Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christmas Giving Plans

At Christmastime, I prefer to do something more personal and interactive than just handing over money. I like to feel more...Christmas-y. One year, I spent a few afternoons with New York Cares, matching up Santa letters from poor kids with Secret Santa wannabes. It wasn't terribly "social", but I enjoyed the task anyway. My mom's first job at age 16 was handling this sort of thing at the local mall...and a year later she was unofficially managing the place because the manager and assistant manager died and no one bothered replacing them because she was ridiculously competent. Yup, at 17, she managed a huge mall all by herself working 3 hours a day. But I'm getting off the subject...

I would love to find a way to wrap presents for charity. Ideally, people could bring me their presents and I'd wrap them for a suggested donation, but that might require way too much trust for your typical New Yorker. Another possibility is offering to wrap for charities that collect gifts for kids and the elderly. I assume they have some kind of group wrapping session... I'll set myself an email reminder to look into it in 2 weeks, because I suspect it's too early for all that to be in place yet.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Still in "Giving" Mode

That 10-Day Give may have finished up 6 days ago, but I haven't completely slacked off the way I thought I would. So far this week...
  • On Thursday, I mailed $1080 worth of coupons to the US Air Force base in Okinawa. And today I collected dozens of coupon flyers and chopped them up. This week's selection was obnoxiously crappy, so the yield for the Overseas Coupon Program was pitiful.
  • I made another Kiva loan, this time to a seamstress in Cambodia. What can I say, I envy her skills!
  • Today I mailed the $245 I raised with charity massages to Thai Freedom House, which is currently struggling with a bad landlord situation, inflation, blossoming enrollment, and reduced contributions due to the economy.
  • This afternoon I will be doing another charity massage, and the money from this one will go towards a joint project by Feed Villages and Village Volunteers, earmarked for the construction of grain/produce storage facilities to keep the food supply from the Community Garden Project available for their feeding programs year-round. They need $3100 to pull it off.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 10 of the 10-Day Give

I was busy on Day 10...

First, I raided the paper recycling bins on 28 floors of my building and fished out about a dozen coupon inserts to chop up for the Overseas Coupon Program - 2 hours and $250 worth. I'll be swinging by the post office tomorrow morning to mail three week's worth of snippings: $1080.

Second, I gave a rather odd looking old man one of my half-price Thai massages - that's another $50 for Thai Freedom House. At the post office tomorrow, I'll be buying and sending a money order to them for $245: $165 worth of massage donations + $40 tip donations + $40 from my matching offer. I'm not getting as much interest in this offer as I'd hoped - I was willing and able to do twice as many. So I'm thinking of starting a blog-that-looks-like-a-website for it. I don't want to put a link to my regular business website because it has my phone number on it, and I don't want calls at 3am from idiots who think "Thai massage" is a euphemism for prostitution.

And today, I cashed in two coupons on sale items at the pharmacy for a total savings of $9 - which I put into the little Japanese jar I've earmarked for monthly donations to The Baobab Home in Tanzania. What can I say, the name of this blog is "CheapCharity", so why shouldn't a charity benefit from me being cheap??

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Days 7-9 of The 10-Day Give

Got a little catching up to do here...

Day 7: Doubled the contents of the "Snowflake Savings" jar earmarked for The Baobab Home.

Day 8: Nothing - I've got two things lined up for Day 10 that really can't be done any other day. If you've been following my new giving habits, you can probably guess what they both are...

Day 9: Another Kiva loan, this time an unusual opportunity - a consortium of impoverished first-timers in the Dominican Republic with no history of entrepreneurship or successful past loans. Most loans are to tiny businesses that already exist, to give them the cashflow to expand, so I reckon the chances of default on this one are significantly higher than usual.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 6 of The 10-Day Give

I've been sitting on a pile of Kiva credit since they released $10M in partial repayments. With so much money going around the system at the moment, there have been days where all loans were fully funded or maybe there were 3 to choose from. I'm not complaining - I think it's wonderful all around!

But this evening, as Day 6 of the challenge had less than an hour left, I had a peek - 154 to pick from, woohoo! I was a little tempted by the herbal medicine venture of a Peruvian clairvoyant, but she wasn't terribly indigenous-looking. Having been to Peru, I know how the class system works, and I want to help the descendants of the Incas, not the descendants of the Conquistadors. Hm, I just reread that...I hope I sound fun-cerebral-weird and not like a complete nutjob.

