More Than Money
Issue #20

How Much to Give?

Table of Contents

“Email Discussions”

Spending vs Giving

Email #1: Always in the back of my mind is that if I save money on X, I will have more to give away, and if I indulge myself with Z, I will have less. I'm not even mildly deprived. I travel, live in a nice house, and plan on buying a new car soon. Yet the numbers do make a difference to me. I would never buy a $50,000 car or even spend $100 on a pair of pants. I just love giving money away. It feels wonderful!

Email #2: My husband can't conceive of giving money away. He used to be on food stamps and he had a $20,000 debt when I met him because he had cancer and no health insurance. Now he just LOVES to spend, spend, spend, and I feel he even flaunts things in front of friends who can't afford them. I want to gently bring to his awareness the idea that we should be grateful, grateful, grateful and think beyond ourselves. How can I lovingly interrupt this affluenza?

Email #3: I have my "other half" to think about. I consider the money I inherited to be ours and, through no pressure from my husband, I want to consider him in my calculations about how much to give. He is a talented artist and carpenter who creates some beautiful things that wouldn't be possible if I gave away too much money and he had to work a 9 to 5ish job instead.

"Bag Lady" Fears

Email #4: I give money to nonprofit organizations, but I am very careful about how much I give. As someone who has worked a number of blue-collar jobs, I know that the likelihood of my being able to earn the kind of money I've inherited is very small. Certainly, the statistics on women's earning power confirm this. I even worry that I could end up as a bag lady if I give too much away. A friend offered me the best antidote for this I've heard. She said, "Sarah, if you ever were a bag lady, you'd be the most creative one out there." We laughed, and a little of the fear went away, but it still lingers.

Email #5: When I worked for a living, I really didn't worry much about the future. Now that I am financially independent, my fear is that it's all downhill from here. When I look at this squarely and see it for the kooky greed and neurotic insecurity it is, and forgive myself, I find I can let it go, both literally and figuratively. I remind myself that I've been without much money before and was happy, and that I can live that way again. Focusing on this allows me to let more of my money go to where it's really needed, i.e. the various organizations that I contribute to.

About Financial Advisors

Email #6: For a long time I gave away 50 percent of my taxable income (not my actual income) because that is what was deductible. A couple of years ago, my taxable income dropped dramatically (though not my real one) and my accountant told me I "couldn't" give away so much that year. That provoked some real thinking on my part, and I decided I wouldn't let the government or my accountant make that decision for me. So now I give what I want, and it's more than 50 percent.

Email #7: For many years, our family advisors had assumed that they were grooming me as a customer. When I told them that I was going to give half of my mother's estate away, they immediately drafted a letter from me to them (they even made "stationery" with a fancy typeface for my name and address) requesting the immediate termination of the 25-year old relationship with my family.

Email #8: When my wife died, I donated our farm to the University of Wisconsin as a nature study preserve and moved to New Mexico to be closer to my children. Because I did not receive any proceeds from the farm, I had to take money out of my investment portfolio to purchase a new home. I was pretty uneasy as to where I stood financially, and wondered if I had enough to keep giving.

I sat down with a financial planner and told him: "Here is what I have and how it is managed. My kids agree that they need no inheritance from me, but I don't want to burden them if I someday need to be in an expensive nursing home over a protracted time. How much of my invested money must I reserve to protect my retirement income against the vagaries of the market and the nursing home contingency?" He understood my goals and figured it out for me.

"Now," he said, "go have fun with the rest." He knew what that meant, because he was aware of the community projects in which I was involved. (I had even gotten him to be treasurer of one of them.) So, with a solid plan in mind, I began to give substantial gifts again.

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