You get in line with your basket of extravagant goodies for your special dinner night in, one that would cost four times as much if you went out to eat. It is so splurge worthy that you had to talk yourself into being okay with the fact that there was nary a coupon to offset the cost (Hint: ibotta, have a cash back for lobster!). But no matter, it's a special occasion. The cashier rings it up and asks, "Shall I add a donation of a dollar for our children's charity? It's only a dollar and the children will benefit greatly." You break out into a cold sweat. You want to leave your cart and run screaming from the store. You can't handle the thoughts simultaneously running through your head to the tune of something like this:
"Huh? What did you ask? Who is it for? Why are you asking? Huh?"
"Hmm. Do I really want to donate?"
"No, I don't want to donate but now I have a squirmy feeling in my gut because I just purchased filet mignon and lobster tail and I'm too cheap to give a dollar. Plus it's for children or puppies, something cute like that. C'mon!"
I believe the first time it happened to me I mumbled a half-hearted "sure" and grudgingly handed over my dollar. My only solace was that the dollar had a huge tear in it. The car ride home consisted of a long conversation with myself about this cash register donation thing which continued with my husband over dinner, which unfortunately did not include lobster. We agreed that checkout charity donations are evil for five reasons:
You Can't Possibly Evaluate the Charity in a Split Second
How many times have you been asked to donate to a charity you've never heard of or to a general category like "children's charity." If you give, you probably have a set of criteria used to evaluate the cause you're about to support. A big one for me is knowing how much of the donation actually helps the intended versus supporting marketing efforts and administrative costs.
At the checkout line there is no such opportunity for evaluation. It's not that I think spur of the moment gifts are bad or the charitable organizations aren't worth supporting, but as it seems to be happening at every store nowadays, not to mention at the entrance to the stores, it doesn't hurt to be more thoughtful about our giving, even when the amount is tiny.
You Don't Get the Write Off
My biggest pet peeve with the whole checkout charity scene is that we the customers do the giving and the big businesses get all of the credit to the tune of millions of dollars a year in tax write offs. They get to talk about their philanthropy and try to convince us that though they are big they have small town hearts. Here's the kicker. We don't even feel good about giving because we're too busy wallowing in guilt because we really don't want to give a dollar or feel judged by those behind us in line...who don't want to give a dollar either.
Perhaps I'm too cynical about the primary purpose of the collecting. You can get a tax write off for your checkout charity donation in certain instances (i.e. the donation is listed on the receipt along with the name of the qualified charity, and you itemize deductions on your tax forms). Also, not all stores take write offs. Some do donate 100% of the proceeds. On the other hand...
The Stores Don't Match the Donations of Their Customers
I'm sure this is not the case for all of them, but I find it a little off putting that literally millions of dollars are being collected from customers and the companies don't price match even a portion. Sure, research will show that many match employee donations, and that's great, but what about the checkout charity? Why don't they contribute to that too? Personally I'd be more inclined to give if I knew they matched donations and gave 100% of all proceeds to the charity they supported.
You Feel Guilty Not Good When You Give
Sweaty palms. Claustrophobic trapped feeling. Inability to make eye contact. Nervous stomach. Paranoia about being judged. That's not satisfaction you're feeling, it's guilt. A quick internet search will show that it's a common phenomenon. It's so ubiquitous that businesses have to know how their checkout charities are making customers feel. Still, more seem to pop up every day. Why? Because the tactic works. Pledge to feel good about your philanthropy. If you don't want to give, say no even though it's hard. You'll feel better by the time you exit the store.
Cement Blocks are More Transparent than Checkout Charities
There are too many questions surrounding checkout charities. What's the purpose of the charity? How does it achieve its goal? What role does the store play in supporting the charity besides our donations? Do they match any of the donations? What percentage is donated directly to the charity? Does the store get a tax write off? Does the store charge the charity administrative fees? Does the charity pay to be placed in the store? Are cashiers incentivized to ask customers to donate? It's only a dollar, I know. On the other hand, that's too much to have to think about for the sake of a dollar when all I want is a carton of milk.
I don't run screaming from checkout charities and I don't donate to them either. I do smile a little too widely when saying no which seems to result in the cashier looking away quickly and silently completing my transaction. That works.
Kim Owens is a psychologist, former college VP, and awesome deal getter currently obsessed with zoodles and launching her new blog MoneyUndertheCushions.
She invites you to get your complimentary copy of the "Goof Proof Guide to Slashing Your Cable Bill (and More) and Saving Hundreds or More a Year!" You'll also receive updates, tips, and inspiration on ways to, "Make More, Save More, and Be Happy." Come on over and join the Money Under the Cushions gang!.