Why Do I Suck So Much at Giving to Charity?

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity?I’ve realized over the past year or so that I really suck at giving to charity.

Sure, I do a nice job of donating clothes to Goodwill throughout the year.  However, Goodwill tends to have a bad rap when it comes to pay and where donated clothes actually go.

Because of the question marks we tend to have on the organization, we’ve shifted more toward donating clothes to Volunteers of America most of the time.

I also consistently donate a ton of books to the library, but they’re generally books I bought from the library in the first place.

I buy books from the library books sales for my daughter… a lot of books!  Then after we read them so many times and she outgrows them, we donate them back.

Nevertheless, when it comes to causes of a more serious nature, giving to charity just isn’t my specialty.


Why do I suck at giving to charity?

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - Why do I suck at giving to charity?
Maybe I should wear this box over my head everyday. I’d put on pants though… maybe.

I don’t know if I can really answer this question sufficiently.

When I was younger, we did give to our church on a regular basis.  I don’t think it was a lot of money, but we didn’t have a lot of money either.

Other than that, I don’t remember if my mom gave to other causes as I was growing up.  That doesn’t mean she wasn’t giving to charity – it’s very possible she did and just didn’t tell us that she did.

I guess what I’m saying is that we did make some donations while growing up, but nothing crazy that I can remember.

When tragedy strikes, I become heart-broken like a lot of others.  Disasters like 9/11 and the hurricanes like Katrina, Harvey, and Irma really tugged at my heart.

Then there are the stupid, senseless shootings that just keep occurring in the schools.  The Parkland shootings were enough to ruin me for weeks.

So, why didn’t I donate anything then to help after these horrible incidents?

Again, I just don’t have a great answer for this and it’s embarrassing to admit this.

I consider us very fortunate to be where we are financially, but I’m selfish in that I keep thinking, “Well, I want to make sure that we’re where we need to be first.”

Stupid excuse, right?  But I think that’s the root of my problems – as if we just don’t have enough money to be positioned where I want to be.  It sounds even stupider as I type this.


Mrs. R2R is much less selfish than I am!

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - Mrs. R2R is much less selfish than I am!
I’m not really sure if this picture conveys just how giving Mrs. R2R is, but she would give a cracker to anyone… for real!

While we’ve determined that I truly do suck at giving to charity, we haven’t talked about Mrs. R2R.  She’s much better at giving back.

Although she also doesn’t donate much in the way of money, she fares more on the side of donating her time.

She worked at Make-A-Wish for nine years earning a crazy-low paycheck (much less than she deserved!) solely because she believed so much in the cause.

With us moving to Panama, she plans to give back by doing volunteer work while there.  She hasn’t decided specifically what she’ll be doing, but that’s how she plans to utilize a lot of the time she’ll gain once we’re FIRE.


We’re very fortunate

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - We're very fortunate
This is definitely not a picture you’d see of us, but boy this seems to show a couple happy with where they are in life, doesn’t it?!

I’m not blind – I realize that we’re extremely fortunate to be in the position we’re in.

We’re not rich, but the idea of financial independence is something that only a small percentage of people will ever reach.

We’re at a level now that most folks can only dream of when it comes to money.  At the end of 2019, I’ll be able to quit my job and we should hopefully never have to work another day in our lives if we don’t want to.

That’s crazy!  Unfortunately, it’s also something that most people will never see.  The majority of folks will need to keep working well into old age just to survive.

So yes, I do get how fortunate we are and how rare of a situation we’ve been blessed with and able to work toward.


Taking care of others

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - Taking care of others
It’s strange looking for post photos… apparently this represents taking care of others.

So we’ve established that we’re in a unique position financially that a lot of others aren’t in.

Does that mean we have a responsibility to take care of others?

Most folks might jump right in and say, “Hell, yes!”

I don’t know if that’s the case though.  I think that it’s not necessarily the responsibility of those with money to take care of everyone else.

However, I do think it’s a privilege of those with money to be able to handle giving to charity whereas others might not be able to do this.

I should have been taking advantage of that privilege and helping others along the way, but I haven’t.  I’ve been solely focused on the well-being of us as a family instead – as if we couldn’t share some of what we have.


The change

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - The change
Here I am working my way from a lowly caterpillar into a wonderful butterfly… horrible metaphor, right?

Well, there’s no time better than the present to change!

That should be simple, of course, but that’s when my OCD starts to kick in to make just this a little more complicated… sigh, everything’s always difficult with me!

