Always Err on the Side of Generosity

Years ago, I attended a missions conference. Meals were provided, but the scheduled specified “lunch on your own” after things wrapped up midday Sunday. So we were surprised when, as we walked to the door, a build-your-own Philly cheesesteak buffet awaited us (we were just outside Philadelphia).

“We thought lunch wasn’t provided,” several of us almost objected to the staff.

“Always err on the side of generosity,” the conference host said.

That phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Its application has looked different ways at different times. When we were simultaneously climbing our way out of student loans, saving for a down payment on a house, and contemplating starting a family, it looked more modest. As our financial flexibility grows, we find ourselves a bit more liberal.

I’m not a naturally generous person. I want to be generous, but I can’t be without also being calculating. I want to give, but I want to save. I want to share, but financial goals and the impact of just about every financial choice is never far from my mind. It’s just how my brain works. But my mind is learning, partly with the help of that conference hosts’ aphorism, to reckon generosity as worthwhile.

You won’t find me buying rounds of drinks at the bar (even when I’m not pregnant), or handing out ten dollar bills to the homeless. I don’t buy extravagant gifts, either. I lean toward what I view as more effective forms of generosity. But I do find myself loosening the belt when it comes to the every day things that go beyond charitable giving.

I’m a firm believer in giving away 10% of your income—not because of some religious rule, which I don’t believe in, but because it’s just practically helpful and usually doable. Naturally, if you don’t have income or are in dire straights, you should take care of you. But if you are living above the poverty line as an adult in the developed world, you can probably find something to share. And no, I’m not talking about time. This post is about money—please let’s not change the topic to time, etc. I consider volunteering a separate topic.

I also advocate consistent, planned giving , rather than waiting for a whim or responding primarily to emotional appeals. I believe practicing generosity can make us more financially responsible, and can be the best, most enjoyable spending we do.

But what if you’re in debt? Should you still give? It’s a personal question, but I’d just say, why not err on the side of generosity and give something? Greed is often complicit in consumer debt, and giving is a great antidote to that.

Aside from consistent charitable giving, here are some ideas of ways to err on the side of generosity:

  • When attending a potluck or bringing snacks to a social event, treat your friends by bringing a special dish or treat.
  • When your kids’ teacher is hitting up the parents for Kleenex or markers again, why not pick up a box or two to send in? Believe me, those teachers don’t need to be stuck without supplies, and they don’t need to spend more of their own money on them, either.
  • When your kids are attending the tenth birthday party of the season, resist the urge to buy random clearance junk or regift crappy Christmas gifts. Take a deep breath, set a budget, and ask what the kid actually needs or wants. (On the flip side, don’t feel obligated to attend every invite you receive. Many schools now require every kid in the class to get invited to private bday parties to avoid hurt feelings. So if it’s someone your kid has never even mentioned before, feel free to decline.)
  • When it’s time to go out for a friends’ birthday or other celebration, pre-game dinner and order food to share. This is a great way to be frugal and generous at the same time. Mostly I pre-eat because I’m ravenous by 5pm and often these outings take place much later. Secondly, restaurant food is horrible for you. And of course chip in or pay for the birthday person’s check.
  • When the bill for your meager order comes, tip big. I often try to tip as I’d ordered a full meal.
  • For showers, choose something off the registry that you’d find most useful to have. Or whatever might be most meaningful to the couple. For big ticket items, consider organizing a group to go in on it together.
  • Invite people over for dinner. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair for it to be greatly enjoyed by all.
  • When hosting a party, order the extra pizza. Buy the extra snacks. Have an abundance and enjoy the leftovers later. I don’t do fancy, and I don’t do themed Pinterest-worthy parties. I just try to make sure there’s plenty to eat and drink and focus on the people.
  • Buy gifts people actually want. I don’t buy gifts for all my friends—I’m blessed with “too many” friends to do this with. And our families seem to be exchanging fewer gifts outside of Christmas. After all, we all have what we need. But while many personal finance bloggers extol not exchanging gifts with your spouse, I’m happy to gift my super frugal husband something he’d never buy himself. And when I do buy a friend or family member a gift, I aim for something meaningful and useful to the person.
  • When I first sponsored children in need, I didn’t always give extra for birthday, Christmas, or other holiday gifts. But by the time we met one of our sponsored children, we couldn’t say no to these little extras throughout the year. We budget it for it just as we do for our own children’s gifts, and considering how little these children have, it’s probably much more appreciated!

