How to be generous with money when you don't have a ton — that's a major question. Here's how one Get Rich Slowly contributor, Lisa Aberle, discovered some essential truths about money, friendship and giving.
An ice storm was coming. The last time we'd had an ice storm we were childless and lost power for five days. The romance of sleeping in front of the fireplace quickly cooled off along with the temperature in the house. If we lost power again, 39 degrees just wasn't going to be acceptable with two kids.
That's why my husband took a trip to the shed to get our generator ready.
Except he couldn't find the generator. After a few minutes of brainstorming (Did I put it somewhere else?), he called someone who frequently borrows our stuff.
“Your generator?” said The Borrower, “Yeah, when you were out of the country last year, I let somebody borrow it. I'll give him a call.”
And then a few minutes later, The Borrower called back. “There is a small problem. He has the generator, and it works. But … he thinks it's his. So best of luck to ya. ‘Bye.”
So my husband made a second phone call. Sure enough, the other guy thought the generator was his. But the strange thing was that he thought it had been his for years. This is an old friend of our family, so we decided to preserve the relationship and ignore the problem pf the questionable ownership of the generator. The ice storm didn't materialize that time or any other time during the long winter. Crisis averted, relationship preserved.
But winter's coming again. “We really need to have a generator before winter hits,” my husband said recently. He priced a new one. A new generator will set us back $700.
Seven hundred dollars. Seven hundred dollars has a way of making me irritated with the whole situation all over again.
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There are so many things wrong with the story I have shared. I feel stupid that we haven't really addressed the issue, perplexed that this happened with someone we've known for years, and just plain annoyed that we don't have a generator. And let's not forget that we didn't even lend it to someone in the first place.
Do “nice” people finish last financially?
I am sure if you look back at your life, you can remember scenarios in which you spent money when you didn't want to, or you gave money when you didn't want to or couldn't afford to, or you bought some Tupperware at a friend's home party because you wanted to be nice.
My hand is raised.
When you're too nice
I'm a recovering nice person. I actually try not to use “nice” when addressing any behaviors of my children. I don't say, “Be nice to others” because it reminds me of a doormat who has issues with boundaries and other things. When you're too nice, you may spend money you don't have to help someone who may not even need your help. Instead, my word of choice is “kind” or “kindness.”
Differentiating between the two words has made a huge difference to me.
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See, before, I wanted to help people. Maybe I tried to help them by giving them money, or buying something for them, or buying something from one of the home parties I hosted. Many times I spent more than I should have. And when I did that, I sometimes felt stressed. And when I felt stressed, I became resentful of the person I had wanted to help in the beginning. Doesn't that sound messed up?
Can you be generous without being nice?
I still want to help people. But now I help them without any feelings of resentment (unless someone gives away our generator … sigh).
1. Stay within your budget. Does it really help someone if you buy a Pampered Chef gadget that you really didn't want so they could get $5 more in free products to pick out? But if you don't buy the $40 gadget, you'll still have $40 instead of spending $40 on something you didn't really want or need in the first place.
2. Save the guilt. For myself, I keep running lists of things that I want. Maybe it's a magazine subscription. When a niece or nephew send me information on a school fundraiser that includes magazines, I look at my list. If there is a magazine I want, I will order. If not, the information goes into the trash. Same with invites to home parties like Tupperware or Pampered Chef. If I haven't been wanting to buy something, I just don't go at all. I don't feel a bit guilty or resentful.
3. Give money away. I have found that consistent support of a handful of charities has been helpful. I know that if I spend budget dollars in other places, I won't have enough to support the causes that I am really passionate about. That helps keep my focus on what's really important to me.
4. Just say “no.” As I get older, I appreciate openness and honesty more than ever. My friends and family still love me, even when I say no to certain things that I don't feel align with my spending values.
Be generous; just don't be nice
I believe that being generous is important. I have experienced the generosity and kindness of others more times than I can count. So be generous!
But be generous because you want to be, not because you feel you have to be. If you feel resentful of someone else for something you chose to do, you probably are being too nice. And that should inspire you to look at yourself honestly and ask what needs to change.
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).