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Put the 'Giving' Back in Thanksgiving

When we learn to be charitable at an early age it becomes part of who we are.
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The holiday season always brings cherished memories of family gatherings. Every year, it brings turkeys, presents, celebrations, that special sweater and festivities. Most important, Thanksgiving gives us all an opportunity to remember what really matters in our lives. It also brings the reminder that no matter your personal circumstances, there are so many people in the world less fortunate who need help. Thanksgiving reminds us of our duty as people to help others.

I am an advocate of teaching our kids to budget their allowance. An allowance system operates on a "work for pay" principle and a portion of the weekly pay should be set aside for charity. I have always stressed the importance of sharing and giving of one's self in order to be citizens of the community. This Thanksgiving presents the perfect time to introduce this idea to your family and teach them that charity should continue throughout the year.

There are four components to my budget system: Charity, Quick Cash, Medium-Term Savings and Long-Term Savings. Ten percent of all money the children earn should go to charity. Then divide the balance among the remaining three categories.

Children understand the basic idea that it's good to help others so charity is an easy concept to explain, but it still has to be taught. Take this opportunity to impart your personal values to your kids and discuss your favorite charities and why they are worthwhile.

When my son Rhett was a young boy I often took him to a little store in Manhattan. I would sit in the back of the store, never letting him out of my sight, while he wandered around the store to find goodies that he could buy with his "quick cash." This particular day, he went straight for the tootsie pops. He went up to the register and stood in line behind a woman buying an orange.

The orange cost 34 cents. She dumped her coins on the counter and my son watched as the man counted them up, reaching the end of the coins before uttering 34. The cashier told her to put the orange back.

My son glanced up as she turned to walk away and said, "Excuse me, I would like to buy that orange for you." She got embarrassed and responded with a firm, "No no no."

He continued, "This is my quick cash. I get to spend it anyway I want, and I want to buy that orange for you. Then someday, if I don't have food, there will be someone there to buy food for me."

My eyes filled with tears.

I set out that day to teach my son about making decisions on how to spend money. He showed me that he already understood one of the most important pieces of my now 30-year career.

When we learn to be charitable at an early age it becomes part of who we are.

I should note that not all shopping experiences with my children went this well and just like every parent; I have wanted to cry at the supermarket plenty of times when my children weren't being quite as adorable. But that particular day, I felt I had done something right.

I don't know if Rhett still remembers that story. Maybe I'll remind him at the dinner table this Thanksgiving. I do know that he remembers the message as he still takes 10 percent off the top and donates it to causes he cares about.

Remember that charity doesn't have to mean only giving money. I know that particularly in this day and age, giving money doesn't make for an easy task. Think of a way you and your family can give back to your community by giving of your time or talent. You can volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or invite someone to your home who might be alone for the holiday. Make this the start of a tradition of giving.

Hurricane Sandy has disrupted so many lives. If you would like to help those impacted by the storm, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and World Vision are a few of the organizations with ongoing Sandy relief efforts.

It works! Good values become good habits that last a lifetime and mothers never stop being proud of their children.

How will you put the "giving" in your Thanksgiving? I'd like to hear from you.