Generosity Under Fire

When women tell stories about their adventures in dating, I am catapulted back to the two years between my divorce and meeting my now-husband.  Online dating wasn’t a “thing” back then; we mostly relied on match-making to meet eligible men or women. 

One the most memorable/laughable/annoying dates I had was with a friend of a friend.  Early on in the conversation, it became apparent to both of us (I presume) that we were not a match made in heaven.  After a thankfully short coffee date, it was time to pay our less than $5 bill.  My date pulled out his wallet and declared (as if tragedy had befallen him),” Oh no, I don’t have anything but a twenty.” Quietly I paid for both of us.                                                           

Frugal vs. Miserly

In my estimation, the fine line between being frugal and miserly had been crossed.  Although I would hope that most of us consider this real-life example almost a caricature of frugality, many more gray areas exist with which we struggle as to when to mind our budget and when to splurge.

Money coach, Adam Koren ( deals with these sorts of issues every day.  Koren says that most of his clients don’t have actual budgets and come to him with help in becoming more frugal. The biggest challenge is social situations where invitations to go for drinks or a meal, or even a vacation, tax one’s resources.

Coach Koren advises his clients to ask themselves a few questions before accepting or rejecting social invitations. How do you feel about the people and how important is the gathering?  How painful would missing the event be?  Would the likely cost of the event be a minor or a major splurge?   After the event, are you likely to feel happy and satisfied or regretful?  

I have traveled with large groups of friends where the norm is to split the restaurant check equally among the diners.  One friend gladly complied although she never drank any alcohol.  Fortunately, being generous in this way was not a financial burden for her, but I’ve encountered folks of similar means who balked at having to pay for someone else’s dessert or cocktail.

I recall my husband and I dining out with a family of five some years ago and being expected to split the expensive dinner evenly between his family (5) and mine (2).    Over the course of my life, spending an extra $100 has not made a difference in my life style but I remember feeling irritated.  It’s one thing to be generous on one’s own terms; it’s quite another feeling snookered into being generous.

For those with limited resources, social invitations can feel stressful.  Suggesting alternative outings such a walk in the woods or along the beach is a low/no cost way to get together with friends.  Hosting potluck dinners and potluck wine/beverage events are other ways to socialize without breaking the bank.

Practice Random Acts of Generosity

In 1982, Anne Herbert started a movement by writing these words on a placemat in Sausalito, California: Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.   

As word spread and bumper stickers appeared with this message, some of us looked for opportunities to randomly practice kindness.  I was living in Atlanta in the early ‘90’s when the first toll road opened.  At that time, toll booth operators collected money and made change.  Since the toll was 50 cents each way, giving the toll booth operator a buck and telling him/her I was paying for the car behind me was an easy way to practice random kindness.  Obviously, I never met the drivers behind me but I imagined their delight. And my mood was greatly improved on those days.

I recently began thinking of other random acts of generosity.  Opportunities to give money or food to the homeless are plentiful but when the generous act is unexpected, the joy is compounded.  I read about someone who buys coffee for women with children in coffee shops. Another story about a woman who slipped a $5 bill and note of well wishes in a book at a bookstore went viral.  Of course, generosity isn’t just about money, it’s also about spirit.  Holding the door open, offering one’s seat, helping someone struggling with packages are all examples of being generous without ever opening one’s wallet. 

If you’re like me, you’re less touched by Bill Gates donating millions to charity than by a stranger offering to pay for someone’s bus ride. In December 2017, I traveled to Cuba with my daughter.  While visiting an art gallery in Havana, I noticed and complimented the woman working in the gallery on the lovely necklace she was wearing. She removed the necklace, gave it to me and insisted I take it as a gift.  Even under economic duress (readily apparent in Cuba), this woman felt compelled to be big-hearted with a stranger: a perfect example of generosity under fire.


Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do. ---Khalil Gibran