It’s that special time of year – the holiday season. For many retailers, its “special” because it’s when they reap most of their annual sales. The U.S. National Retail Federation projects 2014 holiday sales will make up 19% of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion. This would mark the greatest increase since 2011 with a holiday sales increase of more than 4%.

It’s difficult not to get swept up in the season of giving, meaning buying. So, what is a socially responsible person and well-meaning “change-the-world” type to do? They try to align their values and beliefs with purchasing decisions for loved ones. They ask themselves, “How can my money not only procure a gift, but be used for positive economic growth and create social/environmental/community/cultural impact for a better world?”

For each dollar (or Euro or ‘Canadian Peso’, etc.) spent – on durable goods or services – your credit card, mortgage payment or auto loan, builds capital – which finances our economy. It is YOUR choice where that money goes, whether to local small businesses or international corporations. Same for gift giving.

So in the spirit of the season, we want to provide this ‘gift’ of three shopping tips to help you think about how to spend your money.

1. Buy Local

The benefits of shopping locally are well-documented. According to the Green Chambers of Commerce, for every $100 spent at a national chain, only $14 stays in the community. For every $100 spent locally, $45 circulates throughout your community. And this then gets spent by the local business owner and their employees, leveraging that capital.

Have you visited local bookstores, clothing stores, hardware stores, local artists and others? Don’t know where they are? There are lots of ways to find them. Check your local chamber of commerce, business district, and online. How about a gift certificate to a local company, eatery, or service? Does your uncle really need another ____ (necktie, sweater, deodorant, etc.)

2. Move Your Money

Where is your money creating wealth for others? Is it in the hands of a multinational corporation or in a community-centered institution? If the former, maybe it’s time to move your money. Move Our Money is a national campaign to get money out of big banks and into community institutions and credit unions. To date, they have mobilized nearly over a billion dollars. In 2010, the state of New Mexico voted to move all of the state’s money into credit unions and community banks, recognizing that these local institutions are financially sound, and actively work to generate wealth within their communities. They are FDIC-insured, so your money is safe.

Credit unions are member-owned and -controlled cooperative banks. Qualifying for membership in most of local institutions is easy. Want to see all your options? Look at Move Our Money or try the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (

Why is moving your money to these institutions important? These localized institutions are the true “job creators” of our local economy. But they can’t underwrite loans to small businesses without our capital. Give the gift of financial stability to your community by having your money go local, thus enabling sound institutions to lend money to other local entities, which hire locally.

3. Exchange Your Time

What if, instead of time equaling money, time just equaled time? Across North America, time banks are becoming more popular as communities recognize the value of traditionally overlooked and unpaid work. The concept is an old one – barter: for every hour of time you give, you receive a Time Dollar credit. That Time Dollar can be banked and spent when you need an hour of your neighbor’s time. TimeBank USA’s founder, Edgar Cahn, calls this “community weaving.”

One of the earliest and most famous forms of time exchange is Ithaca, NY’s ‘Ithaca HOURS.’ These HOURS are actual printed scrip that many local businesses accept as an alternative form of currency. Over $100,000 worth of HOURS are in circulation. Sound like an interesting idea? Find a directory at Time Bank USA.

Your Money Makes a Difference

Whether you spend $1 or $1 million this holiday season, your choices are important. We can’t all make our own gifts, eat free-range organic turkey and use homemade gift wrap, which we share with our loved ones. If you do, good for you and go for it. But we can choose how we spend our money. It can be a gift to your community, neighbors, friends and to yourself. Imagine how much good could be done—how many small businesses funded, how many local jobs created, how many families sustained—if everyone were to have their money go local in at least one new way this holiday season.

Written by Drew Tulchin and adapted by Suzannah Simmons and Kevin Lynn

Drew Tulchin is the Managing Consultant at UpSpring (, formerly Social Enterprise Associates) a boutique management-consulting firm supporting the design, growth and measurement of mission-driven, market leveraging, and values based ventures throughout North America and around the world. We generate ideas, spark actions, and measure results providing tailored, practical and affordable solutions to real world problems. UpSpring supports entrepreneurs to implement their visions.

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