This post is part of a 13 money resolutions for 2013 series. You can check the first post for an updated list of the following ones.
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Now that you got your finances back on track, it is time to get out there and give back. For many, during times of financial hardship, giving is not in the picture. I am not going to talk to you about the bad karma you are building, or what the books say about tithing, simply that giving is a great, selfless act, and you don’t need to be rich to give.
Giving on a limited budget
You can give your time and bring so much to people around you. I used to go play the piano at a retirement home. It was no big deal, we went there with friends and played music. We enjoyed playing anyway, and this audience was welcoming and really not picky. So while doing our usual practice set, we would bring a bit of joy and animation to the house. My friend goes every week to a children hospital. She is a gifted painter and has a class of ten kids or so who gather to paint with her. Another one serves hot food under a subway bridge in Paris a few times a week. Even if you don’t have money, you surely have time to give a little something.
Offer your skills. Charities always look for people to raise money, organize events, build their website, supervise youth camps, tutor kids, bake cookies, or even fix a leak in their roof!
Find a charity you like, get over there and offer to help. You should never be pressured to give money, or anything more than what you are willing to give.
Giving builds social capital
Remember George Bailey? On the old classic movie It’s a wonderful life, George spent his life helping his fellow citizens, approving small loans and mortgages for them to improve their living conditions. When he finds himself on the verge of bankruptcy, all the citizens give him their life savings to help him.
George Bailey was not rich by financial standard but he had an amazing social capital. Helping and giving will help you build social capital. If you volunteer at your church or local charity, you will meet a lot of people that will be ready to lend you a hand should the need arise. While I hope you will never need food or emergency housing, you may be glad to see the charity’s accountant offering you an hour to go over your taxes, or the church lending you a room to host your book club meetings.
Never give in hopes of receiving, but be aware that you may live a richer life by being generous.
Giving to the right people
We all like different kind of charities. I like local charities, because I can see what my help does, and I can volunteer on top of giving money. I also like a few causes like women litteracy, access to potable water, and education in general.
You may choose to give to research for a rare disease a loved one has. To sponsor a 10k race your niece is raising money for. To buy girl scout cookies. Or to give to the homeless guy down the street.
Try to do your research a little bit. While the great majority of charities have good intentions and offer transparency in their accounts, some are not as noble.
As far as people are concerned, I try to give material help. If I know a family has a gambling father or an alcoholic mother, I will prefer to bring a bag of groceries or offer to take the kids out for a fun day.
Giving back, or passing it forward doesn’t have to mean giving to a charity. You can help a family member, a friend, a neighbor, again with money or material help. Offer to relieve a busy single mum by taking her kids once a week. Teach your neighbor a skill you master, or watch their house while they are away. Giving starts around you, by trying to help in any way you can.
Giving the right amount.
Only you know what amount of time or money you can afford to give to charity and causes. Any night that you spend at the soup kitchen is a night you are not spending with your family, or earning extra money, or simply resting at home.
Start with one night per month, or a small amount, like $10 per month. Then gradually increase your time or donation until you are satisfied about it.
Many people talk about 10% of income. If you are still paying down debt, you may want to put that money towards being debt free, then resume your donations. Or if you earn $2,000 and want to give $200, figure out how many hours of your time represent $200, and volunteer for that duration.
If you are a great couponer, you can stretch you donation money even further. Ask the charity if they have use for whatever product is on sale and go buy a big amount with coupons.
Giving has hidden benefits
Quite amazingly, the person who will benefit the most from you giving, is yourself. You will feel good about it. People will like you and respect you for it. You may even get financial benefits out of it. Donations are tax deductible, so if you take your old clothes to the Salvation Army, you may get a tax deduction.
I raised money for a project we had in Africa, and we were able to take 20 kids who had very limited resources almost for free. I was a supervisor so we flew for free, and after the project I stayed for another month enjoying my free flight to Africa.
I obviously didn’t do it for the money, but this is an example of a hidden benefit of giving. You will receive. An old person smiling at you while you play music for them, or a troubled teenager thanking you for pushing her to do something with her life is priceless.
Are you volunteering somewhere? What charities do you give to?