Over the past year, I received two remarkable gestures from two Internet heroes. While I’ve certainly thought about their actions, I haven’t quite been able to find the words to tell the stories.
I’m still not sure I have those words.
But I want to share their gestures now for two reasons. I want to thank them again. More importantly, I want to share their kindness as a reminder that gifts can matter more than we can even imagine.
The ripple effects of these kind gestures speak for themselves, and they’re certainly worth sharing.
Kindness Case Study #1: A Rock & A Budget
It was early in December, and I was doing what most teachers do: I was trying to figure out how many Starbucks runs I could swing using nothing but my existing gift card balance.
I posted a screen grab of my anemic balance with the message “Stuck Between a Rock & My Budget” on Instagram Stories and found myself doing a lot of commiserating in my messages. It was a fun 24 hours, but then it passed. Truthfully, I didn’t think of it again.
At least not until I logged onto my blog email and noticed an email from Starbucks. I was puzzled. I clicked it open and there was the sweetest note from none other than Cait Flanders. She saw my Instagram Story and was wishing me a happy end of the semester.
After a moment of shock and then some brief fangirling, I felt something else: I felt the urge to give it back. Immediately. After all, I wasn’t In Need. She should have taken her $20 and spent them on someone else who truly needed the money.
To fast track you through a swirl of emotions, know this: I did keep the gift card. In fact, I enjoyed two lattes on it. Then, I noticed that our Starbucks was letting a homeless person rest in the cafe, and I promptly had the barista cash out what was left of the gift card onto another gift card and left it beside her things. It seemed like a small way to take Cait’s kindness and pay it even further forward.
What This Act Taught Me
It took a bit of thinking, and even some nervous conversation with Cait, but I found a new perspective on her kindness. She wasn’t sending me $20 because I didn’t have $20. I knew I did, and she knew I did (my Instagram joke wasn’t that lame).
She sent me the money to make me smile, to brighten my day, and to cheer me onto the finish line. We don’t have to give gifts to people only when they need them. It’s perfectly fine to brighten someone else’s day for no other reason than to do it.
Since that surprise Starbucks moment, I’ve actually added an extra $20 to our budget each month so we can pay it forward. It’s separate from our giving fund, and it goes to people, like our school counselor or custodians, who seem like they could use some cheering up or just an extra thanks. It’s fulfilling and just downright fun to see what a little bit of money and a lot of thought can do for someone.
Kindness Case Study #2: A Granola Bar in the Garbage
Because I am
bad at branding a Renaissance woman, my Twitter is a hodgepodge of all of my interests and passions. One of the things that I tweet about the most is teaching. Generally, I try to keep things lighthearted (like the fact that one of my students spent the better part of a week convincing us that Wyoming wasn’t a real place because no one had ever actually met anyone from Wyoming).
But sometimes I tell a different kind of story.
Even though I’m in a much more affluent district now than I used to be, I still watch kids struggle. And it still breaks my heart. In one tweet, I mentioned something about what it was like to watch kids sneak a granola bar out of the trash can or how much it hurts to watch a student have to stop working on a standardized test and go to the nurse from hunger pangs.
The ink on the tweet wasn’t even dry when Revanche from A Gai Shan Life sent me a DM. She had been asking for years to help, and I had always put her off. I gave her the same list of excuses: she could help local schools, she could help JB’s school, my school district actually was well off, and I could help my students. In fact, I was already buying snack bars for a few of my kids. One kiddo in particular was already enjoying a Nutri-Grain Bar on my dime every morning since the testing incident.
This time, Revanche persisted. She insisted on an address. I hesitated for a second, but only one second. She didn’t dox me when I helped her with an earlier fundraising effort and she was a Baby Whisperer Extraordinaire at my first FinCon with HP. So I gave her my home address.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then the boxes started showing up. She shipped every flavor of Nutri-Grain Bar they make, plus a giant case of belVita breakfast biscuits. She also sent over two other boxes of snack bars for people with allergies.
Her reasoning was simple, she said. She was doing this on a principle: Giving the right people the right resources allows them to make a difference.
So that’s what I aimed to do.
The one student in particular who inspired my tweet was struggling. He was chronically absent; even when he attended, he almost never made it to my first hour class. A recent transfer from CPS, I knew his mom was having a hard time navigating a new life out here. Our district offers plenty of support for people who know how to navigate all the nonsense. (Spoiler: I’ve worked in the district for almost a decade and still don’t know it all.) So while I’m fairly certain this family should have qualified for free lunch, we didn’t have the paperwork. No paperwork, no food.
Armed with a cabinet of supplies, I asked him what he was most motivated by. He thought hard. While he thought, I prayed he wasn’t going to say Jolly Ranchers or Takis…or, you know, a Tesla or something. Instead, he said he really still wanted breakfast bars.