The good news is that I already have an idea that’s not too much of a mess.  I just want to be smart in our giving to charity.

I can’t remember the show, but I heard a great idea on a podcast that I really liked.  Instead of just being haphazard with no rhyme or reason, I’m going to use a separate account for it.

I’m opening a bank account earmarked just for giving to charity.  I’ll automate a specific portion of money to fund that account every month.  Then when the time comes to give, we’ll have a place ready to go and pull from.

This will help us ensure we always have money specifically set aside for giving and it’ll also help us to keep track of our donations more easily every year.

It’s a simple solution to a problem and one that we should have started a long time ago.

At some point, we may start to look at moving into a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) as well.  This was a concept I first heard of after reading a post from Physician on FIRE.

With a DAF, you create a fund that you’re able to use to dish out grants to charities along the way.  There are some pros like some big tax benefits doing it this way.  There are also some possible cons in that the money in a DAF is no longer yours and can never be taken back out.

Regardless, it’s definitely an interesting idea to dig into.

On another front, we’ll see how the volunteering goes for my wife.  She’s better at doing stuff like that than I am, but with time on my hands after reaching FIRE, I might join her at some of her efforts.


What about our daughter?

Why Do I Suck so Much at Giving to Charity? - What about our daughter?
Here’s a photo of my daughter recently on a plane for our short Texas trip… she’s the best!

Yeah, I know what you’ve been thinking… “Jim, you need to make sure that your selfishness doesn’t rub off on your daughter!”


If you’ve noticed from past posts, right now, I have her save half her money and the other half is hers to spend.

That’s not the way it should be and I need to make sure we’re instilling the right values with her.

Most of you are probably familiar with the three-jar system – Save, Spend, Share.  In other words, any money your kid gets is divided evenly between the three jars.

The idea is obviously to promote both saving and giving back to a child.  I’ve always been a two-jar kinda guy, so this is something I need to work on.

I’m also a digital guy and all her saving is done online so we’re going to have to figure out a new system.  Right now, she gives me half of whatever money she receives and it goes into her online savings account, which I then match for her.  The other half she keeps to spend as she wants.

That third “jar” might end up being the same bank account we’re creating for giving to charity.  That will simplify things for now since it’s not like she has big money rolling in.

However, that doesn’t give her as much control as if she had her own account to use.  Once she gets a little older, I’ll work on shifting things to her own giving account to run with.

In the meantime, we’ll make sure to involve her in the giving process and determining who to donate to and how much.

The good news is that my daughter’s already the most generous person I know.  She helps others at school when she sees they don’t understand something, has never had an issue sharing her stuff (I always did!), and just truly cares about others.

As an example, she has her eighth birthday coming up.  She randomly just told us that she wants everyone (except us) to give her money so she can donate it to a soup kitchen or animal shelter.  She still wants a present from dear old mom and dad though!

What’s cool is that came out of nowhere and I’m proud of her for wanting to do that – she might look just like me, but she’s got her mother’s heart for sure!


So, you’ve learned that I haven’t been very good about giving to charity.  But I’m trying to change that and hope to instill those same values in our daughter.  We have a unique opportunity to help and I hope we can serve others better going forward.


How about you?  Are you better at giving to charity than I’ve been or is this a weak spot for you as well?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

14 thoughts on “Why Do I Suck So Much at Giving to Charity?”

  1. Jim, thanks for the transparent post. We set up a Vanguard Charitable Trust in Dec17, and now have automatic charity donations set up from the account. Just like automatic savings, but in reverse! BTW, great line about responsibility, or privilege. I suspect you’d see a strong difference in opinion on that one, depending on the audience.

    1. You know me, Fritz – always willing to stir the pot! 😉 It sounds like you’re a little newer to using a DAF – what are your thoughts on the pros or cons so far?

      — Jim

  2. I’m pretty bad with donation too. We give once in a while, but not regularly and not a lot.
    My father in law donate all his Social Security benefits to various causes. I think that’s a great way to give back and hope I can do the same when I’m his age.
    The problem is I’m unsure about the future. Do we really have enough to support ourselves until we’re old? I need to take care of myself first. It’s a weak spot for me.
    Good to hear that your daughter is generous.

    1. Wow, that’s really awesome of your father-in-law to do that and cool that you’d like to do the same. I’m not sure we’re going to be in a position to give that much, but considering that’s a way’s away, if we’re in good shape, that’s something I might consider as well.

