How to Give Back When You Don’t Have A Lot of Money

This time of year is magical.  Everyone starts thinking of giving and helping and doing kind things.  I wish that attitude lasted at a societal level all year, but these couple of months are great for it.  One challenge I’ve come across at times in my life is reaching this season and wanting so much to give and contribute, but not being able to due to temporary financial circumstances.  Here are some ways you can give back, even if you’re finding yourself strapped for cash this holiday season:

christmas

Give to Charities

  • Donate food.  We waste so much food in this country.  If you have extra food in your cabinet, donate it to your local food bank or other like organization.  Go through your canned goods.  If you’re saving for the apocalypse, that’s fine, but if there’s an expiration date that’s three months from now, you might as well donate it as you’ll probably have time to replace it, and someone should eat it instead of just letting it go bad.  (What do I know, it could happen tomorrow.)  Or, you can start monitoring your food waste.  Once you realize how much you’re not actually consuming each week, keep buying the same amount of groceries and donate what you know you’re family won’t actually eat.
  • Donate kids items and empty out your toiletry drawer.  Even if you’re a little tight on cash, you’ll probably be buying your kids some new stuff for Christmas.  Go through their old stuff now to make room, but also to help someone who may not even have enough to put presents under the tree.  There’s no shortage of toy drives (think Toys for Tots, Toys for the Troops Kids, etc.)  And you can donate clothing items to places like Planet Aid bins.  (Just don’t support Goodwill.)  Really, you can do this with your own clothing items, too.  Another place to look for adults is your bathroom.  Do you have shampoo you haven’t used?  Sample sizes of lotion or an extra container of soap?  Many organizations need these toiletry items that may just lie forgotten in that cabinet under the vanity sink.
  • Donate your time.  This seems like and “Oh, duh,” one, but I was reminded of how important it was when a bunch of Pittsburgh mom bloggers led by Diary of a First Time Mom headed to the Ronald McDonald House.  People that go there are from another town and have traveled to the house because their child needed serious medical attention at a different/specialized/better hospital.  Monetary donations are important, as are toys and clothes, but a big thing is people volunteering their time.  These mothers need someone to talk to when they’re not around their regular support system.  These siblings need kids to play with when their friends are back home tens to hundreds of miles away.  And I would think the need would be so much more so this holiday season.  But it doesn’t have to be the Ronald McDonald House.  It could be any organization that moves you.  Most of them have a real need for volunteers.
  • Donate Your Points.  As a parent, a pretty big budget suck is diapers.  And wipes.  Many of the companies that produce them have a reward point system, where you enter a code online in order to redeem points.  Then you can use your points to get cool swag.  Or, you can donate your points to different charities or causes.  For example, right now Huggies is working in conjunction with the National Diaper Network to get diapers to moms/kids in need.  Every 2 points donated Huggies donates a diaper.  That’s something that doesn’t cost you any money and can help someone else out so much.  And diaper brands aren’t the only ones that work with charities when it comes to their rewards programs.  If you belong to one, regardless of the product, see if you can donate them.  A lot of times the answer will be  yes.

Give to Those Around You

This may be cliche, but giving doesn’t have to cost a dime.  Notice those around you and become invested in them.  Hold the door open for the mom struggling with a stroller.  Or anyone, really.  Offer to watch your friend’s kids for free so she can run errands or have a date night.  Talk to someone going through a hard time.  Express appreciation.  Share half of that batch of cookies you just made with your neighbor.  Say hello.  Be kind.

It doesn’t take a lot to make this time of year magical.  It’s not the gifts under the tree or even Santa that make everything and everyone so special; it’s our attitude of giving.  And that attitude doesn’t have to cost a cent.

 

Broke and Beautiful Life
This post originally ran on November 8, 2013.
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28 thoughts on “How to Give Back When You Don’t Have A Lot of Money

  1. Joe Saul-Sehy

    Great post! My sister just emailed yesterday to ask if we want to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas eve while we’re visiting her this year. Absolutely! I think it’ll be as big a gift for us as it will be for the people who we serve.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Oh, that’s so awesome! I know you guys will have a great time…and what a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve! Go sis!

      Reply
  2. Alexandra @Real Simple Finances

    I wrote a post on this topic today (didn’t look at your blog first, I swear!), yet we hit on different points. To add to the toiletries point: there are some charities that will actually take slightly used shampoo/conditioner. I was able to donate some last year, though I don’t remember the name of the organization. I felt a little weird about it, though, so I also grabbed some new shampoo as well. 🙂 (VO5 was on sale for .79 cents!)

    Reply
    1. Mel

      Wow, what charity can you donate partially used shampoos and conditioners? I feel like we always have a ton of those under the sink and they’re just going to waste.

