This is another post from HLR! I said you would be seeing more posts from me, but maybe you didn’t realize you would be seeing them so soon!
After reading MLR’s recent guest post at Frugal Dad “The Three Most Influential Lessons My Parents Taught Me,” I thought about the way my parents viewed responsible finance. For better or worse, I think it’s safe to say that the way that parents teach their kids about money can have a huge impact on their kids’ futures.
Save the Bats
My brother Jon was about seven years old, and he had been learning about bats in his second grade class. He took an extreme liking to the nocturnal creature, and grew increasingly concerned about the fact that six out of forty-five species were labeled as “endangered species.”
Hannukah came around in December, and my brother and I got books and toys and games we had ached for all year long. On the eighth night, though, as was tradition in my home, my parents gave us each twenty-five dollars to donate to whichever cause we deemed most worthy. I can’t remember where my money went that year, but Jon’s went speedily and directly to Bat Conservation International.
Over ten years have passed since that Hannukah, and my brother’s passion for bats has all but disappeared. It turned out to be a short-lived passion. However, my parents’ devotion to giving is something that has stuck with my brother and me.
My parents were always very money-conscious, but also serious about giving to those who needed help. There was a fair but strict allowance policy in my household. My brother and I had to have three “accounts;” the savings account, the spending account, and the charity account. We always had to put at least ten percent of our allowance into each account every week.
When I accompanied my mother to the mall and asked for a CD, or a pair of jeans, my mother never argued with me. The response was always, “Sure, if you have enough money in your account to pay for it.” The occasion was very rare when my mother would buy something for me instead of having me purchase it for myself. Her logic was sound; she gave me a decent allowance each week, and thus, I should be able to save and buy my own Spice Girls CD (yes, I really did buy one), or my own flared ripped-when-you-bought-them jeans (again, yes).
How Much is Enough?
As I grew older and began my high school years, my parents signed me up for my first credit card (which was linked to theirs). Consistent with their belief in giving, my parents encouraged me (but never forced me) to set aside between five and ten percent of my paychecks to charity. While this figure may seem out of proportion to those of you with full-time professional careers, keep in mind that my high school experience in the working world consisted of a fifteen-hour workweek at the local Hallmark store.
While some charitable individuals give twenty-percent (or more) of their earnings, my parents readily admitted to me that they only felt they could afford to give around five percent. I’m an advocate of giving away whatever amount with which you’re comfortable. After all, feeling that charity is a burden may defeat the purpose in some sense.
Giving the Gift Card that Gives
As of late, my mother has become more creative and perhaps more technologically savvy in her charitable ways. This year, for Hannukah, my mother gave everyone in the family a gift card to www.globalgiving.org, an organization dedicated to funding education, health, and microfinance projects. We were all able to log on to the site and chose the project we felt most connected to. Many projects even let you determine which aspect of the project you wanted your money to go towards.
Last year, she bought each of us twenty-five credits to a site, www.kiva.org, where we could again choose the project that we connected with. The money you give, however, is not charity; so don’t try to write it off during tax season! The projects on these sites are all entrepreneurial endeavors, and the money is a microloan – paid back, slowly but surely. Once the borrower has paid back in full, the lender is free to retrieve his or her money, or to lend again to a different project.
Giving “giving” gift cards is a nice alternative to kitschy vases or picture frames that might end up in a cardboard box in a few months. Without doubt, this type of gift will not please everyone, but I’m sure each of us has a few friends or family who would appreciate something like this.
Finding the Right Charity
Searching for an appropriate charity to give to is not difficult to do. Websites like www.charitynavigator.org offer charities by categories, and can even help you decipher the finances of various charities so that you know you are giving to a trustworthy organization. The IRS also provides a comprehensive online-list of charities that are eligible for tax-write offs (http://www.irs.gov/charities). Giving has also become incredibly easy, as most organizations accept online donations.
Of course, giving takes various forms. Volunteering time for a good cause is just as valuable, and some would say more valuable, than a monetary gift (check out www.volunteermatch.org). Giving support to a movement you believe in (perhaps writing a letter to a newspaper or a politician) is always worthwhile. And, of course, instilling in your children the notion that “fiscally responsible” could also entail giving some money away here and there is a valuable pursuit.
Charity as a Habit
My goal here is not to sound preachy. I confess that I do not give to charity as much as I used to when I lived with my parents! However, in keeping with the mantra of My Life ROI, I think we can consider how to make our lives fuller through financial aspects, as well as those that are not financial. My parents taught me that “giving charity” wasn’t just a nice thing to do when the mood struck, but a habit that could be realistically worked into every day life.
Whether you connect with local charities, international relief, environmental agencies, or the plight of the bats, “giving” (however you define it) makes a person more financially aware, more socially aware, and in the end – it makes you feel good.