homes and similar are hurting this year because social group activities (e.g. girl scouts, school clubs) aren’t happening.

    1. Joel November 23, 2020 at 12:58 PM

      Great idea on the nursing homes in particular! Thanks Katie! I’m gonna look into that locally.

  5. Stephanie t November 23, 2020 at 2:01 PM

    Wonderful and uncommon ideas Joel! I’m going to look into the medical debt because, even though I work in health care, I am horrified by what I feel are exhorbitant and price-gouging practices throughout the field. This time of year I do the unexpected; pay for the next person in line’s groceries or, if s/he’s only buying a small amount, pay for two. The reaction is always priceless. My heart overflows with gratitude because not only do I feel like I’ve put some good karma out there, I realize just how freaking blessed I am! I’ve come to see that people are just so amazed by kindness anymore that they often don’t know what to do or say, and it’s yet another blessing to be a teeny part of someone’s smile in that moment. I tell them thanks, and walk away, with an almighty happy dance in my own heart.
    Slay the world with kindness people!

    1. Joel November 23, 2020 at 9:05 PM

      Hey Steph! You just summed up how Thanksgiving feels to me each year! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and helping others makes me realize how freaking blessed I am. The more I give –> the more I get. Cheers!

  6. Simone | our intentional farm November 24, 2020 at 6:04 AM

    I had no idea that buying medical debt as an individual was even possible. Adding that one to the list of future goals. I love this holiday season as well. The magnified kindness and care just make life so much lighter.

    1. Joel November 24, 2020 at 6:08 PM

      I guess now with easy crowdfunding platforms individuals can invest in, give, or support almost anything. I was surprised too by these organizations and how they think collectively. Cheers Simone – Happy Thanksgiving!