Anyway, I reached out to Patience Moore, an egg seller in Ghana because (a) I think bringing a healthy source of protein to the local market is a good thing (many Kiva retailers are selling cosmetics and soda, which I don't consider essential), and (b) it's very unusual to find a 31yo African woman with no husband or kids - you know there's a story there. Good luck, Patience, I'll be tracking your progress over the next 8 months and rooting for your success!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day 5 of The 10-Day Give

Yesterday's GIVE was to start a jar of "snowflakes" (a term coined by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey), whereby any money I save through coupon usage is physically stashed away for a monthly donation to The Baobab Home. With the exception of a few months in 2000, I've never been a coupon user, so this really is "found money". Now it has a purpose. To give the contents of the jar a boost, I also added in the money I saved by purposely choosing items from the weekly sale circular.

Today's give was pretty small - I picked up a snack at my local drug store and they were selling paper sneakers for a $1 donation to the JDRF's Walk to Cure Diabetes...checked it on Charity Navigator - it's a 4-star charity with an enormous budget - like 3-4 digits beyond the norm for my tastes. I also gave $1 to one of the local homeless.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Day 4 of The 10-Day Give

I stumbled on Saturday, Day 2. I went for a 2-mile walk around midtown Manhattan in search of a homeless old person to give $5, but didn't run into anyone who fit the bill. Why am I being so picky? My rationale is that they're too old to work, they've lived through some awfully tough times (WW2, segregation, The Great Depression, etc), and things must be really bad either in their families or in their brain chemistry if this is what they're reduced to at their age.

So I made up for it by doubling my efforts with coupon clipping for the Overseas Coupon Program. Instead of one round of the paper recycling bins on 27 floors of my building, I did two - and that worked out superbly: I hit the motherload on the 11th floor. Someone reads a lot of different Sunday papers and hadn't thrown them out for a couple of weeks - I got multiples of RedPlum, SmartSourch and P&G. Last Sunday, I clipped $202 worth of coupons and it took an hour to snip, sort into two piles, and add up the value. This week it took 3 hours and yielded $629. I could have artificially boosted the total by including coupons that I suspect are useless (do you really think they stock $50 bags of organic dog food or gourmet Amish pasta at the Air Force base commissary in Okinawa??).

I also got another lovely email from Terri @ The Baobab Home yesterday. I'm planning to go to Kenya and Tanzania for my first ever trip to Africa, and I'm wondering how possible it would be to drop in and maybe bring hard-to-find-locally supplies. Apparently they've got a fundraising auction in TriBeCa next month, how cool is that!

Lisa @ Thai Freedom House also contacted me this morning, letting me know that the $120 I sent a few weeks ago plus $100 that a yoga instructor raised in a similar fashion helped her school/food programs through a rough patch last month. Between global inflation and the growth of her charity, their monthly expenses are currently $1500 instead of the outdated figure of $1000 mentioned on her website. So far I've raised $195 and am hoping that I'll do one more massage-for-charity before I mail her a check at the end of the week.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day 2 of The 10-Day Give

I haven't yet decided what form today's act of giving will take. It was going to be a Kiva loan, but ever since they decided to disburse small sums each time a borrower made a repayment instead of waiting for the loan to be fully paid off, there has been a dearth of loans. I will update this post later when I figure out what to do.

In the meantime, I'd like to share the thank-you email I got this afternoon from the director of The Baobab Home (yesterday's recipient):

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thank you so much for donating! We are so busy and so grateful for new donors.

This past week we took in a new baby girl found in a bus station. She seems fat and healthy and we are hoping for a good HIV answer soon. We call her Laura Baraka. And Last night we received two orphaned boys ages 13 and 6. They are the sweetest boys- rail thin and need of a lot of restoration to health, but a delight to be with.

Please let us know how you heard about us!

Best wishes,
Terri Place
Director, The Baobab Home

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day 1 of The 10-Day Give

Would you believe it took me ages to nail down a worthy recipient? Sometimes I surprise myself with my pickiness, but I guess that's the downside of ferreting out a small, non-religious charity that accepts donations through PayPal (2.9% fee) and not Network For Good (4.75% fee).
So I rounded down my PayPal cash balance to $100 even by donating $15.64 to The Baobab Home in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, which started out as an orphanage run by a New Jersey anthropologist and her Tanzanian husband, and has since expanded to include a number of local programs - a school, a farm, a breakfast club, etc.

