The coronavirus pandemic and social distancing are things I’ve never experienced before.
Despite the big changes, I feel very fortunate that our family is healthy, our finances are in good shape despite the recent stock market decline, and we have adjusted to the new schedule without schools and daycare. While we don’t enjoy isolation and social distancing, we recognize the good it will do for the community. We have no genuine complaints.
We are extremely fortunate and I am personally grateful to be in this position. But not everyone is so fortunate, and so, it’s incumbent on us to try to help others whenever possible. If you feel the same, there are ways to give back to your community and support it in ways that won’t impact your finances. It will also feel good to take control and do something, rather than simply wait out a stay-at-home order.
If you have the financial means to give back, please do. But if you don’t, there are plenty of other ways to boost morale and help others that don’t cost much money. I know it sounds silly, but something as simple as sharing a restaurant’s post about their curbside pickup specials can go a long way.
Let’s go over a few ideas:
1. Check-in with elderly family members or neighbors.
Social isolation is a common problem for many of the elderly. But the implementation of social distancing is making that isolation even more pronounced. People who had few visitors in the past are now getting none at all.
Make yourself available to any elderly person you know, just in case they don’t have anyone else checking in on them. It could be as simple as making a phone call and chatting with them for a few minutes every few days.
Even better, offer to pick up any necessary items they may need. While it may be easy for you to run to the store on short notice, it could be a major inconvenience for an elderly person. Try your best to sanitize the packaging before handing it off, just in case they don’t have the means to do so.
My wife’s grandmother lives by herself in Wisconsin, and we were able to place a grocery store order through a delivery service. She told us some of the items she needed, we used the app on our phone, and were able to get her a delivery that afternoon. Given her age, she’s in a high-risk group, so this was far better than her driving to the store herself.
2. Shop at local businesses.
Small, locally-owned businesses may be the biggest victims of social distancing. To help alleviate that, shop at local businesses whenever you can and as often as you can. If you don’t need anything, consider buying a gift card and using it later. You can always give it as a gift!
Restaurants in our area can no longer sit customers and have transitioned to curbside pickup. If you want a break from cooking, give your local restaurant a call and see what their options are. Many will even deliver food to your car as you wait, limiting the need to go inside. It’s recommended you wipe off the packaging with sanitizing wipes to be cautious, but the food inside is safe.
When we do need to go to a grocery store, we visit a smaller family-operated neighborhood grocery store, because it has fewer visitors. They don’t have the selection that a larger supermarket has, but it has enough to make the trip worth it. They also offer a special time (10 AM to 1 PM) just for elderly and high-risk people, so they can shop with less worry, which is something I appreciate, even though I don’t need it. I’ve heard of some larger chains doing this as well, which I think is great.
3. Keep in touch with friends and family regularly.
As necessary as social distancing may be in combating the coronavirus, it’s also separating us at the very time when we need human contact more than ever. But thanks to technology, we can still keep in close, regular contact with everyone we know, even without face-to-face meetings.
Make a list of everyone you know, and be intentional about calling, texting, emailing, and even setting up video chats with each. This will be especially important to do if you are one of the millions of Americans who have been temporarily furloughed. And not only will you help those you stay in contact with, but you’ll also be providing yourself with a healthy dose of emotional support.
One of the fun ways we’ve kept in touch is online game nights. One of our friends set up a Zoom meeting and a party-style game on their computer. We all “called” into the conference call and played Drawful together. It wasn’t like being there in-person, but it was a pretty good approximation and gave us a chance to get together. It was funny to run into common awkward conference call situations, like two people talking at once and not being able to hear each other, but no one offered to “take it offline” or “circle back.”
4. Remember local charities.
By staying home, we’ve saved quite a bit of money, because we aren’t spending it on our usual expenses like gasoline, meals, or happy hours. If there ever was a silver lining, it’s that we can now give more to our favorite charities, many of which are feeling the pinch. If you’re in a similar situation, a little bit could go a long way to an organization in need.
One good place to donate would be your local hospital. Right now, many of them are short on supplies, especially personal protective equipment like N95 masks, and a small donation from you could very well save someone’s life. With equipment in such short supply, even a small number of masks would help significantly. Most hospitals have a donations page where you can make contributions.
Your local food bank may also be a good option because they will feel the strain as families need more. If you have any excess items, offer to donate them to a local food bank. If middle-class families have had difficulty getting basic food and supplies, the situation is likely even more difficult for low-income people. They’re forced to increasingly rely on local food banks, and those food banks get their supplies from donations from members of the community.
This is also true for those with school-aged children. A lot of families rely on the school system for providing meals, and the program could be under pressure to still provide those meals. If you have the resources, you may wish to consider supporting those programs as well.
5. Fun Surprises for Kids
One of the big challenges during this self-isolation period is that it’s difficult to find new things for kids to do each day. One thing many families have done is walk or hike together. I’ve been reading a lot of stories about how neighbors are building in little moments of joy into those walks by putting bears in their windows, decorating with holiday lights, or creating works of art with sidewalk chalk.
Every few days we walk out to our neighbors and write notes and draw pictures at the end of their driveway. They do the same for us. It’s a fun little diversion that helps us forget that we can’t spend time in person with one another, but we can still build in moments of joy.
It’s fun to create and discover something new and these rarely cost a penny.
Like every other calamity we have faced, the coronavirus will pass – hopefully, sooner than later. There’s plenty we can do to spread goodwill, as well as create a sense of personal mission and contribution, and I hope you found a few you can try today.
Related: Giving Back on a Budget
Jim Wang is the founder of personal finance blog Wallet Hacks. He uses his engineering background to demystify complicated financial topics to help you achieve your goals. Jim has been featured in The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur magazine, and more. He lives in Maryland with his lovely wife and three children.