Saturday, January 29, 2011

Painless Giving

Last month I blogged about three graduate students at Rutgers University that made a life-long pledge to give a significant portion of their incomes to those less fortunate. A common response I got to the post was similar to what the three themselves have heard: “How admirable. But I wonder how long they’ll maintain that pledge once they start having families and facing the everyday responsibilities of a mortgage and car payments? But must these commitments be mutually exclusive? Can’t one still give generously without negatively impacting one’s lifestyle? There are those that would answer a resounding “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second.

After posting that last blog, I heard back almost immediately from a colleague, Dr. Donna Goldstein. She wanted to share what she does to make a difference in others’ lives that take little more from her than her time. One idea she presented is that when she goes to the grocery store she takes liberal advantage of the frequent two for one offers, even though she rarely needs the second item. She keeps the one she needs and donates the second to her local food bank. She also haunts the second-hand stores, often finding just the perfect item for her wardrobe or home. She takes the money she saves by not buying new and donates it. On top of the good feeling she gets from that, she enjoys the pleasure of the hunt.

My brother, Dr. Larry Temkin, is a Professor II in the Philosophy Department at Rutgers. A moral philosopher internationally recognized for his work on inequality, he lectures on this topic regularly. He tells his students that while some, like Donna, may actually prefer finding something unique at the second-hand store, they can still buy new and make philanthropic contributions, all without necessarily affecting their desired lifestyle. As an example he might suggest that perhaps they have been lusting over a special pair of jeans that cost $150. They are going to buy the jeans, but they just haven’t gotten around to it. Then one day, the jeans go on sale. They pick them up for half off. They were perfectly willing to buy the jeans at $150, but only had to spend $75. They could take the $75 they saved and donate that to charity without taking a dime from the pocket they know they should be designating for charitable giving.

On a smaller scale – that does add up – they can become coupon shoppers. Fifty cents here, two dollars there… If they put aside their savings, in short order they will have a full piggy-bank to share with someone less fortunate. Again, it’s all out of money they have mentally already spent, so it seems less onerous than having to come up with “extra” money that they can donate. And, of course, if they are among those that empties the change from their pockets each night and throws it into a can to sit for years and years, they have a ready source of cash that will never be missed.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for painless giving.

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