Creative Ways to Be Generous (Without Spending A Lot of Money)

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‘Tis the season to think about charitable donations (at least if you plan to deduct them on taxes), but giving monetary gifts is definitely not the only way to be generous. We try to focus on giving our children experiences as gifts as much as possible (though they still do get physical gifts too).

We’ve just enjoyed receiving gifts at Christmas, but I also wanted to help my children continue the experience the joy of giving to others in another way. From this came a tradition of sitting down the week between Christmas and New Years to think of tangible ways to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and generosity in our family.

Since children don’t have a lot of money to donate, this takes a little creativity and thinking about tangible things we can do as a family.

Why Experiencing Generosity Matters

This article really drove home for me how we are much more likely to help an individual than we are to respond to a large group or more general need:

The paper angel in my daughter’s hand read, “Girl, age 6. Wants: Undershirts.” The angel in my son’s hand read, “Boy, age 7. Likes: Dinosaurs.” My lectures about faraway starving children had previously fallen on deaf ears, but on that December day, my kids, then age 5 and 8, eagerly dashed around the store to find just the right gifts. “I think she’ll like these! They have princesses on them!” “Can I get him a sweatshirt, too? I don’t want him to be cold!”

Of course, it wasn’t my fabulous parenting that finally got them thinking. It was what behavioral scientists call the “identifiable victim effect” — the human tendency to respond more empathetically to the plight of a single individual, rather than a large group.

The rest of that article goes on to give other tips on how to raise less entitled kids, but a key takeaway is that it is important to model generosity in a personal and relatable way so that our children see it at a young age.

Sadly, only about half of Americans donate to any charity or non-profit in a given year. Less than a quarter give over $500. Of course, giving money is not the only way to be generous (and I’d argue that it isn’t the most important), but the statistic is a little sobering.

This is part of the reason our family is making a commitment (now and going forward) to finding regular ways to let our children be generous and to hopefully create this as a life-long habit.

Focus on the Joy of Giving

It is one thing to write a check at the end of the year to be able to deduct on taxes, and quite another to actually foster an internal attitude of joy at being able to help others. Certainly, giving money is very important too, but for many of us, there are people in our own community for whom a small act of kindness would make just as big of a difference.

Consider the person alone in a hospital or nursing home this time of year. Or think about the family struggling to get by whose kids won’t get any gifts this year. Or the thousands of victims of wildfires who have lost everything.

The great thing about kindness is that it has a snowball effect. The feeling we get from being kind or generous to someone else encourages us to want to do these things more often.

At the same time, receiving kindness or generosity often makes the recipient more likely to pass it on as well.

Small Ways to Be Generous

I’m trying to simplify this year, and in so doing have thought of some small ways to pass on kindness to others. Please share your ideas in the comments!

Leave a Note or Small Gift for Delivery People

This was entirely my children’s idea. We order a decent amount of our food online since a lot of ingredients (like cassava flour and grass-fed, pre-made bone broth) aren’t available in our area. I also order most of our gifts online so the mailman, FedEx, and UPS driver work extra hard, long hours during the holidays!

The kids decided to pick out some (mostly) healthy snacks and drinks to give them out as deliveries came to the door. I let them shop the pantry and wrap up a special box for the occasion.

Even if the holidays have passed, I’m sure they’d still appreciate it as they recover from the season!

Send a Handwritten Note

In today’s email and text message world, a hand-written note of encouragement or appreciation can mean a lot! Spend a few minutes letting those you love and appreciate know just how much! Dust off the stationery and use those leftover Christmas stamps to send some heartfelt written thank-yous or just-because letters.

If you’re a little rusty, here’s some inspiration to get started.

Anonymously Adopt a Family in Need

Christmas isn’t the only time local churches and other organizations help families in need. Ask your church or local shelter how you can help during the year. You can even ask if there are members with a specific need so it feels more personal. It may be something as simple as paying an electric bill or purchasing some new coats.

Take a Digital Detox

Give the gift of uninterrupted time to your family. I’ve tried hard this year to take a weekly digital day off and just focus on my family, and the results have been wonderful. Especially over the holidays when the whole family is home more often, I’m trying to make it a priority to really savor the time together (and not view it through the lens of my phone camera).

Encourage the whole family to take a digital day off and do activities together instead.

Visit or Make Cards for a Nursing Home

Do your kids love to draw or paint? Have them make artwork to take to local nursing homes. Christmas and the New Year can be hard for many residents who don’t get to go home for Christmas or don’t have anyone to come visit them. A small gift or piece of artwork can brighten their day!

I save up the weekly artwork my kids make in school and craft time and we take a big box to local nursing homes. This is a great thing to do any time of year!

Give a Small Gift to the Waste Disposal People

Leave a small gift on top of the trashcan or recycling bin for those who do a dirty job… what they do makes all of our lives so much easier!

Babysit for Friends

Many couples with small children would love an evening out alone to go to dinner. Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so they get the chance. In a world where people increasingly live apart from extended family, this can be a huge gift to a weary parent.

Take a Meal to Friends

As a mom who cooks three times a day (every single day), a home-cooked meal that I don’t have to make is one of the best gifts ever! I’m always so grateful for friends who bring a meal by when I have a new baby and I’ve realized that most moms love this gift any time of year. Make 5 or 6 of the same meal and take to several families.

Another idea: make a bunch of slow cooker freezer meals so they can make the meal when they need it!

If this sounds exhausting after the holiday (I get it!), there are many great, healthy food services you can gift. One of my favorites to give is a smoothie box from Daily Harvest (they have soup and other healthy goodies too) or some meals from Good Kitchen.

Review a Book, Blog or Podcast

Leave a rave review for the author of a favorite book, a blogger you like, or a podcast you listen to. Those who publish online often hear a lot of negatives, as those who disagree are more likely to leave a comment. A heartfelt review from a reader or listener is one of the greatest gifts for those who put their words out into the world. (Ask me how I know!)

Give Clothes You Don’t Use to a Local Dress for Success

Do you have business or dress clothes you don’t use anymore? Many of us feel the urge to declutter and organize during the start of the New Year. If you’re tackling your closet, consider donating to an organization like Dress for Success, which provides work clothes and business development help to women in the community.

Think Bigger Too

Helping locally is a great way to teach kids to look for ways to help those around them, but there are people in need all over the world too. I like to find ways that we can more personally connect and directly help those in need around the world. The favorites for our kids this year have been:

  • Getting a Lucky Iron Fish – Each one purchased sends one to another family somewhere in the world. That family can put this iron fish in any food they cook and it helps protect against iron deficiency. In fact, one fish can protect a whole family from iron deficiency for a whole year!
  • Sending Micro-Enterprise Gifts to Families – You know the old saying about giving a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish? Each year, we pick gifts to send to families in need around the world that will allow them to start a micro-enterprise to support their family. The kids love looking through the Food for the Poor gift catalog and sending water pumps, beehives, and baby chicks to other families around the world.

The Generosity Challenge

It’s easier to remember those in need around the holidays, but generosity is a habit to nurture all year long. Brainstorm ways to be generous and kind and keep doing them all year! Those who are lonely are still lonely in January. Those who are hungry are still hungry in the summer. Let’s spread the love all year long next year!

What ways does your family give to those around you? Share your ideas below!