The One Hour Project: Give Someone A Helping Hand

This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.

It’s something so simple that so many of us overlook in our busy lives: stopping to help people out when they need a hand. For the longest time, I would only stop and help out people if it was completely convenient for me – I didn’t really see the point of helping others out if it didn’t directly benefit me.

One day, though, that all changed. I was sitting on a city bus riding to class (I was a college student at the time) and I saw a woman getting on the bus. She didn’t have change for the fee and the driver asked her to get off the bus. She got upset – she was in a work uniform on her way to a job – and something inside of me just clicked. I saw myself in her shoes. So I walked forward, deposited the change in the slot, and she was able to board the bus.

She sat down next to me and thanked me for paying, then told me a bit about her life. She was married to an individual who was on active duty overseas (this was in the late 1990s – he was not in Iraq, I don’t believe) and trying to raise two children. Her mother lived there, too, and watched the children while she worked, and she was trying very hard to get a promotion at her job. As I watched her get off the bus and go to work, I realized that stepping forward and putting that change in the meter might have caused her to get to work on time – or even a bit early – and might have helped her get that promotion, improving the lives of those children. Who knows what the domino effect from that might be.

Since then, I make a regular effort to help people out if I see an opportunity. Although the time adds up over a long period, individual acts don’t take very long at all and they usually go a long way towards lifting someone’s day out of the doldrums.

There are three ways that this can benefit you – one directly and two indirectly:

First, you feel better about yourself for having done it. If I help someone get their cat out of a tree or return a shopping cart for an old lady, I feel better about myself. It genuinely lifts my mood for some reason.

Second, the person you did the favor for has a good chance of doing a similar favor for someone else. This is the “pay it forward” phenomenon and it actually exists – I’ve witnessed it over and over again.

Finally, on rare occasions, that small deed will pay off in some hugely unexpected way. Once, I spied an abandoned child in a department store. He was crying. I stopped for a moment and asked him who he was there with and when he saw her last, then I grabbed a worker at the store and asked if he could page the mother over the intercom. He didn’t know her name, so we just used a description of the boy. I then kneeled near the boy for a while and calmed him down by telling him his mother was coming for him – and sure enough, she arrived. The mother had been quite upset as well. I began to walk away and the mother handed me a gift card for the store, saying “Take it – and thank you so much!” The gift card was for $100. While you should never expect such things, they do occasionally happen.

Over the next week or so, keep your eyes open for people that might need a helping hand. If you notice someone who is having a problem that you might be able to help with, from a cell phone call to pushing a cart or anything else, just step up and offer to do it. Do it several times. See how you feel inside after you do it, and then see if this little move didn’t just make the world a better place.

Along those same lines, if you’re ever in a situation where you need a hand, look around you and imagine if others had this same philosophy. By doing your part to encourage a philosophy of offering a small social helping hand, you encourage others to do the same – and eventually that helping hand will come back around to you when you really need it. Consider it a form of social insurance – by paying the premiums of helping others, sometimes you’ll collect some amazing dividends.

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  1. ZenniHill says:

    While I still feel new to working my way out of debt and learning how to invest (my plan is to get out of debt then move the same monthly money to investing) I AM good at lending a helping hand. I do this as often as I see a need.

    One occasion is fresh on my mind, and yet it happened about 4 years ago. I went to a grocery store & while approaching the front door, I saw a woman outside (with purchased groceries in her shopping cart) looking around. I proceeded into the store and completed my shopping. When I went outside I saw that she was still there just looking around. I asked her if she was okay, and was there something I can do. She said she was waiting for cab. I knew how long I had been in the store (quite awhile) and asked her if she would like me to drive her home. I was really concerned with a “bad person” approaching her and I knew I was safe for her. She appreciated that I wanted to drive her home. After I got her into my car, I did wonder if she knew where she lived and thank goodness she did! As luck would have it, she didn’t live very far away.

    I know you can’t trust everybody (meaning this instance could have been for me, too) but sometimes you just have to put yourself out there.

  2. Looby says:

    This is so true. My parents have been great examples to me in showing me how good it is to help others. They both have medical backgrounds and so can help in more situations than others but even help in non-medical situations. This sometimes does lead to payment of some kind, but more often it’s just the great feeling when someone is genuinely surprised and thankful for a small thing. I always try and help someone if I see an opportunity, there but for the grace of God as they say.

