A Conversation On Charity & Philosophy

Recently, a PoP reader named Marilyn commented on a post that’s almost a month old – the PoP October Income Statement.  Marilyn asked some very pointed questions about the PoP charitable giving habits, and I found the conversation that followed between Marilyn and myself (Mrs PoP) very insightful.  I’m sharing our conversation here in the hopes of sparking a continued discussion on other people’s charitable giving philosophies and priorities.

Without further adieu, here it is:

 

Marilyn:  

I commend your blog commitments, and particularly your courage in publishing such private details as your personal financial statements. But there is one thing that baffles me with your expenditures. From June thru Oct, your giving has amounted to just $150 for the single month of Oct. Correct me, if my observation is wrong, but your household is so blessed with such a high income, yet I can’t figure out why your giving is so low.

 

Mrs. PoP:

You’re not wrong, but it’s not quite the whole picture. Other giving that we take part in generally just gets lumped into the “Shopping” line item on the Income Statements.  At the start of this post, I mentioned how I struggled with whether or not to categorize this NPR donation as charity or as media spending.

In general, the reasons behind putting charity spending under “Shopping” in income statements are largely because the charities may not be 501c3 registered (like donations to cover a hospital or funeral bill), or the giving also provides us with some benefit – like a donation to run a race in support of a homeless shelter, purchasing a wreath to support a school group, or sponsoring some gifts for needy families at the holidays. The tax deductions on most of these are negligible, so we account for them as “shopping” rather than giving.

That said, even when you add that all in our giving is still probably no more than 3x the $150 you found on our income statement. Which – you’re right – is still relatively low in relation to our income.  [After our conversation, I remembered that I also donated my hair worth $1,000+ to Locks of Love earlier this year, too!]

Mr. PoP and I have talked about this a fair amount, and while we do donate some time in addition to some money to causes currently, one of the goals of reaching financial independence early is that it would enable us to have more time to share with causes we care about. Our thinking on it goes something like this:

  • Even at our relatively high pay, our employers still profit off of our knowledge, experience, and efforts.
  • If we no longer had to sell them 40+ hours/week of our time – it would allow us to donate time whereby non-profits could “profit” from us in the same way our employers did – but even more so, since they wouldn’t have to pay us.
  • In short, we think the time we can donate in the future is worth much more than money we could give today.

We see many of our retired friends donate their time in retirement, and for many of those organizations the donation of their time and knowledge is invaluable. We look forward to being able to start giving that kind of time 20-30 years sooner than the typical retiree.

That might not square with everyone’s thinking – I know many people follow strict tithing requirements as ascribed in their religions. But giving back over the long term is definitely a priority for us, and we think our current mode is more likely to provide more value to our donations over the long term rather than worrying about it all squaring as a percentage of our income in the short term.

Marilyn:

Thanks for explaining your giving priorities. This PoP blog is among several I have consulted since the summer, as I turnover a new leaf in managing my personal finance. And what I tend to do is look for the similarities in good PF trends, and look even closely at the trends that are either omitted from mainstream PF advice, or that are just very unique. Your giving priority jumped out at me, and that is why I commented on it.

If I may comment further on your response, it seems that you are making a major sacrifice in the short term, that of delaying for yourself the highest gratification to obtain from one’s labour/sweat, i.e. selfless giving. Plus, like everyone else, you have no guarantee of being alive, nor knowing what your station in life will be in 20 years, or even 20 days. The saying goes “Today you’re here, and tonight you might be gone”.

Therefore, why risk losing (i) an opportunity to create positive change for the less fortunate or for your favorite causes today, while (ii) gaining the reward of knowing that today while you have the means, you did your part to make a difference. It seems that your giving plan, a “long term” one as you describe, is heavily dependent on “tomorrow”; but remember, tomorrow is promised to no man.

Back to me, and my renewed PF managing track, I am grateful to finally reach the point of positive cashflow in my finances. Its only been 3 months, but what I find most rewarding is not the growing amount of income, but the growing portion of that net income that is not mine, that which will fund some needy individual, or worthwhile cause or entity.

