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5 Ways You Can Make a Difference — Even on a Tight Budget

Make a difference with these 5 simple tips -- even on a tight budget!

Want to make a difference, but feel like that might not be possible since you are on a tight budget? Here are some ideas for ways to make a difference — even if you don’t have a lot of extra money or time!

1. Give Something Away

Look around your house. Do you own items you aren’t really using anymore that could bless someone else?

Maybe you have a book on your shelf that would really encourage a friend. Perhaps you have some baby clothes you no longer need that could help a new mom on a tight budget. Do you have exercise equipment you aren’t using that a friend could borrow or even just have?

I look around our home often and ask myself, “Is there anything here that we could give to someone else to bless them?” There’s so much joy that comes from sharing with others and I’d much rather give a book to a friend who would love to read it than just have it sitting on my shelf doing no good to no one.

If you don’t need it, don’t love it, or aren’t using it, look around to see if there’s someone who could be blessed by it.

I also pay attention to when someone says, “Oh! I love your shirt!” or “I’ve been wanting to read that book!” or “My son is growing out of his clothes so quickly!” If there’s some way that I can help someone or bless someone based upon these remarks (give them that shirt because I don’t really like it, loan them the book, or pass on some of my son’s clothes), I jump at the opportunity to do so!

It’s fun to surprise people in this way, too, because it shows that you care and that you were listening to what they were saying.

In addition, you can also share great deals you find with others. For instance, if you are a coupon queen and have built a stockpile of toiletries, household products, or cleaning items, donate some of them to a family in need in your neighborhood or to a local shelter. 

You can also shop sales and clearance racks for significantly marked down merchandise you can donate to local families or organizations. Or, take some of these items you’ve gotten practically free and make bags of food and hygiene products for the homeless.

One of the Best Things You Can Give Away: A Smile!

A smile is a free gift you can give away to everyone you meet. And it’s a gift that everyone can use. Look around you and look for people to smile at. It costs nothing, it doesn’t really take any extra time, and it will make you feel great, too!

2. Volunteer Your Time & Talents

What gifts, skills, and talents do you have? What are you good at or have experience or special training in?

For me, I love to volunteer my time in helping other people develop their business, find creative ways to increase their income, or get their blog up and running. I can’t do this for everyone, but I love being able to help people and organizations as often as I can with this.

I also love being able to volunteer my time serving in the Kids’ Ministry at church, helping out in our kids’ classes at school, and looking for ways to reach out and encourage/help other friends and people in our life.

There are so many, many opportunities to volunteer and there’s no way you can do them all. But look around you and see what needs are most pressing and if there’s a way you can help out. Maybe that’s in the local soup kitchen, at a hospital, at church, at school, or in an online or local charitable organization.

If you’re not sure what the possibilities are in your area, you can visit VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities near you.

A few other ideas:

  • Pick up prescriptions for elderly neighbors or ask them if they need someone to drive them to doctor’s appointment or help with errands.
  • Mow the lawn/weed the yard of a neighbor working multiple jobs.
  • Donate your talents. For instance, if your hobby is photography, offer a free photo shoot for a family who is struggling financially
  • If you have a passion to sew or knit, make sweaters or scarves for a local shelter or hospital. (My sister volunteers with Bridget’s Cradles — an organization that provides hand-made knitted and crocheted cradles to hospitals to give to families who experience second trimester loss. If you are interested in more details on this opportunity, check out their website here.)
  • Clean the house or do laundry for someone who is sick or for a family who is in the middle of a difficult crisis.

3. Bake or Cook Something Delicious

Yummy food is such a great way to brighten another person’s day! And there are so many options that are really inexpensive.

If you don’t have the extra money to make an entire meal for someone, you can always just bake them a loaf of bread or some rolls. Who doesn’t love fresh-made bread??

Look at what’s on sale at the store or what you already have on hand and see if there are ingredients you can work with while staying within your grocery budget to be able to bless someone who just had a baby or a family who lost a loved one or for a neighbor who is sick.

When Jesse was in law school and our budget was incredibly tight, one thing I made a lot of when we had people over or I took a meal to someone was homemade pizza. I could usually find a great deal on cheese and pepperoni and I’d stock up and stick it in the freezer. Then, I’d just buy some peppers and spaghetti sauce at Aldi, make a homemade pizza crust, and we had a very filling and yummy meal to take to someone or to serve for dinner to guests.

If you have a really tight budget, serving breakfast for dinner is another great option for having guests over. Pancakes or waffles and scrambled eggs, along with some fruit on the side is always an inexpensive crowd-pleaser!

Or, you can also just invite friends over for coffee and dessert. It’s simpler and less expensive, but it will bless others just as much as a full dinner at your house would.

4. Send a Note or Text

One of the least expensive ways to reach out and bless someone is to send them a quick note — either by email, by text, or even a handwritten card in the mail.

