While most college students struggle to pay for tuition and textbooks, 22-year-old Reagan Toal made it her mission to give at least 10% of her earnings to charitable causes this holiday season. It will be no small feat for a college senior who earns just $20,000 per year as a part-time marketing manager. Toal has been donating 2% to 4% of her pay to charity for years. This year, she’s rearranging her entire holiday budget in order to more than double her typical contribution.
“It seems much more worthwhile than buying extravagant gifts at this time,” Toal told MagnifyMoney. “A present doesn't have to be expensive to be meaningful.”
Giving back to the community was ingrained in Toal from an early age and was solidified during her teenage years participating on missions trips to developing nations through her church. She also learned from her grandparents, who donated half their income to charity each year and started a foundation that benefits orphanages and medical centers.
“The experiences I gained from my family consistently volunteering made me resolute about giving every year, whatever I can,” Toal says.
Toal typically chooses a different cause to contribute to each year. This year, she decided to split her roughly $2,000 donation equally between two organizations: charity: water, which builds water wells to combat disease in developing countries, and eMite, a nonprofit that encourages microdonations and provides updates that allow donors to see their donations at work.
Cutting back to give back
The oldest of seven children, Toal says she easily spends upward of $2,000 during the holidays on gifts for family alone. To hit her goal of giving back this year, she consciously chose to scale back on spending on her friends and family. She budgeted only $300 for gifts this year and has trimmed her budget in many other ways.
1. Cutting back on clothes and other material goods
Toal learned to budget and live sparsely when she lived abroad in 2015 and essentially lived out of a suitcase. “I began cutting back about two years ago to prepare to move abroad,” says Toal. “Besides food and housing, my primary spending over there was on budget traveling. Having moved back to the States, I'm basically replacing my spending with donating to charity.”
2. Cooking in bulk
Having grown up with seven siblings, Toal is no stranger to cooking in bulk. Luckily, that lesson has served her well as a young adult. Toal typically cooks in bulk, preparing four to five days’ worth of food at a time and planning her meals in advance. “While cooking food at home might take your energy, it's a lot cheaper in the long run,” says Toal.
3. Giving her goals a name — and their own bank account
Toal has two separate checking and savings accounts: one for her daily expenses, and one for her short- and long-term savings goals. “I try not to touch what's in one bank, while the other is the one I pay for things with,” explains Toal. “Anything I have left over at the end of the month I transfer into my 'don't touch' account, which I only use to pay for major expenses — for example, giving to charity, for tuition, or for a down payment on a car.”
4. Planning holiday shopping in advance
With a meager budget of $300 for gift giving this year, Toal has allocated a set amount to spend on each person on her list. Rather than just heading to the nearby department store and buying whatever catches her eye, she’s been doing a little more research and bargain hunting. “I’ve been looking for gifts that add a special touch — but are also low cost,” says Toal. “That way the money can go toward people who gravely need the resources I can assist in providing.”
5. Handmaking other gifts
For those she won’t be buying gifts for, she’ll most likely be going the DIY route and making watercolor bookmarks and framed or laminated personalized quotes. She may also paint coffee mugs and give these along with a bag of her favorite French roast.
“People say you can't buy love or happiness, which is definitely true, but you can buy a brighter future for somebody else,” says Toal. “A lot of the time the feeling I get from giving feels a whole lot like happiness, so evidently something's working!”
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.