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If the holidays put you in the giving spirit, financial advisers say now might be a good time to budget for charitable donations year-round. 

For those of us without massive estates or the means to regularly donate large amounts of money, it can feel like charitable giving is a waste of time. But no matter how small or large, charitable donations can make an impact on our communities and personal lives.

That's according to certified financial planner Andrew Sivertsen, with the Planning Center in Moline.

"There are a number of psychological studies out there that show the physical and psychological benefits to charitable giving," he said. "Even just giving financial gifts or giving our time, it really helps decrease depression, boost our immune system and self-esteem. It helps make us better people. And it's a great thing to do for people in need, especially this time of year." 

Certified financial planner Brian Ramsay, with WealthSpan Partners in Davenport, said planning to give takes some time. He added it's important to budget for donations, plus potentially save up year-round for the gift you want to donate over the holidays. 

Here are some tips from local financial advisers on budgeting for charitable giving. 

Know what you can afford

While working to save and pay off debt, it can be difficult to put money toward charitable giving. 

Donations are an expense, Ramsay said, but many of us have discretionary income each month that tends to disappear if it's not accounted for. Rather than spending extra cash on unnecessary items, it's possible to put the money to good use. 

Sivertsen said it's important to budget for all of your expenses, including paying off debts and contributing to savings accounts. Then see what's left that can go to a good cause. 

There are different ways to donate

For people looking to donate year-round, they can consider charities that accept small regular donations, such as $1 a day or the cost of a cup of coffee. 

"Most charities really work a lot better with consistent monthly revenue," Sivertsen said. "That's a stable way for them to receive income. Once you find a charity, you can make that part of your fixed monthly expenses." 

Ramsay said people can also choose to set up a savings account, to donate a larger gift at one time. 

"I personally am one where I would rather accumulate a savings account and build it up. Then at the end of the year, around the holidays, I'll donate it," Ramsay said. "Sit down and look at the needs that are in your area and the things important to you, and consider giving money at the end of the year." 

For those of us without money to give, donating time and energy also goes a long way. Homeless shelters, food banks, meal sites and other organizations often need volunteers year-round. 

The holidays are also a time to purge unwanted clothing — especially warm clothing and coats — plus toys, decorations and other items that could go to a new home. 

Know where your money is going

Ramsay said it's important to research charities and organizations before you donate. 

Different non-profits use donations in different ways. Some spend more on payroll and internal expenses, while others use the majority of donations for programming and community initiatives. 

To know your money is going where you want it to go, Ramsay advised using CharityNavigator.org, a charity database that shows organizational priorities and spending structures. 

"If you're trying to find good charities to give to, this is a good place to start," Ramsay said. "You can look up a charity, and if 20 percent of donations are going to operating expenses, that's high. Typically you want it to be under 6 or 7 percent. That way, more of your donation dollar is going to the actual cause."

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Sarah Ritter is the business reporter for the Quad-City Times. Each week, she will write an experiential column as part of the series, "Cash Course," aimed at reaching financial security and tackling stereotypes about money. Have an idea or want to share your money story? Email sritter@qctimes.com.

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