Creative Ways to Donate Money When Things Feel Tight

By Bethany Johnson in Helping Hands

There’s nothing worse than hearing about a need and feeling powerless to help. On the other hand, there’s nothing better than finding a way to do what you can. And the truth is, you can always do something. The only question left, then, is “What can I do?”

I know how it can feel to try and think outside the box when things are tight. Here are my most favorite creative ways to donate money when, frankly, there’s not much to spare:

Replace the Term “Can’t”

It can be hard to donate canned goods to a food bank, for example, when your family could use that food. So instead of dipping into your own needs to help others, sit down with your family and parse through your regular spending based on needs versus wants.

Simply grab a copy of your most recent transaction history and highlight areas where your family splurged. Then make a game plan to avoid similar purchases the next time the urge arises to repeat that unnecessary spending. Temptations happen, but now it’ll be easier for you to anticipate them and celebrate when you make the right choice, knowing someone else will benefit.

When you succeed at saving some dough, earmark it immediately by putting it in a mason jar, piggy bank, or separate account.

Think Differently

Once you’ve collected a few bucks, you may have mixed feelings. After all, what can a charity do with such a small amount? The answer is a lot, actually. When my family researched true global poverty, we were amazed at how far a little money can go.

Some nonprofits have become experts in stretching each dollar. To find them, check out, a nonprofit organization that calculates exactly how much a five or ten spot can do. Last time I had ten bucks, I simply plugged my amount into their online “Impact Calculator” and learned I could choose to save lives in several different ways, including hospital transportation, malaria mosquito nets, or safe drinking water for an entire year for 11 people. The feeling of powerlessness was replaced by the freedom of choice. Suddenly, with this tool, my family felt capable and effective. The result was a desire to do even more.

Get Good at It

Next, it’s time to invest in yourself and use your time and media consumption habits to learn about saving money. Sometimes, knowing that you’re doing it for someone else can boost your motivation.

Ditch a few of your common vices in favor of money-savvy RSS feeds like the government’s Saving and Investing advice site, or troll the Department of Labor’s surprisingly smart and engaging Facebook page. As you learn about creative ways to save money, you can turn that into your own creative ways to donate money. And when you do, you can share your success with friends to motivate others while you’re at it.

When you think of inspiring others to give, just imagine how much mileage a small amount of money can get! Now that’s a return on investment.

Young girl looks for creative ways to donate money by finding loose change around the house.

Valuate Your Valuables

There are no official donation amount guidelines to tell benevolent people exactly how much green to give. Instead, trust your gut. Never compromise the health or security of yourself or a dependent to donate cash. Once you’ve given what you can financially, consider donating other things, such as old toys or coats. When you do, you’ll get a sweet little tax break that (if feasible) can also be donated!

Time is Money

You’ve heard the phrase “time is money,” and it’s true. Nonprofits know that with enough man power, anything is possible. The only problem, then, is paying talented people to roll up those sleeves, jump on board, and get things done. So when you donate your time, you really are donating money. And if you’ve looked everywhere for extra cash to give, donating time can be just as encouraging.

Usually, people believe those with abundant means should donate to those without. And yes, when there’s extra, it’s great to give it back. But it’s the rest of us who can make the biggest impact. Together, if we pool the dollars and coins we have, we can create lasting “change.”

What’s your favorite way to donate? Let us know on Twitter!

Image source: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

When you hear about a need but don't have money to spare, you can start to feel a little powerless. However, with a little creativity, you can feel the opposite. These ideas will leave you feeling inspired and empowered to help—even when you're short on cash.