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How to Help Others When You’re on a Tight Budget

Submitted by on July 24, 2013 – 12:11 pm 58 Comments


A few weeks ago, Grayson over at Debt Roundup shared a story about facing poverty in our lives.  In my 46 years, I’ve had lots of run-ins with poverty; I’ve been involved in several ministries that focus on feeding the poor and caring for the poor.  I’ve lived in many a lower-income neighborhood, and as a child, my family faced its own battles with hunger.

Lots of people that I came in contact with during the different ministries I’ve been involved in had no money for food simply because they didn’t manage well, end of conversation.  I saw first-hand as we ministered to the poor in different capacities as they walked around in $100 tennis shoes or jeans, yet didn’t fix a broken screen on the window or had no money left over after the 3 cases of soda or their cell phone payment to buy their kids food.

But there are the cases, like the one Grayson ran into, where people really are trying their best and simply cannot make ends meet, for a variety of reasons.  As a child, I remember specifically a time when that happened to us.  After my parents’ divorce, my mom, despite dad’s faithful child support payments, just didn’t have much money.  So she took advantage of the welfare system while she learned office skills and learned to drive so that she could get a job and bring more money in.

But one week it just wasn’t enough.  There were 3 days until the next welfare check, and we had NO food.  None.  The cupboards were bare, and my two younger brothers and I could do nothing but watch as mom cried, wondering how she would feed her babies for the next 3 days.  We sat there in silence, the four of us, and didn’t notice when my baby brother, then 4, slipped out the door.

Doug, with his 4-year-old logic, had walked up to the corner store, set several food items on the counter and waited patiently for the cashier, who knew us well (thanks to the PacMan and Centipede games that garnished the corner of the store 🙂 ) to bag up the food and bring it home.  Doug didn’t understand why mom was so upset when there was a plethora of food just waiting for us at the 7-eleven.

When the cashier asked Doug for the amount due,  my little brother looked at him, with those big-blue eyes, wondering what on earth he was talking about.

Then came Superman.

A wonderfully kind old widower, who lived across the street from us, happened to be behind Doug in line and figured out what was going on.  The frugal man had more than enough money to live on, and kindly bought our groceries and walked Doug home.

Imagine my mom’s surprise when Doug and Old Tom walked up to the door with a bag of groceries in hand.  It was Christmas in July, that’s for sure.

So when you see someone, like Grayson did,  who truly seems like they’re doing their best, but still struggling, think about how it might feel if you didn’t have the money to feed your babies, and then step in as you feel led.  Maybe you don’t have the cash to buy their groceries, but here are some ways that even those on the strictest of budgets can help out the less fortunate or those who just need a hand:

1.  Give of your time.  Serve food or clean up at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  Help package and distribute food at the local food shelf.  Get involved with organizations that need people to shop or deliver food that they collect and pay for.  There are all sorts of volunteer opportunities out there that require time but little or no money.

2.  Give of your surplus.  Clean out your pantry and give the food you know you won’t eat, or that is near expiration, to the local food shelf.  Give your “buy one, get one free” items to the food shelf.  Clean out your closet of all of those clothes or household items that you haven’t used in years, and donate them to your favorite charity.  Give away the extra veggies in your garden.  Or pick up one extra thing on each shopping trip that can go into a donation bag.  Every little bit helps.

3.  Partner with others.  Maybe you’ve got a friend with lots of money who would like to help others, but has no time or know-how of shopping for the food shelf.  Work together: your friend supplies the cash, you do the shopping, and you deliver the goods together.  Volunteer at an organization like Feed My Starving Children, that has volunteers pack food that they buy to send off to third world countries.  There are many organizations out there who need hands to help more than they need money.

4.  Look close to home.  Chances are, you can find a way to help others right in your close circle of family, friends or neighbors.  Maybe there’s a single mom in your life who could really use a babysitter once in a while.  Or an elderly person who needs help with errands or housework.  Maybe you could help a young couple just starting out by teaching them what you’ve learned about budgeting and money management.

There’s always a way to give to others, no matter how tight your budget might be.  Just keep your eyes open, and you’ll find a way. 🙂




  • Thank you for posting. I’ve always struggled with the desire to reach out and help others- but I’ve felt so constricted by my own financial difficulties. I often turn to the depths of my closets and drawers to find items that may be better put to use by someone else.

    • Laurie says:

      You’re welcome, Stefanie! We struggle with those some feelings often. But any help is a help, right? Even just a smile or a kind gesture can really make someone’s day.

  • Great encouragement here! I think our issue is that we don’t keep our eyes open for opportunities to help others. We get so wrapped up in our world, we forget to look outside of ourselves and be sensitive to what other people need.

