In an interesting trend in our consumer-wins-all society, a movement toward minimalism is starting to take hold. People are questioning the rationale of endless purchasing and looking to get out from under the suffocating pressure of stuff. Blogs and articles on pursuing contentment through means other than acquiring more and better things are drawing millions of readers. The goal is personal fulfillment disconnected from mindless spending. As The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, declare, “If your destination is happiness, consumerism is not a through street.”
Along the same lines, interest in the tools of personal finance is growing as people struggle against crushing debt and worry about retirement. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey and Pete of Mr. Money Mustache are persuasive in their urging to fight thoughtless consumerism to pay off debt and save, save, save for the future (even early retirement – Pete retired with his wife when they were both around 30). Financial freedom is the objective – “If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else,” argues Ramsey, pushing temporary radical simplicity to break financial constraints and build nest eggs.
These movements are undoubtedly counter-cultural, and I believe, beneficial to individuals and society. But neither results automatically in increased generosity and monetary giving. Of course, generosity is often a by-product of pursuing contentment and achieving financial freedom. It is possible, though, to simplify our lifestyles and stabilize our finances without giving away a dollar.
Increasing giving requires intention, and intentionality can make our generosity more impactful. In our post about the concept of transformative giving, we highlight intentionality as one of three elements, with connectedness and sacrifice, that result in a practice of generosity that changes ourselves and the world. So to start, what are some ways to become more mindful as we give money away?
Make a budget. The most basic of personal finance advice is to track where our money is going. Many of the same steps involved in getting out of debt and increasing savings apply to freeing up money for giving—as Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez recommended in Your Money or Your Life, writing down every dollar spent, at least for a few months, allows us to evaluate our spending based on our values and choose whether a particular purchase gives actual satisfaction and fulfillment as opposed to a momentary “fix.” After this first step it becomes easier to see where to make changes in order to give more money away.
Create a giving strategy. Obviously, it’s impossible to give to meet every need, even if you’re Bill Gates. So priorities are necessary. I’ll talk about deciding where to give more in a future post on connected or incarnational giving, but using our overall financial picture from tracking spending, we can make decisions on what percentage of income we can give away. With that decision made, we can determine how to allocate the money we plan to set aside, whether to church, friends and family, locally and globally focused organizations, or all of these.
Intentionality doesn’t have to mean that every gift is planned and there is no room to spontaneously meet immediate needs. One couple I know creates their own fund for spontaneous giving as part of their plan for financial generosity, allowing them to freely respond to emergencies or causes that move them.
Make it automatic. I’m somewhat conflicted on automated giving, since the practice of writing a check and sending it, or giving cash to meet a need, can provide a moment for reflection and an enactment of a spiritual discipline. However, making sure money we intend to give leaves our wallets is easier when we streamline the process—automatic monthly checks to specific organizations, for example, or setting up separate accounts to hold money we want to give.
Another couple I know sets aside a certain amount of money from their paychecks to discretionary accounts for each of them to take care of unbudgeted spending. Initially, they were also doing their giving from those pools of funds. However, they found that more often the money was being spent rather than given away, so they decided to automate moving a portion of their spending money each month to a giving account. They enjoy watching it build and deciding together how they will donate it.
I’ve been doing some work on my giving strategy lately, going back to my budget, reevaluating spending, and figuring out new ways to automate the giving process without losing the reflective aspects. What about you? How do you give with intention?