So, I offered him the opportunity to grab a bar for breakfast each time he came to class for the rest of the school year. I tried to float the idea that he could even come hang out in my room early with a few of his friends. They were welcome to snack, too.
The first few weeks were much of the same. He was absent. He was late. But I would still hand off a bar whenever I saw him.
Then, something started to happen. He would come to class earlier and earlier. He’d show up with a few buddies before school. They would work and eat in my room. Toward the end of the school year, I actually commented in a meeting that I couldn’t believe how much this student’s attendance situation had changed.
Last week, I actually had the opportunity to tell him and his family two things: he met his growth goals in reading AND in math for the year on our benchmark tests and he had perfect attendance for third trimester.
No amount of word smithing here can adequately capture the pride that beamed out from his smile.
Were the breakfast bars the only reason he was successful? Of course not. He put in the hard work, along with his other teachers, an interventionist, his mom, and me. There were so many factors throughout the school day that helped him turn the year around, but it was the snack bars that got him to school in the first place.
What This Taught Me
Revanche’s story is important. Essential, really. Too often, we fall prey to the excuse that giving doesn’t matter. Or that it’s fine to give your time instead. Neither of those is the full truth.
Giving does matter, and so does volunteering. But volunteering wasn’t going to get this kid breakfast. Sometimes, the thing that matters is getting the right resources to the right person.
And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. We don’t have to give on the scale of the Gates Foundation to have an impact. This is not to minimize what Revanche did; it’s to challenge all of us–myself included!–to be more like her.
Kindness Keeps Going
This school year was hard for reasons that I can’t fully articulate. It seemed that every difficult aspect of teaching that I had ever encountered in my career came swirling back simultaneously this year. In this confluence of challenges, I felt like quitting. ALL. THE. TIME.
Even though I love my job. Even though I’ve begged for teachers to not leave. I wanted to leave over and over again this year.
These two acts of kindness, though, inspired me to change the way I look at giving. They also pushed me forward and reminded me to keep going. Support systems aren’t something you have to be physically present to find. Two of my Internet heroes found really unexpected ways to tell me that they thought I should keep going, so I did.
So Tell Me…Have you ever received a gesture like this? What’s your favorite “just because” gesture to make?
My Dad taught me to pay the bridge toll for the car behind. He crossed into Staten Island from NJ every day. I regret the advent of transponders take this away.
Saturday there was a homeless man washing up in the men’s room at iHop. I was able to alert the host/hostess station to serve him breakfast and send me the check. He’ll never forget what i’ll Never miss.
Oh my gosh! That toll booth idea is (was?) fantastic! Your gesture at iHop was also remarkable too. Food seems to be a theme in the comments!
Three of the very best people, and I’m so glad to call Cait, Revanche and you my internet (and IRL, in your case) friends!
Oh, Josh. You’re such a wonderful human. My only regret is that IRL has been so brief!
This post made me cry? I have been fortunate enough to have been the recepient of very generous benefactors and can’t begin to thank them all enough. However, I do strive to pay it forward. We might be poor but we’re not cheap ☺️
Oh, that last sentence. Wow, oh wow. What a great reminder for all of us!
This is great! As a teacher, do you have any suggestions how those of us without kids can help? I want to do more, but I just don’t know how.
Hmmm. I think the best way to start would be to find a school (in your community!) and ask. Or better yet, just offer!
For instance, if you have art supplies (fabric, markers, etc.) that you don’t need. Or newspapers and magazines. A lot of times, schools are always in need of things like that. If you want to give something monetary, you could try to look up a social worker’s contact info. Or even just reach out to a teacher. It sounds creepy to suggest, but it’s just a point of practicality. One year, a student’s family wanted to give me their home library (!!!!!!), and the receptionist misunderstood, so I never got the call. Luckily, the father reached out to me and showed up with his truck and dolly the next week. I got over 100 books that way!
You could also look at Donor’s Choose to see if your area is active! I’m happy to DM suggests your way, too. It warms my heart that you’re asking!
Love these ideas! Thanks!
Salty Old Lady
I love this. “Get the right resources to the right people.”
One of my tiny gestures: I look for kids in the pet store who seem very invested in caring for their pet. I try to get to the register before them, and I put some cash on a gift card and have it set aside for them. I never get to see the reaction, I hate lurking around, but I always hope these tiny actions foster more sparks of compassion and kindness in the kids.
Oh my! What a sweet idea! I can’t say I’ve ever done anything like this. How clever!
If I have an odd dollar or two left on a gift card, I do pass it back to the person in line, but I never thought to load a gift card like this. Filing this away! Thanks, Salty Old Dog!
