We all have a deep-seated desire to help the people we care about. In fact, helping people in general is scientifically proven to make you happier. If a friend is struggling financially, giving them a loan or money gift will light up the pleasure centers in your brain like a Christmas tree.
But not everyone is in a position to help their loved ones financially. So many people are struggling to make ends meet themselves, and giving any significant sum of money could jeopardize their own finances.
Thankfully, helping a friend in need doesn’t require opening your wallet. There are plenty of ways you can help a friend or family member to improve their financial situation without spending a dime–here are some of the best.
Offer to babysit
Nowadays, babysitters earn almost $15 an hour. In other words, enjoying a night out with your significant other or by yourself is a luxury. Paying for someone to watch your kids can cost as much as dinner and a movie.
If you know your friends haven’t had a night to themselves in a while, offer to watch the kids for an evening. It’s one of the most selfless ways you can help, especially if your friends have multiple kids or young children who need a watchful eye.
You can also offer to babysit if your friends need a few hours to apply for jobs or find an outfit for an interview.
“When I needed to go to an interview or networking event, my mom stepped in to look after my two-year-old,” said lawyer Rebecca G. Neale. “It was a win all around: She loved seeing him, he loved being there, and I was able to do what I needed to get a new job.”
Bring over food
In a time of crisis, many cultures respond by bringing over a dish – or a whole meal. My experience living in the South and Midwest taught me that a casserole is always an appropriate reaction to a funeral or family disaster.
Bringing over food can also be a lifesaver for families struggling to get back on their feet. If you’re going to make food, consider whether the people have any food allergies or dietary preferences. Bringing over a beef lasagna to a family of vegetarians isn’t helpful. The best meals should be easy to freeze or reheat.
If you aren’t confident in your cooking abilities, you can also bring over a care package of grocery staples, such as noodles, pasta sauce, frozen veggies and canned fruit.
Provide a service you excel at
Everyone has a talent. Some people can fix a toilet in less time than it takes to call a plumber. Others can get to the bottom of a tech problem in no time. A select few are even strong enough to open tricky peanut butter jars. The point is, we all have something to offer.
Julie Rains of Investing to Thrive recommends donating your skills to someone else, whether it’s helping them move or cleaning out their gutters. You’ll save them money by giving your time and expertise for a service they’d normally have to pay for.
If you really want to help, find out what they need done around the house and see if it aligns with your skill set. For example, if they want to throw a yard sale but can’t get everything down from the attic, offer to come over and help them. If they’re behind on filing their taxes, offer to do them for free so they don’t have to pay an accountant.
Aid in their job search
If your friend or family member is having trouble finding work or getting a job interview, you might be able to help.
“I’ve introduced many friends to companies that they were applying to in order to help them advance their career and make more money,” said Lee Huffman of Bald Thoughts.
Ask your friend where they’re applying and look through your LinkedIn profile to see if you have any mutual connections. People switch jobs frequently, and you might be surprised at how many relevant contacts you know.
You can also offer to look over their resume to point out any typos or grammar mistakes. Even if you don’t consider yourself very career-conscious, basic proofreading is a valuable skill that almost anyone can provide.
Another way to help is to conduct a mock interview. Prospective employees rarely get feedback on why they weren’t chosen for a position, so finding weaknesses in someone’s interview skills could help them land a gig.
It can be hard to stand back and watch your loved one make bad financial decisions, but it can be equally hard for them to accept money advice from someone they know so well.
When Jon Dulin of Money Smart Guides had a friend struggling with their finances, he wanted to help without lending money or lecturing him. Instead, Jon talked about what he did when he was broke and how it helped him.
“Most of [my friends] were thankful for having someone to talk to and just bounce ideas, thoughts, and frustrations off of,” he said. “For one friend, I shared about calculating my net worth to see where I was and to motivate me to start paying off debt and saving more. He ended up starting to calculate his net worth and has improved his finances as a result.”
Listen without judging
One of the worst ways to get someone to listen to you is to make them feel worse about their decisions. Whenever they talk about their issues, try to listen more than you talk. If your friend is complaining about their car getting repossessed, don’t lecture them on the danger of leasing a vehicle they can’t afford—just sit back and try to be supportive.
Eventually, if you prove to be a worthy confidant, you might be able to offer advice that they’re willing to actually utilize. Until then, just be a good and patient friend. The best thing anyone can do is provide a safe space where their friend can feel comfortable admitting their struggles.
Helping someone in need doesn’t always require cold hard cash. From cooking them meals, to helping look over their resume—there’s always something else you can offer your family and friends in their troubled times.