You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should

A Call to (1)The oxygen mask on an airplane analogy is a cornerstone in life lessons. It essentially boils down to the notion that we need to help ourselves before we can effectively help anyone else. I get it. What I don’t understand, though, is the fact that so many people feel that they not only have to have their masks positioned just so, but they must also upgrade to an elite model and make sure that they can use their own masks in perpetuity before even deigning to glance at struggling passengers. Some of whom are seated in the very same row.

My fear is that far too often we allow the notion of personal finance to become insular. Yes, personal finance is about arranging your own finances in such a way that your money is ultimately able to work for you. Not the other way around. But to what end? 

Is the endgame of personal finance a world in which we stop considering others? I hardly think so. But I can’t help but wonder if the path to that freedom is sometimes paved with overlooked opportunities to help. If that’s the case, how much of the misery of others are we willing to accept in order to ensure a more comfortable existence for ourselves? What’s the ratio? What’s the percentage for that?  

Tell me this. How can someone devote countless hours to planning for a future that might possibly include subsidies of some form and not give an ounce of consideration to charitable giving? How can someone object to the notion of working for a corporation for the next three decades but firmly subscribe to the belief that it is fine to wait that long to begin problem-solving for others? It’s true. Charitable giving doesn’t always come with a tax benefit. But I didn’t realize the notion of charity meant finding another clever way to ensure one’s pockets are always lined.

Sometimes we have to stop and do whatever bit of good that we can right now. Call me naive, call me young, call me liberal. But those long-term goals upon which I am so fixed will amount to considerably less if that future is a world in which more sickness exists, illiteracy rates never ebb, and hunger continues to flow. And while I like to think that my current hard work and dedication to my finances will guard against myself or my family ever truly experiencing poverty, I cannot say the same about disease or disaster.

It’s time to abandon the every-man-for-himself mentality. Finance doesn’t have to equate to “me or them”. Balance is possible. And I bet there are quite a few people who have this balancing act well crafted. In fact, my guess it that there is a lot more charitable giving going in the personal finance world that we let on. I’d love to hear about favorite charities, gifting strategies, and more. Beyond that, I’d like to celebrate those milestones — not just personally, but across the blogosphere.

It’s true that giving is optional. No one is going to force you to make monthly or yearly charitable donations. It is not a requisite line item in a universal budget plan. You don’t have to give, but you absolutely should. Volunteering your time and talents are vital, but so is charitable giving. We all see how powerful it is to have money working for us. Why not unlock that same power for someone else?

Note: I promise to offer up a sneak peak of our giving in the next post. It isn’t perfect, but it is a priority for us.

So Tell Me…How do you feel about charitable giving? Care to share your personal plan or favorite charities?

Disease Called Debt
You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should

30 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should

  1. I think some of the amazing aspects of financial independence and early retirement are the opportunities for charitable work that open up once full-time work is no longer a burden on your life. Like many, I would much rather volunteer my time in support of a cause than simply send a bunch of cash to some address somewhere. That seems terribly impersonal, and quite frankly, there is a lot of fraud out there even within the charity world. They aren’t immune to this stuff either.

    In our case, we plan to volunteer our time after we quit full-time work to different causes throughout the United States (especially animal related), and this is something that our financial decisions today are helping to support. We may spend weeks somewhere volunteering our time – in fact, we plan to at a particular spot in New Mexico. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.

    We prefer to give our time rather than our money. It works for us.

    1. That’s fantastic that you’re using your retirement to work for different causes – hooray animals! I’m positive that you’ll blog about it, and I can’t wait to follow along. I do completely understand concerns about fraud, but I don’t know that I want to let that stand in my way entirely. We had the chance to visit a literacy initiative in Mexico last summer, so we’re really comfortable giving to them. The same is true for our local animal shelter and food bank. They’re both really transparent with their budgets (how much actually goes to food, let’s say, rather than PR or salaries). Could I still be getting duped? I suppose. But that’s a chance I’m willing to take. I also know a few people who are more comfortable donating items rather than straight cash.

