A simple act of kindness is the best gift you can give . . . and it’s (usually) free.
What is the best gift that you could give to a family member, friend, or stranger? Kindness. It’s not hard to give, and it’s usually free (or costs very little). If it’s truly the thought that counts, there is no better thought than an act of kindness.
Even though that song from the 70s says you gotta be cruel to be kind, the opposite is actually true (and those lyrics can get stuck in your head, which is also “kind” of cruel). Ordinary acts of kindness can go a long way toward building relationships and brightening someone else’s day (as well as your own).
Here are 12 simple and frugal ways to deliver kindness while still being kind to your wallet:
1. Open the door for other people (especially for those who need a little extra help).
Holding a door for a stranger is not old-fashioned, it’s just being a good person. Whether the other person is holding seven packages in two hands; balancing a wet umbrella and a dog on a leash; pushing a stroller; holding a child’s hand; using a cane, a chair, or crutches; maneuvering in a leg cast or walking boot; or none of the above at all, take an extra two seconds and hold the door open. This tiny gesture on your part can make a big difference to another person.
The simple act of holding a door for someone else is also a way to implicitly acknowledge that there are other people in the world and that we are all connected and can help one another. (And someday, that person who needs a little extra help might be you.)
2. Pick up the phone.
The original intention of that little device sitting in your pocket was to have an actual voice conversation with real people. And it’s still called a phone (even though you use it for everything else but). So try using it as an actual phone every now and then. Is there someone you haven’t seen in a while who would love to hear your voice? Even a quick hello and short conversation would go a long way. Call your parents, your aunt or uncle, your grandparents, your friend whom you haven’t spoken to in a long time. They do want to hear from you even if you have NOTHING to chat about.
One of the saddest moments I had recently was when I learned that my cousin had been reading books by phone to my 90-plus-year-old grandmother. I would have gladly called her up and read to her too—we lived half a country apart and only saw each other at holidays or other events—but I honestly never thought of doing that. If I had just picked up the phone, I wouldn’t have missed my last opportunity to say goodbye to her.
There are certain times in life when you don’t get a second chance. Call your loved ones. They want to hear from you. (Plus, you don’t ever want to carry around feelings of regret, if you had only done this or that when you had the chance.)
3. Write a note or send a card for no occasion at all.
Yes, paper may seem old-school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use it. Did you ever get lunchbox notes from a parent? Well . . . adults appreciate handwritten notes, too. Our lives have become so screen-centric that using paper brings back feelings of tradition, nostalgia, and charm.
I like to shove a short message into my roommates’ carry-on bags or briefcases when they go on a trip. The message can be something as simple as “can’t wait for you to come home” or something much more personal. If you don’t have any paper (or a pen), you can always use the digital equivalent. (An email that isn’t trying to sell you anything?) We also have a dry-erase board that has become my personal canvas. I’m not the greatest artist, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. The picture changes every other week (aka when/if I feel inspired), and it makes my roommates happy . . . even if I’m just embarrassing myself.
You can also send a physical card for no special reason or occasion at all. It doesn’t have to be someone’s birthday or anniversary or a special day like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. (A new company called Statement Cards even has cards to celebrate achievements like getting a raise or paying off your student loans!)
4. Do that thing you’ve been talking about doing (and bring someone along with you).
Find that thing that you keep talking about doing and just go do it (and tap a friend to go with you). When you invite other people to join you, they’ll be happy you asked. (Just as you would be if someone invited you to their outing.) Who doesn’t want to feel included? Plus, you’ll probably have a better time sharing the experience with someone else (unless you need some get-away-from-everyone time, but that’s for another post).
This doesn’t have to be expensive or even cost anything. Drive out to see a monument, go to your local zoo, see the leaves in the fall (if you live near enough to see great fall foliage), walk along the beach at night, watch the sunrise (or set). There is sooo much that is free if you’re willing to do the research and seek it out.
5. Pay someone a genuine (and non-creepy) compliment.
People like to be appreciated for the right reasons. If someone has unique earrings, shoes, or even hair color (see Billie Eilish or any other teen), paying them a sincere and simple compliment can make their day. It can also be validating for them to be noticed. You can’t go wrong saying something like: “I like your jacket. Where did you get it?” Keeping it simple and short will mean it’s not likely to be taken out of context. One kind comment can make a huge difference in someone else’s day . . .. and will probably make you feel better, too.
6. Choose your words carefully.
So I don’t talk about this much, but I have a brother with MMR (mild mental retardation), which resulted from a very unfortunate accident when he was two years old. (For nine months, he was in a medically induced coma. This was well before I was born, so I don’t know him any differently.) My friends would sometimes say that they were coming over to hang with my brother because “he got all of the nice genes.” Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but when I hear words like “that’s retarded” or “that’s so gay,” well, I take umbrage.
