I am Jill Ginsberg, a 50-something family physician living in Portland, OR.
I call myself a cheapskate, and people who know me well agree that it is true. I learned to be frugal from a real expert, but with these lessons came some unhelpful ideas about money and what it is for. A miser gene was etched into my DNA long before I had anything to say about it. Even though I make a good living as a professional, I have often felt an abnormal drive to scrimp and save. I have noticed that most people have an easier time than I do parting with their money, even when they have less of it.
I came into some unexpected funds after my mother’s death last year (read more about my mother here). She worked until she was almost 80 and made me the beneficiary of her retirement fund. I wanted to use the money to make a difference, but I also wanted to challenge much of what I had been taught and come to believe about giving, neediness and charity. The craziest thing I could think of was handing money out to strangers, so that’s what I decided to do.
Every day in October 2010 I gave a hundred dollar bill to a stranger I met during the course of my routine. I wrote about what happened on a daily blog entitled My Month of Hundreds, and it all started here. The experience helped me examine some old habits and even part ways with a few. It allowed me to honor my mother’s memory in an unexpected fashion, as I spoke about her with strangers and performed acts of kindness and generosity in her name.
I also found myself having surprisingly intimate and moving encounters, and wiping out some of the distance that separates us as one human being from the other. I want people to know that they are not invisible, and that their troubles matter. Every time I surprise a stranger with a gift, I look them in the eye and promise wordlessly to shoulder a tiny fraction of their burden. Whatever they’ll give me for $100. Sometimes I get more than I paid for, which normally I would consider a real bargain.
I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement to continue with my writing and giving, most importantly from Louise (my partner of 25 years). We both like the idea of a self-imposed estate tax and I decided to give away a hundred hundreds in 2011. Come 2012, I still wasn’t done.
Writing is HARD. It’s a lot harder than giving away money. It can be tedious and laborious, and sometimes I pull out large chunks of hair in the process. But I love telling these stories. Thank you so much for reading.
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Cheryl’s a friend of mine. You gave the money to someone who will indeed do something good with it. Thank you.
I loved meeting Cheryl.
I live in Eugene and for some odd reason was wandering around facebook at this late hour and thought of the Dill Pickle Club my friend Cheryl (who is NOT a facebook member) had mentioned to me. Out of curiosity, I looked it up. How serendipitous that your story should be there waiting. Wonderful!
That’s is wonderful! The Dill Pickle Club is really interesting, and I loved meeting Cheryl. Thanks for reading!
The reason of life is that we’re here is to help each other. Often this entails by giving of ourselves. Your compassion and your story are great. Thank you.
Thank YOU! Jill
I read the article this am in the Oregonian and it struck a chord in my heart. I too lost my mother and she was very poor. As a result of her reality I grew up fearful of loss and not having enough and I battle daily with this unidentifiable but real fear.
I am impressed with your courage as you look into yourself. I wish a most happy and healing journey to you!
Thank you. The self-reflection piece is sometimes painful but worth the trouble. Thanks for reading and writing. Jill
I also feel deeply that our purpose in life is to help one another on this journey. I admire you so much for taking a sad negative and making it become a real POSITIVE for others, in such a beautiful, compassionate way. I DID grown up in poverty, and violence as well, but was able to find my purpose, regardless, and to become a strong, invincible spirit, still -at 79! I congratulate and encourage you on your commendable journey! You are an inspiration!
Just wanted you to know that Pru is like the coolest name ever.
Hello, Pru, this is Jeri, Aletha’s daughter. I agree with you, Dr. Ginsberg is in deed an inspiration. My eyes welled up (joyous tears) as I read her story of generosity of spirit.
Thank you, Dr. Ginsberg. I will continue to follow your story (with tissue in hand).
A reader of my blog sent me a link to your blog. I love your idea! It is similar to my Year of Giving where I give $10 every day for a year. I also started my journey to honor my mother who incidentally had an October birthday as well. I look forward to reading the remaining days! Good luck from DC!
