The Basic Human Decency Fund

Right now, a friend is struggling with the tragic loss of a child. One of her wishes for the funeral was that it be filled with flowers. So, of course, we ordered some flowers. After doing so, I had the following text exchange with Mr. Steward:

Me: I ordered some flowers for [friend]. They came to $50ish. What part of the budget should I take that from? I could do gift, or my personal spending if need be?

Mr. Steward: Um, the basic human decency fund? I don’t know, it needed to be done. Gift is fine, I guess?

I didn’t think any more about it, until a friend pointed out later, “Mr. Steward is really great. You know, not everyone would have that reaction.” She’s right. I’ve written before about how giving is important to us, and why we make it a priority to tithe to our church and earmark money for other giving. Ours is largely motivated by our faith and at this point is almost a matter of course (for better or worse).

Giving is not that simple for many, though. You may not have a faith that demands that you give. Moreover, if you don’t have extra cash in the first place, it’s hard to part with money even if you want to. And, for some (Mr. Steward is one of these), the “want to” is a learned skill. His first thought would not always have been to simply do the generous thing; generosity is something he has learned as time goes on. My own frugality can likewise cause me to have ungenerous thoughts from time to time.

It strikes me, though, that a “basic human decency fund” is a really great way to express why it’s important for anyone who can to earmark some cash for giving. Events are inevitably going to happen in life that move you to act in ways that involve money. Friends experience a major tragedy and need their physical needs met. Natural disasters occur half a world away. Long-distance relatives need us there, stat.

Having a bit of money set aside each month to respond to such events when they arise is a fundamentally decent thing to do. It is decent not just for the receiver of the gift, although that is the obvious point. It also helps the person doing the giving to feel their own decency, to feel as if they can truly respond to the events in the world around them without the stress and fear of what will happen to one’s own self clouding their generosity.

If you don’t budget for giving yet (or if you don’t budget at all!), consider finding a way to set aside a little cash for a “basic human decency” fund. I suspect you’ll be so pleased that you did.

23 Replies to “The Basic Human Decency Fund”

    • Ms. Steward

      And remembering to leave room for that decency! Sometimes I think we get so fixated on optimization of money we forget about… humanization(?) of money.

    • Lady Elizabeth Scott-Hughes

      I have 8 savings accounts to hold money for different periodic expenses; one is my GOOD AND GRACIOUS LIVING account. It feels good to be able to simply DO whatever nice thing comes into my mind when an occasion arises. Except buy ponies….I have drawn a line there!!

  1. Matt Spillar @ Spills Spot

    Congrats on the Rockstar Finance feature! This is a great idea. We budget for giving, but if something special comes up we jump at the opportunity. I think this further shows why it’s so important to have as big a gap between your income and expenses as possible. Instead of wondering whether the money is there, we can focus on how we can best help when these situations come up.

    • Ms. Steward

      Thanks! I’m really pumped about the RSF feature. I’ve been grinning like an idiot all day.

      Yes, having a buffer is definitely important. Not everyone has as easy of a time with that, but that’s certainly why we had no worries–we knew that even if we went over our “gift” budget, we could just subtract a little from whatever goal our “leftover” money was being applied toward that month.

  2. Femme Frugality

    I love this. May have to start a basic human decency fund of my own. Will make budgeting a lot simpler every time it’s time to give–I usually pull it out of other random categories, too.

    • Ms. Steward

      Yes, our “gift” fund, although abstractly named, was intended to be the fund for Christmas/birthday gifts. I think now we’ll bump up how much we’re putting in, but also utilize that as a “when the spirit moves” fund, since the line seems somewhat blurry and it’s giving on top of routine.

      It definitely does help to know the money is definitely already there instead of worrying where it will come from, I can tell you that! Let me know if you try it out and how it goes.

  3. Jo

    This resonates with me so much – 3 months ago my 14 year old niece passed away very unexpectedly from an asthma attack.
    Never have I been more grateful for our savings (we took it from our emergency fund), as we didn’t have to think before giving my brother and sister-in-law $500 to help with the funeral cost.

  4. Menard

    Thanks for this. We do give to our local church and some charities, but you made me think about setting aside an actual budget for this stuff.