Think about the words you use before you say them. What you might think is just an acceptable term or “edgy” joke” is probably not a joke at all and could cause real pain to people who might be struggling with that very topic.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
People look for love, and some of the people who find fault in everything, who constantly criticize, are those who need that love the most.
7. Be respectful to the server at a restaurant.
If you’re on a date with someone who is rude to the waiter or waitress, make that your last date . . . because the next person they’ll probably be rude to is you. The waitstaff has a very tough job, and they are doing their best to take your order and bring you your meal. Maybe the kitchen is understaffed or the regular chef called in sick that day. Don’t let your frustration out on the waitstaff (or the chef). Life is too short to get angry over silly inconveniences like that.
Also, when you are at a restaurant, tip well. If you can’t afford to leave a proper tip, then you can’t afford to be eating there. Tips are part of the servers’ income. And they work hard for the money. (So hard for it, honey. Now I’m being cruel to be kind.)
8. Help a friend in need.
Everybody goes through tough times. No one’s life is a constant ride of puppy dogs, rainbows, and back-to-back successes. (If you think other people have a perfect life, stop reading their social media posts.) We all need help from time to time. Being a good friend means being there for your friend when they need you.
If you sincerely want to help someone, be fully present. Listen to their needs and try to offer some words of encouragement or advice. Being fully present also means that you have to put your phone away. How concerned can you really be if you are reading someone else’s text while listening to your friend’s heartache?
If someone tells you that there’s nothing you can say or do to help them—maybe they are going through a breakup, the death of a friend or family member, or just a rough path—try just sitting by their side in silence. This can be very meaningful for them because they will know that you care and that they are not alone.
9. Listen more and talk less.
Being a good listener is a great skill to develop. Don’t be that guy who monopolizes the conversation either because he thinks he’s the only one who has anything meaningful to say or because he just likes to hear himself talk. Let the other person get some thoughts out before you respond, and don’t interrupt mid-sentence.
Being a good listener is especially important when you are talking with children. If you don’t listen to what they have to say, they might get the message that their opinions and thoughts are not important, which could be damaging to their developing self-esteem. They also have viewpoints, thoughts, and feelings that need to be heard. Give them the courtesy of speaking and having their concerns validated.
With soo many great organizations out there and so much need for help, giving your time and energy can make a lasting difference in someone else’s life (and improve yours as well). Charitable organizations don’t just rely on monetary contributions. To non-profit companies on a very tight budget, time can be just as valuable, if not more so.
Try to find an organization whose values align with your own and look into ways to make a meaningful difference with your time. Looking beyond your own needs not only helps others but also might help give you a new perspective on your own life, your particular challenges, and your own self-worth.
11. Send or bring flowers.
Yes, flowers from an actual florist can cost a lot, but there are other places to buy flowers. Most grocery stores and food markets have flower sections, and the prices are usually a lot more affordable. If you’re bringing flowers to someone in person, nobody needs to know if you bought them at the grocery store or at a fancy (translation, expensive) flower shop.
Another way to brighten someone’s day with flowers without being left with the thorns of a large credit-card bill is to just buy a single flower. One rose or other single flowering stem (you can ask the florist to tie a ribbon on the stem) can be just as special as an entire bouquet costing ten times the price.
Flowers don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or other special occasion. As in the case of sending a card for no reason at all, an unexpected gift of flowers on an ordinary day can be even more meaningful and show the recipient that you truly care.
12. Remember birthdays.
Birthdays mark the passage of time and celebrate another notch in a person’s life. Most people feel good when their friends and family remember their birthdays, even if that just means saying “happy birthday” or sending a text, email, or physical card. Even those who say they don’t want anyone to make a big deal about their birthday often feel unloved when people forget their big day. The simple act of sending an ecard can show someone that they matter to you.
Keeping track of people’s birthdays and acknowledging their day is a simple way to show kindness to those you truly care about. Presents are not (necessarily) the point. It’s the act of remembering that matters. Calling, texting, sending a memorable photo, bringing a cupcake with a candle in it, a card, a flower, sending a message on social media . . . there are lots of ways to celebrate a person’s birthday without blowing through your budget. The thought really does count.
The Takeaway? Be Kind.
When I was a Boy Scout, I was taught to leave the world a little bit better than I found it (whether that meant picking up trash at a campsite or trail, helping out a stranger, etc.). This mission can be accomplished in hundreds of thousands of ways, including showing extra kindness to the people in your life (including those you may encounter only once). It never hurts to be kind. And it doesn’t cost a lot, either.