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Movie or mango tree? How your discretionary income can help others

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This is part of The Globe and Mail's in-depth look at the evolution of philanthropy. Read more from the series here.

Before you leave work, you delete those guilt-inducing e-mail pleas for donations. As you head home, you're accosted by a fleece-vest-clad canvasser for an environmental NGO and rebuff his pitch. When you pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, you decline the cashier's suggestion that you donate $2 to the local hospital.

Hey, you're on a budget. How much can you really afford to give? Canadians' annual donations to charity climbed steadily for years, but in 2007, they settled in at $250 and haven't budged since. The bulk of your income may go to mortgage, car and food-related expenses, but there's probably plenty of discretionary spending happening too.

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If you want to donate more, doing so is as simple as swapping out a "want" purchase for a "need" for someone else. If you gave up a personal indulgence, what charitable gift could you give?

A mani-pedi at a nail salon, $50 = Six household emergency kits for six families containing pots, pans, cups, plates, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper and clothing from Oxfam Canada

The Tudors: Royal Collection box set on DVD, $120 = Enough food to feed a family of four for a week through the Calgary Food Bank

Citizens of Humanity men's jeans, $250 = A care package for families moving out of shelter into a new home from Red Door Family Shelter, Toronto

An Apple iPhone 4, $500 = A local water pump from Unicef

An afternoon snowboarding lesson, $100 = A sheep from CARE Canada, which can produce offspring that can be sold for income

A woman's leather coat, $400 = A crib mattress at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children for newborns under observation

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A week's worth of grande lattes from Starbucks, $25 = A bed for a homeless teen to sleep on for one night in Toronto through Youth Without Shelter

Admission to a film, $12 = A mango tree from Plan Canada for income

A Barbie Jam Rock Star Guitar, $40 = A vaccine pack from Unicef containing 73 polio vaccines, 73 tetanus vaccines and 83 measles vaccines

Note: Some of the amounts have been rounded.

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