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How to give generously with only $5

A few years ago, I attended Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference. The premise – we are important characters in an epic story and our lives should reflect that.

One point that stuck out to me was when Don said, “Nobody goes to the movies to watch a film about a guy pining over a Volvo only to end with him driving a new one off the lot. Yet that’s life for many.”

I agree.

Similarly, nobody wants to watch a movie where a couple shops to buy presents for their kids only to end with a scene of those kids surrounded by piles and piles of shredded gift wrap. And yet, that’s Christmas for so many people.

At the end of the conference I was given the opportunity to take an envelope. Each one had a $5, $10 or $20 bill and instructions to use the money to change a story. My envelope had $5.

How to give generously with only $5The money could be given away or invested in any number of creative ways to be grown and then given.

I thought it was a wonderful idea and suddenly, it hit me, “What if we did that for Christmas?”

I brought the idea up to my pastor, a great man eager to do things that make people think and act more intentionally. He loved it and quickly shared it with other pastors. Soon, it was a community-wide effort, with several churches participating in the Change Christmas campaign.

It was a huge success and those involved shared story after story of building and strengthening relationships with this new mindset. As you can imagine, I was blown away by the results and deeply honored to be a part of it.

Could you do the same?

It doesn’t have to be community-wide, church-wide, or even family-wide. It could just start with you and the desire to give more intentionally at Christmas. To make the focus not on presents, but presence.

What if you set a limit for gifts? A small one that made you think, stretch and embrace creativity?

How to give generously with only $5

Could you give generously with only $5?

This, of course, is the question that pops up the most. How is it possible to create so much change with such a small amount of money?

The possibilities are endless, really, but I thought I’d share a few with you so you can see just how simple it is to make a big impact with a small budget.

1. Teach

Do you have a skill you could teach someone? Let’s say you make amazing jam (can we be friends?). You could use the money to buy ingredients for a small batch and then spend the afternoon teaching someone you love. And then gift them the jam.

2. Serve

Maybe you like to work in the yard. That $5 could be used to buy a pair of gloves to stay at a friend or family member’s house where you offer to pull weeds once a month.

3. Feed

If everybody raves about your homemade bread or your amazing chocolate chip cookies, make a batch for a loved one or someone you’ve wanted to connect with (also see above about us being friends). You probably have everything on hand but a few simple (cheap) ingredients.

But go a step beyond just giving it to them. Make a point to enjoy it together and spend the time building your relationship.

How to give generously with only $5

4. Multiply

This was one of the coolest parts of Change Christmas. One group of people at a local church worked at the same medical clinic. They had a co-worker whose husband had just had surgery. It had snowed a great deal and neither had the strength to shovel the driveway.

These people pooled their money and paid someone to keep their home cleared of snow. Could you do something like that with your family?

5. Love

It’s really all about loving each other and finding ways to build and strengthen relationships. One couple I know did this by purchasing index cards and a small box with their five dollars.

They took 12 cards, and wrote a group activity on each one (a combination of seasonal activities and your typical game night). After putting the cards in the small box, with dividers for each month, they presented it to her parents on Christmas.  And then, throughout the next year, they spent time together, growing their relationship.

Everyone loved it.

How to give generously with only $5

Need a few more examples?

Here are some other ideas from people changing Christmas (and loving one another) with $5:

  • Buy a sketch pad and colored pencils and draw portraits.
  • Buy a nice skein of yarn to make a hat or scarf.
  • Buy a yard of fabric to make an apron for a little girl. Then invite her over to make cookies.
  • Buy a deck of cards for someone with the promise to come play once a month (hit up the Dollar Tree and you have five fun dates to look forward to each month!).
  • Buy a friend a $5 gift card to her favorite coffee shop and offer to watch her kids for the afternoon.

All it takes is love, creativity and action.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Lina

    Awesome post. So inspired. Gonna go and do something to change

  2. Seana Turner

    Love the idea of multiply. This is so smart for teachers… they don’t need another mug, but they might really love something that is too pricey for one family, but affordable if the class pulls together!

    • joanie ledbetter

      I love the getting back to basics…stress free suggestions and they are full of love. I sent this to my sister in Az, she will love this, she is so crafty and will love your ideas.. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Looking forward to your emails…

    • Aimee @ Whispers of Worth

      We used the money for teacher gifts to purchase a surprise round trip ticket for my son’s teacher to visit his only son across the country where he is attending graduate school. The rest of the money was used to help him purchase the weather station he really wanted. Pooling the money was the best way to provide two very memorable gifts!

      • Nina

        That is really awesome! I love it!

  3. Susan

    Thank you for sharing. I tend to get caught up in the shopping frenzy more than I intend. This is a great idea!

  4. laura b

    what a great idea!

  5. Ann

    We’ve done this over the years with our children. They get $20 and do whatever they want over the course of December to share the Christmas Spirit. On Christmas Eve we gather and share with one another what we’ve done. Two favorites from years past were 1. I had a friend deployed in Afghanistan who said the children there were freezing. My daughter bought gloves and hats and shipped them to him to hand out. 2. My very young son bought a nativity and delivered it to the newlywed wife of a newly deployed Marine, one piece each night, until baby Jesus was delivered on Christmas Eve. He said he thought it might help her to not be lonely for Christmas. I’m currently loving the #LIGHTtheWORLD campaign on It’s teaching me that in little ways I can make a difference in people’s lives just like my Savior and Redeemer did when He walked the earth. The Spirit of Christmas is truly a spirit of giving and of love. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas!

    • Karen

      Ann ,
      What a thoughtful young man you are raising. I love his idea of the nativity set !! He is definetly insipiring !!

    • Ingrid

      Hi Ann
      Your little boys gift of the nativity brought a tear to my eye. I wanted to commend you on raising children who understand the meaning of Christmas. So many children today just think it is about getting gifts.
      Merry Christmas to you and your family

  6. Jeanne

    Christmas Presence ❤️

  7. Zie

    Aww, this is our new tradition the $5 gift challenge (€5 in our case) 🙂 .

  8. Lee Ann

    What a lovely, thoughtful idea. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. Wael

    Hi Nina,

    It has never been the amount that counts .. I have been always fascinated with the small starts/ideas that turns into bigger effects by leveraging creativity and compounding value. Nice ideas that are worth doing year round.

  10. Hannah Beth Reid

    These are all wonderful ideas!
    My daddy’s biggest client used to give elaborate gift baskets and a fancy party (which I doubt many enjoyed attending), but then switched to giving each employee an equivalent amount of money to use generously. The only rule was you couldn’t just donate it to a cause…you and your family found a way to personally bless someone with the money. People then reported back at the January staff meeting as to how they used the money. The results were far better than a night out and a strange cheese basket!

  11. Kay

    What beautiful ideas. We could do some of these in the community where I live. Thanks for sharing.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Baby!

  12. Maria

    These are all such great ideas. I am going to have to try some of them. Thank you.

  13. Lori

    What a sweet, sweet idea 🙂

  14. Roseanne

    I thought of another idea… How about buying flower seeds, planting a little flower garden, then giving bouquets to friends and neighbors when they bloom? Thank you! I loved the inspiration.

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