      I’d never thought about going to a Ronald McDonald house. Usually we volunteer at local retirement homes and help out with Bingo. Lots of the elderly folks there don’t get many visitors and seem happy to have anyone to chat with. It really reminds you how lucky you are to be surrounded by the people you love.

      Reply
      1. femmefrugality Post author

        Great minds think alike, Alexandra! And I’m interested to find out which charities would take those products, as well! I’d never thought of RMcDH either until Heather organized that great event. Bingo sounds amazing! Did a lot with elderly groups with my youth group growing up. Sometimes a listening ear is one of the greatest gifts, regardless of age.

        Reply
  3. donebyforty

    I suck at giving, so I’m happy to read this post and to remind myself that it’s important to help others. I am, unfortunately, bad at following through. I can give for a while, and volunteer one day over a weekend, but have a very hard time sustaining the actions.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Haha way to be honest! With our schedule we don’t do anything regular, either. I think it’s important to be honest with yourself and the organization about what you can give; it’s no good to volunteer time only to have to rescind the offer. There’s so many ways to give, and they don’t always have to be organized.

      Reply
  4. brian503

    I love the random act of kindness this time of year. I like the idea of paying for that cup of coffee or food item at the drive thru for the person behind you.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Oh, such a great idea! This makes me think of Sandyhook last year. It was so tragic, but I love how people took the tragedy and morphed it into the random acts of kindness movement. I’ll always think of those children when I do something like that (in a dedicatory way.)

      Reply
  5. Tara Zee

    I’m big on the food giving. Even if your pantries aren’t full of extras to give, giving time to a charity that helps collect leftover food from restaurants (City Harvest is a big charity in NYC that does this) is a great way to help out and ensure those who don’t have enough to eat can.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      This is going to sound completely naive of me, but I thought giving away leftover food from a restaurant wasn’t allowed. And 100% of my misinformation comes from an episode of Seinfeld. (NYC irony.) Thank you for the education! And I love that idea! Going to see what’s available in my area.

      Reply
  6. Sam @ Frugaling.org

    This is such an important point. Glad you made it!

    As somebody with thousands in student loans, it’s hard to give much money. Fortunately, I find great joy in taking the time to serve and help others. Time is something that people need, too.

    Thanks for thinking about this aspect of the holiday season,
    Sam

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I completely hear you. Money can be hard to come by, and when you’re struggling just to keep your head above water it can be hard to think about aiding others. Getting creative and recognizing our time and other non-monetary assets that we may have can absolutely allow us to give. Thanks so much, Sam!

      Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      So true! I love that you mentioned skills! Thinking about how you can use them to help others will open a whole new set of doors.

      Reply
  7. Kylie Ofiu

    Time is a great one. I absolutely love volunteering and would do more if I had more time. I try to donate when I can too. Most recently I found out sanitary items for where I volunteer are desperately needed, one call and a bunch of people form church donated. It was so nice.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Organizing a drive at a church can be so productive so quickly! Or any other place you gather, really. I once did a book drive for soldiers at my local library. Two boxes filled up in a week. So much faster than I ever imagined.

      Reply
  8. Savvy Working Gal

    My brother lives in NYC in a very small studio apartment. He also has expensive tastes. Sometimes our holiday gifts don’t even make it onto the plane for his flight home. This year he isn’t coming home for the holidays. He also couldn’t make my Grandma’s funeral last week. At her dinner they served her famous cookies and gave everyone her recipe written in her hand writing. So this year I am thinking of mailing him a dozen cookies along with the recipe and a nice card. I am hoping it will be my best gift to him yet.

    Thanks for all the other frugal suggestions. So much better than buying something cheap at Wal-Mart that ends up in the garbage within a year.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I bet he’ll love it. Such a great idea. I can’t tell you how many cool trinkets I’ve gotten that I love but end up being lost or forgotten within three months.

      Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Great plan, Sheila! I’ll never forget when you told me about how you clean up your neighborhood litter…to me that’s the holiday spirit year round.

      Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      This is such a great point. By donating time, you’re not only giving them free labor, but also allowing them to spend the money that they are receiving through monetary donations elsewhere. Double gift.

      Reply
  9. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    We definitely need to clear out our cabinets a bit. I’m hoping to do it before more of them expire. (They’re perfectly fine past that date, but I’m not going to donate expired food.)

    I really need to go through some of my childhood toys that are sitting in the garage. Quite a number of them are still in great condition. I hate toys going unused, but it’s also hard to part with old friends. It’s a process.

    Reply
  10. Jana @ Jana Says

    We always do Toys for Tots but on a budget. Since you have to provide a new, unwrapped toy, we set a limit of $20 and see what we can do with it. It’s not much but it’s what we can do right now. And, we always go through the child’s toys and books to see what we can donate before she gets new stuff.

    My husband always throws change in the Salvation Army buckets, too.

    Reply

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