19 Ways to Pay it Forward (While Still Paying into Your Savings)

Finding ways to contribute to charities can be challenging if you already feel short on money. But here’s how you can give while still putting money aside for your own future.
Updated March 12, 2024
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19 Ways to Pay it Forward (While Still Paying into Your Savings)

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Giving to charity can not only lower your tax bill, but it can also help you feel like you’re making a positive impact on the world. But according to the Federal Reserve, nearly 40% of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 expense using cash or savings, so how do you balance giving back to the world if you’re already working to stretch your paycheck?

With some creative thinking, you can have a positive impact on the world without sacrificing your personal savings goals. The first step would be to make sure you’re using one of the best savings accounts available to maximize your savings potential. Then work your way through our list of ideas and pick one (or more) that fits with your situation and the things you have available around you.

Here are some of the many ways you can approach giving back without sacrificing your financial goals.

Start a found-coin challenge

People drop coins all the time, and though it may not seem worth it to pick up every penny you see, it can add up fast, especially if other people are joining in the challenge.

Start by talking to your family members, friends, or even your co-workers to see who wants to join, then agree on a charity you want to support. Every time someone in your group finds a coin, they put it in a jar. To accelerate the process, you could even agree to add any change you get back at the grocery store or gas station.

Once the jar is full, you can donate it to the charitable organization you decided on, then you can start all over with the same charity or a different one.

Sign up for Acorns

Acorns is a financial technology company that specializes in micro-investing. Micro-investing is when you invest money in small increments, buying fractions of shares in a company or an exchange-traded fund.

Each time someone joins Acorns, the company plants one tree through its partner, One Tree Planted. When you start inviting friends to join, they’ll be able to help plant trees as well.

Plus, with its micro-investing platform, you’ll be able to start working toward your savings goals without needing too much money. It’s especially a good starting point if you’re just learning how to invest money.


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Volunteer your time

Money goes a long way with charitable organizations. But sometimes, what they need the most is your time. Whether it’s cleaning up a local park, visiting the elderly, helping out at the homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or building a house with Habitat for Humanity, there are countless opportunities to donate your time.

Some volunteer opportunities may be seasonal in nature. For example, during the holidays, you may opt to deliver donated toys and other gifts or help with the seasonal onslaught of donations to the local food bank. There’s no shortage of need so just find a volunteer opportunity that matches your passions.

Buy mutual funds

Instead of looking for ways to split your focus between saving and giving back, why not do both at the same time? Socially responsible mutual funds are gaining popularity, and they can give you a chance to do good and earn returns.

These mutual funds use social screening to avoid investing in companies considered to have a negative impact on society or the environment. By investing in one of these funds, you could be investing in environmental conservation, human rights, public health, and more.

Just be sure to still do your due diligence on the fund’s performance and fees. Because socially responsible funds are becoming more widely available, you’ll have choices.

Volunteer your expertise

Doing on-the-ground volunteer work is important. But if you have a particular set of skills or experience that a nonprofit organization could use, it could make a serious impact.

For example, if you have a background in finance, grant writing, fundraising, or outreach, you could take some time to consult with local charities to help them improve their effectiveness. Depending on the consulting you can provide, you may not even need to be physically present to make a difference.

Give blood

Donating blood meets two important criteria in terms of your potential giving goals: it doesn’t cost a penny, and it can make a significant difference to people in need. According to the American Red Cross, one donation could save up to three lives.

Blood transfusions could be used to help patients undergoing complex procedures, cancer patients, and people who have experienced severe trauma. And because blood has a shelf life, there is a constant need for it.

Donate unused household items

We all accumulate stuff over the years, but over time, you may stop using certain things or replace them with newer items. For example, maybe you or your children grow out of clothing, or you’ve decided to replace your TV with a larger one.

If this happens, look for opportunities to donate the household items you no longer use. You can do this by giving them directly to people in need, such as friends and family members. You could also donate them to a thrift store, a religious organization, or a shelter.

Alternatively, you could put some time into turning your old stuff into extra cash, and then donate that money to the charitable organization instead.

Buy ETFs

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are similar to mutual funds, but they’re traded on the market like stocks. As with mutual funds, there are some socially responsible ETFs you could put your money into. Some brokers even specialize in these ETFs, which makes it an even easier option for making a positive contribution to the world.

Some examples include the SPDR S&P 500 Fossil Fuel Reserves Free ETF and the TIA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund. The first allows investors concerned about climate change to put their money into companies that have no fossil fuel reserves. The second option uses strict criteria to focus on companies that meet certain environmental, social, and governance standards.

Organize a food drive

Although food banks typically get a rush of donations during the holiday season, hunger lasts throughout the year for millions of people. Take advantage of some of the communities you belong to, such as your church congregation, office, school, or even just a group of friends or family members, and organize a food drive.

In addition to your own donations, you may also consider canvassing a few neighborhoods. Start by posting flyers that state what you’re planning to do and when you want to pick up the food, then make the pickup on the scheduled date and time.

