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Five cheap and charitable holiday gift ideas

Holiday shopping season is now in full gear, as mall hours lengthen deep into the night and store flyers brim with seasonal gift gear. If you're already feeling fatigued by the season of conspicuous consumption, it may be time to consider giving presents that have a social conscience and are thrifty to boot.

Virtually every large charity offers alternative gifts these days. It's a great way for all involved to feel good. You can rest easy knowing your money is going to a worthy cause instead of toward another salad bowl that will be regifted at a New Year's party anyway. Here are my top five cheap and charitable holiday gift ideas.

1. Give gifts that keep on giving. This is the kind of gift where you buy a donkey and one person gets the donkey, while another person gets a card with a picture of the donkey, as Karen Palmer, media officer for Oxfam Canada, puts it. The nonprofit that tackles poverty in developing countries has launched Oxfam Unwrapped, where, in honour of a friend or family member, you can purchase gifts such as the aformentioned donkey for $150, or a chicken (chicks included) for a frugal $38.

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2. Make a microloan. I've written before about microloans, the practice of people loaning small amounts of money to individuals in developing nations to help them start a business and get out of poverty. Organizations such as Kiva let you make a loan online to an entrepreneur across the globe for as little as $25. Make a microdonation in the name of a family member or friend as a gift this holiday and let them share in the spirit of giving.

3. Use your reward points. You collect them all year - now is the time to put your points to good use. Through, collectors can donate reward miles to organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, Special Olympics Canada or Kids Help Phone. A donation of 170 Air Miles equals a donation of $20 and you can have the tax receipt sent to the person of your choice. If you are an Aeroplan member, you can donate miles to charities such as Doctors Without Borders and Earth Day Canada.

4. Find presents with proceeds to charities. Many Canadian nonprofits sell toys, crafts and housewares as fundraisers and they can be given as gifts that would suit just about everyone. For the kids on your list, check out WWF Canada's animal adoption program. For $40 (tax eligible amount $30), you can choose to adopt from among 20 animals, including a giant panda and emperor penguin. Put the adoption certificate in the name of the gift recipient and they'll receive an adoption kit that includes a plush animal version of the adoptee, a personalized adoption gift certificate and details about the work that the gift will help support. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation offers a broad variety of products from partners that have earmarked a portion of the proceeds to the charity. For the cook on your list, you can buy a pink KitchenAid stand mixer and the company will make a 10 per cent donation to the foundation. Or pick up a copy of Rose Reisman's cookbook The Complete Light Kitchen and know that 100 per cent of the proceeds will benefit the foundation. To find more holiday gifts that support charities, check out, which lists Canadian nonprofits that sell their products online.

5. Give a charity gift card. If you're not sure which charity would mean the most to your friend or relative, consider giving a gift card from CanadaHelps. CanadaHelps, an online portal to thousands of registered Canadian charities, offers gift cards that let the recipient choose where to give. Simply go to the CanadaHelps website, pick an amount, provide information on where the card is going, and proceed to checkout. Your gift recipient will receive an e-mail notification about the gift, with instructions on how to spend it on a charity, and you will receive a tax receipt for your donation.

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