    2. Right on Steve. I think we are heading down the same path. While I do occasionally give currently, I would rather give the time I will gain during FIRE. It is hard to determine whether reaching FI is more important than helping now. A tough balance, but I am thinking my time will be more valuable than my dollars now.

      As for charities I really enjoy giving to Farm Sanctuary and similar local farm animal protection organizations. Something we did in the past, but selfishly do not currently, is foster pets for adoption agencies. It is very rewarding, but can be extremely resource intensive (time and cleaning). Sadly our furry roommates do not think it was very fun!

      1. Those sound like wonderful organizations. How awesome that you used to foster pets, Zed! I don’t think it’s selfish to stop doing something – it’s a matter of evolving what we’re able to offer at the time, right?

        1. I’d love to hear more about your plans now or once you get going. I imagine my perspective is different from yours, Steve’s, and Zed’s, at least in part because FI is years away…and retirement isn’t going to be very early at all for us 😉

  2. Wonderful post! This is such an important message. I agree that the path to FI or early retirement could include overlooking the needs of others. It’s a constant tension for us–how much to give, how much to save? We give money to our church, an organization we’ve visited that does a lot of training/education/church-planting in India, called India Gospel League, and sponsor a child through Compassion International. I agree with Steve that volunteering time is also important and a great use of retirement, but I’m with you that we shouldn’t overlook how much sharing money can help those who really do need money! I love the micro-loan model that many poverty relief groups are using now to help people get out of poverty permanently.

    1. Kalie, this is amazing. I’m going to look into India Gospel League and Compassion International. I also love giving to causes that others I know (or, I guess, virtually know) support. I think that helps assuage some of the concerns about legitimacy and effectiveness. Also, I’ve started reworking my social studies lessons to actually incorporate Kiva loans next year. We’re doing a bit of charity crossover with a water initiative later the in year, but I want to do more next year. I’m hoping to have the students research a select group of microloans and invest a small amount of (my) money at the beginning of the year. Then, if/when it gets returned, we’ll move on to another country that mirrors the continent/region we are currently studying.

  3. This is a great post. Charitable giving is also an important part of my budget. I feel like it is not only rewarding for the person that receives but for the giver as well

    1. Thanks for commenting, Pamela! Have you blogged about it? I’d love for you to post some links. I think we do a really good job of celebrating lots of things in the PF world, and I think we definitely should celebrate this as well.

  4. I think charity giving is very important, that’s why we donate to local charities every month. While giving is important, you also need to learn how to willing to receive. If someone is willing to give but you’re not willing to receive, how would the giver think? 🙂

  5. I would go so far as to say that being involved in giving to others, being mindful of how much better off we are than others in order to find ways to help, fosters compassion and keeps us more grounded in reality.

    How much easier is it for the average American to go on and on about how schools are failing our students and completely fail to see that so many students are lacking the basic life essentials like FOOD and safe shelter? What kind of opportunity are they missing by going on about teacher’s salaries and not asking the question: what would help?

    And most importantly, when we give of ourselves, we are creating a better world for all. I didn’t get here without help, neither did you, neither did just about anyone who’ll read this post. For us to refuse to contribute back to the ecosystem is quite selfish and self-centered.

    If you don’t mind the link, this was my far better written response to the question of why I give:

    1. I love the link. Thank you! I love your point about the ecosystem of help. And you’re right about giving (time or money) being a means to open our eyes to reality. My first paycheck came with a request to contribute to a local education foundation. At first, I was all, “Heck no!” But then I read further. Our school breakfast program is funded entirely by that foundation. What difference is $5 going to make each pay period? Zilch to me, but to some kiddo, it’s granola bars for a week. Truth be told, the benefits I reap as a teacher when kiddos eat breakfast is well worth the $10/month.

  6. I know we should to do it, but it feels like we’re always putting out fires of our own. I generally try to round up a little when paying our city services bill, since it helps the low income assistance program.

