Money Mic: Why I Give 10% of My Salary to Charity

Allison Kade
Posted

People have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, LearnVest Deputy Editor Allison Kade discusses why (and how) she gives 10% of her total income to charity—and why she’s surprised that people find this unusual.

I give away 10% of my income every year. This year, I gave a little more.

Giving thousands of dollars to charity and various causes is, for me, an I’ll-meet-you-halfway token to the universe. I wish the world were a certain way—respectful of the environment, for example, and free from poverty—and it only seems fair that I put my money where my values are.

The 10% number is Biblical in origin (an “overheard in synagogue,” if you will), but I don’t give this money away for religious reasons. In fact, I was surprised when, in a recent conversation, a friend termed this “radical giving” on my part.

I don’t think my 10% is terribly groundbreaking, but I do think the “I’ll wait ’til I have more money” excuse doesn’t hold water. Most people should be able to manage it. I’ll show you how I did it, at least.

How I Started Giving the Way I Do

Ever since I was a kid, giving 10% was a goal, but it always felt far in the future. My parents made it clear that they gave to charitable causes, and they had me and my sister start at a young age.

At home, we had a “charity box,” and we had to drop any loose change or money we found on the street into that box. I have memories of proudly donating $15 in pennies and nickels to our local community center when I was 6 years old. By middle school, I consistently gave away a portion of my allowance money. It was only after graduating college that I was faced with how much to give on my own, as an adult.

My first year after graduating, I was making a low entry-level salary. 10% remained a goal at that point, but I figured it would take many years to reach it. I compromised and gave 10% of my disposable income (what I had left over after my necessary living expenses). I’ll give a whole 10% later, I thought.

I took informal polls of my friends and colleagues to see what they gave. Usually the answer was somewhere around 1% to 3%. But I felt guilty. And, if we’re being honest, judgey. They might use the “I’ll give when I’m rich enough” excuse, but that wasn’t me. Except that it was.

Fast forward a few years. I’m dating a great guy. I ask my informal poll. His answer? 10%. No matter what. To me, that felt steep, especially when viewed at a glance (“Thousands of dollars!”). But if he did it, why shouldn’t I?

So I did.

Why I Give Where I Give

When deciding where to give, I let myself be guided by what matters to me intuitively. Ever since I was little, I’ve cared/worried about the environment. Don’t laugh … but as an elementary schooler, I used to cry at night because of global warming. I grew up in Florida, and imagined my house sinking underwater. In high school, my allowance money went to the Nature Conservancy. In more recent years, I’ve chosen to give to the NRDC Action Fund.

Living in NYC, I also see homeless people on a daily basis (one day I counted, and I literally saw 13 on my commute to and from work). It makes me feel terrible to blithely walk by, but, frankly, I don’t like the idea of giving out money to strangers. I’ve taken to buying Nutrigrain bars I can give out on the street, but that’s because I think pretending not to see someone is unhealthy for both them and me–but Nutrigrains won’t fix anything for real. So I give more significant sums to organizations I know will manage it wisely. I give the biggest percentage of my money to organizations that help the homeless or help prevent the cycle of poverty before it starts, like City Harvest and Modest Needs.

This year, I also gave a significant amount to Partners in Health, particularly because of the totally insane cholera epidemic that has afflicted Haiti in the past year or two. I visited Haiti two and a half years ago when my friend was living and working in a clinic there, and I felt horrible standing idly by. But, yes: There are other crises in the world that I am not helping out with. It makes me feel a little powerless.

The Nuts and Bolts: How I Do It

I’ll start by recounting my blessings: I don’t have a mountain of debt to pay off. I have a steady job. I have low health care costs. I am single and have no kids, so my financial obligations are limited.

That said, I’m no trust fund baby. I have no enormous bounty. I simply don’t spend a ton. Even while donating 10%, I still manage to max out my retirement account. I bought one pricey purse … once. And, even though I could afford it, I pondered for, like, months.

