How to Give to Charity and Have a Big Impact

One of the best things about building wealth and making money is the opportunity to give your money away. On this blog, I’ve talked about giving to charity as one of the six expenses I’ll never cut back on and donating regularly is one of the things that successful 30-year olds should be doing with their money!

I believe that anyone that is privileged enough to be investing, budgeting, and saving extra money has an opportunity to have a big impact through charitable donations. Here’s how to give to charity and have a significant impact across the course of your life.

Select a few causes that mean the most to you. I recommend identifying a small number of charities or organizations that align with your values and passions. Selecting 3 - 6 that you can truly research, understand, follow and volunteer with allows you to stay close to the impact your donations are having. By now, you’ll realize I’m a fan of focus and simplicity. With a smaller number of organizations, you can truly remain engaged and aware, and your limited resources will, by definition, go further among a smaller set of causes. What if you have more than six that you care deeply about? That’s fabulous - I don’t want you to feel limited - but think carefully about how you’ll prioritize your limited time and money to support a wider group.

Research them carefully. There are amazing resources today that help you understand the impact your selected nonprofit is having. I prefer Charity Navigator, which is itself a charitable organization. Charity Navigator evaluates nonprofit organizations against a variety of objective criteria, including financial health, accountability, and transparency. Using their site, you can easily explore how the organization uses its budget, understanding how much goes to paying its staff, versus to the causes it is designed to support.

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Set up recurring monthly donations. Like anything in your financial life, automation will make your donations easier to maintain. Further, recurring donations provide your charities with a more reliable stream of income. Fundraising is costly and very time-intensive, so your automatic donation helps alleviate some of that strain.

How much should you donate on a monthly basis? Like everything in personal finance, the answer is “it depends.” Many cite 10% of your income, linking back to the practice of tithing. I recommend starting with that as a benchmark - and lowering or raising it to fit your budget. When your income increases, or your expenses drop, you can adjust your donations as needed.

Evaluate your budget for additional donations. If your budget allows, you may want to create space for additional donations to the causes you care about. Many organizations have an annual fundraiser and run periodic giving campaigns. Contributing to those efforts provides additional support to the programs you value.

Mr. Financier and I set aside budget to participate in - and invite guests to - the annual events that are thrown by our favorite charities. It’s a great way to connect our friends to the causes we care about, connect with the leaders of the organization, and understand the progress and strategies of the coming years.

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Determine your practice for unexpected donations. The causes you care about deeply represent your personal priorities. However, if you’re like me, you have friends and family that have other philanthropic passions that they work to support throughout the year. These efforts often come in the form of a personal campaign or athletic competition.

I suggest you take one of two approaches when you’re approached by a loved one about donating to a new non-profit organization:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Create an “on demand donation” budget that you can use when you’re asked for ad-hoc donations. This small slush fund allows you to contribute, but not go overboard or contribute at the expense of your other charitable goals. When you’ve exceeded the budget, allow yourself the permission to say, “I’m honored you asked, but I’ve already spent my budget for charitable donations - is there another way I could support you?”

  • Politely decline. There’s nothing wrong with saying no. Women, particularly, were often socialized to be “people pleasers,” and can struggle with this small phrase. You can be kind and still say no. If you choose, you may offer an explanation, “I appreciate your passion for this cause - however, I’ve decided to funnel all of my charitable giving to a small number of causes so I can have the greatest impact.”

Explore your company’s employee matching policy. Once you’ve settled on your charitable goals, your company may be able to provide additional support. Many businesses offer Corporate Matching Gift Programs, where the company will match employee donations, usually up to a certain dollar amount annually. Contact your human resources team to understand if your company has one in place, and if they do, take advantage of this “free money” for your favorite causes!

Don’t forget about donating clothing and household goods. You could spend time selling your gently used items online, or via consignment...but if you can afford to go without that “found income,” donating your physical goods to shelters, return-to-work programs, and other organizations can have a tremendous impact. When donating physical goods, take the time to research the requirements of the specific charity - you’ll save them time and effort if you provide only what they are looking for.

Finally, no amount is too small. Occasionally, I hear women muse about whether “smaller donations” have an impact. While large donations catch headlines, every nonprofit is grateful for even the most modest amount. Start with what you can afford, and don’t demean your donation. Every contribution counts and will support the organizations you care about.

