The easy and convenient thing about money is that it absolves us from making connections. We can pay, and leave. There is no obligation hanging over our heads, no sense that something is out of balance: it’s all sorted out. Without money, on the other hand, gaining something can be a burden instead of a gift.
That’s the upside of money, of course, but the lack of it – and the desperate grabbing race for more of it – has caused untold suffering in human history. So there’s obviously something missing there, too.
I think the missing thing is connection. With other people; with the planet; and with ourselves.
So what happens when you go without money?
My fella and I have been saving money so ferociously and for so long that despite sitting on enough money to buy a small house (the house is the goal), we mostly feel poor. The thing about deliberately acting as if you have no money – which is what saving comes down to when you go to extremes – is that you either have to go without or find other ways to pay.
This sounds so simple, so straightforward. After all, we buy gifts for Christmas every year, remember birthdays, anniversaries and any other occasion the greeting card industry throws our way. Of course we know how to give, right?
Quite possibly wrong, actually. I used to delight in finding the perfect gift, but the ‘not having any money’ thing slowly ebbed away at the pleasure. It injected worry into every choice, demanded compromise, fear. I found myself not wanting to give gifts at all. I lost interest in shopping, resented each gift, started to feel shame.
Nasty thing, shame. It cuts you off; makes you want to hide.
Which brings us back to connection. Money absolves us from connecting with others even as we buy gifts for those we love. Not having money can do this, too, or it can force you to face all the uncomfortable feelings of obligation and unbalance and find another way to give back.
Here are some of things you could do:
- Cook dinner for friends. Even if they invite you over, turn up with your larder in tow and take over their kitchen! It can feel weird at first, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
- Offer your skills to help out. Type something, mend something, teach something… whatever you do, it’s useful and can be a refreshing form of exchange. The only danger is that skills often have a monetary value. Try to avoid cost comparisons and feel your way to a fair exchange.
- Use your more unusual talents. My ability to spot a four-leafed clover at 50 paces has provided untold delight throughout the years.
- Run errands. Pick up a parcel; pop to the shops; give them a lift; help paint a wall. Your help saves them time, may save them money (professionals aren’t cheap) and adds an element of fun and companionship to an otherwise arduous task. Not to be underestimated.
- Plants. For me, this is the ultimate free gift. If a friend admires your plants, dig one up and pass it on. As a great many plants reproduce themselves so it’s only a matter of time before you have some to share.
- Raid a garage sale or thrift shop. The rule here is affordable, but delightful. Look for fun, unusual, out-of-the-ordinary items that are guaranteed to raise a smile. Something from their childhood, unusual books, the missing ‘Beano’ comic they never read… you get the idea.
- Make a mix-tape. Ok, I’ve never done this – I’m not that clued up on music – but this has to be one of the most successful no-cost gifts of all time. Why does it work so well? It’s personal. You’re sharing something important to you and you’re thinking hard about the person you’re sharing it with. Even if it’s not their thing, they’ll know.
- Be there. Be a friend. Listen to them; laugh with them; remind them you care. There’s no greater gift you can give.
So there you have it. Low cost to no-cost, meaningful, gifts.
I think it’s because we can’t easily place a monetary value on these gifts, that we’re in danger of believing they have no value at all. And for the very reason that they are so personal, we can reach a dangerous conclusion: that we have no value if we resort to these gifts. But giving personal things changes our value system. It asks us to open up, be vulnerable, give of ourselves. We have to be creative, inventive, spontaneous: we have to have fun. We are asked to be there for someone, see them and know who they are.
We connect. We feel powerful and capable; we learn the art of accepting help in return.
And, the same way we know how much money something is worth, you’ll find you know when the balance is right. After a few faltering attempts (‘you gave me this so I should give you that’, ‘no I couldn’t possibly accept’) we find ourselves in a new rhythm of give and take that is simply delightful for all.
What’s your favourite way of giving back?