Many people think of frugalists as stingy or miserly people who hoard their bargains; more like Scrooge than Mother Theresa. And maybe that is true in some cases. But thrifty people have a unique ability to see a need and fill it in creative and low-cost ways. Combine the tightwad’s skill with money, their habit of using everything to its fullest, and their ability to think outside the box and you’ve got someone who knows how to feed a crowd for just a few dollars or fix a broken piece of machinery MacGyver-style. With our current economy and high jobless rates, many of us are just one unexpected tragedy away from a major financial catastrophe. There are numerous opportunities for us to step up and help those in our community who are having a difficult time. Not because we deem them worthy of help but simply because at any moment that could be one of us.
There are all sorts of ways for us to pitch in and help. A few weeks back, a thrifty friend of mine noticed that the Community House on Broadway, a local homeless shelter, had a list of practical needs, one of which was laundry soap. She knew that for a minimal expense we could meet that need so off we marched with the ingredients in hand to make some homemade detergent. We set up shop in the Community House Kitchen and in about 45 minute’s time, we managed to provide them with 15 gallons of homemade laundry soap. The cost to us was a mere hour of our time and around $15. For the homeless shelter, it was one less thing for them to squeeze into their budget.
Many expert coupon clippers use their skills to create stockpiles of toiletries and canned foods and donate those goods to food drives, women’s’ shelters, or soup kitchens. Gardeners can plant extra crops and donate their produce to food charities. Many people donate used clothing, furniture and household items to local thrift stores that support worthy non-profit organizations. You can even donate old prescription glasses, hearing aids, and laser and print cartridges to your local Lions club. They have a program in place to disseminate these items to the people that need them.
We’ve all seen the panhandlers in the parking lots holding their cardboard signs. I’ve been guilty of awkwardly pretending they aren’t there or wondering if they are going to buy booze with the dollar I hold out my car window. Instead of passing judgment you can pass out a homemade sack lunch. Carry a few lunch bags around in your car full of bottled water, granola bars and other nonperishable items. It’s minimal cost to you and you know you’re meeting a tangible need.
And if cost is a hindrance for you, than donate your time. Are you good at fixing things? Find an elderly couple who need a few shingles replaced, their gutters cleaned or their oil changed. Bring the kids and let them see how satisfying it is to help other people. Did someone lose a loved one? Make sure they know you care and you’re available to help, even in practical ways. Did your neighbor get injured? Offer to mow their lawn or pick up their groceries for them.
The needs in our community are many right now as people deal with fires, deaths, job losses and illness. Even though many of us are on tight budgets we can all manage to dig deep and give from the knowledge, time and resources that we have.