Should I Donate Money at Checkout?

donate at checkoutYesterday I was at the repair shop after one of our cars had a large bolt stuck in one of the tires, causing a slow leak. When we came to pick-up the vehicle, I was given the total due and then asked if we wished to “round-up” for a local charity.

This was one of the first times I was asked to donate at a repair shop. I typically get these requests at the grocers that we frequent. And usually, I do agree to the donations as it isn't a lot of money and most of the charities are worth supporting (plus, I don't want to look cheap in front of those behind me in line!   ).

All this got me to thinking more about this. “Should I be donating to retailers when checking out?”

Things to consider before donating at checkout

I asked our accountant about why a retailer may be asking customers to do this.

“[There's] no incentive that I know of…just a marketing ploy that gives the customer a readily available visual that the store is supporting some charities.”

It seems a lot more stores are trying to appear more philanthropic to their communities to show goodwill. Like our accountant said, it probably fosters good vibes among shoppers.

One reason that I'm a bit hesitant about giving to retailers is that I never really see the results of these donations.

“I have read reports that say it’s difficult to prove in a lot of cases that the stores are actually giving all the donation money they collect. It’s not like we ever see a sign “customers gave $XX that we sent to YY in 2016”. Some stores I have seen put a symbol around the store (like a heart with a name on it) each time a person gives, so you can somewhat see that others are giving.”

My accountant went on to say that she usually says no at the checkout to donations because of these reasons. Plus, it is hard to track these gifts.

If you decide to give at checkout

While I'm not advocating for or against giving at the retailer – it's important to keep a few things in mind.

Realize these gifts are generally tax deductible. But you'll want to make note of the following to get a write-off:

  • A donation given should show on the receipt
  • Copy the receipt (receipts tend to fade over time)
  • Staple the receipt to the copy
  • Add it to your other charitable donations
  • Keep the receipt / copy with your tax year info

Often these amounts are quite small – and you may feel they won't “add up” to anything or be more than the standard deduction you get on your taxes. However, if you typically itemize and frequently give a lot at checkout, it may be worth the effort.

I think giving is an important personal finance discipline. But for me, I typically like to direct my money where I want / and also know it is going to be put to use.

What are your thoughts? Do you generally give at checkout or what has your experience been when asked?

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  1. I dont usually donate at checkout. Im sure some good is done but im not exactly sure where the money is going and how responsible they are in spending it. Plus it seems that you cant go anywhere without being asked to donate for something. It just seems like charity overload. Its a shame in a way, but there are just so many. One of my pet peeves is kids outside of a store asking to donate for baseball or soccer. I know it sounds harsh, but you want me to pay for that? You parents can’t save up $100 all year long for a uniform or some equipment? Where is the responsibility? It would be a perfect lesson for a kid that age to do some odd jobs to earn the money they needed.

    • You’re right Arrgo – there are a lot of requests out there for money. Can’t donate to everything!

  2. Nah, it messes up my budget. I don’t want to split 100 transactions to give 5 bucks. I budget my charitable giving and send it directly.

  3. I agree. If the store wants to support some charity, let them and their employees do it, and then put up a sign so we can pat them on the back.
    Like you, Aaron, I want to know where my donations are going and that they are actually getting to those I want to give to.

    • That’s a good idea – keep things internal. I suppose they feel they can get more donations by asking everyone / they get good PR. I just think if you’re gonna ask customers, you’d better inform them of the results then of the drive.

  4. This is an interesting point. I don’t think I’ve ever donated at checkout, but the cashiers sure like to make me feel guilty as hell about it. I give money to the charities that I already support; while I’m sure the store’s supported charity is great, it’s soliciting in a way that catches me off guard.

    • Yeah, if you aren’t used to the request, it is a bit odd. “You’re asking for MORE money from me?”

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