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Random Acts of Kindness Challenge: $5 Left at the End of the Month

Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) brought my family together. They're a memory I hold onto, and one that I'm reinstating today in our household alongside the $5 Left-at-the-End-of-the-Month Challenge.

man holding floral bouquet behind back as surprise with text overlay "random acts of kindness when's the last one you committed?"

I come from a divorced family.

Wait, that doesn’t even tell half of the story. I come from a divorced family, who then divorced separately again, and who are now on their third marriages. My familial connections seem to connect and divide like a sluggish strain of bacteria.

But even with all of the fighting, the passive aggression and the heartache, there are moments of joy that I can remember from each of my family configurations.

One of these memories was inspired by the Oprah Winfrey show.

What are Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs)?

I do not remember all of the details, but one day my first stepmother was watching Oprah’s show on committing Random Acts of Kindness and became inspired. She told the rest of us and we decided to call these random acts of kindness RAKs.

At a time when we normally only saw one another as a family unit every other weekend, and could be found bickering out in the barn at all of the work to be done, or perhaps stealing time away in our bedrooms from everyone else, the simple act of showing kindness to complete strangers united our family.

My father used to take us on Sunday rides where he would purposefully get us lost in order to find our way back home. These were always fun with a tinge of adventure, except for this one particular Sunday I can remember that was just darn exciting. We had been driving around for some time and wound up at a toll booth. Instead of paying for just our toll ticket we also paid for the driver behind us. All of us giggled and smiled at the idea along with the toll booth attendant — she could tell we were up to something. We pulled ahead a hundred yards or so and watched as the car came up to the booth and sat there for a few minutes, most likely trying to digest the fact that total strangers had paid their fare. We raced off like bandits, except that the act we had just committed was for good.

Quite frankly, I cannot remember the other RAKs we committed as a family, but the fact that I can recall just one in great detail means a lot to me.

Psst: you might want to check out these 27 at home service projects so that you can volunteer from the comfort of your home. What a great, random act of kindness!

Random Acts of Kindness Examples I've Been Noticing Lately

Lately, what's really interesting to me are all of the Random Acts of Frugal Kindness happening. I feel like they've been on the rise, or perhaps I'm just paying more attention to them?

These are RAKs that don't cost a dime, just a little bit of effort. Some of my favorites I've personally seen have been:

  • I was standing in line at a Kohl's. A woman who was going to be leaving the country the next week had just earned $100 in free Kohl's cash that couldn't be used until after she left the states. So she gave it to the person in line behind her.
  • While walking through our local JCP store, there was a man in the center aisle who asked me if I wanted his $10/$25 coupon that he had no use for. I already had a $10/$10 one, but thanked him profusely for the kind gesture.
  • When I go into our CVS, I oftentimes notice a coupon or two left on the product by someone who decided not to use it or who had an extra.
  • Our local HEB grocery store tapes coupons to products all the time.
  • In the various local Facebook Groups I'm a part of, there are always people giving away valuable items for free to a “good home”.
  • When we rented a vacation home for four days at the beach with several other couples a few years ago, there were cupboards full of unused, non-perishable food items left by previous vacationers that were ours for the using if we'd like.

All of these simple acts have really touched me, and got me thinking about ways I can pass on the kindness to others.

Some simple ideas that have come to mind are bringing in used grocery bags when I go to the $5 community yoga classes (they always need more!), passing on products that I've tried and didn't work for me, and I even put one in motion just the other day when Sprinkles was giving away free cupcakes. I told a random woman shopping across the street with her two children (you should have seen the smile on her face at the free treat she could now give her kids!).

Reigning in Our Budget WHILE Increasing Our RAKs

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to my purpose in life, to who I am outside of work, and to our budget. We have managed to go over our budget almost every month for the past several months. This is due in large part to working on our home while setting unreasonable spending expectations on ourselves. Still, while we have been able to pay everything on time (including our credit card in full) every month without question, it has made me wonder.

In my self-analysis afforded by writing articles for this blog, I have asked the question before of why I want to become rich, and why I am saving and sacrificing today without a real purpose.

Granted, it's not entirely without purpose. I want to be financially independent, to travel, and to enjoy all that life has to offer.