    But I don’t coupon a bunch, so it’s not like I have a bunch of free/nearly free products to drop off. At best, we drop stuff off at the thrift store to help that way. Doesn’t feel like much.

    It upsets me a little that some people give because it’s a tax benefit (or mostly because of that, anyway), then again at least they’re giving. Can’t say the same for myself at the moment.

    1. But that’s exactly my point, Abigail. You are doing whatever bit of good you can right now. You shouldn’t have to explain it away or put qualifiers around it. I think it’s awesome! Think how many people can pay their bills just fine and don’t round up. Plus, I think giving back to a thrift store is really helpful – even if the thrift store isn’t partnered with a charity, it’s good for the environment and helps out the next person. The amount of perfectly usable things that I see chucked at the curb in my neighborhood each week makes me cringe.

  7. To quote LB yelling at us: AND ANOTHER THING!

    I remembered reading that as people become more wealthy, they’re more likely to be less charitable and less caring toward others. That’s a generalized phrasing, I don’t recall the precise words, but it left an impression on me.

    Our wealthy friends who had made it a habit to always give *something* throughout their years of wealth building (time, money, connections) are notably more conscious of what’s going on in the world because they stayed in touch with those in the lower economic rungs, and never lost the ability to relate to others, no matter how different their circumstances. That’s an example I admire and try to emulate.

    1. Melissa says:

      Yes so true! I read an interesting article about this awhile back:

      Also, thanks Penny for the post! I feel like many financial bloggers just don’t talk about this subject. And it seems from some of the earlier comments that maybe it is because they do not give and instead plan to volunteer when they retire early. That is great but I live by one of my mom’s favorite phrase: tomorrow never comes (aka do it now). So I volunteer weekly with a literacy organization to tutor students and I also make monthly donations as well.

      PS: I am new to your blog and I have really enjoyed it.

  8. I believe that giving consistently leads to more satisfaction than any other way of spending money, and I also believe that generosity is a muscle that can grow or whither over time.

    I don’t share any giving numbers online, but intentionally split financial giving three ways: religious, local charities (we give exclusively to one local youth mentoring program, but see value in many types of local services), and international poverty relief (child sponsorship). We also try to keep some money on the side for giving as needs arise (friends need groceries, or Syrian refugees crises, etc.)

  9. We love charitable giving, but are in the midst of paying off a mountain of law school debt right now, so most of our giving goes to tithing to our local church. That said, when we have had some extra money and given it to one of our friends working on a project, it has always been the best thing to see how much it has blessed them. I look forward to the day where our finances are in a place where we can give more, but for now, I look for little ways, like giving our next-door neighbor or our friends things on a smaller level.

  10. Great post! We like to give what we can to a variety of organizations, including a large international charity that fights poverty, hunger and injustice, our local food bank, and some national health-related charities that fund important research and outreach programs. I feel like there are so many charitable organizations that you should give to those for which you feel a personal connection or a passion.

  11. I’m all for giving money to the poor. I don’t regularly give to charities because I really don’t know how much of the money they actually pass on to the people in need, but I’m always looking for way to help people as directly as I can. It’s like someone said, ‘No one has ever become poor by giving’.

    1. Helping directly is a great workaround. I try to only give monetarily to organizations that I’ve volunteered at, come recommended by someone I trust, or are very transparent with their budgets.

  12. J says:

    Charity is a part of our financial plan and somewhat a motivation for us to handle our finances better because the more we save, the more we can share. For the past years, we have given mostly to relatives and friends (my family and my boyfriend are originally from third world countries and some of the people we left behind are not as fortunate as we are) and focussed on sending kids to school. We plan to continue this strategy this year and expand by supporting other global charities as well.

  13. I’ve sponsored a Compassion International child for 13 years with my college roommate. The $36 a month was too steep for each of us at 18, but when we split it between us, we figured we could do it.

    I’m also a big fan of Gospel for Asia, which provides a lot of basic living needs like food, clothing and shelter along with religious education.

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