Donate? Humbug! 8 Reasons Why My Favorite Charity Is Me

Every year, especially around the holidays, I get hit up by solicitors asking me to donate to charity. The requests come from every direction. When people aren’t knocking on my door with their hat in hand, then the requests come by mail and on the television.

It’s not just the professional solicitors either. Hobos often approach me in parking lots looking for a handout. Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me for money.

I’m a single professional with quite a bit more disposable income than the average American. However, I’ve never been able to justify giving one penny to charity.

You may consider me to be a cheapskate and accuse me of being a scrooge, but I have more than a few good reasons why I don’t give to charity:

1. I already indirectly contribute to charity through my taxes. My federal, state, FICA/medicare, sales, property, registration, and other taxes are already taking away close to half of my income every year. Much of this money is spent by the government on welfare for the poor, disaster relief, parks and nature, the arts, and other forms of charity, so I’m indirectly donating heavily to almost every charitable cause now.

2. Over time, charity contributions add up. The average household donated almost $3000 to charity in 2013. Over a 40-year career that amounts to $400,000, assuming I earn a 5% return. Until my retirement savings are fully-funded, annual donations to charity could ultimately be harmful to my financial health.

3. Charity promotes dependency. When I give money to a beggar, there is little motivation for him to improve his situation.

4. The money I donate to charity may not be wisely spent. How do I know the homeless guy asking me for a handout isn’t going to take the money I give him to buy booze and drugs? Even with professional charitable organizations, how much revenue is wasted on bloated overhead and salaries for their administrators?

5. I’m not the only one who doesn’t donate to charity. One in four people don’t give at all. Somewhat ironically, liberals actually donate the least; conservatives donate 30% more money on average.

6. Charity won’t necessarily be there when I’m in need. Sorry, but I don’t buy the argument that if I give my money away, someone else will be there to pick up the tab when I’m in need. I say it’s better to rely on my own cash when I encounter a rainy day.

7. It makes more sense to donate my time instead. Why should I slave away at my job all day, just to give what’s left of my hard-earned money to someone else to do the charity work I care about? It is a lot more efficient to volunteer my time, especially if it’s a cause I am passionate about.

8. I won’t be rewarded in the afterlife for making charitable donations. Besides, if my only motive for giving was getting to heaven, I’m sure God would see right through my false sincerity.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you are fortunate enough to have more money than you can possibly spend, please give it away to those who need it.

However, for the rest of us stuck with underfunded retirement and/or kids’ college accounts, or wallowing in debt with huge mortgages and/or credit card balances, it just doesn’t make any sense to risk our teetering finances any further.

About the Author

Ebenezer Scrooge (not his real name) is a well-paid thirty-something professional who prefers to remain anonymous. Not because he’s afraid of the backlash, mind you. It’s just that if you’re down on your luck he doesn’t want you asking him if he can spare a quarter.

Photo Credit: alancleaver_2000

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on December 6, 2010)

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    My wife and I have decided that since we are so blessed, we will give 10% of our income to the church and charities.

    This year we must have donated at least $5,000 to organizations like the Breast Cancer Society, Samaritan’s Purse, StarFish Ministries, and to our local church of course.

    It has been rewarding, and we will definitely continue doing this in the future.

  2. 4

    says

    You know, there’s nothing really wrong with saying, “It’s my money, I earned it. No, you can’t have it.” Saying more than that just makes you seem like someone who feels guilty and is trying to justify their selfishness.

    I mean, if you’re a guy in a business suit and driving a fancy car, and you’re talking to a homeless person when you say “It’s my money, sorry,” it /does/ make you look a little douchey. But luckily, you live in America. That’s perfectly legal here. :)

  3. 5

    says

    The only one of this arguments I actually agree with is number 7. I only wish more people would follow through with that statement.

  4. 6

    mlj says

    Regarding #3: The one homeless person I talk with regularly (but don’t give money to) regularly begs for money purportedly for food or transport, but he just spends it on drugs. I have offered him a lift to a rehab facility that would take him but so far he has declined.

