50 Random Acts of Kindness That Don’t Cost a Cent

You don't have to have a lot—or anything at all—to give a lot. These expert-recommended random acts cost you nothing but will reap rewards of joy.

Senior mother sitting in cafe bar or restaurant with her middle age daughter and enjoying in conversation.hedgehog94/Shutterstock

Register to vote

A great way to make positive change both in your community and on a national level is to vote, but you can’t cast a vote if you’re not registered. Not sure? Take 30 seconds now to visit Vote.org and check your status. If you’re not registered, sign up today. And while you’re in the mood for something nice, check out our Nicest Place in America competition.

Get active in the community

Don’t waste your patriotic rights by sitting on the sidelines. Now that you’re registered to vote, get involved in local elections. You can help support candidates you like, volunteer at a voting center, or even run for office yourself! Just make sure you turn in your ballot on time.

Use your turn signal

The world would be a much less stressful place if everyone remembered to use their blinker when turning or merging into traffic. It takes just a moment to let the driver behind you know what you’re doing, and then we can all just relax and enjoy the ride.

Ditch single-use plastic water bottles

Chances are you’ve got a water bottle (or ten) rolling around your house. Do the planet a favor and use it instead of disposable plastic bottles of water. Sure, the disposables are convenient, but using reusable bottles is a kindness to the planet—and your wallet will thank you too. Check out lots more ways you and your kids can help save the planet in five minutes or less.

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Be honest… even if it makes you look bad

We live in a society that prioritizes appearance over reality, but while photoshopping your Facebook pictures or fudging your productivity numbers at work may make you feel better in the moment, ultimately it brings everyone down. The next time you’re tempted to tell even a small lie, do the kind thing and tell the truth.

Save a seal and snip the plastic rings on packs of cans

Who hasn’t seen a heartbreaking picture of a bird or other animal caught in a snare of plastic discarded from soda or beer cans? Fortunately, this is easy to avoid—simply take a few extra seconds to snip all the links before you toss them in the trash.

Share a toothy grin with a stranger

Grins are gifts, especially when given freely with no ulterior motives. Giving a pleasant smile and a nod to a passerby is one of the quickest, easiest ways to brighten someone’s day. Plus, just the act of smiling will give you a little boost of happiness too. Get more good feelings—check out these random acts of kindness that actually changed someone’s life.

Register to be an organ donor

Organ donation is the gift that keeps on giving. Check to see if you’re registered or sign up to be an organ donor on the National Organ Donor Registry. Make sure to discuss your wishes with your family members—it can be a tough conversation but it will save a lot of pain and confusion later.

Sign up for the bone marrow registry

The one big downside to organ donation is you won’t be alive to see your donation change a life. But you can always donate your bone marrow! Signing up is as easy as going to Be the Match and requesting a kit.

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Call your mom

Just because you don’t live with her anymore doesn’t mean she stopped caring about you! You don’t have to wait for Mother’s Day or her birthday; give her an unexpected call to check in and say hi. Don’t have a mom available? Call your dad or call a person who was just like a parent to you.

Leave a ~nice~ comment on the Internet

The Internet is rife with people arguing about every topic under the sun, and it’s all too easy to forget that the person on the other side of the screen is a real human being. Use your keyboard to uplift, sympathize with, comfort, or compliment an internet stranger. A little kindness can change a whole online conversation!

Shorten your shower

Reducing the time you spend standing under the hot water not only shows kindness to the earth and to other people in your house who may also want to shower but it can also save you money on your water bill. It’s a small sacrifice for some big wins.

Break out the Monopoly board

Kids are astonishingly easy to please and one of the things they like best is the gift of your time. Offer to play a few rounds of tag, a board game, cards, or Pretty Pretty Princess and watch their eyes light up with delight. Check out some more tiny ways to encourage your kids every day.

Woman holding folded clothes in hands, closeupAfrica Studio/Shutterstock
Clean out your closet and donate to a charity

Keeping clothing and home goods that you no longer need clutters your home—and your emotions. Clean up your space and do a kindness by donating your gently used items to a local charity. Think beyond for-profit thrift stores and donation centers and consider giving to homeless shelters or organizations that help battered women or children in foster care. Here are some more powerful ways to give to charity without breaking the bank.

Ask someone how they are doing and then really listen

How often do you say, “How are you?” only to hear “Fine, and you?” All the time, probably. But people aren’t always “fine” and many could really use a kind, listening ear. If you’re talking to someone you know, ask them about something specific in their lives. If it’s a stranger, allow them to elaborate more, if they like. The real kindness is to listen with compassion and without judgments or interruptions.

Make a list of things you love about your partner

Living with someone can drain the romance out of even the best relationships. (Especially once you’ve seen the barbaric way they squeeze the toothpaste from the middle!) As a counterpoint to life’s daily annoyances, make a list of things you love about your partner and share it with them. Here are 12 more tiny ways to make your partner feel loved.

