As a typical “broke college student,” I often wish I could do more for others. There have been many times where I have heard on the radio about people paying it forward at Starbucks. As much as I would love to do this, I find myself quickly thinking about all the things I need to pay for that week. I start accumulating my car payment, phone bill, cost of food and gas prices. Then, I start wondering whether the person behind me wants an extra shot of espresso, soy or some other pricey option. Immediately after, I opt to pay for myself and continue on with my day.

Instead of continuing to ramble about my struggle to afford my Starbucks’ addiction, I want to explain something I learned somewhat because of it. Just about every other weekend, I hop in my car and drive an hour and 45 minutes to see my boyfriend and cousins in Pennsylvania. I have learned to appreciate the drive by downing caffeine and blasting music. It has also allowed me to finally pay it forward in my own way.

From where I live, the toll to Pennsylvania only costs one dollar. After someone paid for my fee on Thanksgiving day, I decided that that was how I would pay it forward. Now, whenever someone is behind me, I pay two dollars. One for me, and one for them. I don’t expect a “thank you” or a “that was nice.” It’s just what I now know to do, so I do it and continue on my way.

Last weekend, I was making another trip to Pennsylvania. I was making really good time, but as soon as I got to the toll booth at the border, traffic piled up. I noticed the guy behind me and realized I had a couple extra dollars on me. I decided I wanted to bless him in a small way, so I grabbed an extra dollar and proceeded to wait for my turn to pay for him and me.

As I got closer to the toll booth, I saw a car racing up the shoulder, and I knew the driver was going to try to cut me off. Since I was growing impatient, I refused to let them in, so they went behind me. Like the typical Jersey driver that I am, I got extremely aggravated because I wanted to pay for the guy behind me, so I decided that there was no way I was paying for the jerk that cut him off. Suddenly, I felt a check inside of me. I knew there were many times I was undeserving, and yet people blessed me anyway. I decided to suck it up and pay for the both of us. I did so and proceeded on my way.

A couple minutes later, as lanes were merging, I saw another car racing up behind me on my left side. Once again, I got annoyed and refused to let them cut me off. Eventually, they pulled up beside me. I was so confused when the two young men in the car started waving out the window and continued to do so for several minutes. When I finally looked over, I realized they were giving me the thumbs up and mouthing thank you’s.

Out of all the times I have “paid it forward” at the toll booth, not one car has flagged me down to thank me, and I have never expected it simply over an extra dollar. However, the two guys I almost refused to pay for made sure to catch up to me on the middle of 78 and thank me. I was truly floored. Their decision to chase me down just to thank me for basically giving them a dollar made my day.

Now please don’t think I said all of that as a means of bragging. That is the farthest thing I want this post to come across as. I have said many times before that it is so important to be nice, and this is my way of showing it. I may not have five or ten extra dollars to spend on the person behind me at Starbucks, but I do have one spare dollar, four extra quarters, to give to the toll collector.

If you fall into the cliche group of “broke college student” as well, then just realize that paying it forward doesn’t always involve a large amount of money. It is a simple smile, a mere dollar or even just listening, truly listening, to someone talk. Don’t doubt your capabilities because you don’t have as many monetary items as the person next to you. Do what you can, and I promise you, someone out there will appreciate it, but more importantly, you will appreciate the way giving back makes YOU feel.

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