  • My grandma use to tell me when i was kid that by sharing wealth grows and not just that. Sharing is caring and i really appreciate your post, i am bit of emotional and i believe god helps those, who help themselves along with others

  • Time and humanity are invaluable. One of the programs I was involved with as a kid involved housing homeless in our church for the coldest part of the winter and overwhelmingly every year those helped said that while they appreciated the food and shelter, what they appreciated most of all was when paroshoners would come in and make meals and then eat them as a family with the temporary residents. Feelin part of a family and not being ignored was such a boost that it often overwhelmed them.

    • Laurie says:

      I know of a church that has done that here too, Mrs. PoP. Just seeing the looks on the faces of those families, knowing that they had a warm, safe place to bring their children home to was priceless. As a parent, I can imagine that was quite a blessing.

  • This is an awesome reminder, Laurie. Often times it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day (or life). I tend to think that $100 won’t change anyone’s life, but as your story showed it sure can have a lasting impact if it’s used at the right time. I know I need to get better at giving and it’s something I’m going to try hard at over the next year.

    • Laurie says:

      It sure can, Jake. $100 to someone like my mom who is struggling to feed their kids is like winning the lotto. Good for you for committing to do better, Jake!

  • Thank you Laurie for mentioning my post. I appreciate the support. You really have no idea how you can change someone’s day by just being kind. There was no need for Tom to buy the groceries, but he did it because he wanted to. I think most of us want to do good, but we just get so lost in our own struggles that we forget to think about those that are struggling beside us.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Grayson. If we can just take a few moments to think about life from others’ perspectives, it’s amazing what we could do to help. There is always somebody who has it worse than we do.

  • Giving is important even on a budget. Sometimes I forget that but I always try to give a little when I can.

  • Thrifty Dad says:

    As they say, “kindness is never wasted”. Sometimes we forget of how even the littlest things we sometimes take for granted, can make the world of difference to someone else. I know I do sometimes. That one act from that kind old widower that day, is one your family will remember for a lifetime. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  • So true, Laurie. It’s easy at times to get caught up in our own problems but we often forget how fortunate we truly are. There are many good, hard-working individuals who struggle to put food on their table. I am blessed with a full fridge and stocked cupboards, which I am incredibly grateful for but also know there are homes with empty bellies and I can share. Human compassion – pass it on.

  • Thank you for sharing that story, it was very touching. I find that often times, volunteering or helping others in need is just as rewarding to the giver as it is to the receiver of the gift.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Great ideas Laurie. There’s always a way to help others, even if you’re not in a strong financial position. I personally like the time approach. If I can help someone directly by giving my time and services, I know what they’re getting. Grayson’s example was an excellent one of helping out in the moment though. Definitely an inspiration.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, Grayson’s story still resonates clearly in my mind. It was one of those split second decisions that had to be made, and Grayson had the wisdom and quick wit to do the right thing with the opportunity. I’ve passed more of those by than I care to admit out of fear of embarrassment or whatever.

  • Laurie,

    Thanks for reminding me that I should be doing more to help those in need. It’s a message that we all should hear and not take lightly.

    I absolutely love the story of your brother and neighbor as a child. That would put a smile on my face to be able to do that for someone in need. I need to step up my game, seriously.

    Anyway, great topic.

    Take care,

    • Laurie says:

      Hi Kraig! Good to “see” you! 🙂 Glad you liked the story. Another cool part of the story is that Doug and Old Tom became good buddies after that. Doug would sit over there and the two would just enjoy each other’s company. Tom loved having a surrogate grandchild around, and Doug loved the company of a grandfather-type person. It was cool. 🙂

  • Loved the story! Almost made me tear up. Sometimes I think we all must face such difficult experiences in some form or another to give us empathy. Because you know first-hand what it’s like to struggle, you understand another person’s struggle. Also, glad to hear your story turned out well. 🙂

    And yes, I agree with you on the volunteering. There are so many worth non-profits out there that can never have help in some way or another. Donating one’s time can be such a help to a non-profit in need.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it sure does help with the empathy thing, that’s for sure. I think that’s why so much of my volunteer work has centered around caring for children and feeding people. Yes, there are indeed tons of worthy organizations to help, aren’t there?

  • Jim says:

    Fabulous article Laurie and great ideas! Doug sure did a wonderful thing that day, even if he didn’t know what he was doing. Really enjoyed it, thanks!

  • E.M. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story, it was very heartwarming! It’s even sweeter that Doug became a surrogate grandchild to Tom. I have to admit I haven’t had many opportunities come along for me to help someone, but I would really like to start volunteering somewhere.

    • Laurie says:

      Good for you, E.M., for considering volunteering. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that fits your interests and desires. There are so many volunteer opportunities out there!