I felt the pinch when I went from giving 10% of my disposable income to 10% of all my income, but, frankly, it wasn’t a big deal. As I slowly graduated from an entry-level salary, I didn’t change anything about my standard of living. Even though I could theoretically afford more, I live with a roommate (in Brooklyn, not Manhattan), bring my lunch to work most days and choose my luxury expenses very carefully. Upping my giving didn’t require major sacrifices because my disposable income grew while my expenses stayed the same.

Here’s what my budget breakdown looks like in the My Money Center:

As you can see, I live relatively simply and pay very little for rent—at least by New York City standards. Although I buy myself things as necessary, I’m not a big shopper. I’m hard to buy presents for. There’s not a great deal I want.

How Do You Give?

How do you fit charity and tithing into your budget? Or don’t you? SHARE

How Much Should You Give?

I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou. My main thesis is this: A flat 10% isn’t right for everyone.

Certain basic life costs are the same for all of us: A loaf of bread costs what it costs, whether you’re rich or poor. Gas costs what it costs, period. I think that a low-salaried worker should still give something to charity, but I also think that celebrities with millions of dollars aren’t terribly impressive for giving a mere 10%. If you make $1 million in a year and give away $100,000, you still have $900,000 to play with. That’s a lot of loaves of bread.

My first year out of college, I gave 10% of my disposable income, because I simply didn’t have as much to go around. In the future, if I become very wealthy, I’d like to give more than 10%.

When You Shouldn’t Be Giving Money Away

Financially speaking, what I’m doing isn’t right for everybody: People with serious credit card debt shouldn’t give too much to charity. They should just focus on paying off their debt and give their time and effort to charity in the meantime. (For ways to donate your time and other things besides money, read this.)

I acknowledge that, when it comes to giving, one size doesn’t fit all. All I can speak to is what giving has given back to me: an outlet for my concerns about the state of the world, and the usual warm mushy feelings when I think about the people eating the food I was able to fund, or receiving cholera vaccines that I provided.

When I say this, I feel confident my boyfriend would agree: Giving to charity isn’t so much a nice-to-do as something I feel compelled to do. As I see it, none of us has the right to complain about the way things are unless we become active agents of change.


Allison Kade is the Deputy Editor at LearnVest. You can find more of her writing here and follow her on Twitter here.

More From LearnVest

Don’t crash in all your giving at the end of the year. Here’s how to budget for giving all year long.
No need to be a rich old person to give back. We found 10 big-time philanthropists … who happen to be kids.
We’ve come up with 6 creative ways to stretch your charitable dollars.

  • http://thepipelinetocollege.wordpress.com/ Paris

    very important, thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://twitter.com/Lynn1983 Lynn Mendelsohn

    My group the Genuine Girlfriends of New York City http://www.meetup.com/Genuine-Girlfriends/ LOVE to give!  We’re currently working on anti-bullying, cures to cancer, and cures for Progeria!  From Bake Sales to brunches we’re something great to invest in if you can!  (We’re working on becoming a nonprofit in the next year)  

  • Ashleyvburton2010

    My mentor told me to pick a cause and contribute 5% of my income, so I am with you!

  • Keisha

    I give almost half my disposable income to charity, but my disposable income is only 5% of my total budget. Even though I have nice things I’d like to buy (Kitchen Aid stand mixer!), my family relied on charity when I was growing up and I know how important it is to help your community!

  • Oye Kemi

    This is wonderful Allison! I am glad that you posted on this. I am 21 years old and I have been taught to always give 10%, in the past I paid it to church but as I am in a transition stage I have added charities like World Vision to this. Even though I do not have a job like you do, building habits like this from a young age do pay off in the long run. And giving feels good because sometimes we spend money and do not even remember later why we spend it and giving to the needy goes a long way. Through positive role models and Learnvest, I have come to see giving as a long term investment.

  • http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/ Michelle

    This is great! Right now I don’t donate nearly enough, I think around $50 a month.

  • Fiona

    I think that is great!!!! I don’t make an intention of donating 10% each year, but either I’ve raised money for charity to run a marathon, or every year, my friends raise money to participate in triathlons and other endurance events, so obviously I support them. Also, I work for a nonprofit, and because I’m on so many direct mailing lists, I do have to pick and choose the causes I care about most.  Giving does feel good – when people tell me that they don’t have any money to give and they make more money than I do, it’s a bit absurd. If you can set aside the money you spend to buy starbucks 5x a week, you can use that money to help feed 125 people at a food bank, etc etc.

