The Tightwad’s Guide to Charitable Giving

This is a post from David over at Adventures of a Barefoot Geek. David writes about life-topics such as peace of mind, simplicity and technology. Be sure to subscribe to his posts in a reader or by email.
Giving to charity is often a friction-filled process. We like the idea of giving to those in need, and we have the means to do so, but there’s that slight hesitation from the uncertainty to the unfamiliar phenomena of handing over money and not receiving anything tangible in return – it defies how we’ve been raised to approach money.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and although I’m no philanthropist I have been working on being charitable on a more regular basis, with higher amounts each time, and have been using the following tactics to make the process not only frictionless, without hesitation but also 100% fulfilling from start to finish.

Make your donation go further. This is a common objection. If you don’t have much to donate it’s easy to feel like giving to charity simply isn’t worth it, like you shouldn’t bother. When this thought comes to mind I like to read and remember the following quote from Guatama Buddha:

“If you have little, give little; if you own a middling amount, give a middling amount; if you have much, give much. It is not fitting not to give at all…Tread the path of the noble ones. One who eats alone eats not happily.”

But for a more practical approach, consider to donating to loan-based charities such as Kiva. Charities such as Kiva work by taking your donations directly to the people in need, and then within a year or so, if they have the means to do so, the receiver will actually pay the money back.

Now, you could just cash your money out at this time, but I prefer the idea of putting $25-$100 into the system occasionally and then repeatedly re-donating it. After a few years you could easily have thousands of dollars constantly being donated again, and again, and again.

Reach a common goal. One thing I love about Twitter is that it’s an amazing fundraising tool. I remember back in Thanksgiving 2008, the Tweetsgiving fundraiser was going on (and once again in 2009). It’s a fantastic event where Twitter and other social communities on the web band together to give towards a common goal.

These events promote frictionless giving because the causes are easy to be swept up in – you see the press, you see where your money is going and there’s even a bit of a competitiveness as to how much you donate and promote the cause. I never try to actively seek out these causes (they usually find their way to me) but if you want to make sure they’re front and center then you may want to follow the largest charities on Twitter.

And of course, reaching a common goal isn’t strictly limited to Twitter, it’s just perhaps the easier and most accessible option available at the moment. The lo-tech approach would be to simply find local fundraising events and contribute to those – it’s even more motivational if you’re collaborating with people in the real world.

Push your comfort zone each time. If you’re a tightwad, or still feel hesitant when giving to charity start simple: find an amount your comfortable with, say $10, and then donate it. Too easy. But next time you donate, push beyond that boundary slightly and donate $13. And then make a smaller leap and donate $15.

As time moves on progressively increase the amount of each donation. In this way each step will seem far easier, but within a few months, or a year, or two, your donations will be much more impactful no matter what your starting point was.

Connect with the cause. This is perhaps the most important point: you really have to care about where your money is going. One thing that drew me to Kiva is that the money is sent to entrepreneurs around the world who then buy supplies to further their business (and then hopefully grow larger and maybe even hire people in the local community). This connected with me because I’m in business – there’s a common ground that makes donating feel so “right.”

Think about who you are and what you appreciate most out of life. Once you understand those two points seek out charities that overlap in terms of your personality and the lack of what you appreciate.

For example, if you were a highly sociable person and appreciated your family most in the world, you might feel a special connection for an orphanage in need of donations. That’s a more clear cut example, but if you search hard enough everyone has a certain cause that hits home and feels congruent with who you are.


  1. I think you’re right about pushing your boundaries. I’m working through the fear of not having enough money (which isn’t logical at all in my current situation) in order to give more to people who need it way more than I do. I started by buying twice as much as usual for the food and toy drive we’re doing at work. It’s a good learning experience for me-my budget will still balance, my bills will still get paid, and someone else will have a much merrier holiday season.

  2. Instead of giving money, why not try a service vacation? I myself have never done one but they seem to be beneficial in two ways. First, you are able to help people firsthand in a tangible way rather than simply writing a check or handing over money. This will help you feel like you are really doing something positive in the world and second, by placing yourself amongst the people who are in need, you are able to see firsthand the struggle that people are going through on a daily basis and you can develop empathy for them and their situation as well as coming to the realization that your life is lacking nothing in comparison. In traveling to these places, you will open your eyes to the world around you and bring back that knowledge. Even though I’ve never been on a service vacation, I have been to places around the world where people ARE struggling to survive, living in corrugated steel shacks in the shadow of the wealthy.

