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10 Easy ways to pay it forward

young beautiful mother teaches daughter prepare dough in the kitchen
Image: Oleggg/Shutterstock

We all love reading those stories about the kind people of this world who pay it forward with a nice gesture or act of service toward their fellow man. When you hear about these people who didn’t have enough money at a register and a total stranger paid for their groceries, or at the drive-thru when the person ahead of you pays for your meal, it becomes kind of contagious. Sometimes, the only reason we don’t is because we don’t know where to start or how.
Are there other options besides buying stuff for people? YES. Check out the list below to learn some new ways that you can start paying it forward and make your own community a friendlier place.

Sticky notes

Who doesn’t have some spare sticky notes lying around on their desk? These make an easy way to brighten someone’s day. Write messages and leave them around your home to let your family know you were thinking of them. If your roommate has a tough workday ahead, leave an encouraging note on the fridge. Carry them with you while you’re out doing errands, and leave notes to people who parked exceptionally well. Write body positive notes and put them inside jeans at department stores, or write a review for a book you enjoyed and leave it in the front cover at your local library or bookstore. As long as the message is kind, you can really leave these anywhere!

Come to the rescue

If there’s a person broken down on the side of the road, pull over and see how you can help. Maybe you can change a tire, give them some gas or give their car a jump. At a checkout, if the person in front of you doesn’t have quite enough money, offer to pay for the rest of their items. Don’t expect them to pay you back. Deliver soup to a sick neighbor or bake cookies for the new people that just moved in down the street.


Clean out your closet. Get rid of gently used items that are just taking up space. Thrift shop at Salvation Army or Goodwill, because part of the proceeds go to good causes. Donate blood in your local blood drive. Lens Crafters collects old eye glasses. Some places accept car donations, so you could donate your old vehicle after purchasing a new one. Set up a box for food or clothes donations at your place of employment, and then turn in the box to a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. There are so many ways to donate without spending money!

Be friendly

Smile at strangers while walking by. Say a casual hello. Wave at pedestrians when they’re crossing the street. Compliment a parent when you notice their well-behaved children. If a coworker is having a rough day, go out of your way to encourage them or say a word of positivity. Leave generous tips when you eat at restaurants. None of these things are major, but it’s the thought of goodwill and general niceness behind them that make all the difference.


All those places that you can donate to? You can probably volunteer at them! Homeless shelters, soup kitchens, blood drives and churches always need volunteers. Deliver meals to shut-ins and invalids. Run or walk for a cause when one comes to your town or neighboring town. Hang out at the animal shelter and pet cats to give them socialization or take the dogs on walks. Spend some time at a nursing home visiting with the elderly.

Spread kindness

This can be a number of things, and none of them are impossibly difficult or time-consuming. Send a “thank you” note to your local police or fire station. Create a box of goodies and send it to a soldier overseas. Buy a cup of lemonade or cookie from a child’s stand in the driveway. Drop off cookies for the nurses at the local hospital or for the workers at the library. Write a letter to your favorite elementary school teacher and let them know the impact they had on you.

Literally pay it forward

At the drive-thru, pay for the person behind you. At the coffee shop, buy the person behind you their own coffee. Pay for somebody’s groceries at the store. While you’re out grabbing some food, pick up some extra and give it to the first homeless person you see. Leave change in laundromat machines, parking meters, or candy dispensers. Tell somebody they dropped a dollar (when they didn’t) and give them a dollar bill. Offer to babysit a couple’s children for free so they can have a night off. Put unused coupons up on community bulletin boards. There are so many options to pay it forward in your community.

Spruce up your community

Pick up litter lying alongside the roads. Start a community garden. Write a pleasant review on Yelp for restaurants or stores that you enjoyed. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Plant a tree or flower bed. Mow a neighbor’s lawn, or mow for the widow/invalid who is unable to do it themselves.

Speak kindly

If someone has helped you in some way, give them a “thank you” note. Genuinely compliment somebody on their work ethic or their outfit that day. Say encouraging things to children, and even become a mentor. Be gentle and gracious while dealing with wait staff or other employees. Stand up for someone who doesn’t have a voice. Encourage somebody to pursue their dream, even if it’s difficult or seems impossible. Just remember, tenderness goes a long way.

Offer a helping hand

Hold the door open for someone. If you see an elderly person struggling to carry groceries, help them out. Walk your neighbor’s dog for them. If a neighbor or coworker goes out of town, offer to let out their pets or water their plants. Bring an extra umbrella to work, and loan it out on days that others forget their own. Is there a couple trying to take a selfie? Offer to take a picture for them. Tourists trying to get themselves into the photo with some attraction in the background? You can take their photo, as well. Just offer help when you see it needed, and help make this world a kinder place.

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