I love making a difference in the world. I love supporting 5Ks and giving to charities and buying candy bars for the band and giving gifts to the people I love the most.
I want to encourage those who have an impact on the lives of my children and say “thank you” beyond using words. But when it comes down to it, I can’t give to every opportunity and fundraiser. I can’t always pick up the tab or buy an extravagant gift. I’d be absolutely broke and able to make no difference at all if I said yes every single time.
Staying on budget and being generous don’t have to be sworn enemies, though. It might mean that you change your lens on how you give and what you give. Especially if you’re in the process of paying off debt, you need to be incredibly intentional to not let your generous spirit stretch your finances to the point of borrowing. A gift made with dollars that aren’t yours are not a blessing to you or the lives you’re attempting to impact.
Easier said than done
Just say no. We give for all sorts of reasons. But the worst reason of all to express generosity is guilt. If you feel motivated to give solely based on what others will think of you, it’s probably not your best choice. I know this is easier said than done. After all, that cute little pig-tailed girl selling cookies has no idea what your current financial picture is. However, it is OK to say no. You don’t need to purchase from every fundraiser or contribute to every walk-a-thon. I have a friend who abides by the policy of giving two “no” answers for every “yes” she issues. This might be a great plan for you, too.
Better than nothing
Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. Saying no occasionally doesn’t mean that you cease being generous completely. All too often, if we can’t do something nice for everyone, we become paralyzed to the point of doing absolutely nothing. One of my favorite authors — Andy Stanley — often quips that you should “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Not enough money to bless every single teacher your child has? That’s OK. Bless someone even if it’s not everyone. Something is always better than nothing.
Small but powerful
A small gift makes a big difference. Most people honestly don’t care how much you give. Think back over times in your life when you’ve been blessed by the generosity of another. The smallest things — a thoughtful note, a small significant treasure, an hour spent — can yield the greatest gratitude. Even if you can only afford to write a thank-you note, it makes a difference. You may not be able to give a $50, gift card to each of your neighbors but a $5 gift card might make just as much of an impact.
Set aside money
Budget to give. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a budget set aside for the intentional purpose of giving. Whether it’s a cup of coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru or a care package for a hungry college student, having money set aside for the express purpose of giving allows you to have breathing space and a giving nest egg when an unseen need arises.
Time of the essence
Donate your time. Even if you don’t have dollars to give, you have minutes. Volunteer at a food pantry. Help a child learn to read. Mow your neighbor’s yard. Bake cookies for the young family down the street. Donate your time when you can to help an organization’s giving efforts. You have been uniquely gifted even if your bank account doesn’t reflect the monetary implications of those gifts. Use what you’ve been given to change the world.
Pick and choose
Be choosy and do your research. Before anyone asks you to contribute or order anything, have a policy to pause. Never immediately say yes. Instead, research what a charity does and how your dollars will impact that vision. Sometimes you’ll be led to say yes. Sometimes you may have to pass. Being choosy isn’t an act of miserliness but the opportunity to maximize whatever amount you do give.
Give to others
Give away what you already have. The majority of us are possession rich even if we’re cash poor. From duplicates in the kitchen to extra clothes in the closet, most of us have too much stuff. Don’t give away junk. Sacrifice and give away your best.
There’s nothing like knowing you’ve made a difference in someone else’s life. You can be generous and still have enough money in the bank to pay your bills. It takes effort and research and sometimes the discipline to say no to some things so you can say yes to others. You might need to flex some creative muscle and give outside of the box, but it’s worth more than gold to give.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.