Will I become a regular contributor? Too soon to say, but Tanzania is on my Hit List 2009 for a two-week odyssey, and I thought it might make my experience more significant if I create a connection and awareness in advance. I've started something similar with Kenya by contributing to Feed Villages and Goods4Girls, but this will be my first foray into Tanzania, where I anticipate spending the majority of any trip I take to East Africa.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Matching Mayhem & Clipping Craziness

This past Saturday, I gave a charity Thai massage to a fellow Thai masseuse - someone who's actually Thai and is technically a competitor. We advertise in the same places, but we have different catchment areas in NYC with only a tiny overlap. I almost didn't respond to her inquiry for that reason, but decided I was being a whole lot picker than Thai Freedom House would be about where their donations come from. I'm very glad I did, because not only did she turn out to be a lovely person, but she paid $90 - that's the $50 minimum plus an additional $40, which I match when the time comes to mail my monthly donation in. I told my mother about this, and she said "who would know if you didn't match it? heck, who would even know if you kept or sent the money?" (she was just playing devil's advocate - it wasn't actually a suggestion!). I said that karma would hit me back so freaking hard I'd metaphorically find myself with a fat lip and a black eye. She laughed and totally agreed. Anyway, between the annoying guy on Thursday, this Thai woman, and my matching, TFH can expect no less than $195 this month.

Last night, I raided the recycling bins in my building and collected 4 sets of the same Sunday coupon insert. I figure that this plus whatever I scrounge up next week will count towards one of my 10-Day Give activities. So far, my ideas for that challenge are:
  • Kiva loan
  • Thai Freedom House donation
  • Overseas Coupon Program
  • Women For Women (maybe) sign-up and start

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Clipping for Corporals

I just discovered the Overseas Coupon Program, where you mail your expired manufacturers coupons to certain participating U.S. military bases, listed on their barebones website (which I interpret as a sign that they don't waste much time with administration). Apparently, the expiration dates are extended by 6 months for foreign commissaries, though of course you can send current coupons. I guess the idea is that it can be a "no effort" way of saving our not-poor-but-not-comfortable military families a significant chunk of change.

I'm planning to select an Air Force base in a wealthy country like Japan or England, where the dollar doesn't go very far at all. Why Air Force? Because my dad served in the USAF during the Vietnam War. But even if he hadn't, I'd still do this program - I just wouldn't be picky about which branch I was sending to.

The cost to me is limited to domestic postage. And hey, there's a slight "green" aspect to this too - I don't buy newspapers, but many of my neighbors in this 38-story building do. So on Sunday evenings, all I have to do is rummage through a few dozen paper recycling bins, pull out the Smart Source inserts, and have at it with my scissors during whatever TV show I watch that night.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Will the 10-Day Give accept this atheist?

You may recall from past posts that I don't like to give to/through religious organizations. However, I recently stumbled across the Christian Personal Finance blog, where writer Bob is organizing The 10-Day Give October 10-19. This might be just the inspiration I need to seek out new grassroots charities.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Two More Thai

The Thai-for-Thailand massage idea is going fairly well. The only real problem has been one minor league jackass who insisted on being naked and getting more than an hour (at least he paid for it, but there's a reason I limited the offer to 60 minutes). Maybe I should specify "no banker-bodybuilders" in my advertising - that's a double-whammy of unpleasantness. On Saturday, I have a fellow Thai practitioner coming in for a donation session...almost didn't respond to her inquiry because she's technically a competitor, but decided to set aside my hyper self-preservation instincts for the sake of a $50 donation. I'm secretly hoping that we get along and can exchange in the future. I miss getting Thai massage for myself.

I emailed Lisa from Thai Freedom House to let her know that the first check for $120 was on its way, and she responded, "Thank you so much for continuing to think of us and support us! We really appreciate it. It has been extremely hard to get any donations lately and everything helps a great deal." I'd heard that charities were suffering - understandably - in this economy, so I hope my timing helps pick up the slack for a bit.