  3. Shannon says:

    Bless you for that and this post. I have a comment to the first commenter – ZenniHill. For those readers that are male, please don’t take offense if offers of help such as ZenniHill described are refused. Women need to keep themselves safe, and it’s wise to be distrustful sometimes. It is a shame that being gentlemanly in our society often suffers because of what some bad apples have done to take advantage…But please still offer to help, please still give. If the offer is turned down with suspicion, be understanding and humbly go on your way (or notify a store employee to help).

  4. !wanda says:

    When I was little, I was trained not to talk to strangers. Even if someone like Trent had found me in the department store, I wouldn’t have spoken to him and would have tried to walk away. The whole situation would have been extremely distressing. So, don’t be offended if a child reacts poorly if you’re trying to help him or her.

  5. Susy says:

    I agree! We always try to help people out (usually anonymously if we can), if hear of someone that lost their job, we send a little cash or a grocery store gift card. I always try to think about what I would appreciate if I were in the same situation and try to respond in that way.

    My parents are a great example for this. They are missionaries in South America and see things every day that we can’t even imagine and through their generosity and kindness have been able to change so many lives and in turn they have been blessed with friendships beyond compare!

  6. Mariette says:

    Cultivating compassion is always a good thing. Obviously it benefits the person or people you are helping, but you get even more benefit from the good feeling and openheartedness that it brings.

  7. Lisa says:

    Trent, I am not rich, but lending a needed hand to someone makes me feel rich.

    Great advice.

  8. Kathy says:

    I love this article!
    Sometimes “little” things are more important than you would ever dream. Sometimes they make all the difference in someone else’s life. You may never know in this lifetime.
    “Cast your bread upon the waters…”

  9. tanya says:

    i’m don’t consider myself an overly friendly or helpful person but on several occasions i have suprised myself by helping people that need only a moment of my time. specifically the elderly. on a few occasions i have helped an older women cross a very busy street in downtown chicago and have helped another do something as simple as step up a curb. although this aren’t large tasks it does make me feel good that i’m helping out someone’s grandparent and hope that others would do the same for mine.

  10. Bloggrrl says:

    It was such a delight to come over here and see this post. I absolutely agree. I try to live my life in this manner, and the rewards are greater than any sum of money could ever be.

  11. Margaret says:

    I was sitting in a mall once and saw a little kid (around 2 years old) wander across the hall and into a store. A minute or two later, a frantic looking woman ran into the hall looking around. I asked if she had lost a little boy, she said yes, and I told her where he had gone. No big deal.

    Now, I have little kids, and good grief, do they wander and run away! I know how that mom felt — they can be gone in a second. I am so grateful to people who just notice that a little child has wandered off and let me know when I am obviously racing around trying to find him. I especially love the Babas (grandmas) who sit on the bench near the entrance of our grocery store and let me know where they have gone if one of my little ones has escaped while I was paying.

    One problem I have had a few times are the people who OPEN A DOOR for an unattended toddler. I’m not sure if they think they are being helpful or what. Just last month, I was talking to the service guy at the car dealership, and I just happened to notice out the side of my eye that someone had walked in, seen my two year old standing by the door, and opened it wide for him to run INTO THE PARKING LOT BESIDE THE GARAGE. Thankfully, I caught him just out the door. I do not expect strangers to go out of their way to help me, but I do expect that they will at least not go out of their way to put a child in harm’s way.

  12. Norman MIller says:

    I came upon 3 young girls with a flat tire on my way to work one day. They were obviously having a difficult time trying to change the tire and where they were on the inside of blind turn was hardly the place to be kicking mad at a tire.

    I changed the tire for them, and when they thanked me I said no need. I asked them to have their boyfriends, brothers, fathers, husbands pull over an help my wife and two daughters when they get a flat.

    The one girl smirked “how will we know them”?

    I said you won’t, just help everyone and that makes us even.

  13. Tyler says:

    I appreciated this post. The world can certainly use more kindness.

  14. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, is one of the oldest scriptural principles in the Bible. The rewards of helping others, without expecting anything in return, are as far-reaching as a stone tossed into a pond; the ripples go on and on and on….

  15. Amy says:

    I challenge everyone to take this one step further and do something unexpected just because. My husband and I often buy elderly people eating alone dinner when we are out to eat. We just tell the waitress when we are paying that we would also like to pay for that man/lady’s dinner. Or you could try it with a family. We always keep outselves anonymous. It’s a way to pay it forward- and like everyone has said, you never know what you may start.

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