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Saying 'Thanks' Costs Nothing, but Pays Off

At this time of year, putting appreciation into action costs little or no money.

Move beyond thinking what you are thankful for and put that appreciation into action.

Even with the current economic turmoil, most of us have a lot to be thankful for. No matter how bad things may seem with your personal finances, it's likely there is someone who is financially worse off. Even if your finances are tight, there are still plenty of actions you can take that cost little or no money to show your gratitude. Here are a few to consider:

Help your neighbors: As you are raking leaves or shoveling snow, why not help out your neighbors with the same? If you're using a ladder, why not offer to hang Christmas lights for others and, while you're up there, make sure their gutters are clean.

Doing just one of these things will be much appreciated. In addition, fostering good relations with neighbors can have a positive effect on your finances. They may look out for your home when you're on vacation or return the favor in some other way. Remember, you will almost always get more in return than the effort you put out.

Clean up the neighborhood: Take some time to pick up trash, scrub walls and clean up other areas around your neighborhood. A recent study confirmed the "broken window" theory really does exist. (Fix the small things, such as broken windows, and clean up the sidewalks, and there will be less tendency for those things to get out of control, the theory goes.) So not only are you making your area nicer for everyone, you're also stopping decay.

Volunteer: One of the saddest parts of a bad economy is that charities get even less help when they need it most. If you don't have the cash to help out, give your time instead. Local charities are especially in need of volunteers. Simply pick a cause you believe in and contact an organization that is promoting that cause.

Visit the elderly: The holiday season is especially lonely for those who have no family or friends to visit them. If you have some free time, a trip to a retirement home or assisted-care facility to talk is a wonderful gift, and far more valuable than any monetary present you could bring. Simply call a facility near you and ask for the activities director to find a good time to visit. If you have kids, they will be welcomed with huge smiles, since there's nothing like a child to brighten up a room.

Write letters: No matter what your views on the wars taking place overseas, there are a lot of soldiers who are going to be spending the holidays alone. It's worse for those who don't receive a lot of mail. A letter letting them know there are people out there thinking of their safety and hoping they will return home as quickly as possible is something that will take you less than an hour, but mean so much more to the person who receives the letter.

Send thank-you notes: If there has been someone who has helped or inspired you this year, send them a thank-you note letting them know. This is especially true for those who may not know they have had that effect on you. The recipient will be honored to have received it, and it will reinforce their good deeds. People often don't tell others how much they appreciate all they do, and now is a perfect time to show that.

Do a good deed: There are so many things you can do to make life a little easier for others that take little effort on your part. Help someone carry their groceries to the car, open a door for someone whose hands are filled or let someone go ahead of you in line. With the holiday rush, even a little kindness can make a long and rough day seem a little brighter. It's never a bad move to spread random acts of kindness.

Smile: It really is amazing the effect that a smile can have on someone who is having a bad day. With the stress that always accompanies the end of the year, often all it takes is to slow down a bit, give a warm smile and pay a compliment. Smiles are free, and even if only one in 100 makes a difference (and my guess is that it will be a lot more), one person's day is going to be a little happier because of you.

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