Reed- Thanks for the comment. Your blog and project are really interesting. In a way, I wish I had seen it before I started but it’s probably best that I didn’t. My approach is very different in that I don’t try to find out what people do with the money. I really like your ongoing connection with folks, though. Fascinating! I hope to read more when I get a chance. Keep up the great work and thanks for reading. Jill
I know someone who could use your help. Her name is (“M”), in Eugene, and she’s a super talented actor and is directing a play at a local H.S. right now. She struggles as a single mom to take care of her 7 year old son who is an amazing artist, already. You could reply and I’ll send you more info. (thought some of it should be private)You’re onto something here! Blessings.
Hi, Jill. I must tell you I am totally in love with your month of hundreds. My mother passed away this month, and her cousin earlier this week, and I have been thinking so much about how this month sucks. Thank you for reminding me things aren’t so bad…there are some real rainbows to look at. You, it seems, are one of them. I actually intend to speak with my sister tonight..maybe we can start our own month of something in my mothers honor. Thank you.
Karen- My condolences on your losses. It is very hard to lose your mom. I have found it really helpful to honor mine in this particular way. I’ve definitely gotten more from the process than it has cost me! Best wishes as you sort through it all and endure the ups and downs of grief. Jill
Hi Jill. I work at Kaiser so caught the article in “KP in the News”. Your story really touched me and resonated to much of my own childhood and perspectives. Thank you for being brave enough to doing good in a way that makes you really uncomfortable AND sharing your experience with us. I am considering doing something similar now myself. Thanks!
Thank you. Keep us posted! Jill
I just read your article sitting here in my office. And I cried. You have touched me deeply with your boldness and willingness to break a “life-command” from which you needed to be free. Thank you for your boldness to do what you did. I posted it on my Facebook page because I believe this story should be shared with all. God bless you!
Paul- Thank you so much for the sweet comment and for sharing the story. I have definitely gotten back way more than it cost me!!
What an amazing adventure! All I can say, is, that it must be heavenly to be able to do what you’re doing.
It truely is better to give than to receive.
Yes, it is. I am the lucky one for sure.
Hello Jill. Reflecting on this ,it seems to me that while you have touched and engaged scores of people with your Month of Hundreds, this is an still a very intimate journey between you, the Spirit of your mother, your money/financial consciousness and the God of your heart. That being said, I don’t know how I could possibly advise you except to say follow your guidance and go with it. I know you will do the right and perfect thing. I am still basking in the reflected glow of your giving heart. Shalom, Penny
You have given so selflessly … you’ve helped so many and inspired so many (including myself)… I think it’s hard for other’s to tell you what to do… maybe keep a tucked “C” note in your wallet for the occasion you really feel inspired…
You have passed out to two people I’ve met in my short stay here in Portland, Frank and Tyrone. Being homeless, queer, and very new in town has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Tyrone is truly one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life. I read your entire blog my first night in my new place, and I just cried throughout the entire thing. You are totally amazing. You give me hope!
Greyson- Thank you so much for writing (and reading!). I am so glad you met both of those fine men. I can’t imagine doing what you’re doing; you must be pretty amazing yourself! Keep the hope going, and surround yourself with good people. Jill
Hahah, passed out, as in C notes, not fainted, haha, sorry, it’s four AM, and I’m trying to get some work done.
Your kindness came in handy when I needed it. I was able
to get connected back to the world.
Thank You !
Ron- You are welcome. I’m so glad to hear that! Thanks for getting in touch, and stay safe. Jill
I am heading to California here soon at the first part of the month
looking for find my own fortune. Keep in touch, you know where I am
at and I’ll let you know how my life is doing.
After stumbling across this story I just smiled. I was a past patient of yours at Kaiser.I never thought that doctors like you were still in this world.When you left to chase your passion I smiled.When I read about why you chose to leave I just smiled.When you helped me with depression and a huge fear of doctors,clinics,and needles,I smiled.I’m not a person that needs much in the way of health care.I am a man, pretty fit and a total baby when it comes to the fear factor of pain and needles.Comes from my past just as your pain does.You were someone that understood, cared, and helped me. I’m quite sure you have touched more people than you could ever realize, in your special way.In the health care world and on a personal level you rock..A female dali lama .At least to me.
Now THAT made me smile!! It’s wonderful to hear from you. I remember you perfectly well. We did have some fun discussions about the stuff I wanted to do to you! Thank you for your sweet comments; that really means a lot to me. With warm best wishes.
