We all want to make the world a better place. There are no shortage of causes in need of support, but throwing money at the problem isn't always the best option. If you have barely enough money to make rent, you can't make a big cash donation to any cause, regardless of it's merit. But even if you don't have an extra $20, you can still make a difference.
* Volunteer at a soup kitchen. It takes a lot of work to feed several hundred people in an afternoon. Stop in for a few hours to help cook, serve or clean up. An added bonus is that they usually serve you lunch as well.
* Make it social. Years ago, I met every Tuesday with a group of wonderful women in Chicago. We crocheted, knitted and sewed all sorts of items to donate to organizations in our neighborhood. Baby items went to the hospital down the street for low income mothers. Lapghans went to the nursing home. Clothes, afghans and toys went to the neighborhood "free store". We had a wealthy sponsor who supplied us with any materials and tools we needed, and many people in the community would bring in crafting materials from family members' estates or leftover from their own projects. We would look online for patterns to print out and share. It was one of the highlights of each week to meet with these wonderful women and make things that would help the people in our community.
* Aid free access to knowledge. Project Gutenberg offers free downloads of over 38,000 eBooks that are in the public domain. Volunteers through Distributed Proofreaders (http://www.pgdp.net/c/) check over pages that are scanned to make sure each character matches the original page. It can take as little as a few minutes of time to contribute to free access to learning.
* Extreme coupon. If you have a knack for combining sales, manufacturer's coupons, store coupons, rebates and clearance items to get free or almost free items, you can donate items to those in need. Food pantries, homeless shelters, free stores and women's shelters need a variety of goods and you can provide them. This can be a very time-effective way to donate, as you can shop for donation items as you do your regular shopping.
* If you have friends and family members who are struggling, offer to help them stretch their dollars. For example, look out for really good prices on items they use and scoop them up. Once I found cereal on sale for $.25 a box; I bought 50 boxes and distributed it among many families. They can repay you the purchase price. You don't lose any money, but they get a steep discount that can help to make ends meet.
* Invite someone over for dinner. If you know someone who is struggling to make ends meet, or is lonely (perhaps someone recently widowed or divorced or on their own for the first time), or doesn't know how to cook, invite them over for a great home cooked meal. Make it a nice one, but it doesn't have to be costly. Grill out bargain purchased sausages (we sometimes find a sale at Meijer: Buy 7 items get 7 off, and the sausages end up being $.79-1.29 a package) and some seasonal produce along with a pitcher of lemonade or iced tea. Or make pasta with garlic bread or stir fry with home made fried rice.
* Sometimes when someone is really poor and just establishing themselves, they are stuck eating fast food (which is more costly and far less nutritious than cooking at home) because they don't have basic kitchen wares. While at thrift stores and yard sales, keep an eye out for decent quality skillets, pots, slow cookers, spatulas, etc. I keep a large box of such items to distribute whenever I hear of a need. I also look out for beginner's cookbooks. It doesn't cost much at all if you only scoop up items when you find them at an amazing bargain (I sometimes find skillets for $1-2).
* Teach someone frugality. Many people weren't raised to be frugal and it can be hard to figure it all out. Teach someone valuable skills to help them manage their money better or to stretch a tiny budget. Skills such as gardening, mending clothing, cooking from scratch, or basic car maintenance can really save a lot of money. You can also take someone thrifting for the first time and show them how to really shop so they get what they need at a bargain, but don't spend a ton of money just because it's cheap. If someone really trusts you, you can even go over their budget with them and help them make a financial plan.
* Use bag sales for others benefit. If you are at a yard sale or thrift store during a bag sale (Fill a bag for $X), but have room left in the bag after you pick out what you want/need, fill it the rest of the way with items to give away. You can put winter hats and scarves in the bag to donate to a homeless shelter. If you know of something a friend/coworker/family member needs, put it in the bag.
What are your ideas? How do you help others when you don't have extra cash?