  5. 7

    says

    This warrants a full response post. Look out for Friday, when I’ll detail my reasons why we should give MORE money to charity. Then we can debate whether we should keep it to ourselves or hand it out to everyone else.

    • 9

      says

      You’re kidding, right? You don’t sound like a douche the other times I’ve talked with you…

      My only problem with this list is it does sound like a whiny rich kid explaining why everyone just needs to take care of themselves. It also is a little insulting to explain to all of us who do choose to give to charity why we are stupid to do it. It would have been easier and nicer just to say “I don’t want to give my money to other people because it’s mine.”

      • 10

        says

        Sorry to be unclear, it happens a lot with me. I didn’t write the post above. I meant I can understand what he’s trying to say. I don’t give a lot to charity, but I definitely admire people who does. I give to disaster relief organization, Mercy Corp, and just a little to the temple. Five years ago, I didn’t contribute to charity at all. I hope to give more in the future when I have plenty extras.

  6. 11

    Holly says

    And this Guest Poster remains anonymous why? This is one ‘conservative’ who is acting like a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ (his words, not mine)! :p

    BFS: You know this isn’t Len speaking, right?

  7. 13

    says

    Question: How do you know you won’t be rewarded in the afterlife for giving to charity? I focus lots of my charitable giving on children’s causes and self sufficiency endeavors! You can’t suggest that kids should learn to get a job and take care of themselves can you?

  8. 14

    says

    To be fair, I think Ebenezer is not being irrational for keeping himself anonymous, considering his controversial position on what can be a very emotional topic.

    Obviously, there are lots of terrific reasons why we *do* give money to charity.

    That being said, from a purely financial perspective, I think the author makes an interesting point regarding potential opportunity costs (see point 2). Of course, I don’t think people who are genuinely sincere about donating to charity (most of us) even give opportunity costs a second thought.

    Just a friendly reminder to please keep your comments civil. Thanks all.

  9. 15

    says

    Some decent points actually.. esp since the gov’t uses a lot of our tax money hopefully for good.

    That said, it’s fun to give more anyway, especially in a social giving network like the Yakezie!

  10. 16

    says

    Scrooge, I hope you get visited by the 3 ghosts of christmas.

    Yes, there are some low lifes out there sucking the system for all it’s worth, but there are also kids and sick people who have no control of the situation they are in. I’ve been helped by scholarships and I am doing my best to help back now. If it weren’t for the help I’d gotten, then I wouldn’t have disposable income to give away now.

  11. 17

    d says

    Sorry fellow comments- I agree with the poster.
    I used to regularly donate my time and $ to various organizations. That is, until my DH became unemployed for over a year and we nearly lost everything we have worked for. After burning through nearly 50k in savings-I learned lesson #6.

  12. 18

    AnotherAnonymous says

    I am probably going to take flak for this, but I also rarely give to charity. If I feel the need to help someone, I do it directly.

    When I was homeless and on the street, no charity would help me. I practically starved when my 65 inch frame got down to 87 pounds and I only ate one bologne sandwich a week.

    I, also, make a good income nowadays. The government takes nearly 40 percent of my check directly. And for the most part, I think they waste it!

    When I do give (which is rare) then I make sure the person is not a druggie, a drunk and has truly fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.

  13. 20

    Ann says

    1. Taxes are not charity. Taxes are the price you pay for living in the US. You use those services: you drive on publicly-funded roads and/or take public transportation; you had the option to be educated for free for over 10 years; you are given protection from criminals and terrorists.

    2. Charity does add up. So do lattes and candy bars. But lattes and candy bars just make you fat. Save yourself medical expenses in the future by giving your snack food money away.

    3. Charity might promote dependency, but not EVERY charity does. Victims of earthquakes and other natural disasters can lose everything in a heartbeat through no fault of their own. Donate to charities that only help when people really need it. Try Doctors without Borders or the American Red Cross. The next time there is a major disaster, the American Red Cross (and probably D w/o B) will have special funds where you can contribute just to help those people affected.

    4. It might not be wisely spent. But you can mitigate the risks by researching charities beforehand to ensure they are not paying to much in admin expenses.