  3. I think that a great way to go is to contribute time rather than money. Contributing time does more good. And it doesn’t hurt your budget at all. And you see with your own eyes the good that you do.


  4. From the comments on his site, I’m not sure Rob even understands what the concept of “Charity” even means:

    “If I am able to make a success of my writing business, I will be able to make contributions to charity in the future far larger than those I was able to make in my free-spending days, when I was giving a good bit more than I give today. Anything I earn above $10,000 is essentially “free money,” so I can give a lot without it hurting much at all. So I think it makes sense for a Passion Saver to cut back on contributions to charity for a time as a means of speeding up the transition to a time when he or she has greatly reduced his or her dependence on a corporate or government paycheck.

    I need to do some work getting that Charity number up a bit. Otherwise, I run the risk of over time becoming a true miser and coming to feel not rich at all. I’m not taking the chance!”

    So, Rob, since it is clear you were not going to tithe any cash, are you actually donating your time to charity? OR is that just more empty talk, too?

  5. I’m not sure Rob even understands what the concept of “Charity” even means:

    I don’t think this comment is appropriate.

    If there are community members who have sincere questions about my earlier comment, I will do my best to offer a helpful response.

    Simon has evidenced a clear hostile intent (because I posted honestly on the safe withdrawal rate topic on an earlier thread). I do not feel comfortable responding to him as he is obviously going to twist anything I say to further his non-constructive agenda.



  6. Rob is incorrect. Again. I am completely uninterested in the topic of “Safe Withdrawal Rate.” I have my own plans, and am executing them without the need of any ‘studies’; either new or old.

    I am, however, admittedly fascinated with the many lies of Robert “Hocus” Bennett.

    Is it acceptable to point out, using links to self-proclaimed finance bloggers, authors, editors and ‘reporters’ own words, that they are being inconsistent… or worse?

    Seems to me that type of entry forms the very heart and soul of open debate; free and open posting on planet internet!

    Rather than complain to the ref looking for an unwarranted ‘foul call’, Hocus, why not just play the game — explain where I am incorrect, if you can. Surely a self-styled finance writer, blogger, and expert can defend themselves in words, no?

  7. More of Bennett’s thoughts on charity:

    “People who save well are not victims anymore than people who do not save well are victims. Or you could say that people who do not save well are as much victims as those who do save well.

    The bottom line is that it is better to save than not to save, and just about anyone with sense would prefer to be a saver than to be a non-saver, hand-outs be damned.


  8. More Bennett thinking on charity:

    “my church does not require tithing and I do not tithe.”

    “Most view any financial rewards obtained as a consequence of their charitable contributions as a nice extra.

    Aspiring early retirees are different. Aspiring early retirees are seeking to obtain ambitious financial goals. They have budgets. They know where the money is going. They are more aware than most of the loss in financial terms that results from secular tithing. ”

    “I am the world’s greatest rationalizer and, once I go down the road of thinking of the work I do as a charitable contribution, I can see the devil whispering in my ear that there is no need to engage in the financial kind of giving at all. It’s my job to resist that argument”

    He says it’s his job to resist rationalizing, but he does not tell us how he is faring in that mission.

  9. More wishy-washy Hoco-talk under item #3 – inspirational spending:

    “Hey, that’s easy. Cut that one and you won’t notice any pain whatsoever, right? It’s easy money.

    It’s not easy money. Stop giving money to charity, and it is going to change how you feel about yourself and your place in the world. There are times when it makes sense to cut spending on charity”

    Rob probably does not know that the largest givers to charity are the most poor among us, and as income goes up, the rate of charity goes down. That’s a fact, backed by US government statistics.

    If you are looking for a hand, don’t ask Rob. Ask your neighbor at the shelter.

  10. The more I time, money, home made food, handyman skills…the more I get back.

    My most miserly of acquintances are also the most miserable. They always look on in awe about my “great friends.” No one is ever there to help them because they don’t help others. This world is a really lonely place when the only person you can rely on is yourself.

    I love the sense of community that giving brings.

  11. @Simon:

    Instead of attacking someone for recommending we put on our oxygen masks before helping those seated in adjacent airplane seats, please cite your sources. I’m questioning your statement that poorer people give “more” than wealthier ones.

