13 Ways To Be Nice That Will Cost You Barely Anything

by Julie Rains on 8 April 2008 22 comments
Photo: proudmurphy

It's not expensive to be nice -- in fact, it often costs nothing as Paul mentioned last week. Here are 12 easy ways to be nice that cost zero and a bonus idea that will set you back just a buck or two.  

1.  Say "take your time" and mean it. Truly, I am not one of those people who wait until the cashier finishes ringing up all purchases before starting to look for a form of payment; my card-sliding, coin-counting (pre-sorted), and button-pressing prowess has not stopped the next in line from pressing forward, snooping over my shoulder as I finish my transactions, clearly violating my space, and acting as if the millisecond of waiting for my receipt shows that I am hopelessly slow and not worthy of occupying a square inch of shopping floor space. Though I am not patient naturally, my disdain for the hurry-uppers has calmed me and seems to be contagious. However, don't take kindness and patience as license to be oblivious to the needs of others.

2.  Ask your friends if they want to borrow your stuff, not randomly, but upon detection of a need. For example, I offered my pet carrier to neighbors who needed something to transport a newly adopted dog. My sister-in-law bought the carrier for our family so it seemed natural to share this gift. And, when my son's friend went on his first-ever ski trip, it made sense to offer an extra pair of long underwear; they're expensive to buy and easily outgrown by a teenager. I've also been the beneficiary of a offer when a friend let my family borrow his tent for our first scout camping trip; we've since bought our own but it was nice to test drive one (and let our son decide if he wanted to stick with scouts).

3.  Invite someone to join your group: one that meets regularly, such as your book club or mom's group; or an impromptu gathering for a bike ride or potluck dinner. You might be turned down but you also might be surprised, as I have been, at the impact of a quick phone call. I invited someone to my woman's group at church several months ago and was surprised that 1) she had really wanted someone like me to issue an invitation in order to feel welcome and 2) she had been one of the charter members, but had gotten busy over the years with work and single parenthood.

4.  Use your turn signal. Judging from my experience on the road, the turn signal is an under-used but highly valuable device. Whether it is a hand movement on a bicycle or a flashing light on a motorized vehicle, the signal tells the world what you intend to do, enabling other drivers to avoid accidents and more easily accommodate your desires.

5.  Wave. A friendly wave accomplishes two things: 1) says hello and 2) shows that you acknowledge another person's presence. A cycling buddy waves at cars with drivers who pass carefully and patiently wait at intersections. I have adopted his habit and feel that I have joined a cadre of cycling ambassadors.   

6.  Tell someone what others think of them. Make sure it's pleasant and accurate. A kind word can change someone's perspective and help forge or reinforce friendships.

7.  Wait up especially if you are going on a hike or long walk or are accompanied by someone caring with small children. Having been waited on and having waited for others, I can say that a slower pace can mean more meaningful conversations. There are times, though, that I have asked others to go ahead and wait for me at the finish line. 

8.  Return things you've borrowed.

9.  Respond promptly to invitations. It's okay to say "no" but please do it as quickly as possible.

10.  Say "please" and "thank you."

11.  Be sensitive. Just because you have...parents to watch your kids while you go to dinner or spend a weekend away...plenty of money for vacations each year...family members with no medical issues...a great career in a profession widely respected...doesn't mean everyone else does.

12.  Call or email the parents of your teenagers' friends if you have something important to say. Even the best-raised kids and most well-intentioned parents aren't perfect and don't know everything: you may need to alert them to a major school project, a class registration or scholarship application deadline, unsecured guns in a neighbor's house, or drug possession.

13.  Bring extra to share or just share whether you have extra or not. You might bring extra water, Clif bars, or salty nuts on a hiking trip; or a spare tube and Co2 pump on a bike ride. In the past few days, I have seen others share easily knowing that dehydration, tire flats, and such just happen. Being prepared is great; being prepared and understanding is even better. (This one will cost you $1-$2).

Do you have your own way of being nice that costs nearly nothing or less? Please share if you can.

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Linsey Knerl's picture

All these ideas are great.. traditional, common-courtesy, actually.  Thanks for reminding us that the truly best things in life are free!

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks! Civility goes a long way. Even a big urban area can seem friendly, if most people just follow these habits.

Guest's picture
Maf

I love it when I receive emails from my friends with links to interesting websites or news articles, that they think would be relevant and useful to me, or maybe just make me laugh. There are several websites and blogs that I visit often due to a suggestion from a friend. For example, I have forwarded this blog on to my friends, and I think they have found it useful too. Just be judicious about what you forward on, so that you do not inadvertently become a "spammer" in your friends' eyes.

Guest's picture
C

When my siblings and I learned to drive, my parents told us to alwaysalwaysalways give a wave to someone who has let you change lanes into theirs, whether or not they were nice about it. That wave actually does a lot to dispel road rage.

Guest's picture
Looby

I say hello and thank you everytime I get on and off the bus, I think I must be in a minority for that because drivers frequently recognize me days later.
The other thing is if you are in a store or bank and the person serving you is obviously new, no matter how big of a rush you are in, just keep smiling. Everyone has had a first day somewhere- they suck, don't add to their stress.

Guest's picture
Pete

I juts wanted to say that this is such a great article. I think people need some reminding sometimes about these very easy to achieve ways of being nice.