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
I am humbled (and ecstatic) that our small gift was meaningful enough to be part of his accomplishment. We weren’t looking for acknowledgement but knowing it made a difference tells us to keep doing this and I so appreciate your sharing both the need and the result. I will always be looking out for ways for us to make our money go to the right people.
I know, I know. You are far too kind and too humble and too modest. You and Cait both are, so I really wasn’t sure how or what to do. But the truth is, for as much as we talk about giving (or not giving ::insert angry emoji here::) in the PF world, I don’t think we see this end of things enough. So I wanted to share.
Thank you for being an amazing human!
One Frugal Girl
This post provided me with such a warm, fuzzy today. I am a huge Revanche fan and although we’ve never met in person, this small but powerful gesture seems right up her alley! I think these stories are so important especially in the PF/FI/FIRE space. People often say they don’t want to donate because they don’t have a lot of money, but sometimes the tiniest gestures provide such long-lasting impacts.
Two tiny gestures:
My husband and I randomly pay for dinner when we see a young couple that appear to be on a first date. We simply ask the waitress for their bill and pay it. They never know we paid, because we do it on our way out the door.
Lately, I am on a quest to buy inexpensive books from Scholastic so I can hand them on to kids who might not otherwise have access to books at home. So far we’ve purchased $100 worth of books, which equates to 100 books! We spend roughly $15 per month and at the end of the year they are given away to a local school. Each student gets to choose a book or two before heading home for the summer!
I am totally snagging this first date idea! And you know you hit my heart with that Scholastic book gesture! Getting kids access to their *own* books is huge. I could wax poetic about a good community (or school!) library forever, but the research says that it’s also home libraries that matter. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I love this Penny! It’s so important to pass the kindness to other people, especially when you have the ability. That’s exactly why we donate to charities each month and I donate blood regularly. My self imposed goal is to hit 100 donations. I’m currently on 63 or 64 I think. Considering you can donate blood every 56 days (for men), it’s not a short term goal. 🙂
This is definitely something I should look into this summer! I’ve seen a local church with a blood drive van in its lot a few times. I will see if I can sign myself up for the next one. Great reminder that giving isn’t just about money!
Great stories and both so important. It’s incredible how targeted giving matters in so many different ways.
I’m glad both acts kept you in the profession – we need people like you there.
Ha, yes. Had I thought of your second sentence last night, I could have just skipped the other 1400 words 😉
And thanks. That’s so kind of you. I hope I can stick it out. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. <3
Diana E Sung
I’m not crying… you’re crying. (Ok, I’m crying.)
You’re a big part of my inspiration to give in accordance with the values of who I want to be, even as I am not yet out of debt (the bad kind–with the credit cards, for clarification).
Also–enjoy your well deserved summer. Bad years are killer.
That’s the best comment I’ve ever gotten on this blog, Diana! I am definitely not the most charitable, but giving and gifts and thinking of others makes me really happy. So I’m glad to write about it, and I’m happy when it resonates with others.
What an awesome post, you really are the best Penny!
Lazy Man and Money
I love the nutrition bar story. I had similar success when I read a PF blogger needed some motivation getting a 529 plan started. A few other bloggers chipped in on social media and suddenly there was a small $75 bounty for the 529 to get done.
And (of course) Revanche was the first person to comment how cool it was.
When I was being sued for defamation by a number of MLM companies the personal finance blogger community was there for me and she was there for me as well.
Revanche really is awesome 😀 I’m sorry that you got so tangled up in all the MLM stuff, but how amazing that you want to advocate for people!
This is so cool Penny and Revanche(two of my favorite blog buddies btw) Both of you were able to help that kid out with his attendance issues with a breakfast bar of all things. It helped sparked that kid on going to class earlier and earlier. The act of kindness can go a long way.
It’s why I love volunteering at the local food bank and donate blood.
Britt @ Tiny Ambitions
Oh my gosh! What a bunch of lovely people and amazing gestures! Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a gesture like this that I’ve given or received lately. I think that means it’s time for me to re-up my giving game. I’m so glad these two wonderful humans got through your stubbornness (?).
Ok, I want to cry thinking about how big Revanche’s heart is – something I already knew, but this was just another example of. And her lesson is so important. I’m going to be thinking about that for some time… as for the Starbucks story, the only thing I can say is that I don’t make impulse purchases anymore… but I’m very much in favour of impulse giving. If you think of it, and it’s within your budget/other resources, don’t question it. Just do it. Thank you for paying part of it forward, and for putting $20 in your budget to keep doing so… your heart is also a big one, my friend. xo
Thanks for the comment, Cait! Her heart is so big, as is yours. It makes me so incredibly happy that I found both of your voices so early on. Thank you.
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early
There’s a reason I love your blog ❤️
Truly, truly, epic!
Thanks so much for sharing Penny. This is wonderful 🙂
I love these stories. Crying now. Thanks for sharing!