I think I did myself a disservice by delaying this form of gratification for so long. Not any more though!!!

 

Mrs. PoP:

Thanks for your thoughts on giving and how rewarding you’ve found it as you’ve worked at managing your finances.

You’re right, one or both of us may die tomorrow. In which case, we do have enough life insurance on either of us that pretty much all debts would be paid off and the remaining person would be pretty close to financial independence. So it wouldn’t change that timeline for the remaining person dramatically.  The remaining PoP would still have much time to give in a few years.

If we both die, we have beneficiaries set up on the accounts that understand our values and who we believe would act accordingly… but maybe we need to revisit this and be more specific in our desires to those beneficiaries.  =/

Like many other people, we don’t really relish the thought of imagining ourselves dead – but you’ve given us some food for thought on this that we’ll definitely keep in mind as our needs and priorities change.

Thanks again for the thoughts and comments.

 

Marilyn:

And you have given me some food for thought too as, until now, I had largely looked at giving of my substance to be the principal thing. With the PoPs’ emphasis on giving of your time & expertise I see a new perspective that I hadn’t tapped into as yet, and one that I really want to discover. I’ll resolve to add this dimension of giving to my planning for the new year. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

 

Mrs PoP:

Thank you, too! These are the kinds of discussions we were really hoping for when we started this blog, so you really made my day with this one.

 

 

Thanks again to Marilyn for the great discussion on charitable giving philosophies.  

Readers – How do you incorporate plans for charitable giving into your finances?  Are you focused on giving today, or giving more in the future?  Or perhaps some other method?  I’d love to get a further discussion going as to how other readers incorporate giving into their lives!

 

39 comments to A Conversation On Charity & Philosophy

  • Sometimes I think that donating time is way more important than just blindly giving money. Working in a soup kitchen, spending time in a retirement community things like this might not have financial value, but they certainly add value to people’s lives.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Friday’s Fork in the Path: My Second Month RecapMy Profile

  • I agree with Marilyn, I think that donating time or money to causes that you believe in in a significant way is very important and not something that should wait til I achieve financial independence, have more time etc.. It’s a great way to be connected with your community and to be more aware of others needs, which puts my own needs versus wants into perspective.

    Miser mom had a much more eloquent post on this earlier this week. http://miser-mom.blogspot.com/2012/11/workin-on-my-ph3.html

  • I don’t really incorporate giving as a set item, rather as a special one off thing. If someone is in need, an emergency strikes or I like a new charity, I will give. It is not a set % of income and I will rather give my time and skills than money, because I have seen too many dodgy charities. Last time I gave time there was a piano in a hospital and I stayed playing there for the patients for an hour or so. They leave the piano there so people can come and patients can be distracted for a little while. I would like to sponsor a kid in the nearby village next school year too.
    Pauline recently posted..Friday recap, a panoramic view and a blogging tipMy Profile

    • That’s mostly how we look at things for the time being – but we definitely do have plans to make large time contributions when time is less of a scare resource in our lives.

  • Donations are a personal thing. NOBODY has a right to tell us how much we should and shouldn’t give.

    In fact, as a high income earner, you are probably donating more to charity because the federal government redistributes your tax dollars to help those in need. Taxes is a form of charity too.

    Best,

    Sam
    Financial Samurai recently posted..What Should I Do Before Quitting My Job? 15 Things To ConsiderMy Profile

    • I would actually agree with Sam on this. I think that the discussion about giving was certainly cordial, but I think that it is out of line to infer that somebody isn’t giving enough.