These are just a few ideas for erring on the side of generosity in daily life. What ways do you suggest? Have you ever been on the receiving end of an act of generosity?

14 Responses to “Always Err on the Side of Generosity”

  1. Brian says :

    A great quote.“Always err on the side of generosity,” I think I fall into the same boat, I’m not a naturally generous person. I want to be generous but often find myself being too calculated about my money and budget for my family. I try and stretch more in this area. I do give freely of my time volunteering in different areas and have in small monetarily, but feel like I could do more. I like your suggestion, sometimes just putting a little more thought behind your giving can go a long way.

    • Kalie says :

      Glad to know I’m not alone! I find the joy in gift-giving increases the more thoughtful you’re able to be. Of course, sometimes I’m still at a loss as to what someone wants or needs.

  2. Diana says :

    Those are great suggestions, thanks for sharing some practical ideas for how to practice generosity!

  3. Hannah says :

    The whole point of being frugal in one area is so you can be generous, even lavish in another. While I’m so down with giving for maximum effect with a lot of your giving dollars, I think the soul does well when we practice the type of generosity that seems lavish.

    In addition to your tips, I would add:
    Send generous plates of leftovers with people who may be struggling with food insecurity (or don’t like to cook).

    If you’re going to hire someone for babysitting or house-cleaning, make a point to ask someone who needs money, and pay them a very generous wage (right away).

    Take your kids (and their friends) out for ice cream or something once in a while (if you can afford it). It’s fun to give something so obviously unnecessary.

    • Teresa Baker says :

      Great idea about the leftovers!

    • Kalie says :

      Awesome suggestions, Hannah! These are all really good practical way to help other out/practice generosity. I have a friend with a chronic illness and I try to send leftovers or cook her a meal periodically. And paying someone who could it for babysitting is a great way to help out while securing a service you need.

  4. Prudence Debtfree says :

    ” I want to be generous, but I can’t be without also being calculating.” I don’t think there is a contradiction here. I have often experienced an emotional wave of generosity that I haven’t been able to follow up on. .Calculation is good if you include giving in it. That doesn’t make the giving cold. My guess is that calculated giving amounts to more than any “naturally generous” giving. I plan to become more calculated in my giving

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for sharing from a different perspective. I definitely experience the emotional wave of generosity at times, but it’s followed closely by the calculating. I guess that can be a good or bad thing, depending on what I do with it. Like you said, it’s good if it includes giving.

  5. Bethany says :

    I’m not naturally generous either. But one thing that helped me a lot was having extra money- I mean, a LOT of extra money- after we paid everything off, put money into retirement, etc. I saw that there was really no reason to be stingy. I’m still frugal and “stingy” with everyday matters, but now I can turn a blind eye to “wasting” money on gifts, eating out, etc.

    Also, before we had extra money I would feel bad about giving time, etc. in place of money. I sometimes felt bad for not spending as much money as other people. Nowadays I don’t feel bad for bringing, say, the cheapest dessert at the potluck. If it tastes good and is enough for everyone, that’s good enough. If money is called for, we spend the money. But if good taste, beauty or practicality is called for, I’ll do my best to provide that. How much I spent is beside the point.

    But I do think some of us who aren’t naturally generous often need “practice” before we can turn a blind eye to how many dollars we spend, on ourselves or on other people.

    • Kalie says :

      Good point–it makes sense to spend more when it’s a better value or more beneficial in some way. I would never spend extra just to spend or be flashy. And I have a go-to list of thrifty meals for hosting or potlucks. Sometimes we go to so many potlucks I can’t keep up with the shopping and cooking of elaborate dishes! I also agree that as we realize we have abundance, it’s easier and makes more sense to think less about spending, especially when it comes to generosity. And that has also taken practice.

  6. Julie says :

    I carry around a stack of one dollar bills for when I’m hit up at the grocery store or door to door fundraisers. Instead of just not buying their products ( and I really don’t need the overpriced goodies or more stuff in my house) I donate a dollar. That is usually the equivalent of what they would make if I purchased two items. So instead of saying no thank you, they make a little money. I can’t seem to pass up World’s Famous Chocolate though and will buy several of those bars.

    • Kalie says :

      Donating directly is a great idea! I tried this with the neighbor kid who was fundraising for school, but she didn’t get it. It’s a great strategy, though. So much fundraiser stuff is just not worth it.

  7. Abby A says :

    These are awesome suggestions! I completely believe in generosity karma! I have been at a place in my life where I have had to use charity donations to make ends meet. Now that I’m no longer “in need” I give back to these charities with donations or volunteering.

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