When I first started living on a written budget, keeping track of each and every expense in an Excel spreadsheet, I found every aspect of it challenging. Learning to control my money and tell it where to go each month was a lot harder than deciding to buy new jeans on a whim or donate $20 to every GoFundMe that inspired me to give. Spending within my limit was difficult enough, but finding the room to save and give seemed impossible. When I looked at my income on paper, I wasn’t sure if it could even be done. I was living from paycheck to paycheck, barely making enough to cover expenses – let alone pay down debt, save for my upcoming wedding, and give back.
But that was what I wanted from my money – to spend, save, and give in a disciplined way so I could achieve my financial goals. I became ruthless about cutting back expenses, lowering my food budget considerably, and opting out of many activities with friends. I was determined to live by a very strict budget, which meant every last expense came under scrutiny.
While simplifying my lifestyle, however, I wanted to make sure giving was still part of my budgeting equation. When I was giving, it gave me a feeling of abundance, even if money was tight. I knew I may be able to save faster if I cut out my philanthropic contributions for a little while, but ultimately, I knew that exercising generosity was just as important as saving. It helped me to feel like my life was more than just a grind to get more. Maintaining a giving practice was about more than money, it was about keeping a healthy spirit no matter my financial state.
Giving is an important aspect of a fulfilling spiritual life for me, and not one I can simply skip out on when the going gets tough. I don’t want to be someone who gives only when it is convenient, or when I feel financially comfortable enough to give. I want to give no matter what my circumstances are. If there is truly no way to give financially, you can always find non-monetary ways to give back. But if you’re getting by on a budget (even a small one) and not in dire straights, giving can still be part of the mix. Here are four creative ways to make sure giving stays in your budget – even when you’re strapped for cash.
1. Give first
When you’re setting up your monthly budget, it’s important to have firm priorities. If you want to save and give, those need to be at the top of your agenda — alongside your rent and urgent bills — before you make your way down the list of other expenses and find you don’t have any extra left. Pay yourself, pay it forward, then pay everything else.
2. Brown bag savings
When you’re getting on a written budget, one area that almost always yields great potential is how you choose to eat. Set aside the money you save by brown bagging your lunch or skipping out on a couple meals out a month, and allocate it for giving instead.
3. Sell some stuff
If your house is in need of some spring cleaning and organization, have a yard sale and drum up some extra cash for your giving fund. If you’re feeling ambitious, organize a church rummage sale to get others involved in one big act of offering. And if you’re not feeling quite so committed to a big sale, sell your items online through Craigslist, eBay, or a clothing service like ThredUp.
4. Step up your side hustle
When I was trying to pay down some serious debt, I decided to start making specialty cakes and cupcakes for people to help earn some extra cash. Since it was “extra” money, I was able to set aside a job or two a month to devote to my giving fund, while the rest went to tackle debt. Using side hustle money that isn’t in the budget to begin with is a great way to increase your giving potential.