      Like Pauline, we do not set giving as a % thing. We budget for it when we know that we are going to do it, but we don’t tie ourselves down to it each and every month. Some months it may be a thousand, others it may be zero. Also, we don’t advertise what and to whom we gave. Personally, it is my philosphy that it isn’t charity if you are advertising it – it is self-promotion that happens to help others.
      Greg@ClubThrifty recently posted..Tips for Job Seekers – The “What Not to do” EditionMy Profile

      • I just reread what I wrote, and I want to make clear I’m not saying that you are self-promoting in any way. That is just my philosophy in general – particularly when it comes to our business giving. Neither does it make the giving any less meaningful to those who receive it.
        Greg@ClubThrifty recently posted..Tips for Job Seekers – The “What Not to do” EditionMy Profile

        • Haha, yeah – I didn’t take your comment personally. Business giving is tricky because more often than not (especially if it is a public company) any charitable giving HAS to provide a benefit for the company, and much of that is PR. If it doesn’t provide a benefit, then the company can be sued by its shareholders for not acting in the shareholders’ best interest.

      • As the person to whom the comment was directed, I didn’t feel that her comments were out of line at all. (Plus, when we put this much financial detail onto the internet I think it’s kindof asking for questions about our spending priorities, right?)

        I don’t know Marilyn’s background, but I do know many people for whom requirements like tithing are NOT optional. “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s and render unto God what is God’s…” And sometimes there can be a disconnect when others don’t follow suit.

        I think of that disconnect in the same way where I find myself confused when people buy lottery tickets and I can’t understand that habit. But another person’s enjoyment of “playing the game” might change the equation for them – so I try to be understanding when we come from different points of view.

    • You are definitely right that we pay a fairly healthy portion of our income in taxes each year, but I’m not sure I consider that charity. I am fulfilling a legal obligation there. If I were giving more than my legal obligation to the IRS’ general revenue collection, that would be another matter.
      Instead, I tend to think of charity as something which is a choice aligning with my own priorities – which are not necessarily those that the government distributes some of my tax dollars to.

    • Exactly so! Thank you.
      Funny about Money recently posted..Have I Found My Calling in Life?My Profile

  • I don’t donate much money anymore, but I do donate my time. I plan on signing up for a soup kitchen soon as well.
    Michelle recently posted..eBooks: A Frugal Minimalist’s DreamMy Profile

    • Its interesting; I think that we’ll be donating time some day as well. However, the time spent using my brain is worth much more to people than the time I spend using my hands. Would it be better for me to spend 4 hours in a soup kitchen, or 4 hours writing a grant proposal for 3rd world water vaccinations?

      -Mr. Pop
      mrpop recently posted..A Conversation On Charity & PhilosophyMy Profile

  • I would agree with Sam that giving is a personal thing and should not be dictated by someone else. We give now, but probably could be doing more. But, it’s not at the level we hope to be able to do in future years.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Frugal Friday: Posts That Ruled This Week, It’s December Already Edition!My Profile

  • I admit I do not give as much as I should. I do plan on giving my time as much as possible over money, because I am so in debt right now that I would prefer to donate time and pay down my debts first before I make many monetary contributions.
    Gillian @ Money After Graduation recently posted..My 2012 Income Goal: failed, but had a good time anywayMy Profile

  • When we were trying to get out of credit card debt, that first year we donated almost no personal money to charity. I don’t think those with huge debt should be donating lots of money. This year, I did do quite a bit more, but like you, I am hoping to be able to stop working at an early age and then I will have more opportunities to give. I do put in a fair amount of time with the Humane Society and have donated probably in the tens of thousands of dollars in eye care for the needy over the past 10 years, so I don’t feel bad if my budget doesn’t reflect that.
    Kim@Eyesonthdollar recently posted..The Sandman, Hypnosis, and The Village PeopleMy Profile

    • To follow-up on Greg’s comment – did you donate the eye care through your business? I know your small business was definitely not a public company – but did you get PR benefits or tax benefits from the donations of your time and services?

      Also – I love the humane society – is yours working toward no kill?

