5 Easy Ways to Pay It Forward

by Jessica Sommerfield · 4 comments

Occasionally the news will feature a refreshingly positive story of someone who practiced a random act of kindness with the mindset to “pay it forward.” You’ve probably heard this phrase before. The movement developed from a book written by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was then followed by a movie in 2000.

The basic concept is that instead of paying someone back for an act of kindness, you pay it “forward” with an act of kindness to someone else — usually a stranger. In our often selfish and materialistic culture, this is a challenge to get beyond ourselves and spend a little time (and money) meeting the needs of others and inspiring them to do the same.

These simple acts don’t have to be expensive or elaborate, and they certainly won’t break your budget; money and time spent paying it forward would probably have been spent on yourself, anyway.

Here are a few practical ways you can pay if forward in your everyday life.

5 Easy Ways to Pay it Forward

1. Pay for someone else’s lunch/bus fare/theater ticket/toll/etc.

This is the most classic example of pay it forward, and the scenario most often discussed in the news. This practice works well in a drive-thru, since you won’t risk embarrassing anyone, and you won’t be tempted to seek personal recognition or praise. Remember to include the message to pay it forward. It can be amazing how often a chain reaction is created, as person after person pays for the vehicle behind them in line.

A more personal way to do this is to look for someone who appears to need financial help or just some cheering up: perhaps the lonely elderly person, the frazzled mother of five, or the homeless person you usually avoid.

2. Tip your waitress or hairstylist more than 15%.

Those in service industries are some of the hardest-working and lowest-paid. Instead of only tipping the standard gratuity expected in your area, choose times to give more — and not just based on the quality of their service. Take the time to notice those that are behind the scenes or often forgotten: cooks, cab drivers, hotel housekeeping, and maintenance staff.

3. Offer your time by helping someone with a task.

Random acts of kindness don’t have to involve money. Sometimes what people need the most is a helping hand. For instance, if you see someone hauling out furniture for a move, stop and lend a hand. Is your neighbor away a lot? Mow their lawn for them. Wherever you see an opportunity to lend a hand, do it, and instead of accepting a return favor, inspire others to pay it forward.

4. Give the gift of encouragement.

This world can be pretty discouraging at times. A simple word of kindness or a compliment to a stranger can be just what someone needs. Instead of ignoring the person seated next to you on a plane or bus, take the time to exchange a smile and a few words. Don’t be obnoxious; if the person prefers to keep to themselves, respect that. But be willing to talk if someone wants to.

5. Keep a record and hold yourself accountable.

Just as you would be purposeful about saving or budgeting your expenses, be purposeful about paying it forward. Record acts of kindness you’ve received and maintain a one-for-one ratio. This can help you to carry the practice beyond random and into habitual.

Paying for a meal or fare once for someone else doesn’t seem like it would make a big difference. It certainly won’t get someone out of debt or solve all their financial problems.

But something as simple as a random act of kindness from a stranger can potentially change the course of a person’s life. If nothing else, it’ll bring a smile to their face, remind them that kindness still exists, and inspire them to do the same.

Have you ever experienced paying it forward — either on the giving or the receiving end? 

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  • Georgina Goosen says:

    Thank you very much. It is good to be reminded often. I shall be reading it at least once a week.

  • Jessica Sommerfield says:

    I stand corrected. 🙂

  • Ian Osborne says:

    I love the concept but it did not originate with Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book. The phrase was coined in 1916 by author Lily Hardy Hammond and popularized by other authors and my alma mater’s former football coach Woody Hayes (who was misquoting a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote from 1841)!

  • Jimmy Gartman says:

    I was in Los Angeles one night when I realized I had forgotten some very important medication. Lucky for me there was a grocery store next to the hotel. As I waited behind a elderly couple to get there prescriptions, I asked if they carried mine. The pharmacist indicated they were out but could have some by noon the next day. I was flying out the next day at 6:00 am and dearly needed it. The pharmacist said a cvs 5 miles away had it. I asked if they delivered since I didn’t have a car and the hotel van would not drive me there. He said no they don’t, and out of nowhere the elderly man said he would drive me. I was speechless, not only did he drive me, he waited :25 minutes for me to get it. When I got back to the hotel I asked if he would wait while I get some money for being so kind. When I returned to the grocery store the couple had left and told the pharmacist to tell me not to worry and that he enjoyed talking with me. Since then I’ve been paying it forward thanks to the generous act of one man on that night near lax. By the way I liked your article too.

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