When you break generosity down to its raw form, it's made up of two parties: one with surplus and the other with need. And the decision to be generous is a form of love.

In 2010, I decided I wouldn't wait until I was “wealthy” to start giving. Generosity was a journey I desired to embark on now.

I believed generosity was less like an arrow and more like a boomerang. It always comes back to you.

But my giving at the time consisted of about $100 of my $2500 per month income. Which was great! It was a solid starting point and it helped form the perspective on money that I needed at that time in my life.

But eventually, I began feeling small. Almost like my contribution wasn't truly making a difference. At the time, my income wasn't high and I just couldn't afford to pay off debt, survive in Southern California, and give $1,000 to a cause that I cared about.

But then I realized generosity is rarely about money.

It's about time. It's about friendship. It's about opportunities, introductions, and bro-deals. And sure, it was about money too. So here's what I did:

1. I Created a Time Account
Over the next few years, I created not only a giving account at my bank, but a time account on my computer. I decided I would donate 4 hours per month helping people do things like move their house, design a business card, or just give them a friendly introduction to an important contact. At the time, my hourly rate was about $20 per hour. But this small step boosted my giving an $80 per month. I was proud.

2. I Paid For Dinner
This is my favorite way to give. For such a small cost it seems to create a huge sense of grattitude. It might be because the cost of dinner is a real necessity. We go into our meal believing we will be covering our portion of the tab and then, BAM! Someone picks up the check… and a rush of financial relief floods in. What a gift. Next time you're at dinner with a friend, pick up the tab. I promise your kindness will be returned.

3. I Gave More Effectively Than Anyone Else
I believe every human life is worth exactly the same. This means the child who needs to eat in Ghana is just as valuable as the man who needs money to fund his ALS treatment in Miami. What this also means is your generosity toward either of these individuals is equal. But the cost… is drastically different. It may only take $5 to feed a child in Ghana for a month while $5 wouldn't even dent a fraction of ALS treatment.

I call this effective altruism. I began looking for charities where my American dollars had MEGA impact somewhere else in the world. For example, for $10 you can provide someone clean water for 10 years with Living Water International. Or for $7 you can provide life-saving vaccinations to a child for 10 years with End 7. It was charities like these that made me realize that generosity, even in its smallest form, can still be significant.

The question is, will you join me?

Do you give to anyone? Do you support a cause or maybe your church? What's stopped you in the past? Let me know in the comments below.

57 thoughts on “How To Be Generous Even If You’re Broke

  1. Cheryl says:

    I agree, giving is about much more than money! Time, even just a friendly smile, can make someone feel worthwhile … every little bit of effort counts.

  2. Stacy Warren says:

    You are absolutely 100% accurate. I’ve always started with small giving at church. One time i literally had $10 for one entire week and I lived in Atlanta, GA. My friend and I were in the same boat that week. So we assisted each other by switching off cooking dinner for the week. Boy we got creative. At weeks end, I received a check in the mail for about $80. I called her, and we both began to cry, realizing we lived on an entire week, in the city, with only 10 bucks! God will always provide. Somehow, someway, by He is the ultimate source. I also believe fear gets in the way at times and I always remind myself of that one week, WE SURVIVED! Thanks for making me remember!

  3. Tyler Speegle says:

    Love your thoughts on this, Dale. All too often I find myself comparing what I give instead of just appreciating the impact that it will have.

  4. Marcy says:

    We tithe 10% which is generous by most standards. That has many blessings in itself; however the real joy I receive is when I take dinner to someone who is ill or tired or just needs a lift. Truly, a smile or a few words of encouragement placed just right can be generous as well!

  5. Peter Armstrong says:

    As a pastor, I was challenged by #3. To make sure that our church is using every single penny effectively to share God’s love in word and deed.

  6. Linda Thomson says:

    I’ve always believed that charity begins at home. I have 6
    grandchildren, some with special needs. That’s expensive in both time and money. We help our daughters financially and with our time. We also give them veggies from our garden. I give money to Feeding America when I can. We are so blessed that we can afford to do this.

  7. Mirdza Pavasars Hayden says:

    Great post to help us realize that we truly CAN be generous even if we don’t have a lot of money. I wouldn’t do the vaccine tip, but everything else is right on! I’ve incorporated some of those tips already into my life, and will incorporate others. I personally love sharing the essential oils I carry around with me, or the ones I have at home, and telling people how they’ve changed our family’s life and can help them as well.