But I want a higher purpose than these everyday goals; I need to do something with my budgeting and with our money that goes beyond satisfying us. I have alluded to this in the article My Charity Black Hole, which we have acted on by choosing an organization that we have been consistently donating to each month in 2010. But I do not feel that we are doing enough.

So, I have begun an exciting new campaign and challenge for us, as well as for you. I am calling it “$5 Left at the End of the Month”.

The $5 Left-at-the-End-of-the-Month Challenge

Basically, Paul and I will work diligently to stay within our budget for this month, and make sure we leave room to have just $5 leftover.

With this money, we will commit one random act of kindness. It could be a donation to a charity, buying coffee for the next guy at the drive thru, buying a sandwich to a homeless guy outside of Subway…the sky is the limit.

Not only will this help us show kindness to others, but it will also give us motivation and purpose to stick to our budget each month.

Why $5? It is a small enough amount that no one should be excluded from participating. It can purchase a lot to help another person, or to extend some kindness.

And finally, with a large enough set of dedicated people, we can truly make a difference. I have had a little over 1400 unique visitors to this website, and if each of them signed onto the $5 Left-at-the-End-of-the-Month Challenge, after just 3 months we would have made a $21,000 impact! How amazing is that?

So…are you with me?

Random Acts of Kindness Stories – My Own

I'll start — here's a Random Act of Kindness I committed:

“There is a man who begs for money and sells chiclets at our Subway.  About once a week I pull into the Subway parking lot with a shameful thought running through my mind: I hope he’s not sitting there again, it makes me uncomfortable. Aside from feeling uncomfortable around him, I feel curious and sad for the man. Where is his family? Perhaps he is the sole bread winner and he makes a living by begging for money.

We are divided by a language because he only speaks Spanish, but I must confess that I lived in Spain for a summer when I was 16 and speak the language with moderate efficiency. I understand even more than I can speak it, and so I know what he is asking for. It’s convenient, quite honestly, for me to pretend that I do not understand him. I often question myself and my morals; am I too comfortable to look at our society’s impoverished? Is it his disability that leaves me uncomfortable?

But yesterday was different; yesterday, I was ready to commit my Random Act of Kindness. I got out of my car and walked determinedly right past him like I normally do (albeit with a smile), except that this time the tune of Five, Five-Dollar, Five-Dollar-Foot longs! played in the back of my mind. I ordered my six-inch norm: whole wheat bread, turkey, American cheese (no, not toasted), a single strand of honey mustard, mayo, lots of green peppers, and cucumbers. And then I ordered a foot long with this man in mind. As I carefully (and blindly) chose what I thought he might like, I felt a tinge of excitement build within me. Even though it was just a sandwich, for one meal, for one day, I wanted to present it with a bow for him and show him that indeed I did care about his well-being, if only shown through the details I was spending moments pondering on his behalf. Toasted? No. Salt and Pepper? Yes. Give me all of the veggies you have (he may be malnourished).  I completed the rest of our order, paid the $5 for his foot long and the money for my own lunch, and walked towards the exit. My heart fluttered a bit; what if he didn’t want it? What if he rejected my sandwich because he only wanted the money? What if he secretly despises Subway?

I opened the front door into the warm fall air and handed him the sub, saying “para ti”, which is the only Spanish I could summon at the moment.  And then, without waiting for his reaction, I took my own sandwich and headed back to my car, smiling the whole way.

It was such a release: I did it!”

Here's another random act of kindness story:

Starting in January, Paul and I chose to sponsor a child through ChildFund International. You can imagine our delight when we received our first letter from Biniyam, a boy who lives with his mother and four siblings in Ethiopia.

Through reading his letters and the photos he has sent, we know that our two worlds could not be further apart. While we live in abundance, Biniyam’s family struggles to survive.

We both wanted to do more than just send our sponsorship money each month, and thought about how best to make an impact on his family. It seemed a great idea to send clothes, toys, and other packages for not just Biniyam, but also for his mother, brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately, we are not allowed to send packages of any sort!

Because of the high tariffs and high probability that any package will be confiscated or stolen, we can only put flat items into business envelopes.

