This is how you pinch pennies without looking like a greedy crank.

I was talking with a friend–let’s call her Noel–about her stress with money during the holidays. Right now, Noel is doing great with her money. She is saving for a vacation, getting rid of debt, and paying her bills.

But Noel worries about becoming a depressed Scrooge in the coming months. How can she have fun with so little money left at the end of the month?

And with the holidays around the corner, what about being generous with friends and family? No one ever wants to seem cheap or greedy.

Thriftiness is about being efficient, not selfish.

Do you have a friend who keeps skipping out on paying for drinks when you know they can afford it? It’s frustrating to see someone leech off a group, but don’t call them frugal.

These bad apples give frugal and thrifty people a bad name. They’re selfish and cheap.

Being thrifty isn’t about taking advantage of others’ kindness or buying only the cheapest items available. Stretching your money is about being efficient, hunting for good deals, and finding value.

I ran out of fresh contact lenses this month, and I called my optometrist to buy more. A year’s supply through them costs $200, but if I go to 1800Contacts.com, the same product is only $130.

Saving $70 in five minutes doesn’t make me cheap. It makes me smart and thrifty. Now I have $70 I can use for having fun or giving to others.

Science says generosity can get you high.

Helping others feels good, and there’s research to back up the claim. In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky points out some interesting studies.

Being generous with your time or money can help create a sense of meaningfulness and value. It feels good to be wanted, needed, or appreciated.

Helping others also comes back later to help you. You may have heard of the “rule of reciprocity,” and the fancy term is reciprocal altruism. Being generous to others means they will most likely return the favor.

Plus, you can get an addicting high, too! Do you know that one person who is always volunteering? Now you know her dirty little secret. Helping others feels so good it has been described as a “helper’s high.”

But what if you don’t have any money left to give?

If you’re low on funds, donating your time is just as valuable.

Being responsible with your money can feel daunting. Pay down debt. Save for retirement. Save for vacation. Save for a house. Pay the bills. Buy a car.

At this point, being generous can feel ridiculous, but there is some good news. Time is money, so if you’re short on cash, be generous with your time.

I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for the first time this past weekend. There were twenty volunteers, and it took eight hours out of our Saturday. But the future home transformed from a concrete slab to a framed skeleton.

The family in need didn’t want our money; they needed our muscles. All we did was swing hammers, and our efforts saved $10,000.

Sure, we could have all donated $500 and stayed home. But it was easier for some volunteers to give eight hours on the weekend instead.

If you don’t have much money for gifts, be generous with your time. Have coffee with your grandparents. Play a board game with your niece. Make some spiked hot chocolate with friends.

Time is just as valuable as money, and you’ll be happier spending the time.

8 steps to become thrifty and generous.

If you’re afraid of turning into a Scrooge, go through this list to help you save money, be generous, and feel happier.
  1. Pick one category you feel like you spend too much on (e.g., eating out, entertainment, or shopping).
  2. Figure out how much you spent on the category last month. Pro Tip: Try using a tracking app like Mint, EveryDollar, or YNAB.
  3. Brainstorm ways to cut the amount in half and still get the same benefit (e.g., cook at home, get rid of cable, or get a library card).
  4. Make a list of who you want to give gifts to this holiday season.
  5. Decide how to spend two hours of quality time with everyone on your list instead of buying a gift.
  6. Make a list of 5 charities you are interested in helping. Here are some of my suggestions:
    1. Boys and Girls Club
    2. United Way
    3. Habitat for Humanity
    4. Junior Achievement
    5. Girls, Inc.
    6. Catholic Charities
    7. local food pantries
  7. Pick one charity, find an email, and ask them, “How can I help?”
  8. Add one day of volunteering to your calendar.

Good luck and have fun! And so I can help in the future, what other charities do you volunteer your time? Tell me in the comments.

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