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charitable_volunteer(TNS)—We look forward to going to family gatherings, big holiday dinners and sharing in some good holiday cheer.

But what about those who are less fortunate? Many of them won’t be able to celebrate with large holiday dinners or even with roofs over their heads. For me, the holidays bring with them a stark reminder of how blessed I am, and just how important it is to help others who don’t have as much.

But what if you’re trying to work your way out of debt? Should you still be giving to charities? Is there a way to give without digging yourself an even bigger hole?

Before we delve into how to give when you’re getting out of debt, I think we should all remember the importance of giving to others. When you give, you’re not only helping those who are on the receiving end, you’re helping yourself.

Studies show that people who are more giving tend to be happier and healthier, both short and long term. For example, a 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving to others, even in amounts as small as $5, can lead to increased well-being for the giver.

Although people believe that having money leads to happiness, new research suggests they are happier if at least some of the money is given to others.

Giving to others can be an important component of being happy and having better health. So giving is a win-win.

If you have a lot of debt, it might not be feasible to give much while you’re digging your way out. In most cases, I’d highly recommend still giving, even if it is just a small amount. Luckily, giving doesn’t always mean a monetary transaction. You can give your time and talents in a variety of ways.

Volunteer your time: Too many people think that they can’t give if they don’t have any extra money at the end of the month. The reality is there are a lot of organizations looking for people to volunteer their time to deliver supplies to the homeless, put together care packages for our troops or serve meals at soup kitchens. Find an organization that speaks to you and volunteer your time.

Volunteer your talents: If you have a special talent or skill that might be valuable to a local charity, offer your services without charging your normal rate. Musician? Offer to play at a fundraiser. Graphic designer? Offer to do some design work free of charge.

Donate your belongings: Even if you don’t have extra money, you might have extra stuff. Consider donating clothing, electronics and more to a good cause.

Giving is important, even for those who are digging their way out of debt. How much or how little the amount is up to you, but whatever dollar figure you decide on it’s important to make a plan and fit giving into your budget. Don’t just give when you feel like it, make a plan to give.

Every month when we do our budget in my family, giving is the first category to come up and be paid. Next are necessities like food, shelter, clothing and utilities, as well as savings. After that comes our debt reduction plan. Finally we budget a small amount for nonessentials, like entertainment.

By budgeting and paying for our giving first, we were able to still give a small amount while in debt and tackle our debt by getting an extra job and paying as much as we could every month. Once our debt was paid off we were able to start giving even more — and we’ve never been happier.

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