We are also not allowed to send extra cash directly to them, except once a year for the holiday season.

Finding that out really deflated our balloon!

One night while sitting on the couch and watching t.v., we discussed how constrained and limited we felt about all of this. What on earth can one fit into a business envelope that is flat and weighs no more than what a standard stamp will allow?

We decided to brainstorm.

Over several weeks we added to a growing list we left on our coffee table. For inspiration, I went to dollar stores and we perused the toy aisle together of several grocery stores.

Here’s a sampling of the list we came up with (update: I've divided this list into two: ideas we used that made it through the mail to our child — confirmed by thank you letters from over the last several years — and brainstormed ideas we have yet to try):

Brainstormed Ideas that Worked:

  • Glow-in-the-dark stars with adhesive to put on ceilings/walls (take them out of the package, obviously)
  • bookmarks
  • hair scrunchies for his sisters and mother
  • jelly bracelets
  • stickers
  • coloring pages
  • crayons (yes, they got through!)
  • pictures of us

Brainstormed Ideas We Haven't Tried Yet:

  • Airheads candy
  • Mad Libs pages
  • tea bags
  • flat keychains (with flashlights/strobe lights)
  • uninflated balloons
  • flashcards or a few trading cards (over several letters so that they have enough for a game)
  • string and instructions to make those cool friendship bracelets
  • origami paper with instructions
  • pages from Where’s Waldo
  • flat potpourri sachets (for his mother)

At the end of the brainstorming session, we felt empowered. Instead of just continuing to send letters for the next several years and wanting to send more, we had now come up with many ideas and ways to connect further with this family.

True, these little trinkets may seem measly, but we figure they could make a real difference to Biniyam and his family, even if only to know there are people out there who care about them.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #1 for You

On my way to work each day I pass three-five people begging for money.

Some attempt to wash my windshield or dance to earn change; others are crippled and hold signs. I smile at each of them with direct eye contact, remembering when a homeless person visited my college and mentioned the isolation he felt because most people he encountered would not look him in the eye.

Occasionally I give them food or something to drink from in my car.

But more often than not? I pass them by, being generous only with my smile.

Digging Deep about My Own Feelings Towards the Homeless

It is so easy to not give to people on the streets, especially when there is only a two-minute window of discomfort I need to endure until the light turns a liberating green and I can pretend again as though life is easy for all of us.

But life is not easy for all of us; for some of us the experience of dis-ease is in the present, for others it has occurred in the past, and no one is ever sure of what their future holds.

I have seen many discussions around the internet about homeless people, including the recent one about the police officer who purchased an expensive pair of boots for a homeless man who then continued to go shoeless, presumably because he sold the shoes.

It appears that there are two diametrically opposed viewpoints between people who will not give to homeless people due to the reasons that they may be homeless (addictions and laziness are often cited), and people who are very generous in their dealings with people on the street, such as that police officer.

I have had to dig deep to figure out my own feelings.

While I am sure that there is a significant portion of people on the streets due to their own vices and choices, I do not doubt that they are in as much need as people who find themselves homeless due to other circumstances.

I pass people in the heat of summer with sweat pouring down their faces, I see them curled up under bridges on cold cement with all of their belongings surrounding them like a buffer from the world, and I see them drenched from rain.

My feeling is that anyone who is willing to beg during these conditions needs the money and food in my car much more than I do.

Are their handwritten signs always an accurate representation of their lives? Probably not. Do some homeless perhaps dress in a manner to appear to be more destitute than they are? It’s absolutely possible. But aside from any of my doubts or yours, if nothing else, I am sure that any person on the street begging for money could use some hope.

If nothing else, I am sure that any person on the street begging for money could use some hope.CLICK TO TWEET

My Spaghetti Jar of Hope Idea

I’ve had an idea for many months now and am finally executing it.

Instead of giving money or a granola bar to the homeless on my way to work (or not giving at all), I decided to give a package of items with a message of hope.

