How To Be Generous Even If You’re Broke

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.

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57 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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 🙂

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.. ;/

  9. 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.

  10. 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’?

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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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