Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How much?

The people who get the most media attention for giving are very, very rich. Bill and Melinda Gates seem to have started a trend, and now sixty-nine billionaires have signed their pledge. This is great, and I commend them.

If your grandpa leaves you a fortune, congratulations. But most of us are fresh out of inheritances or billion-dollar companies.

A few years ago when I was hired at a nonprofit, I asked if I could decline some employee benefits so the organization wouldn't waste its money on me. The HR representative looked surprised and said such a thing couldn't be done. “Are you independently wealthy?” she asked, frowning. I guess she couldn't imagine that anyone would turn down benefits unless they already had more money than they knew what to do with.

This is the kind of mindset I'm trying to change. You don't have to be rich to be generous. It might be easier for people with heaps of money, but those of us who have to think about rent and groceries can still do a lot. My grandmother donated 10% of her income for as long as she controlled her own money, even when she was living off social security checks.

Start where you are. Does 10% feel terrifying? Start with something lower. What would $100 feel like? What would 1% feel like? What things could you shift around to make that possible? An average American income is $32,000, so 1% is $320. Enough for a nice phone, or for saving about one life.

Whatever we're used to starts to feel normal after a while. After trying a year of 1%, you may find that 2% or 5% feels doable. And beyond that – who knows how far you'll go?

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Here are 2 ways to see that giving 10% is not much:

    (1) Reconsider your spending: it is likely more than 10% inefficient. Most people spend money on things that don't give them as much pleasure as other things they could do (in general: an item 2x the price doesn't give 2x the happiness).

    (2) Working 40 hours/week means you'll only take 4 hours during your week and "work to help someone else rather than yourself" (by donating the earnings from that time to an effective charity). Ask yourself, is working 4 hours/week to make the world a much better place* worth your time?

    * by this I mean prevent needless deaths via cheap, proven interventions like malaria nets (that cost $5/net to make, deliver, and distribute)