Priceless Gifts Don't Cost a Thing

Commentator Yolanda Young suggests the most meaningful gifts to give and receive at the holidays are free. Young is an attorney and author of the memoir On Our Way to Beautiful.

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ED GORDON, host:

As if you needed a reminder, there's less than a week left for you to finish your Christmas shopping. This year, many people are consciously trying to cut back on consumerism. For those looking for less materialistic ways of expressing their affection, commentator Yolanda Young reminds us that the most meaningful gifts don't cost a thing.

YOLANDA YOUNG:

We all got a wish list for the holidays. I'd like a 64-inch strand of Mikimoto pearls to sling down my back, a pair of Manolo Blahniks that I'm perfectly comfortable standing in so long as I don't have to take a step, and a little black dress with which to show them off. Neither I nor my friends and family can afford to buy me these things. Of course, this has never stopped us in the past. We've merely pulled out the plastic and noted that Christmas comes only once a year. Unfortunately, we often end up paying for it over a lifetime.

Data collected and analyzed by Black Enterprise magazine found that African-Americans squander a larger percentage of our income shelling out payments for credit cards and other high interest-rate liabilities. Over time, this increases the likelihood of eventual bankruptcy. A study of consumer finances by the Federal Reserve found that the debt of blacks was nearly twice that of whites. Our credit card debt is nearly 9 percent of our income while it is only about 6 percent of the income of whites. Total debt for blacks, at 42 percent, far exceeds the 16 1/2 percent that whites carry. Adding insult to injury, much of our debt is tied up in depreciating assets such as cars, furniture, clothes and electronics. You know, the items we like to splurge on during the gift-giving season.

This is not to suggest our giving is limited to the superficial. Indeed, a 2003 study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that blacks who give to charities donate 25 percent more of their discretionary income than do white donors. The things to keep in mind this time of year is that money is not the only or, dare I say, even the best way to give. This year, why not do yourself and your loved ones a favor? Give gifts that are priceless and at the same time don't put a dent in your bottom line.

Contribute your time. Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Train a Seeing Eye dog, or answer phones during an NPR membership drive. Send a thoughtful, handwritten note to someone who does so much but asks for so little. Donate a pint of blood. Let someone off the hook. Bequest something to future generations. Teach a child to read or recycle old newspapers, bottles and grocery bags. Be 100 percent agreeable for an entire day. Run errands for an elderly neighbor. Become an organ donor or allow your remains to be used to educate doctors at an historically black medical school. Or volunteer to be the designated driver on New Year's Eve. After all, what we really want for Christmas is not another sweater or scarf. We yearn to be wrapped in a spirit of peace and forgiveness and surrounded by those we love.

GORDON: Yolanda Young is an attorney and author of the memoir, "On Our Way to Beautiful."

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