You Don’t Have to be Rich to be Generous

by Katy on October 22, 2015 · 25 comments

It’s easy to be generous when you have millions of dollars sitting in the bank, but it’s a different story when finances are tight. But worry not, as generosity is not just for the 1%, generosity is for everyone. It’s easy to confuse generosity with the single act of donating cash to charities, but it’s so much more. Generosity is about doing for others, going out of your way and offering up your time and talents.

Take my husband as an example. For years he volunteered as a youth soccer coach, (often spearheading two teams at a time) which led to sitting on multiple non-profit boards. He now runs a non-profit CPR initiative, as well as sitting on the board of an adult soccer board. Suffice it to say, he takes his volunteering seriously.

But if his community giving were based on how big a check he could write, his contributions would be next to nothing. Instead he gives of his time and expertise.

Time and expertise.

I like to be generous as well. I’m not a non-profit volunteer like my husband is, but I do like to figure out frugal ways to treat the people in my circle. Yesterday was my mother’s 73rd birthday, so I invited her and my step-father over for dinner. Did I take it as an opportunity to pop the champagne and grill pricey steaks? Nope. I defrosted some 50%-off chicken thighs and prepared a meal of baked barbecue chicken, rice and corn; with a delicious homemade chocolate cake for dessert.

Total cost for the five of us? Around $6.

Sticking with my tight food budget meant I was able to be generous. I cleaned the house, set a pretty table and welcomed the people that I love into my home for a homemade meal. We enjoyed each other’s company, and when the meal was over I set up the TV to watch my mother’s favorite movie, Back To The Future through Amazon Prime streaming. (It’s my mother’s Prime account, but she lets me use it.) Of course, it was free.

Having limited means is not a barrier to generosity. Sure it would be nice to write big fat checks to the charities that we respect, but instead my husband I write a small check each month and then give of ourselves.

Because it turns out you don’t have to be rich to be generous.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

nicoleandmaggie October 22, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I was just thinking last night that as we’ve become higher income, we’ve actually become less generous, at least in proportion to our income. We don’t have time to do the volunteer work that we used to do, and although we donate more in $ terms, we donate a lot less in % terms. It’s harder to give away big chunks of money than smaller even though we can afford to do so.

We could be doing better. We should be doing better. We will do better.


NMPatricia October 22, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Great post.


A. Marie October 22, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Good news about getting older (for once): I find that the older I get, the easier generosity becomes–not only because DH and I have more in the way of resources (both tangible and intangible) to share, but because our egos don’t get in the way of things as much.


Revanche October 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I stay very mindful of this as, like Nicoleandmaggie beat me to mentioning, we become more secure with our money, I don’t want to forget to be generous. It doesn’t have to be just money but it has to be something. I think it’s a truism that those who have the least are the most generous and I’d like for that not to be true in our lives.
Time is scarcer, energy even more so, so the volunteer work I truly long to do isn’t realistic yet, so I make it a point to allocate at least a quarter or more of my annual allowance to charity. That’s my personal disposable income that pays for any stuff that’s just for me like clothes or hobbies, and by making charity come from that personal account, it stays a very personal choice. It’ll become a household choice when LB becomes old enough to understand. Meanwhile, I support refugees, or victims of national disasters, and the local homeless shelter. And I extend the life cycle of our baby’s clothes and goods by handing them to the next couple having a child so they can save money too. Every little bit counts!


Michelle H. October 22, 2015 at 3:10 pm

I’m O-neg and started donating blood as a broke college student because it was a way to give back that didn’t cost money. Free tshirts and snacks were a nice perk! I’ve kept donating for 20 years because not everyone can. 2 of my kiddos needed blood transfusions as newborns, so I know how vital a healthy blood supply is!


Mairsydoats October 23, 2015 at 8:03 am

I’m O-neg and CMV neg, which makes my blood absolutely universal and able to be used by any babies. (Sheer luck, that!) But knowing how valuable my blood is keeps me coming back to donate (and not get any tattoos!). I’m not going to be a mother, but I know I’m contributing to other people’s happiness with their children.

When they have trouble finding my veins, I’ve been known to chant “it’s for the babies” under my breath.

Give blood if you can – it’s another way to give the gift of life!


Revanche October 23, 2015 at 8:53 am

That’s amazing of you. I haaaate needles but would still like to donate if mine were valuable (currently can’t for medical reasons but someday?) Still, I would NOT love the sticks.