What better container to use than all of the spaghetti jars we have cleaned and saved over the year? Last week I took five spaghetti jars and filled them each with the following items:

  • a hand warmer that works for up to 10 hours (from Target’s $1 section)
  • a disposable razor
  • a travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  • a granola bar
  • three Slim Jims
  • Blistex
  • a piece of chocolate
  • and a candy cane

I wrapped each jar neck with a festive ribbon, but not before including a miniature card with a message of hope. Throughout the month of December, I will be giving these out to anyone I see begging for money (as long as it will not hold up traffic).

5 spaghetti jars of kindness wrapped with a red ribbon and a candy cane

I realize that my spaghetti jars will not save the lives of the homeless that I give them to, nor will they make a significant impact on their financial situation. What I hope to accomplish is to bring a smile and some hope to their otherwise dreary circumstances.

After all, hope could be the difference between another year on the road versus spending the rest of their lives there.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #2 for You: Contact a Manager

Think about those doorbell ringers on the checkout lanes at Kroger's, where they ask you to ring it if you've had a stellar experience. And think about the beaming cashier when you do as her colleagues chant and clap their hands for their good performance!

It' soooooo easy to ask to speak to a manager when we've had a frustrating experience.

But what about when someone has done an excellent job for us? How often do we ask for managers then?

Challenge Details: I challenge you to make one phone call or write one email to a manager about an employee experience you can rave about. Doesn't matter if it happened last week, or last month. Take the 5-10 minutes to recount why it made you smile, made your life easier, made your day, etc. You will, in turn, make someone else's day.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #3 for You: Become a Coupon Fairy

Isn't it awesome when you come upon a product in the grocery store that you were going to buy anyway…and someone else was generous enough to leave a coupon on top of it?

It's your turn to be a Coupon Fairy for someone else.

Chances are, you can't use all the coupons that cross your path.

I know I can't!

Challenge Details: Even if you don't coupon yourself, you can complete this one. Get your hands on a circular from a Sunday paper, and clip several coupons. Next trip to the grocery store, take a few extra minutes to strategically leave these coupons on top or otherwise near the actual product they can be used for.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #4 for You: Leave a testimonial

Okay, so since I'm in business for myself, this one hits close to home.

People like myself pour our hearts into our blog posts, products, and business. And normally? We hear crickets.

Challenge Details: Sort of going with the theme of the first challenge, I want you to think of a product or service that met or exceeded your expectations. Find it online and comment with a testimonial. If you can't easily leave a testimonial (such as on Amazon.com in the comments section), then locate the contact page and email the person to offer your testimonial. You'll generally want to offer a photo as well so that people find it more relatable. Just think about how important testimonials have been when you're deciding on whether or not to purchase a product online!

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #5 for You: Give Something Away for Free that Someone Else Can Use

I've recently been the beneficiary to this. I posted on a local Facebook Mom group, asking for recommendations for baby/toddler song CDs. My mother had asked what I wanted her to get our baby for his first birthday, and I thought it would be great to have some CDs of songs/activities to go through with him in our library.

I got several recommendations. And guess what else was waiting for me? Another mother whose children were older now said she had an entire collection of really great ones − The Wiggles, Mozart for Toddlers, Silly Songs, etc. − and was happy for me to have whichever I would like.

Major score! I picked them up and thanked her very much for her generosity. I also gave a few away to other Moms of babies that I know because I can't possibly make use of them all.

Challenge Details:  This one might be a little tougher to pull off. You'll not only need to keep your ears open for what people are asking for, but it'll have to align with something that you own that you no longer use! Just keep your eyes and ears open and see if you can satisfy someone's needs/wants in the coming months. If you can, go ahead and respond with your offer. Then arrange to have them pick it up or you can drop it off if it's convenient for you.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #6 for You: Offer Tickets to Someone When You Can't Use them

In my early 20s I was given a set of Orioles tickets by a Professor who had season passes but couldn't make the game. That was such a fun experience! Several years ago, Paul and I were given two tickets to an Astros game when someone couldn't use them. It made for a memorable experience.

Several years ago when we couldn't use a pair of our season Opera tickets, we gave them to our sister-in-law and Paul's brother so that they could go to their first Opera ever. When I was given several passes to the Children's Museum, we invited all of our in-laws plus their children to enjoy a day with us for free.

