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5 Budget-Friendly Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

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The tinsel is hung and the Christmas music medleys have begun--ready or not, the holiday season is upon us!

At malls and shopping centers across the country, millions of Americans are fighting for parking spaces and speed walking through crowded aisles in search of that perfect present. But the truth is, the greatest gift requires hardly any money and can't be found at your local Brookstone. It's the gift of making a difference. Below you'll find five budget-friendly (shopping mall-free) ways to give back to your friends, family and community this holiday season. And you won't even have to step into a food court ... not one.

1. Volunteer- In 2008, 61.8 million Americans (more than a quarter of the population) volunteered at least once, proving that donating time is one of the most popular ways of giving back. At VolunteerMatch.org and Serve.gov you can find a spectrum of volunteer opportunities in neighborhoods across the country. Log on to find a project that inspires you and then invite your friends and family to get on board. Nothing revives the human spirit more than dedicating a few hours of precious time to one's community.

2. Donate- As Winston Churchill so famously said, "We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give." With over one million nonprofits operating in the United States, there are a plethora of wonderful organizations in need of support. Whether it's helping to stop pediatric AIDS by donating to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, making the world a greener place at GlobalGreen.org or helping to improve the lives of abused farm animals by supporting Farm Sanctuary, you have the power to make a real difference.

Don't have any extra cash this holiday season? No problem! Donating gently used clothes, gifts and food are great low-budget ways to get involved. Take it a step further by visiting BeTheMatch.org and learn how to become a bone marrow donor and help the 3,000 patients each year that suffer from leukemia, aplastic anemia and other fatal blood diseases.

3. Get Kind- Being kind is cool and there's nothing cooler than participating in a totally random act of kindness. Luckily, the Internet is loaded with fantastic resources to help do-gooders of any age, race or creed find ways to give back. WishUponaHero.com is an online community of "people helping people" by granting wishes. Does "Wish-Granter" sound like an expensive title? It doesn't have to be. With over a quarter million wishes on the website, you can easily find one that fits your budget. ActsofKindness.org is another great online resource. Visit their Free Stuff page to find meaningful, no-cost ways to participate in change.

4. Give Green- Tis the season for giving! But what does all that generosity mean for the planet? Here in the Unites States, we generate a whopping 5 million tons of extra waste during the holiday season. This year, find creative ways to show you care without hurting Mother Earth. At JustGive.org you can search a master database of local nonprofit organizations and purchase a Charity Gift Card in your loved one's honor. Want to "adopt" a sea creature or reforest a nation? Stop by TheDailyGreen.com to find 15 ways to give gifts without giving stuff. If purchase you must, learn about the latest and greatest eco-responsible products on Ecorazzi.com's 2009 Green Gift Guide.

5. Social Network for Good- Never ignore the power of social networking! Whether it's through Facebook or Twitter, Myspace or a personal blog, you have the opportunity to educate and inspire countless individuals--all for free. Share a link to an important story or rally your friends to take action. You'd be surprised at how many people are paying attention and what kind of results you can produce in just a few minutes. Hey, and while you're at it, find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @mparrishdudell. Give the gift of knowledge by logging on and taking action.

How do you make a difference during the holidays? Leave a comment below and share your favorite ways to give back.