    Although 75% of donated money comes from individuals, my bet is that the majority of these individuals are working-class, not destitute or poor. People who are destitute or poor are more likely to need charity or government funded subsidies. It’s imaginably possible that people in such a position are still more willing to share what they’ve got, but if so perhaps it’s easier to share if you know that the necessities of life are always going to be provided by another human being.

    It would take a heck of a lot of homeless people to match the kind of giving that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pull off in the average year… to say nothing of the older, more established foundations such as the one set up by Andrew Carnegie.

    I’m prepared to be convinced of your position, but only if I see compelling evidence.

    Additionally… what exactly do you consider “charity” to be? Do you believe that only a formal “tithe” meets the definition of charity? Or do you just dislike the idea of volunteer work? From your comments it’s not clear.


  12. Squeaky — I answered with lots of links, but apparently that put my comment into moderation, so hopefully it will clear soon!

  13. Ignoring the [expletive] contest between Rob and Simon. I think Rob’s original post that time is a great way to donate is an excellent option, that even a miser can make without feeling the pinch in the pocketbook.

  14. @Simon:

    Thanks. I read each link. Unfortunately, all but the link are offshoots of the same source. They cite the same McClatchy study so I dug a bit deeper into it. It wasn’t completely bad as far as subject variable experiments go. The methodology leaves a bit to be desired. But the biggest problem with the McClatchy analysis is that it didn’t actually include any poor people or any rich people. Also, although it purports to show an inverse correlation between income and charitable giving, correlation is not causality.

    The McClatchy analysis, and all the articles that quote it, is actually about the middle class, not the poor or the wealthy. The analysis was limited to people with income ranges above $10k (which incidentally locks out a household with a breadwinner who earns less than minimum wage full-time) and below $100k (which locks out most established professionals). It definitely came across an indictment of the upper middle class, although the study was based on income, not accumulated wealth. There was also no means for identifying whether other living expenses such as medical care were subsidized by charity or government (which could have the effect of creating a perceived income surplus that would allow a recipient to spend more heavily than he or she could if it was necessary to cover the non-subsidized expenses). So a retired person living on savings and Social Security might still be placed in the “under $20k per year” category despite living in a nice home and enjoying a good standard of living with all medical expenses paid. Meanwhile the “poor” the articles purported to exalt were not actually sampled in the McClatchy statistics. Also, how many people constitute a “household” was not clear to me. It’s a lot harder to feed ten on a $20k annual income than it is to feed one.

    The remaining citation, the site, suffers from the same bias as the McClatchy analysis, in that it considers only the annual income of the households and not their accumulated wealth, standards of living, or level of subsidy. It also did not provide any meaningful data for extremely low income earners. But it showed that households worth more than $100k contributed substantially more, *as a percentage of income*, than the $20k to $100k households. That piece of information, which was not part of the McClatchy analysis, ruins the inverse correlation angle. I suppose that makes it less juicy from a news standpoint.

    Have you run across any studies that were able to measure donation in relationship to available assets? Or subsidized expenses? It seems to me that income alone isn’t a fair way to estimate a donor’s real resources.

    It might not be easy to find a study like that. I suspect that if anyone actually studied the relationship between, say, being on Medicare, Medicaid, WIC, or food stamps it would make for trouble. Having enough “disposable” cash to donate to charity could be used as a rationale to discontinue those programs due to “lack of need”, but a lower level of donation could just as easily be spun into some kind of moral argument about how people of one income level are morally better or morally worse than others even after the figures have been adjusted to eliminate things such as gifts, subsidies, and the like.



  15. My wife and I decided to spend our entire christmas budget on the Defenders Lodge (google it) our credit union is funding a 12.5 mil hotel next to the VA center in CA. We have enough nic nacks. Link to it and Pass it on.

  16. I think you are right, we can all afford to give something to the poorer people. And we are tightwads, most of us. No they don’t always deserve it, but that is what charity is.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  17. Ignoring the [expletive] contest between Rob and Simon. I think Rob’s original post that time is a great way to donate is an excellent option

    I wish that you would not suggest that there is some sort of pissing contest between Simon and me, Jerry. The pissing contest proceeds 100 percent in one direction only.

    The history is that I corrected an analytical error that a fellow made in a retirement study that he was pushing at a discussion board at which I posted. The community responded with great excitement about what we were learning as a result of the discussion that followed. The individual who got the number wrong has now spent the last seven years of his life organizing the efforts of a group of goons that go from board to board and from blog to blog trying to destroy any that permit honest posting on these questions.

