Feb 21 2008

Better to give than receive? An illustration from popular media

Kacie and I are fortunate to start our new life together with frugality in mind. Already, we have paid our college credit card debt and have the beginnings of an emergency fund in place.

Now she asks: to whom should we give a donation each month? 

“We need to save for ourselves!” …  my subconscious mind pleads after hearing this question.  For better or worse, my twin brother and I were always showered with gifts growing up, even when my family’s situation was not financially strong. 

There was never the expectation that I should reciprocate and give gifts to others, and this mindset has remained for me. Surprisingly, gift-giving or receiving has not become my love language, nor is it Kacie’s.  Kacie and I did not buy Valentine’s Day gifts—instead, we had a nice dinner at home. For us, we are much happier that way.  

An interesting exception is that I’ve found enjoyment by giving to strangers—especially to individuals in need. 

Still, I am hesitant to donate. The question is not “how much”, but “where?” to donate.  

I have read often about reviewing a charity based on its efficiency, but instead I am more interested in the experience of donating. Consider the emotional reaction you get when watching a few of these TV shows.  

1.   Extreme Makeover: Home Edition inspires you to root for the families receiving new homes. Their stories are so moving, and as you get to know the families, you sympathize with them. You share their pain, and celebrate with them when they get a brand-new house and have a short family vacation. You’re genuinely happy for them—not at all envious.

As a 23-year-old guy (as of today!), I try not to cry at these shows, but perhaps I do cry on the inside.  Without fail, Kacie cries during this show.

2.   Shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Deal? or No Deal? do not evoke the same emotional response.  Many of the contestants on these shows deserve to be millionaires, I am sure.  Even so, I am not excited when they win.  Instead, I am left wishing I were them. The shows are designed in such a way that you can “play along.” And, you don’t know the life stories of these contestants.

Both types of shows give lots to a few lucky people.  If I was not watching TV, but instead watching my donation at work, I would favor giving to a deserving family or a small organization, rather than to a larger organization where I don’t know exactly where my dollars are going.

The thought of donating to a large charity is not particularly inspiring for me. However, the chance to learn people’s story, donate to them, and watch their dreams come true – that is something special. 

Being able to touch an individual’s life is a powerful thing.

10 Responses to “Better to give than receive? An illustration from popular media”

  1. I hear ya about extreme home makeover! It makes me cry all of the time. It just makes me happy seeing them bring joy to people on that show.

  2. I am amazed at the financial maturity the two of you already have at such a young age. Good for you, it may seem like you deny yourselves now, but believe me it will pay off in the future.

    A late happy birthday to Shane. I have a son who will turn 23 in December, wish he’d learn to be frugal.

  3. I think its important to give to causes that you feel passionate about, and I prefer to give a lot to a few rather, than the other way around. I also like to give to organizations that I’m investing my time in, as well. For example, if I was passionate about the ministry of Habitat for Humanity, then I would want to donate money, and help actually build houses.

    I do think its important, though, to investigating charities using a service like Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) before giving them money. Small organization or large, I want to see my donation well-spent.

  4. I am also impressed with the mindset that the two of you have toward money at such a young age. If my husband and I had been that way when I was working, we would be so much further ahead right now! Good for you for realizing the importance of budgeting and spending wisely now…you won’t regret it. (Just be sure to treat yourselves sometimes..which it sounds like you do). :)

  5. That was a really good post. I agree that it is not “how much” but where to donate. I also like watching Extreme Makeover and learn about the stories of the families who were given the chance to start over.

  6. Thanks everyone for the kind comments. I find a lot of inspiration about frugality from my wife, and she gets it from the readers of this blog. It’s great to have you!


  7. Have you looked into Kiva? Or iLoveSchools.com? These sites both allow you to donate in a very targeted way, and read the stories of the individuals who will receive your money, and what they plan to do with it. Kiva allows you to help people around the world, while iLoveSchools helps teachers and students in your neighborhood.
    If you do decide to donate to an organization rather than an individual, as a previous commenter said, looking them up on Charity Navigator first is a good idea. For me, it was eye-opening!
    I agree with you- “It is better to give than to receive”- the act and discipline of giving changes the giver, regardless of the results of their gift. It is the giver that has the heart-change!

  8. Kacie showed me http://www.worldvision.com, and I believe she has looked at a few different websites. When I get home from work today, I will check these sites out, too. Thanks!


  9. We too wanted to be able to give where it would do the most good and feel that we were involved in the process. The best place we’ve found to do that is through the Modest Needs foundation. http://www.modestneeds.org/

    It always feels good that we are able to help individual families.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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