Taxes 
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Why You Should Put Off Year-End Charitable Contributions

We’re getting close to the end of the year and as everyone does their year end tax planning, it’s important to remember that not all “last minute tax tips” work for everyone. It’s important to analyze your particular tax situation before blindly following these ideas – RJ Weiss shares with us why you might want to wait until January 1st, 2011 to make those charitable donations.

Now that December is here, prepare yourself for Christmas music, crowded malls, and of course, the hundreds of personal finance articles about “Year-End Tax Planning.”

Many of these articles do serve a purpose. However, the majority, do more harm than good.

A common topic among articles about year-end tax planning is the deduction of charitable contributions. What many taxpayers don’t understand is that charitable contributions are only deductible if you itemize your deductions, which only makes sense for about 25% of taxpayers.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how you still might be able to benefit from charitable contributions, even if you don’t plan on itemizing this year. In order to do that, let’s review what deductions are.
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 Personal Finance 
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How to Donate Old Cell Phones

Treo 755pIf you have a really old cell phone, it has no value on the secondary market. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless. There are ways you can put a smile on someone’s face even though cell phone resellers won’t take your junk back.

I recently started having some minor problems with my Palm Treo 755p, mostly dust particles being trapped behind the screen. I’ve had the phone for several years and while reading the screen wasn’t difficult, it did start to get annoying. Fortunately a friend sent me his Palm Centro (yes, also an old phone) that I’ve been happily using ever since. The dilemma now was finding a new home for my old phone.

I knew the phone wasn’t worth anything on the market, a gently used (OK, slightly more than gently) Treo in an age of iPhones and Droids? You could probably weld two iPhones together and still be lighter than my Zach Morris cellphone-wannable. While it wasn’t worth anything to someone with an eye towards an iPhone, I knew that by donating it I could help someone in need while clearing my house of a little bit of junk.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: Charity Solicitations at Stores

With it being the holidays, a lot of stores have partnered up with local charities to solicit donations from customers. If you donate a dollar, you get your name on a balloon or a star that gets plastered behind the registers of a store. It’s always voluntary and optional and only in a few cases have I ever heard of someone “donating” without their consent (the recent Radio Shack – Livestrong debacle).

I have no qualms with these types of arrangements, as long as the retailer isn’t too pushy about it, but I almost never donate money. I don’t donate for a couple reasons:

  • It wasn’t part of the plan. I don’t have some grandiose philanthropic plan but there are several charities we support and while a dollar or two here or there doesn’t derail anything, part of me feels a bit ambushed when I’m solicited at a grocery store.
  • Donating direct is more efficient. The store gets something for their involvement (at least the charity has to pay for the promotional materials), I’d rather donate via a website or sending a check so that the charity gets 100% of the money.

There are, however, exceptions to my general feeling towards these solicitations. For whatever reason, if it has to do with kids and if the promotional push is one of their “big” ones for the year, we’ll usually buy a balloon or star or whatever. The prime example is Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s partnership with Rita’s Water ice.

What’s your take on this? Hate them? Indifferent?


 Taxes 
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9 Year End Tax Moves to Make by Dec. 31st

1040 Bobblehead DudeAfter last week’s Thursday post on adjusting your tax withholding, I thought that we needed a full blown post on the best year end tax moves. So who better to turn to than prolific tax expert Kay Bell, author of The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes? She was kind enough to list not one, not two, but nine tax moves you can make before the ball drops.

It’s time to make your year-end tax list and check it twice to ensure that you give yourself the gift of tax-savings. Here are 9 ways this month to help make your 2009 tax bill as small as possible.

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 NEWS 
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Disney “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” Rewards Volunteers

Donalt DuckDisney just announced that they would be kicking off a marketing campaign titled “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion. Starting January 1st, 2010, if you volunteer a day of community service at select charities, you can get a free one-day, one-park ticket. They will give out a million tickets until December 15th, or until they run out. The “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion is going to replace the current promotion where you can get free admission to the park on your birthday.

