How to Give Cheaply

How to Give Cheaply

If you’ve ever been short on cash to burn, as I have, or just wondered how to boost your generosity and be better about giving to others, see several dozen ideas below for some suggestions on how you might very charitably give–on the cheap.

Think of all the different things you could do with the resources you have in order to help others without spending lots of cash. There are tons of options out there; it just takes some thought to find what works best for you. Many of these options and ideas are things you’d do anyway. Now you just do them charitably.


Use Your (Free) Time

  • Teach something. Consider making a YouTube video for something, whether it’s basic plumbing or how to write a great cover letter, you probably know something others could learn from.
  • Pro bono services. This is obvious for many professionals, even mandatory. But even if you’re not a lawyer or someone else who’s expected to do this, you might be able to volunteer your skills (or reduce your fees) in order to provide service to those who wouldn’t otherwise get it–dental, vision, cooking, reading/writing, speaking English, personal finance, personal training for fitness, etc. Anything you get paid to do is something that you could think about offering freely on occasion.  Maybe there’s even a great group or nonprofit that facilitates this where you live.
  • Vote. Too many people don’t, especially in non-presidential elections and others without lots of publicity and money spent. Totally free.
  • Help someone move in or out. On a regular basis, someone you know is likely moving into or out of their housing. You could be the friend who shows up to help.


Similarly, you can fix or repair something for someone else.

  • Set a good example. By living your life in a healthy and smart way, you set the pace for your friends and family, and you push them to be better themselves about things like eating right, saving money, or exercising more. The people we spend time with really influence what we do and how we live, so this is important.
  • Say thanks. Show your gratitude to someone who’s helped you. A small amount of time can go a long way. Make a phone call, write a letter, or send an email–It’s free, and good for both people.
  • Make gifts. Instead of buying, create it yourself. Simple or complex, it’s probably more thoughtful and empathetic than whatever you’d have bought.
  • Take part in community events. You live there, so find free ways to help out.
  • Participate in athletic charity events. 5K runs/walks, and many other events, are common all over the place, and this keeps you healthy while promoting a good cause. Extra points for raising money yourself or getting others to do the event with you. (Plus, the t-shirt you might get promotes that cause when you wear it.)
  • Help those in your professional network. Strengthen and maintain your personal and professional network by endorsing or recommending others on LinkedIn, helping someone find a new job or roommate, watching someone’s home or pets while they are away, visiting someone sick at home or in the hospital, or volunteering to talk with a current student at your alma mater. Most students in high school and college don’t have any connections to people outside their age group (excluding friends of older siblings and family friends). Most of them would probably benefit a lot from just talking with someone who is, say, five or ten years (or more) older who may have dealt with some challenges they’re navigating and who can listen without being pushy, someone more objective and removed than a sibling or relative. They say giving advice is like trying to correct your own mistakes, so why not give it a try?

Use Your Time Off

Whether you get lots of paid time off or none at all, you can use breaks from working as a way to give back if you plan for it. There are tons of choices here! Here are just a few.

  • WWOOF. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an organization for enabling people to travel cheaply by staying and working short periods of time on organic farms around the world.
  • Habitat for Humanity. Habitat offers numerous trips and volunteer projects for single days off or multiple weeks. You could build some skills for yourself, while building a home for someone else.
  • Work-vacay. Along the same lines as Habitat, other volunteer-oriented vacation options include Cross Cultural Solutions and the Earthwatch Institute.
  • Public spaces. From local spots to national parks, you might find a way to volunteer a few hours or a few weeks to spruce up or maintain public spaces.
  • Travel and be a tourist/visitor in ways that are friendly to locals and to the environment there–kind of like “leave no trace” camping.


Use Your Stuff

  • Donate used clothing.  Giving things like clothes, shoes, and coats can really help someone lacking those things.
  • Freecycle. Give (and/or receive) used goods to people who live near you through websites like Freecycle. You could also try Craigslist.
  • Write reviews. Got something that worked out great for you? Write a review of your favorite items. Something that didn’t do what it was supposed to? Write a review on it online, Consumer Reports-style. It’s free, and it might help others find the things that best suit their needs.


