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Extension Agent: Holiday 'want' list may focus on others' 'needs' list

Nov. 16, 2010 at 5:16 a.m.


By Sarah Womble

If you have visited a local retail store recently you have probably noticed that there are Christmas decorations available for sale and many businesses have already begun decorating for the season. It seems like the holiday starts earlier each year.

Many times, we start our Christmas shopping list with our family and friends. This year in particular with our current unemployment rate and individuals who have taken significant cuts in pay and benefits, we might want to stop and take a look around our community and re-prioritize our list, helping those first who need it the most first.

Kathleen Phillips, a Texas AgriLife Extension Communication Specialist, wrote an article on this very subject with information given to her by two of our Family Economic Specialists, Dr. Joyce Cavanagh and Nancy Granovsky. The full article can be accessed at http://agnews.tamu.edu/showstory.php?id=829 .

Staying within a budget might be easier done if focused on the needs of others, family finance experts with Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggest.

"People should be planning ahead to think that at the holiday they will encounter expenses because they wish to give gifts and do other special things. But maybe this year, we should have some special thought for people in our own communities who may have experienced an economic downturn that will impact the kind of holiday they can provide for their families," said Nancy Granovsky, AgriLife Extension family economics specialist.

Granovsky said the economy might provide the reason for the cutting back that many may have wanted to do for years, and it doesn't have to be hard.

Tending to the needs of others might be as simple as contributing some extra items to a local food pantry, she said.

"We are aware that many food pantries across the country either are experiencing shortages or really empty shelves," Granovsky said. "So, picking up a few items every time one goes to the grocery store, setting those aside to be able to contribute to a food pantry is just one idea. And, I am sure that if families know about other options within their communities, it could be organizations they belong to, or if they are members of a faith community, they too will be looking at ways to help out those who are going to experience deeper economic trauma come holiday time."

Making service to others a family focus can help build thoughtfulness in children, Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension family economics specialist, noted.

"Many times, and in many families, children are overwhelmed with gifts at the holidays," she said. "Perhaps we can build that spirit of sharing in children instead of bombarding them with gift, after gift, after gift."

Cavanagh suggested either making a contribution in the child's name or helping them pick out clothes, toys or books as gifts for other children.

"That begins to build that spirit in them rather than always expecting to be on the receiving end," she said.

If individuals or families have never undertaken such action, finding a charity that fits is the first step, the family finance experts agreed.

"Most communities have a United Way. They frequently are the clearinghouses among many community organizations that really are providing services outward to the community," Granovsky said. "Calling the 2-1-1 number in Texas would put people into contact with a switchboard, from which they would be able to get information about their local community and different things that may be available there."

Local media often plays large roles in community charity events, she said.

"As we get closer to the holiday season, we'll begin to see things both in television media and in newspapers that will give people hints and ideas, suggestions for where they can help," Granovsky added.

"There's a practical side to fulfilling the needs of others, rather than adding to one's 'wants,'" Cavanagh said.

"If you think about it from a practical standpoint, how much more stuff do we all need? And how much more stuff do kids need?" she said. "Just reducing that, simplifying things around your own home and within your own life - fewer things to keep track of, fewer things to take care of, fewer things to maintain - sends a message to others that I'm doing OK and I just want to make sure that others are doing OK, too."

Granovsky suggested that now is a good time to declutter and eliminate the "multiples of things that we no longer need."

"Many people in these last couple of months of the year want to ready their homes for the holidays, and what better time to review what we do have, and maybe take those things and donate to centers where people can really access those things," she said. "Likewise, they can receive a tax deduction for a donation of charitable goods. There can be a bit of a benefit for those people who itemize their deductions, and they can feel good about what they've done."

But the financial incentive shouldn't be the only thing that drives people's willingness to share with others. Tending to the needs of others may not only be healthy for one's finances, but also healing to one's spirit, the duo believes.

"How does it affect adults? First of all, just feeling good," Cavanagh said. "A lot of the research shows that people who make charitable contributions don't necessarily do that because they are going to get a tax deduction or for those kinds of reasons, but they do it because it makes them feel good."

Granovsky said that especially when the nation's economic lows are widespread, "I think in the back of our minds, we hope that there would be people out there who would also make contributions to whatever (organization) we might take advantage of if we were in a situation where we needed help."

Sarah Womble is a Victoria County extension agent-family and consumer sciences.

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