The past year has been uniformly difficult for most of us. However, for some people lower down the economic pecking order, things have been unimaginably bad. Loss of income, illness, inability to provide the basics for children’s education; you name it and they have seen it all.
However, for most of us who are caught up in our own problems, which are definitely much smaller in magnitude, the troubles of others disturb us momentarily. But we manage to push it out of our minds quickly and get on with making the best of the opportunities in front of us. This is understandable and makes it bearable for us to carry on and not be weighed down by the problems of others.
When we pause from our hectic lives and look back, we will see that while we may not be the cause of many of their problems, it would have taken very little from us to make a difference to some of these lives.
When do you start giving?
Most of us do help others financially, but usually this is a one-off case, done without much thought. We all have experienced the joy it brings to be able to give, to make a difference. However, often, we convince ourselves that we have done our bit with just a token difference and are able to assuage the guilt of being better off but not having the intent to help.
Jack Bogle’s wonderful book, Enough, starts as follows:
At a party given by billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller that their host, a hedge fund manager has made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its history.
Heller responds “Yes, but I have something that he will never have. Enough.”
My conversation with very wealthy friends and peers always leads back to the same position – that we are not there yet. When do you start giving? When do you acknowledge that you have enough for your needs? After all, our wants keep expanding and the list is endless. If we wait to take care of all our wants, we are essentially guaranteeing that we will never be able to give in our lifetime.
Some time back, I had this wonderful interaction with a friend who is quite careful about how she spends her money, despite being very wealthy. On more than one occasion, I have seen her give up things that caught her fancy due the financial outlay involved. In one of our conversations, she volunteered to help out a maid who had lost all her means of livelihood during the pandemic. The maid was not even known to her; she did it voluntarily and anonymously. On further conversation, I realised that she earmarked a small percentage of her income towards charity. She keeps track and helps people without any expectation, often anonymously.
Earmarking funds for charity
I thought this was a wonderful idea and have tried to implement it in my own way. What I have noticed is that when you earmark a part of your income towards giving, the act of giving itself becomes easy. You have the funds earmarked and due to mental accounting, you never stop to think of what all the money can buy. It helps you give without expecting anything except the joy of having made a tiny difference to someone’s life.
All of us have goals with financial implications and we excel at breaking them down into plans, milestones and destinations, and go about achieving them. Similarly, when we think of “giving” as a commercial activity, we quickly come up with perfectly scientific explanations on why we should not at this time. I know this may sound strange coming from a financial planner, but on this rare occasion, treat giving as an art and think from your heart. Try making “giving” a goal, no matter how small, as the joy it will bring you is to be experienced to be believed!