I can tell you of specific instance after specific instance where my entire day or week was turned around by a simple note that someone took the time to send to me — either by mail, email, or text.

Just sending someone a simple text to say, “I was thinking of you and wanted you to know!” or “Thank you so much for being YOU!” can mean the world to someone.

If a friend is going through a hard time or just received difficult news, DO reach out to them. You don’t have to have amazing insight or incredibly comforting thoughts… they probably aren’t in a place to want to hear advice or suggestions or counsel. They just need to know that you care and that you are thinking of them.

Oftentimes, when I’m not sure what to say to someone, I’ll just text or write and say, “I’m thinking of you today and wanted you to know.” Or, “I’m so sorry that you’re going through such a hard time. Know that I’m thinking of you.” Or, “I just stopped and prayed for you. I just wanted you to know.”

It’s simple. It’s not questioning decisions, giving advice, or requiring them to respond. It’s just saying to them: I’m sorry and I care. Which is what most people need to know most.

5. Listen with Genuine Interest

People are desperate for community. They want people to really care about them at a deep level.

When you take the time to look into someone’s eyes and listen, it can mean so much to someone. Show people you care by giving them your full attention, asking good questions, and fully engaging in conversation.

I like to ask questions like:

“What are you most excited about right now?”
“What’s the best thing that happened this past week?”
“What are you celebrating right now?”

One thing I like to ask people when I meet them but know very little about them is to say, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s an open-ended question that usually provides enough springboard for me to ask follow-up questions and then really get to know someone.

When you ask questions, it opens up the door for people to share with you because it shows you’re interested. And the most important part is to listen after you ask the question. Wait for a response, and ask a follow-up question.

I’ve learned about tragedies, triumphs, health issues, a person’s dreams and hopes, been able to better pray for someone and encourage them, and have developed close relationships with people as a result of asking questions and being genuinely interested in what someone else has to say.

What are YOUR favorite ways to make a difference — even on a tight budget?

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33 Comments

  • Sophie says:

    Loved all of this but #1 really resonated with me, because I’ve never thought about that! I love the idea of giving someone the shirt or book!

  • Teresa says:

    I love this post. I am off work and feeling pretty useless. This reminds me that I don’t have to be earning money to contribute. I stopped in the middle of the post to send a text. Thank you so much for what you do Crystal!

  • JJ says:

    I really loved this post. When I wake up, I always think to myself, what can I do for someone else today 🙂 Even if I am sick I make a call or send a card.

    Right now, we are cooking for 2 elderly couples. One lady has cancer and the other couple have been ill all are in there mid eighty’s.

    I am celebrating my DH being out of the hospital and doing better.

    We are so blessed to be able to do for others. I is our ministry.

    God Bless & Have a great day to all JJ

  • Leanne says:

    I like to carry bulk candy in my bag (chocolate of course…)… It never fails to make someone smile when you place a few pieces of chocolate in front of them (even if they don’t eat them!)… nothing big… I usually have Hershey kisses or Dove chocolates…
    Sometimes, I’ll just bring in a package of GOOD cookies to work… a few oreos or fudge striped cookies… I work in a preschool, and sometimes a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies can go a long way in relieving the tension in a day!

  • K Ann Guinn says:

    These are all wonderful suggestions!

    I like how you wrote about “blessing others while even on a tight budget”, because we’ve been there, too, and it often feels like you cannot be generous when money is tight. But if we are creative and offer the gift of ourselves, that will bless them as much as or sometimes more than monetary gifts.

    I like to bake and share with others. I like to put stuff out at the end of our driveway with a “free” sign (and had a lady once pull over and ask me, “Is this really free?”, when I was working outside), rather than store it for a yard sale. Listening (as you said), and offering to pray for someone or do something to help them are other good ways to share.

    Last, but not least, here’s my “note” to you to THANK YOU so much for all you do to share your insights, experiences, and knowledge with all of your readers and listeners! I love how you and other bloggers and online business women are willing, or even passionate about sharing what you know with others to help them also be successful. Today I spent a whole half hour at home watching your candid video of your first try of the Instant Pot. It was time well spent! Your vulnerability and willingness to put yourself out there is a gift to the world. God bless you as you continue with your generous life! 🙂

  • Jessica says:

    I knit or crochet anonymously (hats and scarves to our refugee welcoming organization) and to bless others. There is a retired lady from my husband’s workplace who drops in once a week and blesses everyone with her incredible baking! She takes the bus and pushes a cart to get there. I made her a scarf that she’s been wearing. I don’t work there and don’t actually know her, but she expressed her thanks many times over to my husband. I also wrote her a note to go with it.

