Hi, I'm Stephen Nicholas.

And this is my blog. I'm a software engineer by trade (but mostly for fun) with a wide variety of experience and interests. Some of which I'll write about here.

The Cost of Kindness

I like to think of myself as a pretty generous person, but when it comes to beggars I’m ashamed to say I’m not. If someone asks me for money on the street I’ll probably simply ignore them or mumble something about not having any change, walking past, eyes down, not acknowledging. And looking around, I don’t think I’m the only one.

It’s hard to express my exact reasons for doing so. I think it’s a general mish-mash ranging from ‘It’s my money’, through ‘It’s a scam, they actually have loads of money’ to ‘They’ll probably just spend it on drugs’ and ‘You look scary, I don’t want to interact with you’. It’s not something I’m proud of and it’s not something I like, but it is my natural response. Or at least it used to be.

It actually all started about a year ago, when I saw a TV interview with someone begging on the street and I remember them saying that they’d rather be acknowledged, than simply ignored; even if the person didn’t give any money. And so that’s what I started to do. Whenever someone asked me for money, I’d respond simply saying ‘No, sorry’. Nothing about not having any change or any other kind of half-hearted excuse / bold-faced lie.

I decided that this approach was better (at least I was being forthright about my cheapness), but I got to thinking the other day: What would it actually cost me to say yes? To actually give some money every time someone asked me. And so that’s what I decided to do.

The basic plan was that for one month, every time someone asked me for some money I’d give them £1 and keep a tally of how much it actually cost me. However, to make sure I did things right and didn’t try to weasel out, I decided to come up with a list of rules:

  • Every time I walked by someone and they asked me for some money, I would give them £1.
  • Regardless of when I last gave them some money.
  • I had to be just as active as usual. I couldn’t just sit at home and avoid the issue.
  • I was not going to give any money to chuggers (Charity Muggers), as I personally don’t agree with what they do. I also wasn’t going to sign up to any regular donation schemes.
  • Anyone who knew what I was doing, or appeared to have figured it out, and was trying to game the system, would get nothing.
  • My decision was final (within the spirit of the exercise).

As you can probably guess from that, I was expecting this to be a fairly arduous and expensive enterprise; but hopefully somewhat interesting and illuminating.

So on the first day of April I went to the bank, got out an initial £50 in coins and then the great experiment began…

The Results

Well, it’s actually been 48 days (which should give you some idea of just how terribly costly this has been), I’ve stuck to all the rules outlined above and so far it’s cost me an enormous… £17.

Which breaks down into:

  • £3 for a big issue.
  • £2 for some local kids, raising money for their school, to wash my car.
  • £12 to people begging on the street.

Seriously, that’s it. I’m honestly amazed.

Now, I’m not going to claim this will be the case for everyone. It obviously makes a huge difference where you live, how you commute, how often you go out, etc, etc, but the purpose of this experiment was to see how much it would cost me and so far it’s turned out to be sweet FA.

I mean, I don’t want to harp on about this, but I really am astounded. I’ve been out & about, I’ve been in the local towns & cities during the day, at evenings & weekends, I’ve been up to London a few times and all it’s cost me is £17?! I really expected it to be a lot more.

Putting the financial part to one side, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I also feel I need to share how this has made me feel; to chronicle my thoughts and emotions throughout this titanic endeavour:

Do I feel good about it? Yeah, it’s kind of cool. I think I’m going to keep it up.