There’s no right or wrong way to be generous. Charitable giving is a beautiful thing, no matter who it comes from or how big (or small) the dollar amount! Today, I’ll talk about some ways to include charity in your budget.
As a kid, my parents taught me to tithe, giving 10% of all my earnings to our family church. It wasn’t much at the time — like 10 cents here or there — because I was only earning pocket money doing odd chores around the house.
When I turned 14 and started working at McDonald’s, 10% of my income seemed like a much bigger amount. Working 4 shifts a week would earn me about $100, so I’d have about $10 to give to church each Sunday.
Around age 16, I started working on the weekends and stopped attending church on Sundays. I still siphoned off 10% of my income and just let the money build up until I had a few hundred dollars in my “charity” account.
I remember asking my Mum one day, “I don’t want to give to church anymore … where else can I do a charitable donation?” My Mum told me that some of our family friends were buying a house and were going through a tough financial situation. We ended up giving them an envelope full of cash one day, and it was the biggest gift I had ever given as a teenager. It felt great.
Put charity in your budget, and donating time instead of money
I wish I could say I kept giving 10% of my income through adulthood, but I’d be lying. As my income rose, I found it harder and harder to give money away. It wasn’t really about the dollar amount … It was more difficult finding charitable causes that I was personally passionate about and could see the impact of my charity directly. Or maybe that’s just the excuse I told myself?
On the flip side, I do love claiming charity and donations as a tax deduction! The higher your income, the better the tax benefit. 🙂
Yet charity isn’t just giving money to a nonprofit and then recording it on your tax form.
Over the years I’ve found a TON of different ways to be generous — donating time, helping friends or strangers, paying it forward, volunteering, etc.
If you’re looking for different ways to make a charitable contribution to your community, check out some of the following strategies 🙂
*Keep in mind… Whether you give $1 or $1 million, I believe charity should be a FUN budget item — something that makes you feel good! There should be no guilt or shame associated with the money you give or don’t give.
Add charity to your budget process slowly, or include it in your “gifts” budget line item
For me, I include charity in my “giving” line item in my budget. For 2020 my wife and I have $5,000 budgeted, which includes birthday gifts, Christmas stuff, favors for people, sponsoring friend’s charity events, and setting up a brokerage account for my new baby nephew!
Throughout the year, it feels easier for us to donate small chunks of money here and there, simply because we’ve already budgeted and accounted for it.
If you’re not in the habit of giving money regularly — and want to be — try adding a small amount to your budget for charity, and increasing your monthly donations very gradually.
Even if you start with $1 for 1 month, $2 the next month, $3 the month after, and keep growing by just $1 additional per month … then in 5 short years you’ll be giving $60 per month to charity (that’s a $720 line item in your annual budget! Woo!). This is a slow strategy that will build a habit of giving without shocking your current annual spend.
Cut a subscription, donate the money instead
A friend of mine recently cancelled her Hulu Premium streaming service. She’s keeping the $12 per month line item in her budget, and just moving it over to a “gift fund.” She hasn’t quite made up her mind about how she’ll give this money yet, but it’s being kept aside ready for when she finds a good cause.
My friend says, “It’s sort of a win-win because I give up something I feel guilty about, and replace it with something I feel great about!”
Pay it forward
If you’re finding it hard to justify giving to charity, think about all the blessings and advantages you have been given in life. Consider paying it forward, just as someone helped you. Like for like, or in different ways, here are some examples of paying it forward:
- Someone gives you a lift and saves you $5 in gas? → You tip your server $5 extra that night.
- Your boss picks up the tab for your lunch? → You make an extra dinner for your neighbors.
- Your grandma leaves you $5,000 in inheritance money? → You set aside some gift funds for someone else in your family one day.
- You get $1,200 in stimulus payment that you weren’t expecting → You help local businesses and those who are less fortunate.
Next month I’ll share some of the financial gifts my wife and I have been given and our plans to pay it forward to our younger relatives.
Volunteer or donate your time instead of money
When I left my job in 2018, my income was reduced to zero. I found it hard to give away much money because I wasn’t earning any. However, I had an abundance of time.
I stumbled across a flyer for a local Meals on Wheels organization and started volunteering there just 1 day per week. Sometimes I feel my time is more valuable than money, and I definitely feel happier volunteering than I thought I would.
Animal shelters, national parks, veterans associations, local chambers of commerce, food pantries and delivery services, Habitat for Humanity, museums, the YMCA, emergency preparedness outreach programs, etc. — chances are, they ALL need help. Find an area you think will be fun and see how you can help!
Attend a fundraising event!
I’ve only been to a few fancy fundraisers (when my past employers covered the ticket sales or sponsored a table). And while sometimes they were very over the top or expensive, it was always fun and supported a good cause.
Also, fundraising events are a great date night! It’s fun dressing up, pretending to be fancy, and rubbing shoulders with the uber-wealthy people who attend. My wife and I awkwardly slip $20 into the donation box while others write $20k checks like it’s nbd!
My parents sponsored a few children via Compassion International when I was growing up. What we loved most about their system is interacting (via written letters) with the kids from overseas. Seeing and hearing first-hand the impact that our donations made was really cool.
Some Compassion programs start at $7 per month — a small amount for you could mean a huge amount to someone else!
Write to a prisoner
Speaking of writing letters, last year while listening to a podcast called Ear Hustle, I learned about a website called Write A Prisoner. This site connects you directly with people serving time behind bars. I signed up (it’s free) and now I have 2 pen pals who are in different California prison systems.
Although this isn’t really considered a traditional form of charity, I am giving of my time here. I truly believe it’s a great cause and I’m making a small difference in people’s lives. The more that prison inmates learn and interact with the outside world, the less likely they are to resort back to crime when they are released!
*Side note: The last few inmate letters I’ve sent have gone unanswered due to Covid lockdowns at the prisons. Just FYI if you are considering writing yourself – be patient when waiting for replies! 🙂
Do things pro bono — use your skills or business to help others!
You don’t need to own a business to offer pro bono work. You can help people using the experience and skills that come easy to you — at no charge.
- Know how to build websites? Help a charitable organization that needs one.
- You’re good at graphic design? Try making a logo for a friend or neighbor’s business.
- You’re a yoga enthusiast and know all the moves? Host a free virtual yoga session for all your Facebook contacts and save them a few bucks from buying a workout class.
- Got a sewing machine and spare time? Make some face masks for your neighbors and friends.
- Are you a lawyer, doctor, accountant, acupuncturist, therapist, personal trainer, or have a unique certification in something? Consider offering some of your services free or at a reduced cost to someone who generally can’t afford your expertise.
Donate the stuff you don’t use anymore
Next time you’re decluttering and clearing out your house, consider donating your unwanted items instead of selling them. Your old iPhone, kitchen appliances, or the nice clothes you never wear.
Giving stuff to people you know is nice, because you get to see and feel the effects of your generosity directly. But Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity are also good alternatives. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped someone else out there get a deal on an item they need, and the profit those organizations make also goes toward helping the less fortunate! These places also give receipts that you can use to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes!
Would love to hear any non-traditional ways you guys give back… What’s the largest (or most impactful) donation you’ve ever made?