Despite the ongoing financial recovery, many people and businesses are still suffering from the recession. You don’t need a lot of money to make a difference in your community. We’ve put together just a few ways that you can help your local economy, and your own finances too.
1. Shop Locally
When you buy your morning coffee and muffin from that great local coffee shop rather than from good ole’ Starbucks, you are supporting local businesses that provide an anchor for the community. In turn, local businesses create jobs that provide wages to local individuals and enhance the tax base, which provides additional funds for local coffers.
You may also receive better service, discounts, and higher quality goods from proprietors who have a personal stake in their businesses.
2. Use Community Banks and Credit Unions
Big banks played a major role in bringing on the financial crisis that triggered the Great Recession. Between predatory loans and questionable investments, many large banks have lost sight of their original mission as safe-keepers of the funds from their customers.
By contrast, community banks and credit unions invest in local businesses and participate in initiatives designed to provide assistance to local residents. By depositing your money in local financial institutions, you play a direct role in promoting programs that benefit your area.
3. Establish a Neighborhood-Based Emergency Fund
Do you know of an individual or family in your neighborhood that is struggling financially? If so, you may feel sympathetic and powerless to help. While you may not have the means to provide financial assistance by yourself, you may be able to work with others to form a valuable lifeline through a neighborhood-based emergency fund. This fund can serve as a self-renewing resource for your friends and neighbors facing financial hardship. At some point, it may even help you.
Creating a neighborhood emergency fund from the ground up is a fairly sophisticated operation. It’s advisable to consult with an attorney or financial advisor who specializes in that sort of organization rather than taking on the task alone. Working with your local church or a social service organization provides another possible avenue for managing donations. Once the fund is up and running, appoint an administrator or two to qualify applicants, obtain contributions, and arrange repayment from recipients.
4. Hire Neighborhood Kids and Adults for Household Chores and Projects
Hiring the kid down the street for babysitting or yard work is a time-honored tradition in many locations. By doing so you are providing paid work to local teens who may have few options for generating income. You also have the comfort of knowing just who is watching your kids or cleaning out your garage.
For larger projects, seek out local entrepreneurs and skilled tradespeople to do the job if possible. Check out the statuses of any required licenses through your state’s licensing bureau or a recognized industry-wide organization. Obtain reports on the quality of their work through word-of-mouth referrals, Better Business Bureau reports and Yelp or Angie’s List.
5. Share Your Skills as a Volunteer
Even if you lack the means to participate in a neighborhood-based emergency fund and live in a rental unit where maintenance is your landlord’s headache, you can still contribute to well being of your neighborhood. If you have a particular area of expertise, why not volunteer your services? You could assist children with their homework for your neighborhood after-school program or help youngsters develop sports skills by coaching a team.
No special skills are required to provide one-on-one guidance as a Big Brother or a Big Sister. Likewise, you can assist an elderly neighbor with her weekly grocery run or honor our nation’s veterans living in local nursing homes with personal visits.
Doing Good for Your Neighborhood
Whether through cash contributions or with direct action, nearly everyone can do something to help the local economy. Taking an active role in improving your neighborhood or lending a hand to your friends and neighbors can counteract any sense of helplessness you may have. In many instances, you can witness the benefits of your actions in real-time – so you know you’re doing good in your neighborhood.
Audrey Henderson is a Chicagoland-based writer and researcher. She holds advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. Her writing specialties are sustainable development in the built environment, policy related to arts and popular culture, socially and ecologically responsible travel, civic tech and personal finance.