Give First

625456_742535680785_121657861_nIn late January, the car that I had been driving for the past ten years, my Volkswagen Bug, decided to call it quits. I soon found out that getting a new vehicle brought with it a whole new set of expenses, namely car payments and higher insurance rates. I spent many nights staring at my budget wondering how on earth I was ever going to make these payments happen. I cut down much of my discretionary spending, like entertainment and dining out, but the hardest expense for me to cut was my giving. For the first time in my life I had to cut the percentage of my income that I give to the church and other non-profits that I really care about. The decision grieved me, and quite honestly still does. One of my greatest joys in life is giving money away to causes that I care about. But, I knew that this is what I had to do for the time being.

As I have talked to other young adults, I’ve realized that I am not alone. Those who come to graduate school after being in the work force often face decisions like this as they learn how to live on a considerably smaller income. Young adults coming out of college or graduate school with debt feel this tension as they realize what portion of their income will be going towards their student loans. Similarly, young couples who are buying their first home also have to make these sorts of tough decisions as they realize that their mortgage payments will consume a large portion of their budget. In the face of such financial pressures, giving often ends up on the bottom of our budget or as a piece of what is left over (if there is any).

But, what would it look like to give first?

In The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist writes, “You feel vibrant and alive when you use your money in a way that represents you, not just a response to the market economy, but also an expression of who you are. When you let your money move to things you care about, your life lights up. That’s really what money is for.” (119) When I think about the things that I really value in life the first things to come to mind are not usually my apartment, groceries, or student loans, while I know that I need all of those things. Rather the first things to come to mind are sustaining my relationships, fostering my faith community, ending world hunger, and providing scholarships to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get a good education. What comes to mind for you?

Giving first, as a part of my normal budgeted expenses, no matter how small the amount, makes me feel alive! It reminds me that no matter how little I have to give I can still make a difference in the world through the causes that I believe in. This is not to say that there aren’t other ways to give outside of money. There are many great ways to give of our time and talents that make a huge difference for the causes we love. But, when we only give of our time and neglect our money we forget the great power that money has. Twist writes, “One of the greatest dynamics of money is that it grounds us, and when we put money behind our commitments it grounds them, too, making them real in the world . . . Money is a great translator of intention to reality.” (194) When we give money to places that we value, it reminds us that we are not only consumers but also givers and that economic pressures do not need to have the last word.

So, I challenge you to join me in giving first; to let your giving be intentional, rather than an after thought. In the worlds of Lynne Twist, I invite you “to imbue your money with soul—your soul—and let it stand for who you are, your love, your heart, your word, and your humanity.” (257)

Join the Conversation: What do you think about giving first? Is this something that would work for you?

Join in on #GivingTuesday: A New Holiday Tradition

We have one day for giving thanks and two for getting deals, wouldn’t it be great if we had a day for giving back?

Welcome Giving Tuesday a new, charitable addition to the week after Thanksgiving!

As the mission statement says, “#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.” On this day there are a variety of ways that you can give back:

  • Volunteer: You can take a little bit of time to volunteer for one of your favorite organizations .
  • Give: You can give money to help support your favorite cause.
  • Advocate: Support your favorite organization by advocating for it via social media.

Like I said in my post on Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the ways that I have been able to give back. So take a day to give of your time, talent, passions, and money. No gift is too small! Don’t forget to tweet using the hash tag #GivingTuesday!

For more information on Giving Tuesday or some of the organizations involved in this movement, check out the Huffington Post’s series on Giving Tuesday or visit the Giving Tuesday website.

Join the Conversation: How will you celebrate Giving Tuesday?

The 4-Step Plan For Choosing Charities

Support Starving Children around the World! Support Abused Animals! Support the Environment! Support Your College! Support Victims of Natural Disasters! These days we seem to be bombarded with too many charities asking us to give our money to their causes. So, how do you choose between so many good causes? It can be a tough choice, but hopefully these four questions will help you discern which charities you want to give to.

  • Does the Charity Align with Your Values? Begin by making a list of what causes are important to you. Who do you want to help? What kind of work should the organization do? Do you want to give locally or globally? As you answer these questions you can begin to form a list of charities that you know of that match these values. If you want to find new charities that match your values you can use charitynavigator or justgive to search different charities.
  • How Much Does the Charity Spend Its Money? When you are considering a charity it is important to look at how much of a charity’s money is put towards the charity’s cause. A good way to do this is to look at administrative and fundraising costs vs. program costs. A good charity’s combined administrative and fundraising costs should make up 25% or less of their budget. Most charities will have this information easily accessible on their website. You should also verify this information by searching for the charity on a charity evaluator site, such as charity navigator. A charity evaluator will offer comprehensive information about the charity, including its finances, as well as offer the charity a rating.
  • Is the Charity Certified? It is important to check if your organization is legitimate, if it is registered as a charity by the IRS and if your donation is tax deductible. While most charity evaluators will have this information, it is important to check with the IRS directly. This process will help you to weed out dubious organizations and ensure that you are giving to the right charity.
  • Does the Charity Offer Other Ways to Get Involved Besides Giving Money? Volunteering is a great way to get to know a charity. You can see more clearly the ways that the charity lives out its mission as well as how it spends its money. If you want to give to a charity that you are not very familiar with this is a great way to solidify your decision to give.

