Tess Vigeland: While we're on the subject of giving, a lot of worthy causes will likely be asking for some of your cash this holiday season. We are happy to oblige, of course.
But commentator Chris Farrell has some guidance for those donation decisions.
Chris Farrell: 'Tis the season for giving, playing swipe-the-card at the mall and online, buying presents for family and friends. I love giving, though I do my best to stop before it hurts.
December is also a time of giving to charity. There's a practical reason for this: The tax calendar. You get a tax break on charitable giving. It has to be done before the end of the year to claim the deduction on your 2011 return.
It's a nice incentive. But most of us give for deeper reasons than exploiting a tax loophole. I know I do. My approach to giving has changed over the years. Like many people, I used to give in response to a disaster, a heart-wrenching appeal, even the bell of a Salvation Army ringer. And yes, the reminder of a last-minute tax-deduction.
Today I donate at home and abroad. I give to organizations that combat hunger, aid homeless families and offer medical care in troubled parts of the world. I take advantage of the charitable giving payroll deduction offered by my employer. I've arranged for money to go automatically from my credit card to a charity.
I do all this because I believe charitable giving is the foundation of good money management. For me, giving doesn't stop with charity. My money does good when I spend it and when I save it.
There's no shortage of worthy causes at home and abroad, but before you start giving, you might want to ask some questions: How can I make the world a better place? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind? How can I help?
Once you've taken care of your heart, it's time to use your head. Do your research before donating money. Make sure that the nonprofit is legitimate -- and effective. I like checking out non-profits at watchdog websites, like CharityWatch and Charity Navigator.
Thinking about all my financial activity as giving reminds me what really matters in our financial lives -- why we work, why we save and what we really want our money to accomplish.
So, happy giving, spending and saving this season.
Vigeland: Chris Farrell is our economics editor.