Jeanne Sahadi Commentary:
Everyday Money by Jeanne Sahadi Column archive
Random acts of money kindness
In the end, it's the little things that you remember. Here's to generous acts, however small.
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) It's been said that "kindness eases everything almost as much as money does."

I might have reversed it: "Money eases everything almost as much as kindness does." (This, no doubt, is why my boss sometimes calls me Ms. Kumbaya.)

Either way, imagine what a powerful impact the two can make when they're combined.

I got the idea for this column from a reader, who told me about the time she left a tip and a kind thank you note for a waitress who hadn't exactly provided great service.

Weeks later, when the reader returned to the restaurant, the waitress "thanked me profusely for my note and tip that night and explained that her husband had left her the day we were there," the reader wrote. "She said that my note had made her believe there were still nice people in the world and that she mattered."

It got me to thinking about other money acts that can have a memorable impact on others because they engender good will or remind us that world is all right (or at least not all bad).

Usually, the phrase "random acts of kindness" is used to describe unexpected generosity or kindness by a stranger. But I see no reason why it can't involve friends, family or colleagues, too.

For instance, soon after college, I'd planned to go with a colleague to a march in Washington. Bob Chandler, a storied newspaper publisher from Oregon who had a fellowship at the center where I was working, insisted on giving us money to buy a good lunch because he wanted to support our efforts.

I didn't know him very well at the time but was moved by his gesture. It was unexpected, generous and kind, which I would later learn was entirely characteristic of Bob.

Certainly such acts can involve far larger sums. I've known people who've quietly paid for the educations of students who impressed them.

But the dollar amount is not a measure of the act. As one French writer put it: "Generosity lies less in giving much than in giving at the right moment."

I asked some folks I know to send in anecdotes from their lives that represent to them acts of money kindness. Here are a few:

  • One colleague, a born-and-bred New Yorker, makes a habit of using his transit card to pay for out-of-towners who fumble for the correct change on the bus.
  • One Christmas, a friend's mother was dying from cancer. It fell to my friend to do all the cooking, buy all the gifts and decorate her family's house. A friend of hers, noticing the effort expended, invited her to a post-holiday dinner where she was presented with a treeful of beautifully wrapped presents. "At a time when I was focusing on my family, she wanted a little focus to splash onto me," my friend wrote.
  • A co-worker found himself a few francs short when he went to buy a bottle of wine in a cash-only store in Paris. A French customer, seeing the problem, quickly offered to cover the difference.
  • My sister was traveling once in a car caravan of friends and when she came to a toll booth, the toll operator told her the car in front of her had already paid her way.
  • Another friend, who chose a career in social service nonprofits, realized that she probably would never work for an employer who could afford a matching program for employees' charitable contributions. Upon learning this, her parents decided they would match her contributions.
  • On the way to a very difficult meeting, that same friend and a few of her colleagues stopped to buy coffee. My friend was buying and the coffee vendor, for no apparent reason, gave her 50 cents off. "I think he could tell we needed a break," she said.
  • A friend was talking with a colleague about a great collection of speeches on tape and urged him to get it. He sent him a link to the relevant page on and included a gift certificate to help purchase the tape.

Of course, not everyone I asked came up with examples, but not necessarily because they couldn't think of any.

As one friend wrote, "I see so many of these kinds of random acts so often, it's hard to separate them out from the weave of daily life."

May that be the case for everyone.

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for You can e-mail her about this or any other column at Top of page