You are so welcome. My pleasure.
I love what you’re up to and why. I, too, am a frugal life traveler, having learned the lesson well from my depression era parents. It has served me well, and I am grateful, although now it’s time to learn how to spend with a generous spirit — you are a great teacher.
We moved to Portland in July of 2010 and are now spending our normal 4 months of winter in Mexico where I am writing a poem a day as a discipline for my writing practice. I wanted to share with you my poem for today. Thank you for your wonderful example.
I searched for a topic in the news today
depressed to read the stories from the major press.
Palinâ€™s latest diatribe, Boehnerâ€™s threat to repeat the past
middle eastern protests and more details of Mubarakâ€™s
greedy ways. Nothing much to inspire, so I gave up.
Turned my thoughts to the good news of a few days ago,
in the local Portland news. A woman, whoâ€™s mother
a Holocaust survivor unable to spend money
recently died, and left her a pile. Daily, for a month
she gave a crisp hundred dollar bill away at random
and chronicled it on a blog complete with photos.
Smiles abound and stories sweet and sad fill the pages,
warm my heart and help me carry on, believing human beings
may not all be crazy, lunatic, self-centered to the extreme
and may, even have a chance at survival.
Ever since I read the article in the Oregonian I have looked at this daily and caught up on all past posts. What you are doing is so inspiring and I am sure like me leads others to reach out in whatever small way they can and add something to the lives of those around us, if only by paying attention and acknowledging others as we go through our “busy” day. It doesn’t take much and it doesn’t take money. A huge thanks to you for the inspiration.
I only wish you could know the huge affect this has and not only on those who get the hundreds.I might touch you if you knew all those who read the blog and don’t post. THANK YOU JILL
Joanne- Thank you so much for your comment and for reading! And thank you for taking these stories to heart. As you say, it really is all about “seeing” each other and allowing ourselves to connect with those around us, even in the smallest ways. Thank you again; please keep in touch! Jill
Keep up the sharing and caring. What a woman!
I’m really inspired by this – I read about you in the Barnard Magazine and decided to check it out. Thanks for being an inspiration.
I love, love, love your idea of giving away money. Although I do something similar, it’s usually to organizations rather than individuals, I don’t have all the stories that you have. You are definitely getting your money’s worth, and I have enjoyed reading about it. Hundreds of blessings on you.
Thank you for the lovely comment! And thank you for reading. Best wishes.
Knew you at Barnard. Glad you still have the spark!
I am always blessed reading your posts! That’s also why I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award. If you want to accept it you can find the rules on my last post. Keep it going!
Hi Jill. hope you get this i don’t know if i’m doing this right. I finally got a computer a friend let me use and i seen the article you wrote about our meeting, i did’t realize we talked that much. Anyway i wanted to say hello and i’m still hanging in there, feel good but still need the oxygen.My friend i am at a loss for words on paper but i feel so blessed by knowing you even a small bit as i do, quite an honor, i love what your doing, what you did for me, and i pray you find the peace and happiness you seek, you are a blessing and i pray for you daily i think of you often. You bring smiles and i thank you. I myself am not done as i as well have a few loose ends that need taken care of as i feel i am getting stronger and eager to get to it while i can.I pray one day soon we meet again. i have a few stories to share. take care Jill, thank you and God Bless. love and Prayers to you and yours. L
I came across your site after randomly searching the phrase “hundreds of hundreds”; your site was at the very top of the list! I turn 60 at the end of this month and by coincidence, I have been thinking for about two weeks now about doing a “$60 for sixty” (people or organizations) as a way of giving thanks for the many blessings I have received over sixty years. I certainly take inspiration to carry through with my idea after reading about your experiences.
Take care and thanks again!
As I search the world for good people, you’ve been on my mind and I wonder how you’re doing. I’ve never forgotten this journey that you took.
The last time you posted was 4 years ago, right after a “giddy” election result. I hope you’re holding out through this one and still finding places to share your amazing spirit.
Wow; not sure how I missed this but just saw your comment. Thank you! It is a tough time for sure. We just have to keep showing up with the best that we have. Wishing you all good things.