Make a blanket

For many people, having a warm home with a bed is a luxury. Organizations like Project Linus seek to provide some relief by providing blankets to people in need. You don’t need any particular skills to make one, either.

Just head to your local craft store and purchase two large pieces of fleece. The fleece is generally cheap, and you’ll likely have several designs to choose from. When you get home, do the following to create your blanket:

  1. Lay one piece on top of the other, so they’re flush.
  2. Cut 6-inch squares out of each corner.
  3. Create a fringe on each side of the blanket by cutting strips that are 6 inches long and 2 inches wide.
  4. Once that’s finished, tie each strip together (the back and front pieces) using a square knot.
  5. Once you’ve made all your knots, your tied-fleece blanket will be completed!

Once you’ve finished however many blankets you’re making, you can drop them off with the organization you’re seeking to help.

Donate your workout

Charity Miles is a lot more than just an exercise app. When you create an account, you can choose a charity you want to assist. Then, as you exercise — whether it’s running, walking, biking, dancing, and more — you’ll earn money for your charity for every mile that you move. That money is paid directly from Charity Miles to your chosen organization.

To gather even more money for your charity, you can also solicit pledges and donations from family members and friends. They can choose to donate a certain amount for each mile you move. Once you’ve completed your workout, their money will go directly to your chosen charity.

Get into impact investing

On the surface, impact investing sounds a lot like socially responsible investing. But the two have different focuses. Instead of avoiding companies in your investment strategy that have negative impacts on society, impact investing goes further by making investments in organizations and companies that have a core mission to make a positive impact.

This values-based investing is another way to achieve both of your goals without sacrificing one for the other in any way.

Adopt a garden

Depending on where you live, you may have the opportunity to adopt a garden. Here’s how the process works: you join a community and commit to taking responsibility of a plot of land and beautify it any way you wish.

Depending on the program, you’ll typically need to buy the flowers and plants you want to include in the garden, but you may get reimbursement for some or all of the cost.

Adopting a garden not only makes the area you live in more beautiful, but it can also give you the chance to get out and enjoy nature.

Put money into a donor-advised fund

Finding the right charity can be challenging. Not only are there hundreds or even thousands of options in a given area, but some organizations are run better than others. If you want to donate but you’re not quite sure where to give, consider a donor-advised fund instead of a specific charity.

With a donor-advised fund, you can make a contribution now and deduct it on this year’s tax return. The fund’s manager invests the money, and you can take your time to vet charitable organizations and decide which one you want to donate to. Once you’ve picked a charity, you submit a recommendation for the fund to provide a grant to that organization.

Shop with Amazon Smile

Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer, and for many people, it makes online shopping more convenient and sometimes more inexpensive. Instead of visiting Amazon’s homepage to start your shopping trip, though, head to smile.amazon.com instead if you want to turn your shopping into a charitable opportunity.

When you go through this portal, .5% of all eligible purchases you make will go to the charitable organization of your choice. Amazon has a list of more than a million organizations from which you can choose.

Walk your dog

Similar to Charity Miles, the WoofTrax app provides much-needed assistance to animal shelters and dog rescue organizations when you walk your dog. Simply download the app on your phone and start it up when you take a walk with your dog.

The more you walk, the more money the app donates directly to your chosen charity. You don’t even need to have a dog to take advantage of the opportunity to help. You can actually create your own dream dog in the app to have as a walking companion.

Donate your hair

Both adults and children can donate hair to organizations like Locks of Love, Wigs for Kids, and Children With Hair Loss. Your hair can be used to create wigs for people who have lost their hair because of illnesses like cancer and for other reasons.

Just keep in mind that these organizations have strict guidelines for donations. For example, your hair must meet certain length and cleanliness criteria. Growing out your hair to donate it can take several months, but the impact can be huge for the people you help.

Skip a couple of meals

Whether it’s once a week, once a month, or once every few months, consider skipping a meal and donating the money you would have spent — whether it’s eating out, ordering delivery, or buying groceries — to one of your favorite charitable organizations. With this option, you can give as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry about spending any more than you already planned to in your budget.

Over time, you may also consider skipping other things you’d normally spend money on, so you can gradually increase the amount of your regular donations.

Do chores or run errands

If you have a specific ability that you can share with others, taking some time to share it without charging could make a huge impact on the people you’re helping. For example, you could shovel snow and mow lawns, help someone clean their garage, or do some grocery shopping for someone who can’t easily get to the store to do it on their own.

In many cases, people who need these services can’t pay for them, so sharing your abilities on a cost-free basis could go a long way.

The bottom line

You don’t have to give up your savings goals to give back to others. But if charitable work is an important part of your world view in terms of leaving a legacy, take some time to consider how you can achieve both goals.

These ideas can help you get started in finding the best path for you, but there are so many other ways you can give without spending a lot of money. Do your due diligence and research these and other options to see how you can make a difference.


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Author Details

Ben Luthi Ben is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people achieve their money goals. Along with FinanceBuzz, his writing has also been featured on U.S. News, NerdWallet, Experian, Credit Karma, and more.

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