Giving with Impact on a Small Budget

A few years ago, I had a day at work that felt like walking into a hornet’s nest. Really it was more like the hornet nest was thrown at my head, repeatedly. I hid in the bathroom and sobbed. And then a dear friend showed up with my favorite caramel roll from my favorite bakery. It was magic. $3.75 of pastry and her presence was like balm on a wound. Sometimes the smallest gift at the right time can make all the difference.  If you want to have a huge impact with giving, but have a tiny budget: this is for you!

High impact giving

There are 4 elements to creating these high impact, almost magical moments, with your small gift.

  1. The Right Gift
  2. For Right Reason-Purpose
  3. To the Right Person
  4. At the Right Moment

Together these 4 things create a powerful synergy

Even our small gifts can have a huge impact in someone’s life.  When we know part of someone’s story and understand the purpose our gift could serve, we can offer that right gift at the right moment. We show up at the critical moment. If we gave the same gift, a month or year later, it wouldn’t carry nearly the impact.

The challenge often isn’t the cost. Or the time.  In our busy, high distraction, impersonal world, the issue is often our focus. For small, high impact giving, we have to pay attention. We need to hear people’s stories. We must ask questions. We need to read between the lines. It’s a bit investigative. Very rarely do people ever ask for the things they most deeply desire or need. But if we pay attention, our gift can provide that.

The gifts serve 3 different purposes:

  1. Celebrate
  2. Comfort
  3. Encourage

Sometimes there are very real needs that must be met. But more often it’s more subtle than that. We want to be known. We want our story heard. We want to feel cared for and loved. We want to know that someone sees us. We want to know that things will be ok. We want to know our work matters. We need to be cheered on to keep going. When my friend showed up with that caramel roll: Comfort.

Has something really amazing ever happened to you and you just want to tell people? You want to call your mom and text your best friend. Announce it to the barista! It’s because we want people to celebrate with us. What if the person behind you in line just got a call offering her a job? She’s ecstatic. She wants to start hugging strangers because this is just the break she needed after a really rough year. And it’s her dream job! What if you bought her coffee and a pastry? Celebrate with her! $7. And her great day just got even better. At just the right moment, the right gift celebrated this huge achievement: Celebrate.

It’s amazing when someone shows up. At the right time. With the right gift. To meet the exact need that seems so pressing in that moment.

Celebration. Comfort. Encouragement.

We must live with eye’s wide open. It’s something that takes practice: thinking about where people are at in their lives, and how you could help. Not every gift, at every time is appropriate. But we start to become more aware and grow into this habit. We learn a few things along the way. After having more life experiences, we gain a bit of wisdom.

J$ kicked off the Rockstar Community Fund in December. It’s designed to help people do this very thing: leverage small gifts to make a big impact. We had chatted on the phone a month before and I knew he was really excited about this project.

But there were other things I could deduce just based on my own life experience in starting projects and raising money.

  1. New projects are hard to get going.
  2. After the first 1/3 of a project, and after a few obstacles, things can get discouraging.
  3. It takes time for people to fork over their cash.

So I reached out in mid-December to see how things were going. (Good, but a few challenges, and not many sign ups just yet.) I asked what the monthly budget would look like. ($500 a month, but they had only raised $80 in monthly commitments.)

I said I would send over $1000 to cover January and February. To the right person, it was the right gift, for the right purpose, at the right time: Encourage.

The only reason I could do that was because 15 years ago I started practicing by giving $5-$100 gifts.

Maybe you can give $20 a month to help support the Rockstar community fund. Maybe you will be willing to receive the $20 #GivingCards to start practicing this art of high impact giving. Keeping your eyes and heart open to see the needs around you and act quickly. $20 is the perfect practice amount.

Giving has made me a better person.

Not just because of the impact for others. I am better. Today I am better able to lean into people’s stories and know how to help. I’m still a self absorbed, highly distracted person 70% of the time. But I continue to learn. I’m better at asking questions. Better at listening (something I was truly horrible at for a long time). I’m more aware, and less distracted. I make better eye contact. And check my phone less often. I’m more empathetic to what a person might be experiencing.