Volunteer at the local food pantry in the summer

Food pantries are packed with people wanting to help… at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But people get hungry year round! Make a difference by signing up to volunteer now. As an extra (but not free) kindness, bring a bag of food with you to donate.

Give someone the benefit of the doubt

How often has someone bumped you, given you a dirty look, or even snapped at you and your first reaction is to be offended? It’s an understandable impulse, but it is so much kinder to not assume the worst about the other person and give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they lost their job, stubbed their toe, or are just having a really horrible day. Spread a little kindness by not returning anger with anger. Find out the daily habits of naturally polite people.

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Call the grocery store manager to compliment your checker

When you receive bad service at a business, you may be quick to call and complain. But how quick are you to recognize and compliment stellar service? When someone goes out of their way to help you or goes the extra mile in their job, take a few minutes to let their boss know.

Ask a nearby person to get the cereal off the top shelf at the store for you

Or ask them to hand you a magazine in a waiting room or for a hand up when you fall. It seems counterintuitive but asking a small favor is an act of kindness: People love being able to help others out. It’s a win-win, where everyone feels a little happier afterward. (Plus, you don’t have to climb on the shelves to get your cereal.)

Leave a positive online review for the coffeehouse down the street

Reviews can make or break a business, especially a smaller local one. So when you find the perfect little Mexican restaurant or a stylish boutique, make sure you review them on Google or Yelp and let the world know how great they are. You’re helping the business owner and helping your neighbors find a local gem. It’s one of the random acts of kindness you can do today.

Give a little blood

Blood banks are almost always in need of a fresh supply and for the price of 15 minutes and a needle stick, you could help save a life. If you have a needle phobia or can’t donate blood, you can always volunteer your time at the blood bank, sweeping floors or handing out cookies and juice.

Put the dishes in the dishwasher

Dishes are such a small thing but since we use them every day the dirty cups, plates, bowls, and silverware accumulate quickly. Do the others in your house a kindness but putting dishes in the dishwasher whenever you see them in the sink—even if they aren’t yours!

Carry a pack of sticky notes and a marker

Want to leave a quick compliment for a coworker, a lunch note for a child, a love letter for a spouse, or even a “You’re doing better than you think you are” boost for a stranger? Carry a pack of sticky notes and a colored marker, so whenever the kind impulse strikes you are ready!

Father And Son Discussing Basketball On Porch Of HomeMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Tell your kid one thing they do really well

As parents, your job is to correct and teach your child—but don’t let those comments outnumber your kind and loving observations. Pointing out a talent your child has, recognizing a chore they completed or acknowledging a recent success will make them feel awesome in the moment—and that moment may stay with them forever.

Take your shopping cart all the way back to the store

Nothing is more annoying for shoppers or store employees than finding random shopping carts shoved up on curbs, wedged between parked cars, or (worst of all) roaming freely through the parking lot where they might roll into a car door. At the very least put yours securely in a cart corral. But for a real kindness, take the extra 50 steps and walk it back to the store.

Set up a neighborhood carpool

Watch out for the environment and the neighborhood kids by setting up carpools for local trips, school runs, soccer teams, and other activities. Need some more inspiration? Check out these 19 compassionate quotes that will inspire kindness.

Brush up your CPR skills

CPR can be a powerful tool for saving the life of a loved one or stranger—but only if you remember how to do it. Brush up your skills with a refresher course from the Red Cross. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve got a stocked first aid kit in your car and know how to use it. You never know when you’ll need it!

Handwrite and deliver a thank-you note

In this day of email and texting, a hand-written note is a rarity and shows the person took extra thought and care into choosing their words and making sure you got the message. Send a thank you note to an old teacher, reach out to a college friend, or send a romantic letter to your partner.

Young woman with a baby boy standing against the wall.Halfpoint/Shutterstock
Offer to babysit for a friend

Being a new mom or dad is tough and parenting doesn’t get any easier over the next 18 years. Taking your friend’s kids for an hour or two is a wonderful act of kindness and can make the difference between a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day and peace.

Thank a veteran for their service

The next time you see a veteran or an active member of the military, take a few minutes to thank them for their service to our country and for their personal sacrifice. Want to do more? Try one of these 10 ways to help veterans through acts of kindness.

Donate your extra candy

If it’s around Halloween or another candy-filled holiday, donate your extra treats to others in need of a sweet smile. You can give it to Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to our troops, or check out these other great ways to donate sweet treats.

Leave extra coupons on the item at the store

Got a few extra minutes and the weekly ad? Tear out the coupons and leave any you don’t use on the product at the store. It will save someone else a few bucks and bring a smile to their face. It’s like a surprise scavenger hunt where everyone wins.

Let someone merge in front of you on the highway

Road rage can easily overcome your better emotions, especially when you’re in high-pressure driving situations, like jammed freeways. Help keep everyone calm and happy on their commute by letting someone merge in front of you—even if they don’t “deserve” it. It’s quick, easy to do, and it may even help lower your blood pressure too.

