Find the joy in giving to others

Pay It Forward for Pennies

by Kimberly Danger

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Over 25 years ago, Catherine Ryan Hyde was driving her old Datsun through a rough area of Los Angeles at night. When her car died and began to fill with smoke at a freeway off ramp, that wasn't the worst of her problems. Ms. Hyde saw two men running towards her, one carrying a blanket. In her mind, she knew she was dead. Instead, the men pushed past her and proceeded to smother the engine fire with the blanket. The car could have exploded at any moment, killing all of them. They put their lives at risk to help a stranger. After the fire department arrived and the dust had settled, she looked up to thank the men. They were gone, and she realized she could never repay or thank them for what they had done. Instead, she decided to pay it forward. That event inspired Catherine Ryan Hyde to write the book of the same name.

A movie based on Ms. Hyde's book was released in 2000, which garnered even more attention for the Pay it Forward movement. In September of that year, the Pay it Forward Foundation was created to educate and inspire students to realize that they can change the world, and provide them with opportunities to do so. See their website at

No matter how much money is in your bank account, no matter how hard it might be for you to make ends meet, you can get involved. Sometimes the smallest thing can have a huge impact and make a big difference in someone's day. Giving creates an atmosphere of abundance in your own life. When you give, your energies are focused on doing something with the gifts you do have, not what you're lacking.

Surprising strangers and friends with totally random acts of kindness (with no expectation of repayment) is often so unexpected it takes them aback, which adds to the fun. Anyone can participate, even your kids. Teaching generosity at a young age will start them off on a lifelong path of giving. Hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.

Here are some great ways for your family to Pay it Forward for just pennies:

  • Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through
  • Mow your neighbor's lawn
  • Put a quarter in a parking meter about to expire
  • Offer to return someone's cart to the cart corral
  • Give your kids' outgrown clothing to a friend
  • During 2-for-1 sales at the grocery store donate an item to the food shelf
  • Donate old formalwear to a Theater Company
  • Compliment a total stranger
  • Write a letter to an anonymous nursing home resident (include some of your kids' artwork)
  • If you see someone trying to photograph their family, offer to take it for them so they all can be included
  • Donate a bag of groceries to a needy family (call your church to see if they can help facilitate)
  • Give the balance of your gift card to someone behind you in the checkout line
  • Volunteer your time to a charity, nursing home, school, church or other organization

Reviewed April 2017

Kimberly Danger is the owner and publisher of, a site for moms living well for less.

Take the Next Step

  • Try a 'pay it forward' in the next 24 hours.
  • To buy a copy of the book Pay it Forward, visit
  • Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!

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