  • Ivy

    We donate end of year typically to the same 3-4 charities (all with children/medical orientation) – with employer matching our donations, each gets around $500 or more
    We donate ad hoc, usually large amounts, when approached personally – a treatment fund for friend’s kid, a memorial scholarship for a friend who passed away, even non-personal stuff (a couple of days ago when on wikipedia I saw their fundraising banner and since they are so useful I sent them $100)
    We give away all of our kids toys, gear and old clothes – to friends, to babysitter (and her relatives abroad), etc
    And we help financially parents and siblings abroad

    I think all of us have “values” system that drives what they give, and nobody should try to match their approach to somebody else’s “standard”. For you it may be investing in the ability to give more in future. For others may be “tithing” at given percentage. For us it’s the personal connection plus a small set of charity causes we personally believe in.

    • That’s great that you have employer matching donations. Neither of our employer does that – though occasionally we have donated during drives where there were matching contributions from within the organization. For instance, a couple of years ago a big donor was offering a 4:1 match on funds to a particular program that we both valued at our alma mater, we dug deep and gave as much as we could at the time since we felt it was a great way to maximize our giving.

  • I think you were nicer to Marilyn than you needed to be — she’s poking at you, trying to make you feel bad, and you are FANTASTIC. Give or don’t give, but Marilyn? Don’t preach to the nice people!
    Kathleen, Frugal Portland recently posted..The truth about being single around the holidaysMy Profile

    • I think she’s well within her bounds to call us out. We may not agree with what she says, but by putting our finances out there we are inviting people with different opinions to come and share their thoughts with us…and it has generated a neat conversation around what we’ll do with our money when we pass away.
      mrpop recently posted..A Conversation On Charity & PhilosophyMy Profile

  • My spouse and I disagree all the time about how much we give. Heh. I get accused of donating way too much and I try to convince my spouse to give more. There’s always things like Movember, friends running races, buying my coworkers kid’s fundraiser items, avalanche knitters, in memoriam donations, etc etc. I never really account for all of that stuff as donations, because I get something in exchange. Things where I get tax receipts I tend to count in the category of charity, like donating to my alma maters.
    We are both involved in charitable groups, which take up varying amounts of our time. I also give the way you mentioned, where I consider the donation to be basically a user fee, such as Wikipedia and things related to my beliefs.
    Kickstarter is my kryptonite. It is such an awesome way to fund public art installations all over the world :-)
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Engagement Gift Ideas – Part VMy Profile

  • I do agree with Marilyn on one point – if someone has charitable intentions, he shouldn’t delay them. Saying that he’ll give at a later date or in a different life situation isn’t really much of anything, as far as I see it, except a way to assuage some guilt! It doesn’t actually accomplish anything and he hasn’t “put his money where his mouth is.” How does he know he’ll follow through on his future plans if he’s not practicing in the present? That’s why percentage-based giving is so brilliant – you give less when you have less, more when you have more, and you’re committed to a guideline instead of a dollar amount. So it’s fine to plan to donate your skills in retirement, but you’ll have a better chance of doing it if you cultivate a lifestyle of giving throughout your working life.

    Oh, and when we track our own giving, we don’t differentiate whether it was to a 501c3 or a private individual or for ‘charity’ or to a nonprofit that provides us with a service. If we voluntarily give the money away, it’s giving (tipping excepted).
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Taking Control of Our Grocery SpendingMy Profile

    • Emily – the only reason we keep track of if it’s 501c3 or not is for tax purposes. The taxes are obviously not a motivation, but we track it just in case we would benefit from it.

      Percentage based giving doesn’t always sit well with me because when you take things to the extreme ends it tends to fall apart. (FWIW – I’m a math person so will always look at the limits when evaluating a situation.) For the working poor who are barely subsisting, even a small percentage of their income may be the difference between being able to put ANYTHING into savings, or continuing to fall further into debt. On the other extreme, individuals like Mitt Romney can (and do) give away 25% or more of their income each year with no impact on their lifestyle.

  • The current mode of pressuring other people to donate, whether they especially support some charity or not, whether they donate large amounts of their time or not, whether their low-paying altruistic job (think “teaching” or “social work”) is in fact a form of donation, and whether it’s any of anyone’s business or not…truly, it’s starting to annoy.

