One of the dangers of spending a lot of time talking about personal finances is that it can get to seem like life is all about money. And it’s not.
It’s easy for money to become the focus, the goal in itself. That’s like making food the focus of our lives. It’s true that we need some money and we need some food, but life shouldn’t be about money or food.
So today we’re talking about giving away money. Getting rid of it. Showing our money that we know it isn’t the most important thing, and doing something good with it for someone else instead.
Don’t not give in the name of frugality. Being frugal isn’t just about spending less money, frugality is about being intentional with your money. Choosing to give is definitely an intentional use of money, one that I don’t want to overlook, so today I want to talk about how you can (and why you should) give generously even when finances are tight.
Why should I give when finances are tight?
Let’s start with the “why” since the “how”is only important once you have a “why.”
Why should you give when you’re on a tight budget? Why should you give at all? That may have an intuitive answer for some people and be a soul-searching question for others. I’m not here to judge your conclusions, just to encourage you to ponder and discover your own answers. Here are some common reasons people give, both of their resources and time.
To support causes that matter to us
You’ve heard the saying, “put your money where your mouth is.” We can talk all day about things that matter to us, but it’s when we start doing something about it (i.e. giving of our money, time, and resources) that we show our true devotion.
We feel that we should
We might give because we feel like we should. Nearly all religions include a mandate to give to people less fortunate. And completely non-religious people can feel compelled to give, even if they don’t feel commanded to do it. There’s always someone less fortunate, and something inside of us makes us feel like we ought to be doing something about it.
It feels good
If you are feeling down and out, one of the best ways to snap out of it is to go serve someone. You’ll look at your own problems in a new light. You might even be glad that you have your problems and not someone else’s. It’s kind of magical–doing good feels good.
Generosity is a habit
We are creating habits every day. If you’re not giving, you are strengthening this habit. It’s easy to say, when I make more more (or when my debt is paid, or when our house is remodeled), I will be generous. Having more money (or less debt) is not going to make us suddenly generous. We need to cultivate the habit of giving now.
How can I give when finances are tight?
Make giving a priority
Just like all our other financial decisions, how we use our money is a reflection of our priorities. If you’ve decided that giving is important to you, then make it a priority. Budget money for giving just like you would budget money for any another priority. As you do it, it will become easier. How much you give will depend on how large your total budget is, but a good rule of thumb is to give enough that it hurts a little. If your giving doesn’t pinch, if you don’t have to forgo something because of it, you might want to think about increasing how much you give.
Give of your time and talents
Money isn’t the only thing you have to give. In many cases, time is even more precious than money. If money is tight (and even if it isn’t), volunteering is great way to give. Whether you’re giving your time to serve in an organized community project, or you’re taking time to help an elderly neighbor repair his home, giving of yourself is a great way to give.
Give of your stuff
Donating things (not junk), is another way to be generous when your monetary resources are limited. You can donate to a non-profit thrift store or offer what you have to give on Freecycle.org or Craigslist.org. You aren’t limited to second-hand goods. You can use your time, talents, and stuff to make dinner for a neighbor or sew clothes for premature babies.
Making room in your budget for giving is not a new financial principle. Philosophers and religious teachers for millennia have taught that giving is an important part of living a full life. Modern books on personal finance nearly always include a section on giving too. We have all been the recipients of so many generous givers, that it would seem supremely ungrateful not to be givers ourselves as well.
Take a few minutes and assess what you’re already giving. Is your giving a good reflection of your priorities? Are you giving enough that it pinches a little? If you find that some changes are in order, decide how you will work your new giving plan into your budget or your schedule. Then get on it! Today is the best day to start a great new habit.