For the last six-ish years, Mr. Steward and I have given away at least 10% of our take-home pay. We gave even as we were paying down debt. But wait, isn’t that crazy? If you’re indebted and giving away money, aren’t you effectively financing your giving?
To be fair, we did have a few caveats in our debt repayment story. Our money situation was not so tight that we were unable to eat or keep the lights on because of our giving. In fact, we were able to maintain a healthy repayment schedule on top of it. Additionally, since I was still in graduate school, my debt was not collecting interest. If either condition had been different, we likely would not have given so much. Nonetheless, giving slowed down our debt repayment plan. So why do it?
Gratitude is the Key to Financial Happiness
Giving with the assumption that you will get back is a poor reason to give. Nonetheless, I can unequivocally say that building that margin into our finances helps to keep us right-minded about our financial situation. In debt repayment (and when pursuing a frugal lifestyle) it is easy to think of all the things that you can’t have.
The fact is, pretty much any American or Canadian reading this blog is really, really, freakin’ rich. How rich? With my less-than-stellar gross salary alone (no benefits), the Global Rich List places me in the top 1.23% of people in the world. Combine the Steward household (still no benefits), and we are in the top .15% of the world population. Take a second and go pop in your own numbers. I’ll wait.
See? Hopefully you read on down the page, and noticed some of the impact that even a little bit of your spending power can have on lives in other parts of the world. Why should you care? I think there are a lot of selfless reasons you should be willing to give, but let’s talk about the selfish ones. Giving away a portion of our income was a tangible reminder of how we actually live in abundance–we have so much we can just give 10% of it to others and not miss it.
Living a life of gratitude is a key to attaining most of the things we want in life. Science is showing that practicing gratitude makes us healthier, happier, and more able to engage in positive social relationships. Most major religions posit gratitude as a key component of living out your faith. Gratitude also inoculates you against advertising. It’s hard to convince you that you need to buy x better product when you’re pretty sure your life is already totally awesome. For me, giving simultaneously fosters gratitude as I contemplate the things I already have as I write out the check, and is an expression of the gratitude I already feel. I am happy to share, when I feel like I have more than enough. It becomes a self-feeding cycle.
But Couldn’t You Give Later?
But why did we give when we were still paying off debt? The answer is fairly simple. Pursuing a financial goal is often a long slog. You need things to help you feel positive about money and your life. Giving can do that. Even if you cannot give money because you are in the “lights might get turned off” camp, you could give a part of your other asset–time. Sitting at a homeless shelter at night or building a home for someone not only helps someone else, but can help you to find the abundance in your own life even when times are lean.
Moreover, just as your bills keep coming, so do they persist for any sort of charitable organization. It’s easy to say, “I’ll give when I have saved up my millions,” but in the meantime, the work of the charity goes undone. That means children are dying from malnutrition or poor healthcare now, women continue to have terrible quality of life because of a fistula now, or malaria wreaks havoc on a population that cannot afford mosquito nets now. That is why, for me, it has been imperative that we continue to give generously through all stages of our wealth-building process.
I’ll talk a little more soon about how to choose where to give your cash. In the meantime, would you give money away while still indebted? Do you give now? If so, to which organizations do you give?