  • Alexa says:

    Reading this gave me chills, Laurie, it’s so true. There are all kinds of people who abuse the system and then there are those who are doing their best and can’t make ends meet. When my parents first got divorced my mom moved into low income apartments, worked at a gas station and there were a few times when we had no food in the house. I think that is one of the reasons that helping other people is so important to me.

    • Laurie says:

      So you know what of I speak! Yes, it’s very impactful, isn’t it Alexa, when you go through those things as a child. I also think it gives you huge motivation to make a better life for your own kids, and I can see that strong motivation that I have in you as well to make a better life for your babies. 🙂

  • Very nice article with some practical tips. Thanks for the ideas and for he article from your heart.

  • Thanks for sharing that story. I can’t imagine knowing you will have no money for 3 days and your kids are hungry. Thank goodness there are kind people in the world. I tend to get jaded at times, so thanks for the reminder to put myself in someone else’s shoes and get off my butt and donate some food.

    • Laurie says:

      Me either, Kim. As a kid, it was scary, but as a parent, it would be traumatizing. Remembering that time in our lives always makes my heart soften again and inspires some gratefulness in me. 🙂

  • Great story and thanks or sharing Laurie. People forget to be human sometimes. If you can help stop and help every little bit helps and you never know when you will be on hard times and things will be out of your control. Little was like there is food there let me go get some for my family. I like his spirit though he didn’t know that food costs. Thats the one thing I have with parent and kids there seems to be now value of money so much waste. When some of my friend hear about how we grew up as a family they are amazed. Im like this is way I look at people when they waste money. I can from little and appreciate the little things in life though I know at times I act just as bad as some and i have to snap back and realize I have been there as well and help.

    • Laurie says:

      Same here, Thomas. Growing up with little does make you aware of others and of money waste in a different way. I think that’s why those who’ve loved through the Depression are frugal to a fault to this day. Thanks for your thoughts here – I appreciate them!

  • We use our church to help coordinate charitable activities, and we were able to do this even when totally broke. They often do things like repairing broken down schools in poor neighborhoods.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Jefferson! Working with a group almost always allows a volunteer to accomplish more. Thanks for sharing what you guys do, I appreciate it!

  • Debt Blag says:

    This is such a beautiful post.

    It’s tough sometimes when I look at my own finances to remember that there are always people worse off than me. This is a good reminder how important it is to help out.

  • I recently stumbled onto http://www.volunteermatch.org/. They’re a great resource to match you with the right charitable cause or local volunteering opportunities. Thanks for posting Laurie 🙂

  • Great post Laurie! I absolutely love Feed My Starving Children and have volunteered (and donated) many times. I also have auto-deductions from my paycheck to charities. I try to increase the amount each year and it’s really the least I can do, even if it’s a small amount being donated.

    • Laurie says:

      DC that’s great! Yes, every little bit really does make a difference. What we would spend on groceries in a month could feed third world families for a year easily. We’re big FMSC fans too – it’s a great organization!

  • Giving of your time is a great way to give when you don’t have much. In AZ we have so many places that are looking for volunteers like a food bank, homeless shelter, after school programs, etc. I teach finance classes at local churches as a way to give back, so if you have a skill you might be able to find a way to serve others with that as well.

    • Laurie says:

      Deacon, I love that you teach finance – to me, this is one area that affects so many people so profoundly. People from all walks of life have no clue about how to manage their finances properly. Love what you said about finding a way to utilize your skills to help others, too – thanks for the suggestion!

  • What a heart breaking story, and a generous old man. I have done quite a bit of volunteering, and always prefer to give things rather than money. I know sometimes you need to pay the electric bill or they will cut your power but I prefer to be sure that the whole donation, in the case of food, will benefit someone. Here there are many shady “non profits”.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, Pauline, I bet there are shady organizations down there too. I would imagine much less regulation than here. Also, with giving things instead of money, there’s less chance of it being spent on things like drugs and alcohol.

  • Carly says:

    Wonderful story! This brought tears to my eyes. So important to keep things in perspective. Thanks for helping me do just that.

  • Great advice. I’m glad you started with giving time. For those that truly feel money is too tight to give, volunteering is another great way to give back.

  • It’s so important to me to give back. I sometimes get caught up in the daily hustle of my life, and I forget. I’m big on giving my time, instead of only my money.

    • Laurie says:

      I think we all do that, Daisy, as far as getting caught up in the hustle and bustle. It’s easy to do. I think it’s great that you’re so committed to giving your time – it’s just as important as giving money, in my opinion. 🙂

  • CF says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I am very skeptical of charities that ask for monetary donations, so I try to give back through volunteering.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s a great way to give back. I understand about being skeptical of charities – you just never know these days what your donation money is really being spent on.

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