  8. Sebastian Daniels says:

    Charity is done through your actions. Every interaction you have you can choose to be compassionate or mean, including interactions with yourself. I think giving your time is more important than giving money at least on the micro scale. On the macro scale if a lot of money is used wisely, it can be put to great benefit. On the micro scale, you can impact a life greatly just by being there for someone.

  9. Blessing Pius says:

    I love this, is the world should come together again with love, I think I would be in school studying, rather than roaming around in the street because I lost my parents, thanks so very much for your love!

  10. jane says:

    i do not belong to an organized religion! The notion of religion offends me tremendously! I am, however, very generous with my time (volunteer work) and to the charities to whom I contribute! I would be very interested in joining your website if you unconditionally accept agnostics! i require a response to that condition before applying!

    • Dale Partridge says:

      Hi Jane, I can see you have been seriously hurt by organized religion and I can understand that. The church is made up of humans, and humans make mistakes. This is why I follow Christ and choose to have a relationship with Him, and have grace with others as He’s had with me. Please know it would never be my intention to judge you and you are always welcome here.

  11. Behavior Bitches says:

    I love the idea of creating a time account! Finances can be tight at times, but I know that I can find hours throughout the month to give to something I care about! What a great and rewarding idea.

  12. allison says:

    presently right now i need a financal help ,where i used to work for the past 22 years close they doors to the public ,so i am home for the past 26 months seeking employment but it is so hard to get one out in the caribbean,when i was working i used to share i was a free hand person now no one ask or give you help instead they will talk behind your back .

  13. Brittney Rickett says:

    I think it’s a great point to make that most people can help in some way, even if not financially. Before my husband passed away we had an outpouring of people who helped us in many ways that included cooking us meals, cleaning our house, bringing toys for our boys to play with while we spent time in hospitals, buying meals, gift cards, gas cards, etc. There’s so many ways to help those in need!! Now that my husband is gone and we don’t have to put thousands of dollars going toward cancer treatments and traveling, I am able to give back to our church. We live on almost $1000 less a month than what you mentioned you used to live on, but I still give our 10% tithe to our church because that’s what we’re called at the very least to do. My boys and I have to live simply but the peace it brings couldn’t be bought by any amount of money in the world 🙂

  14. Lin says:

    I give of my time. Whether its mowing grass, watching kids, throwing baby showers or teaching Bible class weekly. It’s a lifestyle that I fashion after the verse in the Bible “,even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

  15. Lin says:

    I give of my time. Whether its mowing grass, watching kids, throwing baby showers or teaching Bible class weekly. It’s a lifestyle that I fashion after the verse in the Bible “,even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

  16. Imperfect Lady says:

    I have a daughter who I am attempting to teach about this “giving” thing. I started with some advice from Dave Ramsey with 3 envelopes, Save, Spend, and Give. But that totally left out everything else that we have to offer. I haven’t yet come up with a systematic way to incorporate time, or energy, or skill, but I am aware that if she sees me offer myself, time, talent, skill to others, she will learn to value being a giving person. don’t forget to give to those that your mind will try to disregard…that homeless person might want to buy a beer, maybe not, but if you are a Christian perhaps you could pray the one prayer that needs to be prayed. That they may know God and become one with YHWH, no matter how they spend a few bucks.

  17. Gannel says:

    I give to a ministry called “House of Hope”.It is for Jewish holocaust survivors that are aging and do not have the money for housing, food, medical, ect. I love the idea of contributing to people who have suffered so much in one lifetime. The thought of helping them find some comfort & security at the end of their life makes me feel happy. I wasn’t born when they were suffering horrible atrocities, but I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to touch people from this horrible time in history in a positive way.

  18. Mwendwa Kivuva says:

    They say, whatever you give, is what you get back. If you give time, you will have more free time. If you give money, you will get more money. If you give love, you get more love.

  19. Henry Mkhwananzi says:

    Since I was saved 5 years ago, I have given quite a lot, including immovable assets, towards God’s work through my church. However, I have been unemployed for the past 7 months and have been somewhat not satisfied with my level of giving. This has however provided me with a different perspective in giving, for example, I have spent more hours assisting with our church’s administrative work. The idea of a time-account is however more useful and I will definitely create one.

