By: Alessandra Malito

The holiday season is a time of giving, but not everyone can afford to give too much.

You can still donate to charity, even if you’re on a budget.

Giving to charity is a gift in and of itself, but it’s still got to fit into your budget.

Americans gave $428 billion to charities in 2018, though individuals gave less than they usually do. The dollar amount from individual Americans dropped 1.1% while entities, like those wealthy families establish, grew by 5.4% for corporations and 7.3% for foundations.

Among the reasons for hesitating are a volatile stock market and confusing, still somewhat new, tax changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in December 2017. But Americans may also be struggling with other financial obligations and pressures, especially in housing, child care, student debt and saving for retirement. Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck every month, which makes charitable giving an aspiration.

Then there are those who are already in retirement and living on a fixed income. In those cases, retirees can still fit donations into their budgets, but they have to be calculated. “I always say be intentional about it,” said Julia Pham, a wealth adviser at Halbert Hargrove in Long Beach, Calif. “There are ways to help fill those goals and be strategic.”

First, those who are inclined to give need to ensure they’re meeting their own needs, Pham said. It’s important to consider fixed, necessary expenses, such as mortgage payments or rent, groceries and utilities, and other staples for your living arrangements. After calculating whatever amount of income is left for discretionary spending, retirees can begin to determine how much can go toward charities. “I find they (clients) are willing to cut back in other discretionary areas in order to fulfill charitable goals,” she said.

People may be able to raise more money for their favorite charities by rounding up others’ donations. Workers can ask employers if they match donations with a company program, but those out of the workforce can leverage their social networks. Facebook FB, +0.14%  has a charitable giving option, where users can create a fundraiser for a cause or charity, and ask family and friends to donate because of a special event, like a marathon, or a birthday, said Garrett Taylor, managing partner and financial adviser at Coastline Wealth Management in Port Jefferson, N.Y.

There are a few other ways to donate, when cash is out of the question. Americans can donate their time with volunteer work, which can be especially beneficial for older Americans, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency focused on charity work like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. Older Americans who volunteer could live longer and may be less likely to suffer physical ailments because they are staying active — mentally and physically, studies show.

They can also donate items, such as food and lightly used clothes. Food pantry donations can help people who rely on these items to improve their nutrient intake, according to one study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Americans can donate to food pantries, as well as food banks, which are community-based organizations that distribute food to institutions like soup kitchens, and food rescue programs, which take perishable products and distribute them to people in need, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Americans should also be cautious, especially when sending money to charities and organizations in need. Charity Navigator is one resource to vetting an organization, and people should be wary of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing pleas until they are sure the causes are legitimate. “A lot of these people have good hearts and good intentions, so my advice is to always be super intentional about giving and do your research,” Pham said

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