By Shira Boss
Zero Cost Kids
Is donating money to charity an optional budget category? Something to do when you “have enough”?
I must admit, our charitable donations took a dive when we had our first child. We were overwhelmed with the responsibility of wholly providing for another’s needs for decades. You know what I’m talking about.
In addition, that year we had to refinance our apartment to afford health insurance. Two-thirds of my (part-time) paycheck went towards health insurance. Since we had to be creative to meet our own family’s needs, donating money felt like an easy cut.
But now I see that was a mistake.
This will be controversial, but I don’t believe everything – all of our resources – can be for our own family. Quite simply, we should share. Even when we can’t seem to afford it.
It’s not even all that altruistic: I’m finding, happily, that giving away some of our money each month makes me feel terrific – better than saving or spending. I urge you to try it, if you don’t already tithe.
Giving Away Money Soothes the Soul
Donating some money – a good amount of money (see below), not a painlessly small amount – I believe fulfills a deep need in our souls. It’s healing.
Personally, I find donating money to a cause that keeps me up at night (that’s key) offers enormous benefits – priceless benefits, really.
It connects us to the broader world, lets us participate in solving problems, helps us feel the joy of being able to help, and eases our fears of never having enough.
Giving when we can’t afford it
How can we justify donating when we have to care for our children, pay off debt, cover expenses, save for retirement, prepare for the unknown?
As my sister put it, “Anything could happen! Everyone says to save, save, save!”
Those feelings are why people would rather give through their wills than in real time, while they are alive and could still have the money if needed.
Of course you need the money! Who couldn’t use more money? It will never feel like enough. But giving away some money you feel you need has a really interesting effect: You start to feel wealthy. Like there is some to spare. That you do have enough for your needs.
Waiting until we “can afford to give” cuts us off from those marvelous benefits!
We might not be able to give a lot, or to solve problems on our own, but the least we can do is contribute what we are able and enjoy doing something to help out.
How Much to Give
I recently read a study that found if we all gave “what we can afford,” we could solve the world’s top three problems.
Most of us don’t give all we can afford. Why?
- Because we are afraid.
- Because we have not experienced the relief and joy that comes with giving generously to a charitable cause. (No joy and relief when you give? You haven’t found the right cause, see below.)
- Because we don’t know how much we can afford/how much to give away.
You will need to decide for yourself how much of your money to share. I believe if you “sit with this,” as the Buddhists say, the right amount or percentage will reveal itself.
I tried this when I gave my first donation to The Donkey Sanctuary, my charity of choice. We were already over budget for the month due to the ever-burdensome grocery bills, so I figured $25 was enough.
It wasn’t. I could feel it. It wasn’t generous enough.
I gave $50 from the next month’s budget. And it was fine. It was more than fine. It touched off a torrent of great feelings – and more donations.
Need more guidance on the numbers? Okay, if you’re asking, then 10% of gross income or 1% of assets each year, whichever is more. Those figures are rooted in various religious traditions, but to me they make common sense as guidelines or goals for anyone. (10% is also the advice of debt-diva Mary Hunt, Total Money Makeover author Dave Ramsey and other financial experts.)
It’s difficult. It is. Bills are high and we wrestle with feeling like we need that money for our own needs. Yet, I also find donating more is inspiring me to earn more to be able to give more! That’s the power of giving to a cause you really really want to help.
I regret that I was not raised in a tradition of tithing (giving 10% of income, traditionally to the church although that’s not how I use the term). If I had been doing this from the start, without questioning it, it wouldn’t be as difficult to manage now – not to mention I could have helped a lot more than I have over the years.
On the other hand, there must be a reason I have come to a commitment to charitable giving now, and not earlier. I’m guessing I’m getting greater benefits, personally, from donating money now specifically because I was not raised to do it automatically. It’s more conscious and deliberate now.
Perhaps, reading this, you will disagree and ignore it – then it’s not the right “message” for you at this time.
Or perhaps this will light a little fire within that encourages you to give a little more – or continue with the giving you have been accomplishing despite financial pressures, and perhaps even criticism.
Choosing your cause
Most of us, according to the research, spread out our giving among many deserving causes.
While it can be a great goal not to say no to any face-to-face appeal, and help out at least nominally, I have come to believe that the real benefit (to us) of donating comes when we choose one or two causes that can keep us up at night.
You probably don’t have to search for these – they have probably already appeared in your life. In my case, now that I know more about them, I worry a lot about working donkeys. Many poor families in Mexico, Ethiopia, India and other places rely on donkeys for a livelihood but often don’t have the know-how or resources to care for them. So these humble and hardworking animals work through heat and pain, without enough food, water or shelter.
Lucky for me, The Donkey Sanctuary is on it! They run extensive outreach operations, in 34 countries. All I need to do is work hard and send donations and I can rest assured that a donkey somewhere will be better off.
That helps me sleep better. And yes, needs could – and will! – arise with my own sons, and they are my top priority. But parenthood is so incredibly draining – it sometimes feels like one huge exercise in giving, giving, giving (and not to make my sister sound cynical but, as she said with alarm, “And you have no idea how they’ll turn out!”). (Needless to say, parenthood is also supremely fulfilling…but that’s not what I’m talking about here.)
Donating money is an opportunity, ironically, to give something to ourselves. To treat ourselves to something we need, in a deep and significant sense.
Doing Something For Yourself
Donating to a cause that is important to me is a way to do something for myself. (My husband gives to the cause that keeps him up at night.) To give a bit of attention to something outside my own family. And that feels good. It’s a way to take care of our deepest need, to soothe the soul.
This is a really personal topic… yet I feel compelled to share my thoughts and experiences. Please share yours as well, in the comments below.
We can do this!