    Here’s why I’m conservative about donating:

    1) My father’s mother died in abject poverty after she donated most of an inherited fortune to a church. No one in the church did anything to help her in her penury or even to acknowledge her final illness. Her three sons got nothing of the money their grandfather had intended them to have. She also lost the family home and a small business to the taxes she couldn’t pay after all that charity had impoverished her. Lesson learned: The message that you should give all your worldly goods away to buy yourself into heaven or because it will make you a good person is a scam and should be recognized for what it is.

    2) My job is now and always has been underpaid. I spend large numbers of unpaid hours spent helping ill-prepared students to succeed in college programs that represent their only path out of poverty. When that unpaid labor is factored in to what I earn, my salary comes to something less than minimum wage. Thus I feel justified in saying “I give the office.” Big time.

    3) On the occasions where I have participated in various charitable projects, the result has been to land my name on the solicitation lists of every charity in town. For months afterward, I would be DELUGED with phone calls from outfits pestering me to give to this cause, give to that cause, and give to the next cause — oh, and by the way, please carry this envelope from door to door and pester your neighbors, too. As a result, when I give money, I give anonymously. If I can’t do so, then I don’t give.

    Hm. Speaking of donating time…it’s time to quit this and go donate another two hours to the church’s music ministry. Later! :-)
    Funny about Money recently posted..Have I Found My Calling in Life?My Profile

    • Wow, that’s a pretty shocking story about your father’s mother. That’s a shame that the church did not help her afterward or suggest she consult someone before such a large donation to make sure she would be okay. Our local NPR station now has an annuity giving option for older folks whereby they can give a lump sum now – but it would be rolled into an annuity. While you’re alive, you would get the proceeds of the annuity as income, but when you pass, the annuity belongs to the station. I think it’s an interesting concept.

      I also tend to look at the time I spend teaching at a Title 1 school as time that was largely devoted to charity work. The job I moved onto after that short stint paid ~3x as much, so it’s pretty clear that I was working well below my income potential during my time there, not to mention all the “extras” I gave that were unpaid like volunteer club sponsorship, free tutoring, etc.

      Thanks, as always, for the comments, Funny. And I hope you made some beautiful music!

  • Donation is the personal thing .No-one force us that you should give or you should not . my mother is a teacher in government school .there are some poor children that have no enough money to gave fee . so my mother spend money for them from her side .mum told ,it gave satisfaction from internal side that she done something good for needy peoples .
    Christopher @ This That and the MBA recently posted..Tips on Buying Your First CarMy Profile

  • CincyCat

    The CincyCat household gives money as well as time. As a board member of a non-profit, I have seen first-hand how difficult it is to cover even the most basic operating expenses (which ultimately support the mission) without revenue. Time and in-kind donations are awesome, but cash keeps the lights on.

  • Wow, this person seems to be very presumptuous about how you should be spending your own money. I happen to agree with the line of thinking that it’s important for you to get all your ducks in a row before you go about giving everything away, just because you happen to make a high income. If you don’t take care of yourself first, who is going to take care of you in the future? I’m not sure what your personal feelings were during this interaction, because I’m sure I could have responded just as politely as you did, but on the inside I would be very annoyed at someone trying to push their ideas of donating money on me. Good for you on how you handled it!

    On a side note, I have just come across your blog this week and I’m loving it so far. You have a new follower! :)
    Sharon J. Gilman recently posted..The safe way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket ~Frank HubbardMy Profile

    • Aww, thanks for the compliments on the blog! Means a ton. =)

      I wasn’t upset. I think by putting as much of our personal finances out there on the internet we’re inviting scrutiny and are very open to discussions about how our finances reflect our values, so I thought she was totally justified in asking about our values in terms of giving.

      • Oh, yeah that’s definitely true. I’m new to the world of blogging, as far as doing it myself, and one obstacle I know I’m going to have to get over is the idea of opening myself up to the public. It’s kind of like publishing my diary! lol. It’s been inspiring to discover other blogs like your own and see how open and honest people are about their lives, no matter what topic their blog might be about.
        Sharon J. Gilman recently posted..Hands off my Starbucks!My Profile

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