The Giving Pocket

When I was about twenty years old, I was walking near the edge of a rough part of Des Moines, Iowa and I saw something that’s stuck with me ever since.

There was a young boy there, about six years old, and he was climbing out of a dumpster behind an apartment building. He was dressed in a dirty tank top and shorts and was barefooted. In his hand, he had a wadded-up fast food bag. When he hit the ground, he ran around to the far side of the dumpster, opened up the bag, and pulled out a handful of french fries, which he stuffed in his mouth as though he were starving.

I have never in my life felt so compelled to help someone out, but I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and spied a McDonald’s about a block away and so I walked over near the child and said hello to him. He looked scared and started to run away.

I told him loudly that I wanted to buy him some food. He stopped and looked back at me for a minute. I told him that I was going to go down to the McDonalds down the street and buy him some food and that I would come back and leave it by the dumpster. He could come and get it if he wanted.

I decided to do it this way because I figured the kid wouldn’t follow me there and I also didn’t want to create the appearance that I was abducting him. He seemed to understand the arrangement, so I walked down to an ATM, withdrew $20, went to McDonalds, bought about $15 worth of food (thinking he could perhaps share some with his mother or any siblings or friends he might have), and put the change from my twenty dollar bill in the bag – four ones and some coins.

I came back to the dumpster and the boy was gone – which I kind of expected. I put the bag on the ground by the dumpster, looked around, and walked away. I watched for a little while, but I never saw the boy come back. I ended up just leaving the food there in hopes that the boy would eventually come back and find it, but to this day I don’t know if he did or not. I like to think that he came back, found the bag, took it to his mother and his little sister, and they were able to at least get some calories in their system to sustain them for a little while.

This experience has stuck with me for more than a decade now. I’ve seen some situations where desperate need was quite obvious, but never again has anything stuck with me quite like that barefooted boy squatting on the ground beside the dumpster eating rotten french fries.

There are so many situations that we come across in our lives where people could be helped out with just a little help at the right moment. I’ve seen a single mother (with two kids beside her) offering to sell the wedding ring on her finger outside of a grocery store. I know an elderly couple who have been very close to having their electricity cut off this winter. A close friend told me about a food pantry that simply ran out of food and had to turn people away at the door recently.

Lately, I’ve started carrying more cash in my wallet than I ever have before. Each week, I put a couple twenty dollar bills in the back pocket of my wallet and rarely do I spend them. Instead, I just let this cash accumulate over time until I find a reason to spend it.

I call this my “giving pocket,” and it’s already begun to make a difference in how I see these kinds of situations.

It’s pretty simple. All I do is keep cash in that pocket and wait until the right moment comes. Inevitably, every few months, I come across a situation where someone is in desperate need – and instead of feeling helpless in the moment, I give them what they need to help with the problem.

I’ve written so often on this site about how I’ve been able to pull myself back from the financial brink and put myself and my family in a better financial place. Today, we’re stable and safe – but there are so many people who don’t share that safety and security, through no fault of their own.

The giving pocket allows me to seize the moment when I see someone that really needs help, and my financial success gives me the ability to keep the giving pocket full.

Perhaps, just once, I’ll be there at the right time to help someone who really needs it – and that one moment of human compassion and help will put them on a better path in life. If I can do that, then the giving pocket is worth far more than what I will have ever put in it.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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