I always thought of myself as a generous person. I have a list of charities that I donate to annually, and I respond to all kinds of stray petitions throughout the year. Then I got laid off and discovered that what I really am, is a fair-weather contributor. Last year, I cut several of my annual contributions in half, sponsored only one friend in the Pan-Mass Challenge instead of two, and hardened my heart against the General Israel Orphans Home. Rather than feel good about what I gave, I feel ashamed about what I didn’t give.
While my loss of salary doesn’t create a financial hardship for my family per se, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it does substantially reduce our combined income; hard for me, anyway, not my better half. He continues to donate to his chosen charities generously. He doesn’t think we give enough; cutting back on my giving is not something he encourages.
Some of the wealthiest Americans, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, have signed ‘The Giving Pledge.’ They’ve agreed to give away half their wealth. That’s mighty impressive. Of course, most of their wealth is ‘on paper,’ and not the kind you spend at the supermarket. If Andrew and I gave away half of our wealth, it could jeopardize our ability to eat during retirement, or buy the dentures we’ll need to do it. Given that medical expenses are the single biggest cause of personal bankruptcies, how can you even know how much you’ll need to retire? Who’s to say that near the end I won’t be tin-cupping outside the General Israel Orphans Home to pay my medical bills?
I’m not trying to make excuses for my recent charitable parsimony, I’m trying to understand it. Apparently financial well-being is as much a state of mind as a reality. I’m confident that when my mind catches up to my reality, I’ll loosen the purse strings again.
In the meantime, our daughter’s allowance is provided with the following caveats: twenty-five percent has to go into long term savings, and twenty-five percent has to go to charity. She puts the money aside and makes her charitable donation at the end of the year. This past year, she had enough to buy a pig through Heifer International. (Pigs provide, “…a valuable source of protein, income from the sale of offspring and manure to nourish crops and soil and increase crop yields.”) Our hope is that charitable giving becomes a habit for her, even if some years all she can afford is a flock of chicks.