Laura October 23, 2015 at 11:25 am

I’m exactly the same – O negative and non-reactive to CMV. I started giving blood when personal circumstances meant that I had to scale back my financial donations. I can donate $ now but I still give blood too. I find that donating to my causes gives me far more pleasure than spending money on myself. I have everything I need thank God, so I am happy to give.


Teri October 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm

We always tithe 10% right off the top. It reminds us how blessed we are, no matter what our income is. Weekly volunteering always gets added to the “to-do” list. Its always a good idea to “give back”.


Betty Winslow October 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm

So many ways to be generous on a shoestring budget, so many more as your budget increases…. I’m currently working on an article about that very topic!


auntiali October 22, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Hubby and I gave a lot to the church when the kids were little and an active part of our church. We didn’t make a lot of money but giving to the church was a line item in the budget. I accepted all hand me downs and passed them on when I was done. I volunteered at my church and with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. As dh earned raises in his salary, and the family was no longer part of the church, I donated more money to charities that matter to me. All used clothing and decluttered items go to Goodwill, I like to think that little things matter like letting someone pull out of a parking lot. Little blessings that cost nothing and make the human experience a bit better.


Linda M October 22, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Being generous makes us a gentler and more peaceful group of people. If you are being generous, you aren’t just thinking of yourself. Giving to charity or your religious denomination is just one of many ways a person can give. Sharing your bounty with others seems to always return in a much larger amount than what you give. My husband and I have seen that so many times in our lives. We share with someone….with no intention of receiving something in return….be it tangible or just or help or time. And then they or someone else blesses us in return. It might be a physical blessing….or it may just be the wonderful fulfilling feeling you get when you can fill someone’s need….or find somewhere that you can put the “extras” you have in the hands of someone else that really wants or needs them.
Your birthday celebration for your mom, Katy sounded perfect! So often we pass up the opportunity to do for others because we make it in our minds into such a production, we either don’t do it or do it and stress ourselves out so much that we can’t enjoy it. We need to be generous..but genuine. And, Katy, you are such a wonderful example of genuine. I so admire you and appreciate your blog soooo much!!


Greta October 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Thank you for the reminder.
It usually feels good to donate money or skills as well.
It also helps me to give a little even when I’m not doing so great myself it keeps me from feeling like a victim.


Isabelle October 23, 2015 at 2:40 am

I have have to say that I am not the most generous person, financially. I used to be, but got burned by dishonest peoples… too bad. That said, I can be generous with my time for the people I love, my little family especially. I do a lot for them to be taken care of and reduce their load. So I guess this is my thing. And I give a lot of myself (smiles, help, compassion, patience…) at work for my patients (elderly people in hospital setting).


Isabelle October 23, 2015 at 5:13 am

And, now that I think of it, I enjoy passing along what I don’t use anymore, eighter through Freecycle, Craig’s list or donation to Thrift Store. And I like to invite people to free events, like when I have free movie tickets, etc. So I’m not so bad after all, hihi


Diane October 23, 2015 at 4:12 am

I couldn’t agree more. Although I cannot give money, I try to find meaningful ways to give back. One of my favorite ways is commenting to my far away friends’ posts of facebook. When they post a photo or a story about their lives I think about how I would respond in real life to bring them joy. Then I make that comment online. It’s a personal response that makes me happy to give and my friends happy to receive.

I also began making cards for a local hospice to give to patients. I use sayings I cut from magazines with colorful paper as a background. These have been a big hit, cost nothing and give me great pleasure to make and give.

I sometimes donate my baby quilts as well to a local parenting organization.

Life is so much more meaningful when we give of our time and love to someone else.


JD October 23, 2015 at 5:09 am

Good article!
I’m not by nature a generous person. I grew up poor and learned to hang on tight to what little I had. Then I married my husband, who once, literally, gave the jacket off of his back to a passing stranger. He’s almost too generous, even when he’s broke. Thanks to him and my church, I’ve learned the joy in giving, and since we’ve found ourselves back in tight circumstances after he could no longer work, we found more creative ways to give by volunteering, often through our church’s outreach to the community. We give some money, still, but the older we get, the easier we find it to give away our own things to those who need them and to give of ourselves. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m so thankful that I’ve learned to give.