    5. You’re not the only one not contributing. So? What kind of a point is this? Some people do, and some people don’t. And if all of your friends jumped off a bridge…

    6. Charity won’t necessarily be there when you need it. Well, no, certainly not if everyone has the same selfish views. But no one is recommending that you go so much to charity you yourself need it.
    But I’m sure a well-paid person has enough fluff in his budget to both have an adequate emergency fund as well as some left over.

    7. It makes sense to donate your time instead. For some people this is true; they have more time than money. So, Mr. I-don’t-want-to-promote-dependency, how much time do you spend at the food kitchen? I think the chances of you donating your time to charity is slim to none and slim just left town.
    Beyond that, you can always get more money but once time is gone, it’s gone. If you’re well-paid thirty-something, you should be donating money instead of time.

    8. You won’t be rewarded in the after-life. Well, maybe not. And I’m guessing you don’t believe in karma either. But studies have shown that happiness increases people who donate to charity-either money or time. The thought of donating to charity literally activities the same area of the brain as other pleasures, like sex.
    So, really, by not giving to charity, you’re missing out.

    • 21

      says

      I was thinking of a point-by-point rebuttal as well, till I read your response — well done :)

      Mr. Scrooge, I do agree that you make quite a few valid arguments, but that being said if I am in a position to help someone who is genuinely in need, I do not feel poorer for doing so.

  14. 22

    says

    Ann,

    “Taxes are not charity. Taxes are the price you pay for living in the US. You use those services: you drive on publicly-funded roads and/or take public transportation; you had the option to be educated for free for over 10 years; you are given protection from criminals and terrorists.”

    This is a strawman argument. It’s the entitlements that are the issue and the biggest part of our deficit.

    • 23

      Ann says

      Why are entitlements the issue and not military spending? Why is national defense the sacred cow? DoD spending is a HUGE part of our budget.

      Anyway, charity is VOLUNTARY, and taxes are MANDATORY and the article was about CHARITY.

      He’s not going to go to jail if he doesn’t contribute to charity; he might if he stops paying taxes.

        • 25

          Retired says

          To which “entitlements” are you referring? If you are referring to Social Security and Medicare, those MANDATORY federal government programs for people who have earned income, either through regular employment or through self-employment, those programs are insurance programs. I, myself, paid MANY THOUSANDS of dollars in taxes that my employers have deducted from my paychecks throughout my many years of working. I EARNED my Social Security and Medicare benefits.

      • 26

        says

        “Anyway, charity is VOLUNTARY, and taxes are MANDATORY and the article was about CHARITY.”

        Bingo! Let ME decide who and what I donate to, and not be forced by the government.

  15. 30

    says

    I do give to charity. I do agree with most of your points. Huh… what? Yes, I really do both. As much you are right, you are also wrong! There are ways to give to charity and benefit from it as well as giving to others. Here is why regarding each of your points:
    #1: That is true, but you have absolutely no control over it and you can’t choose your cause.
    #2: Also true! But why not budgeting it so you don’t over-donate (and even if it’s as little as $100 per year)?
    #3: Again, true! But just don’t donate to a beggar! Does not mean donating is worthless. Look towards real organizations or associations.
    #4: Again, if you chose a nice well-organized charity or association then money is more likely to be well spent.
    #5: True, but that is not a good reason. If you smoked weed 4 times a day would you justify yourself saying: I’m not the only one…??
    #6: Very good Philosophy to have! But still, I am sure you, at least once in your life, had to rely to a friend, a parent, a neighbor or anyone else to resolve a problem. We never know WHO will help us and WHEN we will need help. So I guess helping others is only some kind of justice…
    #7: Sooo true! So why not give some time then?
    #8: Might be true, might be wrong, that is just a matter of believes.
    And, charity is also taxes deductible, so might be interesting to look at it this way too.
    See, I agree, but I will still continue to donate!