Use Your Computer

  • Make web searches count. Use a search engine like Ecosia, “the search engine that plants trees” and also Germany’s first benefit corporation. (And DuckDuckGo.)
  • Make tabs count. Think about using Tab For A Cause, which donates to selected charities based on a couple of sponsored ads in each tab you open.
  • Spare time. Give spare computing cycles–these can be used through a number of different organizations for medical or scientific purposes. Look at Folding@Home, IBM’s World Community Grid, or BOINC. (If you’re into cryptocurrency, be a node.)
  • Email. Write to your elected representatives about pending bills or relevant issues. Start or sign online petitions (e.g.,  care2, or
  • FLOSS. That stands for Free/Libre/Open-source Software, meaning something like Linux or Wikipedia (now there’s a thought!) that people all over the world can contribute to in their own way and on their own terms. Even beyond software, find a volunteer project to help with or start one yourself. (You should probably also keep using regular dental floss too.)
  • Donate electronics. Give old or used (yet functional) phones, laptops, or desktop computers and other electronics to domestic abuse shelters, and the like. Many are glad to take them off your hands.
  • Dispose of electronics properly. It won’t cost you anything to take your batteries, electronic goods, and other things you don’t just throw away in the trash down to the designated disposal site or a willing electronics store. Free and useful.
  • Read an audiobook. Volunteer to read an out-of-copyright book through LibriVox. Their works are all free for people to access.


Use Your Home


  • Hospitality. You could let friends, family members, friends of friends, or other folks stay with you while in town. Maybe they’re just visiting as tourists, or maybe there’s something more somber like a funeral they need to attend. Either way, they’d appreciate the offer of hospitality. You can also use your place to freely host travelers through platforms like Couchsurfing. Or, if you’re so inclined, you might allow people to camp in your garden via


  • Watch pets or kids. Keep an eye out for pet-sitting or baby-sitting opportunities among those you know. Offer to do it for free as a gift. (Maybe with some experience and some references, you can also start doing it for money.)
  • Foster. You could volunteer to house animals through a local animal shelter or neighborhood group until more long-term accommodations can be found.
  • Garden. Use any space you’ve got to grow food, herbs, flowers, etc. for yourself and for others–this makes for giving great gifts and doesn’t require lots of cash.
  • Green space. If you have available land or gardening space that you have no plans to use yourself, you might allow someone else to garden there. Look at Shared Earth.


Use Your Body


  • Become an organ donor. This is not really complicated to do.


  • Donate blood regularly. This is also somewhat obvious, but it’s something you’ve got plenty of (hopefully!) that you could donate without damaging your health or spending any money. This is also true of bone marrow and plasma. These are also things people can donate through various groups.
  • Give your hair. Growing and donating long-ish hair for the purpose of cancer patient wigs is something most people have probably heard of, but maybe that’s something you could do. Different groups facilitate this, and can be found easily online. (Hair will need to be 10 inches or longer, I believe.)
  • Do a study. You could qualify to participate in a clinical trial or study for medical or other research purposes, in which case you could help researchers understand health and thus treat patients more effectively. Look at, for one. Every medicine you’ve ever taken probably benefited from volunteers in trials and studies at some point.
  • No-shave November. Take part in growing facial hair during the month of November to publicize support for men’s health.


Make Your Money Really Count


  • Buy to support a social purpose. Consider eating and shopping at places where there’s a dual focus or a larger sense of purpose–like Cafe Momentum in Dallas or used bookstores like Housing Works in New York. A great example is actor Paul Newman’s brand of food products, Newman’s Own. This also means trying to buy from benefit corporations or B Corps, as well as from locally owned businesses, more of whose spending remains in your community. A lot of restaurants run promotions for certain times they give some of their profit to a selected charity, so plan to eat out with that in mind.


  • Give where it goes further. Think about Watsi for contributing to medical care for individuals in developing countries, or Kiva for loaning small sums to low-income entrepreneurs around the world. Microfinance and crowdfunding for useful ideas are alive and well in America too. For loans and other financial matters, consider using a nearby credit union that lends out its funds to meet local needs before going to a big bank.
  • Be altruistic, effectively. Whether you agree with the movement known as effective altruism or have never heard of it, just think carefully about how effective your spending is and try to get the most bang for your buck. The usual groups effective altruists support can be found on GiveWell, including groups like GiveDirectly and Against Malaria, on the grounds that the money spent is much more efficiently charitable dollar for dollar than many causes in the developed world where making a real difference can cost more.
  • Go green. Consider using your electricity dollars–which, of course, you have little choice but to spend every month anyway–to support renewable energy. Many utilities or power providers have an option for their customers to partially or fully receive electricity generated in renewable ways like wind or solar.