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Practice frugal acts of kindness

Maybe you want to join the '#26Acts' movement. Maybe you already help others. Either way, stretch your giving dollars with these tips.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 19, 2012 5:26PM
Logo: Adult with elderly parent (Digital Vision/SuperStock)After the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC News reporter Ann Curry sent this message out on Twitter:

"Imagine if all of us committed to 20 acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown. I'm in. If you are RT. #20Acts."

The hashtag was modified later to reflect the six adult lives lost. Since then the #26Acts movement has spread across the country, with acts as simple (and profound) as buying meals for the homeless, paying tolls for others and supplying classrooms with books.

This way of honoring the memory of the murdered is greatly preferable to leaving a balloon or flowers at a vigil. The money and effort you'd have spent will go toward making someone's life a shade better.

But the people you help aren't the only ones who benefit. You will, too, because it's through giving that we receive.

Even a small gesture -- like paying someone's bridge toll -- can remind you of how much you actually have. This is true whether you're affluent or barely balancing the books. Giving enriches us because it reminds us that we're part of something bigger, that we have something to contribute.

As Ann Curry herself wrote in this article:
"I know the truth: if you do good, you feel good. … Right now, this country wants to heal. I think the only thing comforting in the face of a tragedy like this is to do something good with it if you can."
Some of the following suggestions will work even for those with more time than money, or without much of either. Try at least one in the coming weeks and see what a difference you can make -- and see what a difference it makes in you.

Material goods

1. Buy a pair of slippers at the after-Christmas sales. Take them to a nursing home and ask they be given to someone who needs them.

2. Collect free-after-rebate toiletries for a shelter.

3. Create military care packages with some of those free toiletries and other small items. Ship them in an APO/FPO flat-rate box; see the Any Soldier website for addresses.

4. Trade spent ink cartridges in at office supply stores. Use the credit to buy something for the senior center (hand sanitizer, coffee, tissues).

5. Use manufacturers coupons to get food free or nearly free. Take it to a food bank.

6. Planning to replace those old towels? Contact a pet rescue program/animal shelter to see if the worn towels can be of use.

Service-oriented giving

7. Shovel snow or do yardwork for a shut-in.

8. Got unlimited cell minutes? Talk to a nursing home's staff about letting a resident phone relatives or friends for an hour on a weekend.

9. Babysit for a friend who desperately needs a night out.

10. Volunteer! Somewhere. Anywhere.

11. Go without one special treat (coffee, lunch out, a movie) each week. Donate what you would have spent to a good cause.

12. Are you a gardener? Check out the Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign.

You know -- for the kids

13. Use rewards program points to buy office-supply store gift cards for a teacher.

14. Buy children's books at a thrift store or yard sale. Donate them to a school.

15. Order discounted movie gift cards through the Gift Card Granny aggregator site. Give the cards to Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

What are your tips for frugal giving?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 21, 2012 1:24PM
Philantrophy is becoming an archaic ideal instead of reality; the lack of posts here is a good example =( . Not being rich, volunteering is often what best fits in our budget, and yes, it is ultimately rewarding and mutually beneficial to give either way.

But selfishness and the "ME" mentality of modern times is taking over. Last Christmas we donated $100 to the Salvation Army in our 20 year old nephew's name, and he became infuriated we did not give Him the cash. Even after trying to explain how the money would help make someone's life life a little better by possibly feeding the hungry or buying shoes or coats for those less fortunate, the gesture was still taken as unacceptable and a waste of good $$$$. It is heartbreaking to think that an act of kindness was taken so out of context that it has caused a permanent rift between families, but it did. Hopefully the outcome will be different this year!    
Dec 23, 2012 7:51PM
Donna, thank you for the great ideas.

The AnySoldier website is awesome! When you request a shipping address from them, it sends it to your email immediately. The detailed information on that site is incredible. It's sad to read that some of the soldiers don't seem to get care packages from their families/friends. Some of them are requesting basic necessities and things that give them hope and remind them of home.
Dec 26, 2012 1:23AM
I live close to an Orowheat outlet and whenever I visit my 93 year old dad in assisted living I bring the residents a bunch of the $1.00 a box doughnuts. This is a treat they never get and they LOVE it.
Jan 1, 2013 7:13PM
I just found a place on Fox River MIlls site where the soldiers list what socks they need.  You pick  who and what you want to buy.  Pay for them, and the manufacturer pays to ship them to the soldiers.
Jan 1, 2013 4:37PM
I have enjoyed sending things to soldiers for a while.  Even the little Koolaid packets that pour into a bottle are appreciated.  It doesn't take a lot to make a difference.  I learned that from watching my family.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.