 After you finish this process, you should feel confident about giving to the charity of your choice. For more information on choosing charities check out this msnbc article or this charity choices article.

 

Join the conversation: What charities do you support that reflect these criteria? Why did you choose to give to these charities?

 

Frugal New Year’s Resolutions: Will 2012 Be Your Year?

Will 2012 be your year to become more frugal? Most people who make a list of New Year’s Resolutions will include at least one item related to spending, saving or sharing their money. Whether you are preparing to take on a daunting list or you haven’t even given a thought to New Year’s Resolutions, why not make a frugal goal for the coming year. Here are a few ideas:

  • Managing Your Credit Card Debt: Do you struggle with credit card debt? This year you could create a plan to eliminate your credit card debt and begin paying your credit card bills on time.
  • Increasing Your Charitable Giving: Often times charitable giving ends up being the last thing on the list when money comes in. Why not begin making it a priority? If you are more of a spontaneous giver, why not begin making your giving more consistent?
  • Paying Off The Interest On Your Student Loans: This is immensely important because it can save you a lot of money in the long run, but many students don’t take advantage of it.
  • Cutting A Bad Spending Habit: We all have bad spending habits, those little (or not so little) impulse buys that really add up. Whether you buy clearance clothes because they are a bargain but you never actually wear them or you over-indulge in pre-packaged foods, this is a good time to identify and begin cutting your bad habit.
  • Creating and Maintaining a Budget: If you haven’t done this already, this is a great habit to form. For more information check out these blog posts on creating and maintaining a budget.
  • Begin Saving Money: Savings really do add up even if it is just $20 per month. If you can take it out of your checking account by automatic withdrawal that’s even better, you won’t even miss it.
  • Living Within Your Means: Challenge yourself to actually live within your means this year by being intentional about only spending what you are earning.
  • Form Your Own Frugal Community: Get a group of friends together for a frugal party every month. Start a group that tries to find the best happy hour deals. Gather some people together to make homemade frugal gifts that you can use for any occasion.

I’m still trying to decide on my frugal New Year’s Resolution. What is your New Year’s Resolution for 2012?

Creative Ways To Give Back

When you are on a budget, you might feel constrained in your capacity to give back to your community. Here are some creative ways that you can give back, even if you are on a tight budget:

  • Tangible Charitable Gifts: Give a gift to someone in need in the name of a friend or relative. Many websites, including: ELCA Good gifts, Oxfam America and World Vision offer a variety of gifts under $25. You could give 2 soccer balls, art and music instruction or feed 10 people in soup kitchen for under $25 dollars.
  • Click Giving: There are a variety of sites that give food to the hungry just by clicking a button or completing a question. Freerice.com donates 10 grains of rice for every answer that you get right. Thehungersite.com gives 1.1 cups of food to the hungry just by clicking the button on their homepage. If you clicked the button once a day for a year you would help donate 401.5 cups of food!
  • Give Some of Your Stuff Away: Purge your closets and give away some of your gently used clothes, cellphones, computers or empty printer cartridges.
  • Social Media Awareness: Believe it or not, one of the biggest ways that you can help non-profit charities is through social media! Join Causes on Facebook, write a blog post about your favorite charity, follow your favorite charity on social network sites, use social media to start or sign a petition, or change your profile picture to show your support.
  • Recycle: This may seem simple, but it makes a big difference. Be conscious about recycling paper, cans, plastic and glass, and encourage your friends to do the same.
  • Throw a Giving Party: Grab some friends and go to Feed my Starving Children on a Saturday afternoon. Throw a party and ask each person to bring a can or $5 donation. Collect used books from your friends, host a book sale and give the proceeds to charity.
  • Form a Giving Circle: Do you wish that you could give a bigger donation to a specific cause? Buddy up with a few friends and give small donations together.
  • Give Your Spare Change: We have probably all heard the advice of keeping a coin jar, but did you know that you can give your “spare change” from of your credit card electronically? Swipegood.com allows you to give spare change by rounding up each credit card transaction. On average people give about $15 month to charity through this program.

Join the Conversation: What are some creative ways that you give back?