  16. 31

    says

    Ebenezer is a 30-something professional? Because he sure has the writing style of a 40-something engineer…

    My partner and I have this discussion all the time. Our collective opinion on charity is slightly less forgiving than Ebenezer’s. When we give money, we give it to animals who can’t very well be expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They don’t wear boots. It’s been our experience that most people (“most”, not “all”, read that word again) who are in a position to receive largesse from others got there via bad decisions. And the ones who don’t, don’t appreciate it. Go ask the recipients of state-enforced “charity” who used their Hurricane Katrina debit cards to buy plasma TVs with. Or the methadone punks who treat relapsing as a national pastime. If I was a 25-year old single mom on my 4th pregnancy, I might have a little more incentive to keep my legs crossed if I knew that free clothing and toys weren’t available to me.

    • 32

      says

      I assure you I did not write this post, Greg, although I did edit it. I do not think I am betraying the author’s annonymity when I say he is definitely an engineer. I’ve asked him to repsond to some of your replies, and he assured me he would get to them this evening.

  17. 33

    says

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point #7, give of your time. Thankfully our young adult children have followed our example here. I don’t like to leave negative comments so I won’t with regard to your other points. I do agree that before giving money to any charity one should check into the organization’s finances, percentage that goes to those in need. etc. My suggestion to the author is that he/she reread their post and look in the mirror to see if they really still feel this way.

  18. 34

    says

    That’s ok. You don’t have to.
    Me, I donate enough to organized charity, New England Center For Homeless Vets among them, that the $100 I give out to those with their hand out in the city over the course of the year is nothing. I don’t kid myself, most will buy alcohol or cigarettes which is why it probably makes me feel better than it actually does any good.
    So last year, we stopped at the local “outdoor store” and pick up a couple dozen earmuffs. No homeless person in NYC in December will refuse a set of earmuffs.

    You should know – others are in your camp, Donald Trump among them. Sorry to insult you.

  19. 35

    says

    I prefer to donate my time to good causes rather than money and I don’t think that makes me a Scrooge. However, I can’t necessarily say that donating money is pointless as long as a person has plenty of extra money after fulfilling their own savings goals.

    • 36

      says

      LH – when comparing checks I write, however large, your donation of time deserves a hat tip. (Tipping one’s hat is a sign of respect if you are old as I am) Money is always needed, but at some point it’s people who make a difference.

  20. 37

    Ebenezer says

    Hello everyone. I’m the author of this article. Thanks for the feedback.

    LifeAndMyFinances / Retirebyfory- While there’s nothing wrong with it, a large portion of church contributions go to pay for church functions that you enjoy, so I would not consider it all just charity.

    Budgeting in the fun Stuff- I am not a rich kid. I have supported myself 100% since I was 18. Besides a few subsidized loans to help get through college I have never recieved a handout from the government or anyone. If I could do it, there is no reason anyone else can’t.

    First Gen American- The sick and disabled receive free food, housing, medical care, and disability payments through my taxes. I’m not sure what else they need from me?

    AnotherAnonymous- Your story is exactly what I’m afraid could happen if I give away money and find myself in need later.

    Ann- I pay more in taxes than most people make. The services I recieve in return are not even worth a fraction of that. I feel the rest is just a big poorly managed charity.

    -While I earn very good money, I have relatively little wealth. I do not live a lavish livestyle, in fact I rent out all the extra rooms in my house, very rarely eat at fancy resturaunts or buy starbucks, and only take weekend vacations to places within driving distance. Even so, it will still take years to pay off my mortgage and accumulate a large enough nest egg to retire.

    Modern Hamlet- Yes, Social Security is definitly a charity if you are under 50. It will be completely bankrupt by the time I retire.

    DoNotWait-I have zero budget until I am financially independent. Retirement, education, and medical accounts are also deductible if you’re looking for a tax break.

    Greg McFarlne- I totally agree!

    I think the best choice for everyone here would be to wait until you are financially independent and then consider donating.

  21. 38

    says

    Our post today promotes charity. :)

    Won’t someone think of the children? Remember, if kids don’t get fed or clothed they’re more likely to suck in school and turn to lives of crime. And that affects all of us because we have to pay more for jails and police.

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