All of that translates into a better me.  I’m a better wife. A better mother. A much better friend. A better coworker, employee, and boss. The funny thing is: better I became, the more good things happened in my life. There is a saying, “It’s better to give than receive.” Both will make you feel great. But giving will actually help you be a better version of yourself. It’s one reason I have never felt poorer for any money I’ve given away.

You can give for the cause, for the person who will be helped and to become a better version of yourself. How many more reasons do we need?



For conversation:

Has someone ever given you high impact gift as just the right time?

Have you ever practiced this? Have you gotten better at it?



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47 thoughts on “Giving with Impact on a Small Budget

  1. Great post! Giving is so important but often overlooked. I typically will give around the holidays and then sort of forget about it… which I need to work on. I’ll definitely try your tips to improve!

  2. This is such a nice point!! We don’t have a budget for giving yet since we’re still in debt, but I love the idea of doing small things that have a big effect.

    Once I remember my coworker picked up a coffee for me at Starbucks. I was having a crappy day and I actually cried when she gave me that $3 iced coffee. Sometimes doing small, nice things is the way to go. 🙂

    • That is awesome! And a perfect example. Sometimes just having $5 ready, and paying attention is all you need to have a big impact. Just goes to show when you get all the pieces right, even a $3 gift can make a huge difference. Thanks for sharing!

  3. You definitely inspired me when I saw your donation to the Rockstar Community Fund. I went to donate and noticed the $500 spot still had a “could be you?” in it, so I decided to get generous and fill that spot for $500. It felt really good, because I feel that there is interaction with this fund. It seems much more personal than just writing a check to a large organization. Even though I still do that, it isn’t quite as fun. 🙂

    • That is awesome! I love the intention behind the project. It’s a great way to spread some high impact good in the world. Plus it helps people practice the act of giving. Thanks so much for filling that spot! Now March is covered too. =)

  4. How amazing that you were able to provide such support to Rockstar Community Fund!!!

    I have to confess that we have not always been very generous when it comes to helping others. Yes, we try to be helpful, courteous, and friendly . . . but never really “shared our wealth” in any significant way. But we want to change that, even though we’re still trying to fight our way out of debt.

    I’m really excited about finding a new opportunity (just this past weekend) to provide meaningful, high-impact gifts that will cost more time than money. I can’t wait to get started 🙂

    You have such a good heart and are doing such wonderful things – thanks for being an inspiration and God Bless!!!!!

    • It’s great that you found a way to create some high impact gifts! It took us a few years to get out of debt. And our gifts were MUCH smaller then. =) But now with all the debt payed off, including our mortgage, and such low expenses we have a lot more choices. Hitting FI was really just the start of bigger things!

  5. I LOVE what the RCF is doing – it’s great you helped out so much!

    One of my main themes for the year is giving. I always have $20 ready to give, and actually looking for the opportunities to give has been awesome. I pay more attention to the people around me. I try to imagine what they must be thinking and feeling.

    Two weeks ago, I called the school secretary to let her know my daughter was sick that day. She gets tons of calls each morning. But, she took the time to ask what was wrong and how she was feeling. She always takes the time to stop what she’s doing, smile, and chat, even when I know she’s busy. So, I slipped a $20 visa card on her desk last week. I appreciate her endless kindness – and having that $20 at the ready to give away helped me see it more clearly.

    • That is such a great gift. And I love that you keep $20 on you to be able to act quickly. I have done that off and on thought the years. It’s a great way to be more mindful. =) I love cards as well. One of my love languages is definitely words of affirmation, so having someone write something thoughtful is really meaningful to me. I actually have a stack of thank you notes that I have saved from people.

  6. WOW.

    I can honestly say that was one of the most powerful, and interesting!, article I’ve read on this topic in years.