    I oppose all that. I always have. When I see this sort of behavior at my own blog, I shut it down. I feel that I have an obligation to my readers to do that and really just an obligation to basic human civility. For someone to spend seven years on such a thing (and it’s not just one person, there are numerous people who have posted in “defense” of the individual or who have failed to speak out against the behavior) is a very, very sick thing. I do not want anyone to think that I would even give thought to ever doing anything to encourage such behavior.


  18. Squeky provides a most excellent critique on the technical weaknesses in the two base studies provided to support my somewhat offhand observation about wealth vs charity, and then assigns me a bit of homework:

    “Have you run across any studies that were able to measure donation in relationship to available assets? Or subsidized expenses? It seems to me that income alone isn’t a fair way to estimate a donor’s real resources.”

    Fortunately, before I even started on my assignment, another stalwart poster saves me, by making my own intended minor point much better than I could have, especially relative to Bennett’s various claims on his website, versus his new claim to be ready to donate labor vs treasure:

    “…we can all afford to give something to the poorer people. And we are tightwads, most of us. No they don’t always deserve it, but that is what charity is.

    John DeFlumeri Jr”

    Thanks, John. My point exactly!

  19. (Moderator — I have no qualms whatsoever if you chose to not run this post, since it has indeed devolved to being about personalities. It will be my last on this thread, in any event.)

    Bennett made empty accusations: “The individual who got the number wrong has now spent the last seven years of his life organizing the efforts of a group of goons…”

    For the record:

    * I have never met the person Rob is referring to.

    * I have never received any instruction, overt or covert, from same, or any other person, living or dead with regards to my posting.

    * I have no ax to grind over any particular study, website, etc. and post only in search of the truth, which is why I make references to the inconsistencies in Mr. Bennett’s various statements.

    * I do admit that over time I have come to see Rob as a charlatan; one who promotes himself as having some important message, but who only really wants to be noticed, and then hopes to monitize that notice — either notoriety or popularity, it does not appear to matter which with him. In that respect, my posting is likely the wrong thing to do, but as long as he is free to post what I think is inaccurate, misleading, and just plain ridiculous material, then it seems being free to rebut comes with the territory.

  20. I have never received any instruction, overt or covert, from same, or any other person, living or dead with regards to my posting.

    The personal nature of the attacks in Simon’s posts above tell the tale. Simon of course has every right to share his thoughts on charitable giving. He helps us all out by doing that. He has zero right to use this blog as a means for him to advance malicious attacks on the community members who congregate here. The personal attack posts are trash posts and from time to time responsible people need to take out the trash.

    If there are any here who have doubts that there are humans in this world so twisted inside that they would spend seven years of their life energy carrying out smear campaigns against a group of people whose only “crime” is that they posted honestly on the numbers that others use for retirement planning, here is a link to the discussion board at which the smear campaigns against the various boards and blogs that permit honest posting are organized (this board is owned by the individual who got the numbers wrong in his retirement study):

    The personal attack stuff does not belong here. No way, no how. It’s not a close call. it degrades us all for us to even have to discuss such questions. Frugal Dad should be protecting us from this garbage.


  21. David is an awesome writer, been reading his blog a lot recently!

    I like the idea of giving to a charity in small increments, I did this by DD for many years but had to stop for a while due to financial issues… I will restart again soon.

  22. “If there are any here who have doubts that there are humans in this world so twisted inside that they would spend seven years of their life energy”

    I spent a few hours at that site and Rob is one of the top posters there. I also see where Rob posts links to new blogs he has found on that board – pretty dumb if Rob truly thinks that site is organizing a conspiracy. Mostly I saw people joking around about Rob’s inconsistencies, vagueness and verbosity. I also saw where Rob says he has talked to “numerous” lawyers to try to force bloggers to stop censoring him, yet Rob admits in another post that he deletes so many comments from his own blog that he can’t keep track of them all. Overall, an amusing if pointless read.

  23. Hey- good points. And it sounds like your philanthropy is outgrowing your frugality. (I see that as a good thing).

    Tony Robbins said something about the fact that when we give, we are telling our subconscious minds that there is more than enough for us- and it things tend to manifest themselves that way from such a place of being.

    Sounds kind of woo woo but it does seem to go that way. People that only focus on paying bills usually only go that far, and those that give usually have more than enough.

