Giving Back on a Budget

Pick a Charity

3. Buy with a purpose.

When you're shopping online, start your search at goodshop.com, a portal whose 1,500 participating stores (which sell clothing, food, housewares, books, toys, and more) contribute an average of 3 to 4 percent of your purchase to the charity you choose. Your cause will also earn a penny every time you use the search-engine feature -- just download the site's toolbar.

You can put the plastic in your purse to work too. Google your charity's name and "credit card" or "debit card" to see which ones work with it. For instance, if you open a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) credit card, the WWF receives $100 plus 25 cents for every $100 you charge.

4. Choose one charity.

Fighting hunger, preserving the planet, and funding your kids' school are all worthy causes, but you'll make a bigger impact if you give $100 to a single organization rather than $25 to four different ones. To find a group that will make the best use of your money, visit charitynavigator.org. Look for one that has a three- or four-star rating and spends at least 75 percent of its budget on programs (as opposed to administrative costs).

Once you've picked one, give to it on a regular basis. You can set up a recurring credit-card donation for as little as $10 per month through networkforgood.org. "Charities prefer this payment method, because then they don't have to spend money trying to renew you," says Edith Falk, chair of Giving USA Foundation, in Glenview, Illinois, which monitors contribution trends.

Worthy Charities:

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