My favourite has to be number 5. So simple but so effective.

Guest's picture

i love this post, and it truly could not have come at a better time. in the essence of #3, i want to mention to you a project i've been working on.

i'm a senior at the otis college of art and design, and for the senior thesis, myself and 2 other students wanted to do something good for the world. we came up with http://www.thegoodsideof.us, a place to share and talk about little good deeds, to inspire people, and to make the world a little bit better.

we just got it online a few days ago, and there are some kinks to work out. but considering the topic, i thought everyone here might be interested in checking it out.

:-)
love, micah.

Guest's picture
Barbara

There's a guy in my area who leans on his bike, on the sidewalk close to a medium-sized traffic intersection, and just waves hello to drivers who pass by. He's always got a smile on his face. And his grin gets REALLY wide when people actually wave back.

I saw someone try to give him money one time, thinking he was homeless (I don't know if he is or not, but he doesn't look like it) and he refused. Said he just wanted to wish that person a good day by waving. He brightens my day every time I drive by.

Guest's picture
Amy

Another way to be nice is to just be there for someone and listen to what they have to say, even if you may not agree with them.

Guest's picture
Zoot

I do the first one ALL THE TIME. Especially if someone in front of me was rude to the cashier or pushy, I'll make sure when it's my turn that they understand I will NOT be the same way and they can use my turn to take a deep breath. Maybe this is from a few cashier jobs...

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I didn't realize that waving would be so popular. Amy, listening is a great way to be nice -- and asking questions that you then actually listen to the response (Nora mentioned this in a recent post on attending parties). Remembering people's names (which is easy for me if I see the name written) is also nice.

Guest's picture
Jesse

For #2 better hope your friends follow #8 or it might be costing you money ;)

Guest's picture
Debbie M

Yep, #2 is my favorite, but I've learned not to lend people stuff just because I would like them to borrow it. If it turns out they are not interested, they forget all about it and you never get it back.

But I also like #2 because I expand it to include all kinds of other things that are easy for you to do but fulfill a big need you are noticing in someone else. Some things are obvious, like a person with their hands full is approaching a closed door. Letting people vent is a common one. I like finding things others have misplaced. Gardeners like to share produce, seeds, cuttings, etc. And letting people in, in traffic, can make their whole day because it's so rare. One thing about this method is that it requires paying attention (so you notice what other people are wanting), which I'm not that great at.

At work we used to have "treasure bucks" we would give to each other when we went above and beyond the call, and then we could trade these for things like pencils, cups, umbrellas, and binders. I didn't care about the shopping, but I really liked giving those things away. So now I look online for certificate templates and give people certificates for things like Leaping Tall Problems in a Single Bound. Or of course you could write a traditional thank-you note.

I've been taking ballroom dance classes for a while, and that's a situation where you can really feel like an idiot. I find that just smiling when people goof up, pointing out the parts they didn't goof up, learning when to back-lead (when they are totally lost) and when to follow (when they basically get it), ending the move in an exaggeratedly dramatic or elegant position (as if we have been this awesome the whole time) and other similar skills can make a big difference. I guess the general tip is don't take things that aren't serious too seriously, and try to help others do the same.

And I've finally realized that my family really likes to get birthday cards and holiday cards, so I do that now. (This is relatively inexpensive if you get two cards for $1 at a dollar store or if you make your own cards--using affordable supplies--to fit into standard envelopes.)

Complimenting people on things you like is fun, too, plus you often get to learn more about the thing you like.

Guest's picture
Anne Packrat

Holding the door open for people at stores / restaurants is a good easy way to be kind too. People seem to especially like it if you see them coming to the store and hold the door open for them even though it means waiting an extra minute or two for them to actually get there.

Guest's picture
Shelby

The next time you are in line to check out and you are unloading your cart of 600 items, let the person behind you with only an item or two go first.

I also like to take my daughter to Build a bear factory which can be expensive sometimes, so I wait for coupons and discounts. Sometimes when I have multiple coupons, I like to give them to someone in the store with little kids. That way they can get a little extra too.

Guest's picture
Guest

Something else I like to do is smile. I read this poem before and it says, "If you pass someone who is too weary to give a smile, then leave yours". It has always stuck with me. I always smile even if someone looks unhappy.

Guest's picture
Guest

I always keep an extra umbrella, a plastic raincoat with a hood and plastic bags with handles at the office. Then it's ready, if someone needs it.

Guest's picture

Especially with digital cameras and scanners, it's easy to share photos. When I scan an older photo, I send copies by e-mail to my sister if it's a family photo, or to friends who might be in it. When I write to my in-laws who don't do e-mail, I put recent photos into the text of the letter with Word so they can see what the kids look like that week.

When we take photos we notify those who were at the event of where the photos are on photobucket and let them lift or link them.

Guest's picture
Guest

Bless someone each and every day. No matter your religion, God can still bless others and it does make a difference.
500 billion blessings to each and everyone who reads this.

Guest's picture
Guest

om nom nom

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GuestFreddy Gaddles

Pffffttt, Why bother being nice to people. They all hate me anyway.

Julie Rains's picture

I hope they don't; but you don't have to spend (pick up the dinner check, buy a gift, etc.) to be kind.