  20. neo says:

    I believe firmly that, if you have the real desire to help others, Life opens you an avenue of opportunities. Many times, people need only few minutes of conversation. A few days ago I went to visit the cemetery where my beloved Mom is buried. I’d like to be there longer, but I felt a strong necessity to leave. At the exit, I saw an unknown woman, stopped, like she was waiting me. She talked something about climate, it was very hot that day. I answered her, and, from nothing, she told that went to visit her daughter, who died 10 days ago. And started crying. I hugged her firmly, she showed me a picture of her daughter and told that her daughter died suffering too much, and did pay all her sins. I told No! Sin is when you harm others, I don’t believe your daughter did this. She started crying again and told “God sent you for talking to me!” We were together for a while, she talking about her daughter, and when I said goodbye she was calm. I felt my mom could be smiling and saying “good job, dear!” Now, who is crying it’s me.

  21. Akita Brooks says:

    Nice Dale! I absolutely love the idea of a Time Account. I agree that giving of ourselves does not have to be just in the financial stream. Our family has been able to practice the giving of time for community projects and causes. But tracking it? Really cool stuff! I think it puts actions into equal perspective with our donations and/or tithing.

  22. Shante says:

    Beautifully written….I try to give a $1 or more a day..while trying to pay bills, start a business and,survive…I use to volunteer a lot but my taking is taking by working extra hours…I want to give way more than a $1 and will take your advice

  23. Anita Byrd-Petts says:

    Time, as most of us realize is just as valuable -if not more so-than money. It is common to complain that we don’t have enough time even when we have sufficient financial resources. In the past I have found myself giving money because it is easy……giving time means giving of yourself…getting outside your own little world. I am certainly not demeaning financial gifts…many times this is the only way to support valuable causes. However, I believe we need to find an equal balance between giving time and giving financially. AND when your finances are scarce, you still have to find some way to pay it forward. Who knows, you might find yourself being blessed by another’s generous gift of time 🙂

  24. Fernando Biz says:

    Getting to know about those charities are so great and knowing that little amount can make a massive impact on someone’s life.

  25. Cody says:

    I have always felt strongly about this. How to be a philanthropist without being rich. That’s why I started a fitness apparel company that donates 50% of profits. It’s still small so the other half of profits are reinvested for growth but it’s fun to see my donations get bigger without impacting my normal day to day budget.

  26. Leo Alvarenga says:

    Great article, Dale!!!
    I’m studying some ways to help people like you… Pencils of Promise are great too!

    I’m from Brazil, and here we have only a few organizations that do a GREAT WORK, without corruption and things like that.. ;/

  27. Eno Bakare says:

    Hmmm, Dale I believe Giving should be seen as a part of Living. We should see it also as an attitude to pass on to our children. I recently started an NGO called SchoolbagsForSmiles Foundation here in Nigeria and the whole idea is getting educational items like bags, school shoes, lunch boxes, water bottles, story books etc from privileged children and donate them to needy children. The reception has been fantastic. I believe giving shouldn’t just be an adult agenda but something we should allow children key into. Kuz I’ve learnt children really want to help if given the opportunity. And guess what? I have spent time helping my children understand they have to part with items they have outgrown or have in excess so another child can benefit. They have also had they privilege of going to some outreaches with me and have seen children like themselves walk to school bare feet or carry polythene/nylon/paper bags or even wear tattered uniforms to school. So lets keep giving in any way possible but most importantly lets pass the culture to the next generation.

  28. Steve Corbin says:

    Can I point out that two of the three ways you’ve listed to be generous when broke involve giving money? Isn’t that sort of contrary to the notion of being ‘broke’?

  29. Erica Rodriguez says:

    These are great ideas. When I have some money to spare, I’ll definitely be doing this in the future.

  30. Debra Campbell says:

    My husband and I are on a fixed income i.e. he gets SS Disability. I enjoy crochet so I make baby/children’s blankets and donate to the local hospital and foster care. It doesn’t cost much to make a blanket and somewhere a child is made to feel they are worth loving.

  31. John Hardy says:

    I don’t give to charities ( with a couple of exceptions). As soon as you give to a charity, calls and letters start coming in. I am a freelancer that doesn’t have a large income stream as of yet. I do however, give my time by cleaning my church building. In order to keep visitors coming back, we strive to keep our building clean. We don’t want to give visitors ( who could be potential members) the wrong impression. That is how I spread my generosity.

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