My mother is a good woman. But on being greeted by a charming golden retriever, a shaking red bucket and the dog’s well-meaning human handler from a local animal charity, a line had been crossed, even for her.
Having already put her hand in her pocket for multiple charities in the town centre while Christmas shopping – from the wonderful Salvation Army brass band playing Away in a manger and the granddaughter she sent forth with a few quid, to the ebullient veteran who offered to pack her bags at M&S for a military charity – as a pensioner with no private income, she felt there was nothing more she could reasonably offer.
Dodging the dog’s (adorable) gaze, my mother took her guilt with her on the bus back home.
Such anxiety will be familiar to many of us. Around Christmas we spend money on those we love, often painfully aware of our blessings and how we might give more to those less fortunate.
And it turns out, we in UK are the most generous people in Europe, followed by Ireland and the Netherlands. This is according to the latest CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) World Giving Index, which measures the average percentage of people in each country who donate money, volunteer or help a stranger.
So even those of us already feeling maxed out by Christmas may also have that nagging sensation we want to do more. The good news is, of course, that it’s not just about the cash. We can do more by spending nothing.
For example, the festive season often puts the blood stocks hospitals require under extra pressure. It’s easy to find a local appointment to give the gift of blood.
Expecting a stocking packed with new tech? You could donate unwanted electrical goods to the likes of the British Heart Foundation. Go to www.bhf.org.uk to book a free collection.
Are you ever going to ‘slim down’ into those trousers for Christmas? Leave a bumper bag for the charity clothes collection, checking out www.charitybags.org.uk for tips on donating to genuine causes.
Time is sometimes better than money. Do-it.org lists more than a million volunteering opportunities posted by national and local charities, as well as voluntary groups. Do-it Trust also runs GoProBono, a 'super hub' for professional skills-based volunteering.
Christmas and New Year often make us consider our legacy, perhaps even more so this year when so many well-known faces departed during 2016. Leaving something for a charity in your will won’t cost anything today, but will be taken off the value of your estate before inheritance tax is calculated, or reduce your inheritance tax rate if you leave more than 10 per cent of your estate to charity.
Of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Holy Grail for many charities is predictable income, even if it’s relatively modest amounts. So, perhaps we could all find a little extra each month for a new charity direct debit after all?
Helen Monks Takhar is a freelance financial writer