There's a reason nine out of 10 Australians give moolah to charity ($400 per person per year, on average): giving makes us feel good. People are happier when they spend money on others than when they spend it on themselves, according to a recent study published in the journal Science.
But you don't always have to open your purse (unless it's an Hermès - in which case, empty the thing - immediately). There's plenty you can do for others that doesn't cost a lot or require much effort on your part. Check out these easy, novel ideas, some of which cost you zilch. You'll be helping people in need, at home and abroad, plus you'll get a nice feel-good buzz from it.
TAKE UP KNITTING
Channel your inner grandma. Kogo (Knit One Give One) distributes yarn to anyone who cares; the patterns are downloaded from knitonegiveone.org. The finished garments are then donated to really cold people who need warm clothes, through organisations like the Salvos. In 2007, 6000 hand-knitted items were made and donated.
Cost to you: $8 knitting needles and the postage back to Kogo.
FLEX YOUR PLASTIC
Yeah, the credit crunch hit hard, but it hasn't just rocked the western world. So, when you're shopping for a gift, buy homewares, jewellery, clothing and furniture from novica.com. You'll give back directly to the artists - who name their own prices - from places such as Thailand, West Africa, India and Mexico. Each item comes with a profile of the artist and you can post them a thank-you note. For the betrothed, the site has a gift registry.
Cost to you: from $19.95 plus shipping.
PRESS THE RIGHT BUTTONS
Visit ripple.org every few days. Its homepage sports four buttons - water, food, education and money - and when you click on one of them, an advertisement appears. One hundred per cent of the ad revenue is given to charities that deliver those four life-giving gifts to developing communities. Bonus: a search engine powered by Google, also sponsored by advertisers.
Cost to you: a few seconds of your time.
PLAY FAIR (TRADE)
Find out where to buy fair trade products at the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand's website, fta.org.au.
Fair trade ensures that producers and workers exporting goods get a fair price, instead of being ripped off by middlemen. Common fair trade items include coffee, chocolate, tea, rice and arts and crafts. In supermarkets and health food shops, look out for the Fairtrade Label. Cost to you: a bit more than the conventional products you buy anyway.
HIT UP YOUR FRIENDS
Want to climb a mountain, jump out of a plane or eat 100 chicken wings in one minute - all in the name of a charity of your choice? Generate a profile, choose an activity or event and raise funds for your chosen charity at mycause.com.au. Friends and family can also donate here in lieu of a gift. Cost to you: physical exertion and/or possible humiliation.
GET A PAY PAL
Use the cash nanna gave you for Christmas for good, not evil (eg, Christian Louboutins). Apparently Jesus taught people how to fish; microfinancing is the modern equivalent. It's the lending of cashola to entrepreneurs in third world countries, who can't get finance from a bank, to start their own business. At Kiva.org, you can choose your loan recipient. When your money's paid back, you can pick someone else to help.
Cost to you: from $25.
CALL A CAB
Being good to others is all well and good, but what about the planet? Ease your carbon conscience and pick a taxi or chauffeur service with a hybrid-car fleet, like ecolimo.com.au in Sydney and Melbourne, ecotistic.biz in Perth and greentomatocars.com.au in Sydney.
Cost to you: from $2.75 per kilometre to a flat rate of $70 per hour, depending on which company you go with.