    And I see and pay attention to a lot in this field! 🙂

    I’ve never seen someone break down the *reasons* why the micro-giving this way is so impactful, but I kept nodding my head as I read through your post…

    Love love love it. And even more so that you found our new project worthy of supporting 🙂


    • I love the notecard idea. We’re trying to declutter and eat healthily, so I try to respect other people’s space and preferences too and not give them things they don’t need or derail their diets, but a heartfelt note is something that can make a huge impact and doesn’t take much space if people choose to save it

      • I’m a big fan of words. And old high school acquaintance recently posted about being teased when she was younger about her weight. I took a few minutes to write a thoughtful comment about all the things I admired about her in high school. She said she cried when she read it. Sometimes the right words at the right time can make a big impact.

      • I was sending postcards to a friend every other week as she went through a tough time. I tried to find friendship and other positive quotes, so she could refer back, and it wasn’t just me rambling about current things. The limited space forced me to be mindful, and I always hope anyone else who handles the postcard might smile.

  7. Good article about compassion and kindness. In our fast-saturated world often lacking a little attention to our family, friends or just the person on the street. Just a word of participation…

  8. What a gorgeous post and what a wonderful way to look at things. It is so easy to look that the unbearable pain and suffering in the world, and to feel helpless and then be too overwhelmed to do anything. But you are right – we can make a difference on a small scale to the people whose lives touch ours. That is worth it!

    • The really cool thing is that the act might be small on our part in terms of cost or time, it can be huge for the other person! Sometimes that act of kindness can resonate with them years later.

  9. So true. I’d been slogging through work today when suddenly my team stopped by my desk with cookies and cupcakes to celebrate my 5 year anniversary with our company. $5 in baked goods and a few minutes of others’ time is all it took to completely turn my day around. Good lesson.

  10. You’re a saint, Ms. M. I’ve always had a soft spot for unwed mothers. Between kids, bills, and exes, life can be very daunting for them. In my last office job, there were about a half dozen unwed mothers, and every week or so I made a point of treating one of them to lunch. And like you pointed out, it wasn’t the amount of money I spent that counted ($5-6). It was the gesture. Just one small act of kindness that showed whomever I treated that the whole world wasn’t against her. I miss those days. Yes, the commute, meetings, and deadlines sucked, but it gave me the opportunity to make this world a little less “cold, nasty, brutish, and harsh.” Thank you for this post, Ms. M. It never hurts to be reminded that a few dollars can produce a mighty impact.

    • That is such an amazing idea. Working, single mom’s live’s are entirely focused on others. That very well could have been the only time in any given week that someone did something just for her. I love it! As you transition to this new life phase, I’m sure you will find new opportunities. =)

  11. I had a lot of giving planned for the year, and then we were hit with this body blow of needing to move for safety reasons, and soon (too long to share here, I blogged about it though). That’s going to mean that most of my money gifts aren’t going to be possible until we’re right side up again, I’m still going to carry on with my smaller gifts of time: monthly notes and cards to people we care about who could use a pick me up. I can’t spend $50 a month until I know what’s happening with our housing, but I can afford a couple dollars’ worth of stamps a month.

  12. Several years ago, when hubby and I were both working and money wasn’t tight, we were eating dinner at Outback Steakhouse. On a Thursday night, which was our usual date night outing. A young couple sat at the booth next to us — dressed in “church clothes” and aglow with happiness. Soon another couple joined them and they started celebrating the marriage of the first couple. As I evesdropped, I learned they were bride, groom, best man, and matron of honor. When the restaurant manager learned the first couple just just gotten married, he sent them a complimentary bottle of wine. On the way out of the restaurant, we paid for the meal for the foursome. The waitress asked, “Are they your friends?” I said no, but those kids just got married and that’s enough reason to celebrate.

    I never met the couple, but I smile every time I think of how happy they were that night and that I anonymously got to be part of their celebration.

  13. Love your post! My wife and I have been convinced that one of the great blessings in life is to be able to give. It’s great to be reminded that little gifts can have great impact and it is so much fun to stay vigilant and look for opportunities to give. Muy wife and I have given to many people and causes over the years and now give away around 15% of our gross income on our road to FI. One of my favorite giving stories is a gift that we received rather than gave.