Lee October 23, 2015 at 5:29 am

The gift of time, the gift of your skills, are so valuable. I am grateful every day for the people who volunteer in my children’s schools, the parents who run Girl Scout troops, and so many others who give their time when I cannot. Right now I have more financial resources than spare time, so I’m the person who doesn’t run a station at the 3rd grade track meet, but I send in 25 bananas for a snack. Some day that equation will turn around and I’ll be sorting books at the library and staffing an information booth about the domestic violence shelter at the weekly farmer’s market. As long as people give what they can and give from the heart, we’re doing well.


Heidi October 23, 2015 at 5:57 am

We are in similar situations. My husband sits on a community foundation board, volunteers for Ducks Unlimited and our local girls hockey association as well as being a member of Rotary. So he volunteers a lot of time. His business also sponsors many local hockey and baseball teams.

I am a parent with a disability, so my part is with the household and entertaining. We entertain when we have the opportunity. Like you, we feed our guests from whatever we have in the fridge and freezer and it always works.

Because we live on a farm, we have plenty of opportunities to give and receive within our local community. We all share tools, equipment, expertise and garden produce. And time. We can always rely on a neighbour for child care, livestock care, a spare part or for a drop in when it’s needed.


K D October 23, 2015 at 9:20 am

Because I don’t have a job I have volunteer gigs four mornings a week. We give away a ton of stuff on and other ways. I receive four newspapers on the weekend ($2.70 total cost per week) and after I cut a few coupons I pass the inserts on to first a retired friend living on a fixed income and then to someone I “met” through Freecycle.

Sometimes a kind word or deed is a form of generosity.


Marilyn October 23, 2015 at 9:35 am

“You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Be Generous” — I completely agree. In fact, sometimes the people who have the least give the most (as a percentage of their income anyway). I found this to be true when I volunteered to solicit donations (to a well-known and highly regarded charity) from people in my neighborhood.


Kim October 23, 2015 at 10:51 am

I am a firm believer that we are here to help each other and to share our skills and talents to help others. My skills are sewing, cooking and baking, and being frugally resourceful. This week I used those skills in the following ways-
Sewing- made a baby gift for someone new to our church and the area, altered and repaired costumes for the Ukrainian dance troupe that my son danced with the past 4 years until going away in the fall to college out of state. I continue to help with costumes and at performances in order to give back since so much has been given to my son through the group.
Baking- I forgot to pick up a lemon for a recipe so I got one from my neighbor so I took them some of the finished dish so they didn’t have to fix dinner. When I was home Wednesday, with my son who was sick with pneumonia, I threw a loaf of bread in the bread machine to gift to the dance instructors. One is quite elderly and I knew he would love it. I also made a new dessert bar recipe at the same time and took half of it to dance to share with everyone there.
Resourceful frugality- picked up 2 big boxes of packing materials from a Freecycle buddy and gave 1 to my neighbor who sells a lot on Amazon. He was thrilled!


cathy October 23, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Since we always have more time than money, I volunteer several hours every week. I also help out family and friends with a meal here or there, extra produce from our garden, and things like pet sitting or watering plants. My mom and I, especially, pick up things for one another at the grocery store, which saves the other person a trip. There are longer-term, but usually one-time things like coordinating volunteers to provide dinner for a family with a newborn or after a death. (Unfortunately) on more than one occasion, I’ve coordinated dinners for several months for families who had a member going through chemo & radiation.
Not “generosity” per se, but if you shop at small, local businesses, much of your money is going directly to keep people employed. And if you support someone who is self-employed, whether it’s a window washer, artist, or the person selling artisan jam at the farmer’s market, your money is really helping to put food on someone else’s table.


Diane C October 23, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Speaking of volunteering and generosity, I am on two library boards. We have found multiple copies of a book you might be interested in, but two emails have not been answered. Perhaps they went to your spam or your contact email has changed? I know you’re busy, but it I post here, at least you’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks, Katy! (And happy belated birthday to Su Mama.)


Jo October 23, 2015 at 5:34 pm

As the fundraiser for a small adult literacy nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio, I really appreciated this post. 30% of our budget comes from the awesome volunteers who generously give of their time to tutor, fundraise, clean, do our books, donate books, pencils, coffee…and help over one thousand students each year. Were it not for them, we couldn’t exist.


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