How do you participate? Visit’s the Give a Day, Get a Disney Day page to sign up and look for an eligible volunteer opportunity in your area. You won’t be able to sign up or search for opportunities until January 1st but you can sign up to get an email reminder when the program gets started.

I checked out the terms & conditions of the offer and it’s fairly relaxed. There are some restrictions on when you can use the ticket (You can’t enter Walt Disney World Resort between March 29th – April 8th, and July 4th; you can’t enter Disneyland on February 13-14, March 21, June 21-22, July 4, NOvember 21, or December 11-12). Outside of the day restrictions, I don’t see aren’t any other notable or unexpected requirements (full terms & conditions).

Give a Day, Get a Disney Day [HandsOn Network]

(Photo: savannahgrandfather)


 Personal Finance 
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$2.11 Million Lunch Bill: Historical Look at Lunch with Warren Buffett

Warren BuffetToday marks the day that Zhao Danyang, winner of the 2008 Warren Buffett charity lunch, will be dining with the Oracle of Omaha at Smith & Wollensky steakhouse. Zhao Danyang, who runs the Pureheart China Growth Investment Fund in Hong Kong donated a whopping $2.11 million to the Glide Foundation for the opportunity to invite seven of his closest friends to join him and Warren Buffet.

Buffett has been doing these charity auctions for several years and it wasn’t until 2003 did the auctions move online. The proceeds benefit the Glide Foundation, a San Francisco non-profit that offers housing, job training, health and child care, and meals for the poor. In addition to the winner’s donation, Smith & Wollensky also donates $10,000 to the charity as well.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: Do You Volunteer?

In these difficult economic times, charitable organizations and philanthropies have seen a dip in charitable giving. It’s unfortunate but understandable; if you have to decide between rent and supporting a charity, chances are rent will win out.

If you can’t donate money, consider donating your time. I started volunteering at Meals on Wheels in Howard County last week and it’s been a blast so far. The task is pretty simple, the work needs to be done, and my donation of time costs me very little and saves them money. All I’m doing is helping pack a two hundred or so meals once a week (one lunch, one dinner).

The first day consisted of:

  • Opening up cans of fruit cocktail and scooping about three ounces of it into little containers.
  • Packing two juices, a milk, an apple, turkey sandwich, mayo, and a tea bag into brown paper bags.
  • Heating up some kosher soups in the microwave.
  • Spooning broccoli into a little plastic lunch tray, that already had pasta and italian sausage, and handing it off to someone else to seal.

Day two? It was St. Paddy’s day so the cold meal was roast beef and the hot meal was corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. We were done in two hours flat.

And during that entire mechanical process, I chatted with the three other volunteers about all sorts of stuff. We even talked about Twitter! They knew what it was, they just didn’t get why it was popular… how about that?

Do you volunteer anywhere and, if so, where? What’s the work like? If you don’t and have a few hours to spare, please give it some consideration because it’s a lot of fun, you get to meet some great people, and you get to do some good without spending a dime.


 Devil's Advocate 
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Don’t Donate Money To Charity

Devils Advocate Logo
This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Donation BoxThis Devil’s Advocate post will cover something that’s bound to elicit a lot of discussion – here are four reasons why you shouldn’t donate money to charity. That’s right, you read that correctly, I have four reasons why donating your hard earned money to a charity is a bad idea and chances are there is at least one reason here that you didn’t even consider. If there was ever a Devil’s Advocate post to end all Devil’s Advocate posts (don’t worry, it’s not the last one), this would probably be one of them!

Americans are one of the most charitable groups in the world, having donating $306 billion in 2007 according to the Philanthropy Journal, an increase of 3.9% over the year before. While the donation amounts in 2008, a period of economic uncertainty, are not yet known, chances are Americans will still be sending hundreds of billions to philanthropic organizations… so in the face of that, I present to you four reasons why you shouldn’t donate money to charity.

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