    We had been married for a year and I just finished a year teaching junior high. We had around 2k from our tax refund that year, so we decided to see how far we could go and what we could see. So, we packed up our sleeping bags and tent, bought all the ramen and spaghetti O’s we could afford, and headed West. When we were in Oregon, we called in a rest area along the Columbia river. The only other person there we a guy in a tiny motor home with long hair and tattoos all over. We were a little worried about spending the night alone off the road next to a shifty character. We decided to talk about it while we went to town to get a few groceries. When we came out of the store, he saw us in the parking lot and came up to us. After talking to him, we found out he was a diesel mechanic from Canada who was on sabbatical, traveling the US. We told him our story and had a great conversation.

    The next morning, he had left and there was something outside our tent. He had left us a gift basket with wine, fruit and crackers as well as a note saying, “God bless you and have a wonderful trip!”, as well as a hundred dollar bill. If that isn’t amazing, over the top generosity, I don’t know what is! It totally destroyed our preconceptions! We have tried to look for opportunities like that since.

  14. I completely agree with giving making me a better person. We typically only think about giving through sometimes meaningless presents at Christmas where we all exchange $50 gifts that we asked for (at least that’s how it works in my family). We have a set budget for giving each month where we have certain charities we feel passionate about that we give to. We then contribute here and there if we find something we like that we can make a difference.

  15. I remember reading a story about how someone gave away money/time and found that it always came back to him ten fold. I know that I struggle a lot with giving. I can give to my friends when I see something that fits them but giving to strangers is a challenge.
    I love what the RCF is doing, and I can’t wait to see it grow into something awesome!
    This post was genuinely inspiring, and because of it I now want to improve in that aspect of my life. Thanks, Ms. Montana!

    • I love what the RFC is doing too! And thanks so much for the comment. I’m glad I could lite a small spark. Maybe just start by carrying a $5 around to find that right gift, right time, right reason, right person. =)

  16. Thank you for diving deep into giving. Giving is something I do without thinking much and your sharing bring a new sense of purpose and how to give with greater blessing.

    • Lyn, thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I’m so excited for the stories you will collect. Feel free to stop back and share. =) We always love a great giving story!

  17. Ms. Montana, oh, how I love this post!! It’s true that the giver gets the biggest gift, not the receiver. Practice generosity, and learn empathy. Great lessons, and you’re walking the talk. Thanks for your support to the Rockstar Community Fund, I’m SOOO excited where this is heading!! (I’m also a supporter, but you’ve put us all to shame with your amazing gift!!). Right Gift. Right Reason. Right Person. Right Time.

    • I’ve learned so much from practicing generosity! Just in thinking about someones situation, or tone of voice. It’s a practices of thoughtfulness. I was able to give another really cool non-financial gift this week. It’s rarely about the dollar amount.

  18. I have a long drive from where I live to friends and family for the holiday, and pass lottery (mega millions or powerball), so I spend some time pondering what I would do with that sort of money. Which usually becomes which friends would I give some to. I’d also come across the topic of if you got $10,000, but couldn’t keep it, how would you gift it away? So I pondered, because $1000 each to some younger friends could open a Roth, or my friends who bought a house it could be a mortgage payment. Would $2000 be more impact full for a friend with car troubles, either for repair or towards a used vehicle? How about $500 to some people, a car payment, or rent?
    I didn’t ask for much for Christmas and got wonderful gifts, including some cash. Since the friend I was visiting was one on my list, and we had a discussion about money, and she mentioned saving towards the inevitable replacement car, I gave her something towards her new car fund. It felt great to be able to shake my abundance. Now if I could just win that 10k to parse out… 🙂

  19. I LOVE this article! It’s such a lovely topic to write about. I was legit thinking about this kind of thing this afternoon as my boyfriend has just gone through a rough week and all I wanted to do is was do something for him that will take his mind off everything. Such small gestures can go a long way with people and I don’t think we realize how much they actually appreciate it 🙂