    Also, for any so inclined, it’s actually possible to build a charitable business that supports you. Nope- I’m not kidding. You might want to see this.

  24. I spent a few hours at that site and Rob is one of the top posters there.

    It’s true that I post regularly at the board linked to above.

    You know what? I have learned important things from my friends the Goons. I talk about that on my podcasts often. I was good friends with most of these people in the days before I posted about the error that the fellow made in his retirement study. Most of these people are smart people. Just because they often post abusively nowadays doesn’t mean that they have nothing of value to offer. My thought is that the thing to do is to accept the good that they are willing to put forward and to do all that you can to discourage them from putting forward the nasty stuff (which hurts everyone, including the Goons themselves).

    People are not all one thing, all black or all white. People are a mix. That’s true of each and every one of us. Communities should help people to become their best. Please take a look at the words that I direct to Simon above. I do not tell him that we do not want him around. I point out that he helps us when he shares his views re charitable giving by adding one more viewpoint to the mix. Then I go on to discourage him in the strongest possible terms from giving in to those dark impulses that cause him to want to post abusively.

    Some people think that internet communities are “free” to join. I don’t buy it. There is usually no financial price to be paid. But an internet community is comprised of humans and that means that there are responsibilities entailed in engaging in interactions with them. My view is that we all should be making an effort to send signals to our fellow community members that we want our communities to encourage the good stuff and discourage the bad stuff.

    I have lots and lots of experience both with some of the most wonderful communities on the face of the internet and with some of the internet posters most determined to destroy as many wonderful communities as possible in the short amount of time given to them to do so in this life. Other people are of course entitled to hold other opinions. But I think that I can say in all fairness that my views on these questions are informed by a great deal of hard-won experience. And the views stated in this post are indeed my sincere views.

    Simon could become a positive contributor here. But my strong sense is that he is not going to make it without our help. We need to send him a signal as to what sort of behavior is acceptable and what sort of behavior is not if we want to see Simon show us his better side. I will do what I can but I obviously do not possess the influence here to get this job done on my own. Each community member influences what happens by how he or she responds to the circumstances placed in front of us.

    I care about the Goons. That’s why I talk things over with them regularly and try to learn from them and try to help them learn from me. And that’s why I try to make clear to them the lines that apply when they elect to contribute to a community like this one. You don’t show that you care about someone by ignoring his or her bad behavior. You show that you care about someone by working to bring out his or her best.

    That’s my sincere belief re this matter, in any event.


  25. Rob,

    It’s hypocritical to keep attacking people while claiming that personal attacks don’t belong here.

  26. It’s hypocritical to keep attacking people while claiming that personal attacks don’t belong here.

    How do we stop someone from putting forward the sorts of words that Simon put forward without saying something about it that reflects poorly on him, Marcus? Tell us another way to handle it that gets the job done and we will take you up on it.

    The difference is a difference in motive. I am saying these things not because I enjoy seeing Simon look bad but because there is no other way to protect this community from this sort of thing. Simon is doing what he is doing for a very different motive.

    If we send a clear message to Simon that this sort of thing will not be tolerated, then it comes to an end. Problem solved. If we fail to send a clear message, this goes on and on and on. Who benefits from that? Simon? Anyone?

    I have seen site moderators or communities take a strong stand and bring these things to a successful conclusion in no time. And I have seen site administrators and communities fail to act and thereby stretch these things out for a long time. I see zero benefit in stretching things out.

    The blog is named “Frugal Dad.” If Simon has something to say that relates to the questions examined at the blog, I think it is fair to say that everyone here would be glad to hear him say what he has to say. If he has some other issue that causes him such emotional angst that he cannot bear not to bring it up even at inappropriate times, I think it is fair to say that that is a problem that he needs to work out on his own time and on his own dime. It’s not blog business. It doesn’t belong here.


  27. @ Tim:

    Hey, I guess it’s just pocket change if you can pull the shade and stay above it all.


  28. It is always good to give to Charity. It is wonderful that you have highlight this and reading the comments of persons who will start doing this in the future is really heartwarming. All the best.

  29. Peter Singer gives some good advice in his book The Life You Can Save. I recently followed it to bump my charitable contributions to 5%. I’m giving my money to charities in the developing world and my time to local ones. That feels like a nice balance. I also researched the actual effectiveness of charities through and the Jamat Poverty Action Lab at MIT, to make sure my money goes as far as possible. It’s nice to see some scientific thinking brought to bear on this topic.