Passing along what you cannot use yourself passes along memories to someone else.

Challenge Details: Look at your schedule over the next few months and see if you have room for each of the pre-paid tickets you have. Figure out when you won't be able to use a pair, then decide on who you would like to offer them to. Craft an email, text message, or give a call and ask if they'd like to attend! If so, great. Either mail them the tickets or otherwise arrange a pickup. If not, move on to the next person on your list.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge #7 for You: Pass Along A Useful Resource

Some of the best things that have provided lots of inspiration + use in my life have not been something I stumbled upon. It's been something a friend, family, or fellow blogger has taken the time to send me a link to. Like Soy Chai's, Canva, and a cloth diapering Facebook community.

loooovvveeee doing this for others. Things like:

:: Tried + tested + loved recipes
:: Magazine article I think they'd find interesting
:: Book suggestion
:: Website I can't seem to live without + why
:: A place I saw online or on a television show that is near where they live that looks SO fun to visit
:: A new television show I can't seem to get off my mind

Challenge Details: Is there anything you absolutely have fallen in love with…and want to share with someone specific in your life (but just haven't gotten around to it)?

Now's the time to pass it along. You can do so by:

  • Text message
  • Facebook direct message
  • Phone call
  • Card/letter
  • Email

What I like to include when I do this is a link to the source, as well as a quick explanation of WHY I want to recommend this to them specifically. After all, we're trying to spread goodwill. We want them to not only enhance some aspect of their life, but also to know that we're thinking about them!

For example: for the last four years Swami Mukundananda has come to Houston and hosted a free, weeklong yoga + meditation event right near our house. Did I mention there's awesome Indian food served at the end? I've attended several days each year. When I heard that he was headed to PA, I immediately told my friend about it + included a link because she lives near there and I thought she would love to attend the event.

Are you ready to join in on the fun of spreading goodwill this holiday season with your one small act of kindness? Leave a comment below with what you want to do, or what you have done, and we'll cheer you on! Got any great ideas? Please tell us as well.

Which of these random kindness ideas are you most excited to try? Do you give to homeless on the streets? Are there other charities you donate to?   

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.


Friday 12th of July 2019

This website is very - very helpful to me and very good for finding information, thanks to the owner of this site


Monday 24th of December 2012

I loved this article. Homelessness is a huge problem in SF and it's something I've had conflicting feelings about for a while. Some homeless people are grateful to have food, while others will flat out refuse and insist on getting cash. There's also a lot of homeless people here who are drug abusers or the last free riding remnants of occupy Wallstreet who make a lot of people less willing to help the homeless in general even though there are those who are simply down on their luck.

I think your action of spreading hope in spaghetti jars is awesome and so perfect for the holiday season. Inspirational!

Amy Ledesma

Friday 14th of December 2012

I do give.I encourage everyone to give if the have it. I only give money. I never have very much just 5 or the most $10 As a person with severe allergys I know what its like and I dont know that the person Im giving to might not have a ,wheat,nut,milk,fruit allergy so I give money.I also am dyslexic so I know how hard it can be to get and keep a job when you struggle with a learning disability.If it was not for my sister sitting and teaching me at 30 how to count back change I never could of kept a job. Im blessed .Others are far worse off.Your a kind person and I like what you are doing.

Jessica N

Tuesday 11th of December 2012

This is honestly the greatest idea I have ever encountered in regards to dealing with the homeless. We are so easy to overlook, or label every homeless as a junky, when many of them are veterans, or simply too sick to make a living. I think I'm going to do something similar, minus the razor (because the bums around here get drunk and violent), and adding a can of ravioli (with the easy opening tops). They may not be able to heat it up, but if they leave the can next to them in the daytime while begging they can at least get a warm meal, and it will be something better than trash food. I've spent years giving my food to others especially since I came from a country FILLED worse than the US with poverty. In the end of the day all we can do is pray for them and hope they will use what we give them the right way (instead of trading it for crack, which happens more often than you think with just about ANYTHING hey have.)

Girl Meets Debt

Tuesday 11th of December 2012

I enjoyed reading this post and I really like your idea of spreading hope through those spaghetti jars. What a kind and generous heart you have!