NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- No matter how big your heart is, donating money to charity has become more difficult for many Americans facing unemployment, or at least underemployment, along with a higher cost of living.

What if you could give back to a charitable cause without writing a check? Well, you can. Here are 10 innovative ways to show how big your heart is when it comes to making donations without spending a dime more than you already do or volunteering your precious time.

1. Coupons for items you don't need are needed by charities

When it comes to saving money, coupons typically come to mind, and there is no shortage of coupon sources, from the traditional newspaper to websites and coupon apps.

Stephanie Nelson of and author of "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half" suggests becoming a strategic shopper. "In the process of buying items with coupons, you end up finding deals that you can't always use for yourself. We encourage you to donate these extra items to charity," she advises.

According to Nelson, personal care items, such as toothpaste, razors and shampoo, can be purchased at no cost with the proper coupons, making this the perfect donation to a local charity.

You can stack coupons, too -- using a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon at the same time. Check your local store's coupon policy for details (they're typically posted on the store's website.)

2. An even easier way to give through coupons

Using coupons to find deals on behalf of local charities can be time consuming. In fact, staying on top of coupons with your scissor can be time-consuming before charity even enters into it. But if you're the type who typically browses the internet for coupons every now and then, you can still make a charitable impact.

A new website,, offers this deal: for every three coupons used on the site a meal will be donated to an American family in need. The site has partnered with Feeding America.

"We're at a time when couponing is so important -- there were 3.5 billion coupons redeemed in 2011. We can help families stretch their dollar and at the same time, give back," says Michele Boal, the website's founder.

3. Donate your old cell phone

If you have been throwing your old cell phones in a drawer for the past few years, it won't cost you a dime to donate the phone to someone who needs it.

Get in touch with your local cell phone store or contact your wireless provider to discuss the best options for donating your old phone.

And with new versions of cell phones and smartphones being rolled out every year, chances are you've accumulated a phone or two in the past that you don't need anymore.

4. Search and give

Have you ever counted how many times per day you use a search engine? What if money could be donated to your favorite charity every time you made a search online, including all those searches for product reviews and the lowest price on an item?

The website does just that. "GoodSearch donates a penny a search to the charities and schools designated by its users. You use GoodSearch exactly as you would any other search engine. The money GoodSearch donates to one's cause comes from its advertisers -- the users and the organizations do not spend a dime," says Scott Garell, the site's CEO.

5. Dine and give

Find yourself eating out at restaurants frequently? We don't normally associate restaurants with charities, but is on track to change that thinking.

"GoodSearch expanded further to include in 2011. With GoodDining, our users can eat in or take out at 10,000 restaurants nationwide and earn up to 6% in donations for their favorite charity or school," Garell says.

6. Donate rewards points

If you have a credit card, chances are it has a rewards program. And those rewards points can be donated.

"Many credit card companies offer ways for you to donate the points or miles you've earned in their reward programs to charities such as the Red Cross. Log in to your online credit card portal to see if you're eligible," says lifestyle consultant Joshua Duvauchelle.

For specifics, visit the American Red Cross webpage on donating rewards points.

7. It's easy being green, and big-hearted

Are you passionate about environmental causes and charities? The website might be up your alley.

"As an environmentally aware shopper who wants to be green while saving green, I personally love," Duvauchelle says.

This site provides coupons, discounts and points for those who pledge to do certain acts of good, such as recycling cereal boxes. Users can also earn points when shopping through the site at certain retailers and use those points to support a good cause like planting a tree through American Forests.

8. Shopping and giving

By shopping through, $1 out of every $5 you spend will be donated to a charity of your choice. Use the site to shop from hundreds of brands and product categories -- from desk accessories to candles to wine accessories. And if you can't decide on a specific charity, the site has a "featured charity," which will receive the donations.


Another way to link your online activity to donations is via the website "Sites such as let you earn points for doing acts of good online, such as watching a video about forests or sharing a petition about illegal whaling. You can then use these points to buy online discounts and coupons, but you can also use the points to 'buy' donations to charities," Duvauchelle says.

10. Follow charity using social media

Charities have strengthened their social media presence. Be sure to follow your favorite charities on Facebook and Twitter. This way, when they're running an event in your neighborhood or are in need of a specific type of donation, you can be instantly notified about the opportunity to give back.

Remember, these methods don't affect your bottom line. It's simply a matter of making your existing consumer activity more charitable.

More on charity:

4 Tips to find the right charity

5 ways to avoid holiday charity scams

-- By Scott Gamm

Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website He has appeared on NBC's TODAY, MSNBC and CNN. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.

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