  • Rebecca says:

    These were such great ideas and I think they get people thinking about what they can do, so thank you for broaching the subject.
    I think that most of us can scrape up $40 over the course of the month, and that’s all it costs to sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International. Even when things are really tight, my husband and I can still do this and it means a lot to our family, especially my kids. Plus, it’s not just the monetary gift, but also the letters and pictures we exchange with our child. It really is a blessing for all involved.

  • Jodi says:

    Donating blood or platelets is so important! This country really has a shortage. It costs nothing but time. Plus you get free snacks afterwards. Be on the lookout for blood drives held at schools or other buildings in your area.

    • Jen says:

      I COMPLETELY agree! I’ve donated twice in 2017 and it’s on my calendar as a recurring appointment every eight weeks!!

      My father-in-law is losing his battle with leukemia. He gets weekly transfusions so it’s even more important for me to donate since someone else (multiple someones) are donating to help keep him alive!!!!

      • Wendy Briscoe says:

        I have been a reciepiant of blood donation when I was an infant. That means I would not be able to give correct? I am 44 years old. Just checking to see. I’m thankful for the family friend who donated so that I could live!

        • Jen says:

          Wendy, I honestly didn’t know. I needed to call our local blood center for a question I needed answered so I asked your question. She said that receiving a blood donation as a child should not preclude you from being able to donate as an adult.

  • Tracy says:

    I had the feeling one day that I should finally go through my sons baby clothes and get rid of a lot. However I got busy and a week later my mom told me about a friend of hers who was having a baby boy and her and her husband were tight on finances. I immediately remembered the baby clothes. I asked my Mom to find out if she would like them. Well in the end her friend received 4 bags of clothes and shoes. Her friend was so excited and told everyone how she got the clothes. At her shower everyone gave them the other things they needed because the clothes were already taken care of. I didn’t realize at the time what a blessing it was for her and her husband.

  • Jennifer says:

    I love making meals for people! One thing I’ve done to make it easier is I try to keep the following in my house stocked: chicken, stuffing, cream of chicken soup, milk, foil pans. It is very inexpensive to make a casserole from, yummy, and a great comfort food. It’s my go to for “encouragement meals”. If I make a dessert, a lot of times I will take some to my neighbor. She is also thankful.

  • Pamela says:

    This is my favorite post in a long time. What great ideas, especially #1 and #5. Alms giving for our Lenten season!!

  • As a full time working mom, time is something that I just don’t have a lot of. This makes it difficult to keep in touch with my lifelong friends. Each month, I make it a priority to send a card with a handwritten note/letter inside to each of them. Sure, we text back and forth, but a card takes thought and effort. It’s kept my friendships alive through this hectic period in life!

  • Jen says:

    In my previous life (career), I was (am) a CPA. I volunteer my time to prepare the financial statements for my church and am now the treasurer for the service unit that includes my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I’m also her GS troop leader.

    I volunteer at our local food pantry with ladies from my church one Friday a month and try to volunteer in my daughter’s 3rd grade class at least once month.

    It’s not exactly volunteering, but I’ve also somehow been deemed the coordinator of Mom’s Night Out. I think it’s because I need the time out and none of the other moms have stepped up to coordinate so I just keep doing it. 🙂

    My childhood best friend and I had our kids at about the same time but opposite – her son is oldest and my daughter is oldest. So, we each kept the clothes our eldest wore and are now giving them to each other for the younger kids. I do buy clothes for my son but it’s more because I see cute things than that they are needed because his closet is empty. It’s saved both of us a LOT of money.

  • Naomi says:

    Thanks so much for these ideas! I love your reminder to be all there and REALLY listen – when you do this, the needs/ways to encourage often just present themselves! I’ve been on both the giving and receiving ends of many of these ideas, but seeing them all together is so helpful!

  • Natalie Stachon says:

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for the great ideas!

  • Diane says:

    It’s amazing how a simple act of kindness can lift us up on a challenging day. One day last week I was super busy running errands, and by 3pm I still hadn’t taken time to eat lunch. I stopped by a Dairy Queen drive-through to grab a sandwich & a treat, and when I pulled up to the window, the cashier told me the person in the car ahead of me had already paid for my meal. That really lifted my spirit on a hectic day! Now I plan to do the same for someone else very soon.

  • Corinne says:

    Great article! You can also find volunteer opportunities near you by typing in your zip code at http://www.justserve.org.

  • Sarah says:

    I had never seen anything like Bridget’s Cradles. So sad but sweet. I have had friends who have experienced this loss and I can see what a blessing and encouragement this would be. I pray God continues to bless and spread the word about this ministry. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wendy Briscoe says:

    PRAY for others.

    I am also knitting scarves for my son’s school. So many kids today can’t afford things that we take for granted. So I’m knitting scarves for kids who may not have much winter wear. Also Operation Gratitude you can knit scarves for soliders or wounded warriors.

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