  • Julie

    It is very inspiring to see someone who actively cares about different charities, and to see there are like-minded people as I read the comments. I am not in a situation where I can give 10%, although sometimes I think I might – I always donate several times a year to various causes, and I am just fine. I think the author’s tip on maintaining more or less the same lifestyle despite your income is key. 

  • Keylure

    Great article!  Put your money where your heart is.

  • Nonprofiteer

    Folks who are able to give so consistently should consider opening a fund (it’s like an interest-bearing savings account) at their local community foundation. Your philanthropic dollars will grow, allowing you to make an even bigger financial impact on organizations close to your heart!

  • Val

    Great article! And I appreciate that you point out that yes, you have to pick and choose what’s important to you and that there are plenty of causes you aren’t able to support.

    I give most frequently to animal welfare organizations (though not exclusively) and people sometimes try to guilt me that I should be focusing on human need instead. But I say all causes are worthy! Unless we as a world can somehow decide what THE one greatest need is, there’s always going to be something that someone thinks is “more important.” And even if we could, would it really be fair to make everything else wait?

    Anyway – thanks for the inspiration to up my giving as soon as I pay off my credit card debt. Something to look forward to :)

  • funtobewith

    Excellent! My company has a foundation and the match qualified charitable gifts of $25 or more times three… so my measly $25 becomes $100 and that can really help charities get more bang for my buck ;) It’s a win-win!

  • Paul Kade

    Reading your article shows how important it is for the family to emphasize to our children our connectivity to the rest of the world at an early age.  We have to fight against the tendency to focus on our immediate needs versus how our collective efforts can help repair the world.  It is tempting to stop giving when the economy is sour, but this is the precise time when our support for the less unfortunate is needed more than ever.

    YOUR DAD 

  • Julie

    I am a single mom with 6 kids and make a little over 20,000 a year.  I give 10% of my income off the top (as well as 10% savings) and live on the rest.  I divide my money into envelopes for my budget and If there is money left over at the end of the month, I give another 10% and save another 10%.  I mostly give to the cause of Christ, support a little girl through Compassion in Nicaragua and smaller amounts to other charities.  Sometimes I give to people I know who are honestly going through a very hard time.  I think the Lord wants me to, has given me this desire deep down in my heart.  And He provides.  I’ve seen miracles for me and my family.  I don’t give for the miracles,  I give out of my heart.  And always will. I remember seeing an interview with the million dollar winner of Jeopardy! and he said that he gives 10%.  He said “give 10% and keep 90%-That’s a pretty good deal to me!”  That really encouraged me. 

  • Betina

    If you’d like to formalize your commitment, there’s a group called Giving What We Can (
    http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/) you should look into. Members sign a pledge promising to give 10% of their income to the most efficient charities they can. I just joined this year, but I feel good knowing that some of my income every month goes where it’s really needed.

  • Catherine M Judge

    I wholeheartedly agree!!! Also, something to point out is that a lot of us give around 10% to remittances, helping our families in other countries. 

  • Steph

    Loved this article. Giving 10% initially sounded extremely difficult, but this article made me realize that a little bit of mindfulness in day-to-day spending, along with a good hard think about what issues matter most to me, could actually make giving 10% very doable. Thanks Allison :)

  • Cmoody975

    I am certain a bread of loaf costs more when you need to eaten gluten free bread :(

    • mznatural

      It does, I buy it too… but it’s still possible to give (even if its whatever you have left like a few bucks…)

  • http://www.carolyncochrancreations.com/ Carolyncochran734

    I feel motivated to share my money with worthy causes and not keep it in the bank.

  • Marie

    Great article, very inspiring. I have always tried to give to worthy causes, but this challenges me to give MORE.

    I love that the author’s dad commented; so cute.

  • http://www.taliashewrote.com thdpr

    Beautiful piece, Al! You’re right, this is an important priority. Too often we think tzedakah or charity or financial gifts are for the rich to give. It is simple not so. Lower income folks make bigger more impactful and consistent gifts. I work for a non-profit and we often say that every donor and every dollar counts. Making gifts to specific agencies is great but working through a foundation is helpful too. Many cities have Jewish Federations and Foundations that can help guide giving.