Two smiling young female friends in sportswear high fiving each other while sitting on the floor of a gymFlamingo Images/Shutterstock

Give someone a high five at the gym

It’s pretty much a fact of life: Everyone feels at least a little self-conscious and awkward at the gym. After all, you’re doing really weird movements while wearing relatively little clothing! Give someone else encouragement and kudos for their hard work by offering a friendly smile, a thumbs up, a helping hand, or a high five.

Volunteer to be the designated driver

Keep your friends and family safe and happy by making sure they make it home after a night out. By volunteering to be the designated driver once in a while, you offer a valuable service to your pals—and to the public.

Mow your neighbor’s lawn

You’ve already got the mower out, powered up, and ready to go so why not take a few minutes to mow your neighbor’s stretch that borders yours, too? Or go the extra mile and mow their whole lawn—this is an especially kind service for the elderly, disabled, or single parents. These 24 stories about the kindness of strangers will make you tear up.

Pick up trash at the beach

Bring an extra garbage bag on your next outdoor adventure to pick up extra trash, along with your own, as you go. Sure, you didn’t make that mess, but it will just take you a few minutes to clean it up—and make the outdoors a little bit more beautiful for everyone.

Give a stranger a compliment

Giving someone a (non-creepy) compliment—think: “You have a lovely smile,” “You’re really great at your job,” or “I love your shoes”—can make their day. For some inspiration, try these 10 little compliments you should be giving every day.

summer holidays and technology concept - group of teenagers taking photo outsideSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Offer to take a photo

Next time you’re at a popular tourist spot, an event or gathering, or a picturesque landmark, chances are you’ll spot a group of young (or maybe not-so-young!) people trying to take a selfie, or one member of a group taking pictures of everyone else. Ask them if they’d like you to take a picture of all of them together.

Hold the door

Random acts of kindness don’t get much simpler than this. Rather than letting a door swing behind you when you go through it, see if there’s anyone behind you and hold it open for them.

Clear the table

If you’re at a dinner party, or simply sitting down for a meal with the family, don’t just scoop up your own dishes and be on your way. Making sure everyone is done eating first, of course, take a couple more plates with you on your way to the kitchen. Especially if someone else did the cooking, your fellow diners are sure to appreciate the gesture.

Say, “This made me think of you”

Hear a song on the radio that you used to belt out with your old buddies? Drive by a spot that a family member used to bring you when you were little? It’s easy to take the moment for granted and let it pass, but next time it happens, give the person a call or a text. Tell them what you saw and that it reminded you of great times with them. Maybe they remember it too, maybe they don’t. Either way, you’ve probably just brightened their day.

Use leftovers

Americans throw out exorbitant amounts of food every day. If you can’t eat everything you make in one sitting, don’t toss it. Most foods will keep at least until the next day; many others can last even longer if you freeze them. Not only will this help reduce food waste, but it’ll also save you time and money since you’ll already have a future meal or two ready to go. To get started, check out these storage tips to help your food last longer.

Pick up groceries

Next time you make a run to the grocery store or the department store, shoot a text to your family or your roommates asking if there’s anything they’d like you to pick up for them. Keep the receipt so that they can pay you back. They’ll be grateful you saved them the trip!

Woman hand accepting a delivery of boxes from deliverymancomzeal images/Shutterstock

Help out your mail carrier

If it’s brutally cold or rainy outside, you can imagine it’s probably a rough day to be a postal carrier or garbage collector. So when you see them, offer them a cup of hot chocolate. Same goes for scorching hot days; keep some cold water or lemonade on hand.

Check in

If someone you know has recently gone through a loss, a hospital stint, or even just sent a kid off to college, check in on them and ask how they’re doing. In addition to the immediate aftermath of the loss, reach out to them after three weeks or a month and let them know you’re still thinking of them. When people go through a tough time, support usually pours in for the first few weeks and then subsides, but the person could still be having a difficult time weeks later and will be sure to appreciate your kind words.

Ask for a recipe

If you’re eating someone else’s cooking and you discover something especially delicious, go above and beyond just telling them how good it tastes. Ask for the recipe! This is the ultimate way to give your compliments to the chef, and they’ll enjoy a nice self-esteem boost.

Grab lunch with a new co-worker

The first day at a new job can be nerve-wracking. If there’s a new face in your office, ask if they want to grab lunch with you, or simply offer to show them around the office. Thanks to this simple gesture, they’ll feel comforted knowing that you’re a friendly face.

Swap seats on public transportation

If you’re on a crowded bus, train, or plane, and you see a family get on board and start scanning the crowd for adjacent seats, offer to move so that parents and kids can sit together. They might be too shy to speak up and ask outright, but chances are, they won’t turn down the chance to sit together! Next, check out even more simple acts of kindness you can do in two minutes or less.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.