    • Ms. Steward

      Awesome! We do ours a couple of different ways, for what it’s worth. We have a general line of tithing to our church, but our “gift” budget, which used to just cover CHristmas/birthday gifts, has grown to encompass this sort of spontaneous giving as well.

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    A friend just had surgery and the money for her flowers came out of our “well no sh!t, if I can’t be there to help out then at least the flowers can be” fund. Your name is better, though. 🙂
    Hurricane devastation, people with kids who have extraordinary needs, pets needing emergent care – I’m ok with flowing a bit of money their way because if I forget what the whole point of money accumulation is for then I’ll have lost a far greater value in my life than a mere $20-25 a month.

    In my youth, my parents called it (in another language): community capital. We all need to be part of the community in some way and that usually involves lending a physical hand when someone needs help or finding $5 when someone needs money.

    • Ms. Steward

      My name may be catchier, but yours hits the nail on the head exactly.

      I love the idea of community capital. That was something else I was pondering but wasn’t sure how to articulate–that in some ways, these are the “costs” of being involved in an active, engaged community. So glad you mentioned that!

  6. Erica Burton

    I hadn’t thought of a human decency fund, but it’s brilliant.

    I did not grow up tithing, but my husband and I have decided it is something we are going to do. Our budget is tight, so we started with 1% the first month, 2% the second, working our way up to the full ten percent. Since we have not found a home church, we set aside the money and have used it to buy food and make donations to local pantries in three communities.

    I am going to talk to the hubs about a human decency fund asap. Thanks for the idea!

    • Ms. Steward

      I think giving at all is the important thing. I was just having a conversation with a friend the other day who does a full tithe (10%) now, but did just as you did. She started at the 1-2% that she could give, and scaled up from there.

      Glad the idea resonated with you! Do let me know how that talk goes!

  7. Frank

    I think the old principle of tithing – giving 10% of your income to charity – is good.

    Similarly for hindu, maybe sikhs and muslims and some christians – it’s a good idea to think that – gee – 10% of my income should be used as fertilizer – to grow a better society

    and they say – the longest lasting source of human happiness – comes from helping others – giving to others – you immediately feel good – you can’t buy that feeling – but you can get it by giving money to a stranger.

    Zen buddhist – ‘the giver should be grateful’ – if you have enough to give away, you should be happy – many don’t have enough to eat, so if you have spare to give, be happy !

    • Ms. Steward

      Yes. We’ve talked about it in other posts here, but for us, giving away 10+% of our income is about expressing gratitude for our abundance, in addition to trying to change the world.

  8. Victoria Fredericks

    I recently wrote about a similar topic (giving while in debt) on my blog. I think it’s so important to factor in giving, generosity, and “basic human decency” as you put it–even when we are carrying a debt burden. One need not be wealthy or debt-free to give freely, although some might disagree with that.

    • Ms. Steward

      We don’t disagree! I actually have a post elsewhere here, called something like “Why We Gave Away Ten Percent Of Our Income Even While We Were in Debt.”

      Honestly, I suspect most would agree–I could be wrong, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says you have to have a paid-for house, for instance, before doing any charitable giving.

      Great point!

  9. Elizabeth Chan

    I generally count such expenses towards Charity. Like the commenter above, I also started my tithing habit with small percentages and inched up. Including expenses that weren’t necessarily 501c3s but made me feel great helped me understand that I could give more in the charity column while seeing really tangible results and helped me form the habit of giving (but I could see how your charity spending could also devolve into a gifts category). Great post!

    • Ms. Steward

      Very interesting! Love these ways to dip one’s toes into the water, especially the idea of including general feel-good spending on others. That’s a cool idea.

      We do two budget lines for giving really–one for our tithe, and then now better-funding our “gift” category for above-and-beyond giving.

      Whatever works is the best option!

  10. Daniel

    Love the concept. We have a Stewardship reserve fund. Which we use for small ad hoc missions to individuals like petrol food hospital or just cash in general. It’s not huge at the moment but it is budgeted in and we are planning to grow it over time. It’s the most satisfying line item on our budget☺️

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