    No matter how you do it, do it. No matter how many dollars you can give, still do it. In Judaism some numbers hold meaning therefore, I will often start giving with an amount of $18 or $36 (representing Chai or life in Hebrew). That is my introductory level and I will build from there.

    (oh and HI Uncle Paul!)

  • Jsloansec

    Thanks for your heartwarming reminder that we all have something to give and make our world a better place.

  • Xalleahwil

    We give when we can, but being as we are already below the poverty level, have 2 kids and spend half our income one gas just to get to work it doesn’t happen that often. We don’t even have extra money each month for gifts and extra shopping or yoga or any of that. It goes bills, diapers, wipes gas, BROKE. Eventually when we make more money I would love to give to charity and I really am happy that you are able to do such things for others. You totally rock I just wish I could do the same. 

    • Glamdoll

      If you have money problems you cant afford NOT to give!! Giving to charity increases your finances! I believe that whatever you give the universe will give you 10 folds back! its been proven to me! try it, give $10 and I will assure you , out of nowhere $100 will come up! I have been testing it for years and its like magic!!! If you have money problems the best time to give is now!!!  I once found $700 cash on the floor, another time I won $1500 on the radio, it all comes from giving. You give to the universe and it gives you back 10 folds! Its really true!

    • ranavain

       You can also go diaperless. LearnVest has a whole article on it here (http://www.learnvest.com/2011/10/money-mic-why-my-babies-didnt-use-diapers/). Saves thousands of dollars. You can also go cloth, saves a ton of money. I understand poverty, I really do, but I also know that the poorest among us don’t necessarily make the best choices with money either.

  • Anon

    Where are your student loan payments on this pie?  If you don’t have any, congrats for such a large retirement/savings/charity strategy!

  • Glamdoll

    I think giving to charity even when you are in debt is necessary. Giving to charity is saying Ok this money is not about me. When you share it increases your blessings! It has been proven to me over and over that whatever I give I get 10 folds back! Once I found $700 cash on the street!!!! and yes just weeks prior I donated $70! its magic! I think if you are in debt or have $ problems you cannot afford NOT to give! Paying just your debt off is an all about me approach. Sharing time, $, love , food and so on blesses you in magical ways! It creates long lasting prosperity. only focusing on yourself is selfishness and can make you poor in more ways than 1! I have experienced both and I truly believe in giving! its more of a smart investment for me than anything else.

  • NellyGV

    Allison, what a great article to read, especially as our 20-something peers often seem so disconnected with this idea of charitable giving! My husband and I give around 13% of our gross income to formal charities as well, with 10% going to our home church which feeds us and the community both spiritually and physically, and the remaining amounts donated to help support missionaries and Worldvision (non-profit that helps fight hunger internationally).

    Although our aim is to increasingly give more in the future (once we’ve paid off our mortgage), I have seen the Lord provide so abundantly through what we have already given, even increasing our income so that we could be a blessing to others.

    If everything we own belongs to God, ultimately, how can we neglect the needs of others? I’m glad that your stance is one of responsibility and care for this world :)
    - Nelly

  • Dee

    I loved reading this story it made me feel for a second that their is hope for the homeless in NYC.  Thanks for sharing.  I hope some from the 1% category reads this and gets something out of it, while the people sleeping on the streets are still living. 

  • wtf

    Ur insane

  • i think u are

    Bunch of morons ur all crazy

  • Anonymous

    Anyone interested in helping a good kid pay for his tuition?

    http://www.youcaring.com/tuition-fundraiser/cody-s-seminary-tuition/158414

  • nuni2011

    Great article, I love your approach to giving back.
    Personally, I use Service Work as my main means of giving back and I hope to give more finically when I pay off student debt. And voting with your dollar is always important too–but 10 percent isn’t radical, it’s a way of doing what’s right which can seem radical.
    Way to walk the talk!

  • James

    Love this article. Well done. Well said.

  • Rose McBride

    This is a wonderful, I will give 10% to charities also.