      — Jim

  3. The first step is taking the first step! We try to automate our donations so that once we set them up, we don’t have to worry about trying to go back and intentionally make the contribution each month. It’s an easy way to get started. I find that if you are contributing to organizations/causes that you are truly passionate about, you won’t miss the money one bit!

  4. My wife is also much better than I am with charity. She has rubbed off on me over the years. She introduced me to volunteer work. Sending a few bucks to a charity is great. What really opened up my eyes was when I served breakfast at a homeless shelter. The people there received a meal, but I received a lesson in gratitude that changed my life.

  5. This post really resonated with me. We’re in the same boat. Like you—we don’t donate as much as it feels like we should, given our financial status. Also like you, I don’t have a good reason why.

    It’s such a strange thing.

    But I do have the desire to give more, and to give more often. So my plan is to build more donations into the budget once we hit FI.

    A bit wishy washy perhaps, but for now that’s how I feel a little less guilty about not giving more.

    1. Hi Chrissy! This isn’t something a lot of people talk about and I’m guessing there are a lot of us in this same situation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with whatever direction you decide to go. Deciding to build this into your budget for after FI sounds like a great plan.

      — Jim

  6. I’m not as down on Goodwill as others. Honestly an executive making 500k a year is peanuts compared to CEOs in the private sector. At some point the labor market for executives has an influence.

    But regardless of views around Goodwill I feel it’s important to donate in a diverse manner. Many different channels depending on my values to ensure things reach my targets in an efficient manner. Just donating old items to Goodwill is not sufficient to reach that goal.

    That also highlights my view on donations. At the end of the day it’s about my values not responsibility.

    1. Yeah, I’m not good at knowing what would be acceptable for a CEO, but my wife tends to keep up with this stuff and just relays her thoughts onto me.

      I think your note about values vs responsibility is a good way to think about charity as well.

      — Jim

  7. My parents grew up in the Great Depression before welfare programs became widespread. They were adamant that giving money to charities was counterproductive. (Don’t get me started on their thought about raising taxes to redistribute wealth.) They never gave a penny to charity and browbeat me when they found out I had donated to charity. Eventually, I had to deny and/or hide my charitable donations. They had a prioritized list of responsibilities.

    1) Support yourself
    2) Support your nuclear family
    3) Support your extended family
    4) Support your neighbors
    5) Support strangers

    My parents routinely drew the line after #2. #3 and #4 were only valid under emergency conditions. #5 was only for the wealthiest people in society.

    My parents felt that any money given to charity reduced your net worth which made the chance of failing to meet #1 and #2 more likely. When you think about it, the best way to achieve #1 to #4 is to not donate money to charity and direct that money straight to the recipient since these are people you know.

    My parents felt the most important thing you can do as a member of society is to take care of your own needs and not leech off of other people. If everyone took care of their own needs, you wouldn’t need welfare programs or charities.

    If you cannot take care of your own needs then 99.9999% of the time you are a) spending too much and need to cut back spending, b) a lazy bum that needs to work harder, c) essentially a criminal that needs to go to prison or some forced labor and/or d) a drug addict, gambler or alcoholic that needs to have some large men kick your ass around until you stopped. In all cases, if the person in need of help couldn’t screw their heads on correctly and fly right, my parents thought it was better for that person to die and stop being a drag on society.

    In 0.0001% of the cases, the person truly was need in help (people with disabilities or war veterans with permanent injuries) and didn’t have a family to help out, it may be necessary to rely on charities or government programs. My parents never personally met anyone that qualified.

    Also if something like the Great Depression happened again, they thought there was a role for charities and government programs. My father lived through the Great Recession and wasn’t impressed. This brings back so many memories of conversations with my father.

    1. Thanks so much for the deep comment, Dan. I can definitely see how the Great Depression could affect people the way it did. It’s really amazing to see how the humanity in people got people back to giving back to others.

      Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been following your parents routine of drawing the line after #2 in the list. Hopefully, I can change this and help those truly in need though.

      I don’t know that I agree with percentages of people who need help vs people who don’t. Growing up, I knew a number of folks that could definitely have used some help (though never asked). People like single mothers working as waitresses busting their butts just to be able to feed their kids. Some lived in trailers with barely any expenses at all so spending wasn’t the problem. Good people just stuck on hard times.

      My grandfather went through the Great Depression and he and I talked a lot about how things were back then. I can definitely relate to the memories of those conversations. My grandfather didn’t make it to the Great Recession, but based on the stories he told me about the Depression, I can see how father wasn’t impressed by the Great Recession.

      Thanks for taking the time to write all this, Dan – it’s definitely appreciated!

      — Jim

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