Are you interested in learning more about smart giving strategies? I loved the Charitable Giving Boot Camp episode of the Better Off podcast. Host Jill Schlesinger speaks with the CEO of Charity Navigator about how to maximize your charitable giving. Their discussion explores the impact of philanthropy and several common questions about charitable giving.

One of my other favorite podcasters, Jean Chatzky, also addressed charitable giving on an episode entitled Doing Well While Doing Good with Katherina Rosqueta, the founding executive director for the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. Katherina noted that 80% of Americans give to charity, and shares several practical tactics to bring to your own philanthropic efforts. She also reminded listeners that philanthropy isn’t just for the wealthy - anyone that engages in charitable efforts is contributing to the greater good.

I haven’t addressed the potential tax benefits of charitable donations, but there are opportunities to deduct donations from your tax bill. This is a nice incentive, but not the driving purpose behind my giving, personally.

I’d love to hear about the strategies you use to support your favorite charitable organizations! How did you identify the causes and organization you support today? What techniques do you use to balance their support with your other financial priorities? Looking forward to your feedback!

xoxo, Ms. Financier

What Successful 30-Year-Olds Do With Their Money

You’ve reached your 30s - congratulations! If your 20s are all about change (graduating college, starting a career, exploring new relationships, and living on your own), your 30s are about taking your life to the next level; accelerating your career, exploring the world, and making a difference.

Don’t ignore your finances in this critical decade. You have finally made a dent in your student loans, grown your paycheck, and started saving. There are six other things successful 30-year-olds do with their money to set themselves up for a more powerful future.

Grow your income. There are two primary levers to building wealth: reducing expenses and growing your income. Now that you have established years of experiences and accomplishments, build a plan to grow your income.

Women still face a wage gap relative to their male counterparts; this begins after college and persists throughout our professional careers. The average mid-forties male college graduate earns 55% more than his female counterparts.

Build your negotiation skills in preparation for asking for a raise or promotion. Here’s how to approach the conversation. Practice with a savvy friend and don’t get discouraged if you get an initial no; build a specific plan for what you need to demonstrate to secure a raise in the future. You may also want to read my experiences as a manager; the good, bad, and ugly when employees ask for a raise.

Save to spend. This sounds so easy, yet many in their 30s (and 40s and 50s...) spend first and then pay off debt. By your 30s, you should be setting aside money for future expenses, which include splurges like vacations and gifts as well as car maintenance and home repairs.

I recommend doing this automatically; set up a regular transfer from your paycheck into a “save to spend” account that you use for larger, irregular expenses. This is separate from emergency savings; a vacation to Puerto Rico in the middle of January does not qualify as an emergency!

Eliminate unnecessary expenses. You may have enjoyed an increase in salary across your 20s. If you’re like most of us, lifestyle inflation crept in; your spending increased as your paycheck grew. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, but not at a cost to your financial health.

Take the time to evaluate your expenses; you can use tools like Quicken, YNAB (You Need a Budget) and Mint to track your spending automatically. By keeping an eye out for the sneaky ways you spend more than you mean to, you can re-direct your money to align with your goals.

Invest for your future. In your 30s, you should be investing regularly. The number one regret of older Americans is not saving for retirement early enough. Set yourself up for a wealthy future by investing automatically, starting with your employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Investing is critical for women. Men are generally more confident about investing, while women are more goal-directed and trade less. Women tend to keep 10% more of their savings in cash than our male counterparts. Millennial women report a lower level of financial comfort. On average, we are less likely to feel “in control” or “confident” about our financial future. And, women generally have a smaller total invested when we retire - because we earn less.

If you don’t yet invest, then the best time to start is today. Here’s what investing in the market really means and how to start investing in four steps.

Manage risk. In your 30s, you may have accumulated assets, started a family, and purchased a home. You likely have insurance policies in place for home, health, and automobiles.

However, most Americans do not have a will; only 35% of us aged 30-49 have one. While wills are better than nothing, they do not afford the same protections as other important legal documents. A living revocable trust can allow you to more privacy (it does not need to be filed in court like a will) and healthcare and financial directives dictate who makes decisions regarding your health and wealth should you become incapacitated.

These topics aren’t easy to address; however, consider the additional stress you’d feel if your partner or family member passed and didn’t have this documentation in place.

Give back regularly. Finally, but importantly, in your 30s you should be giving back. Many Millennials are volunteering regularly; much has been written about the importance we place on contributing to the causes we care about.

Beyond your valuable time, set up recurring donations to the causes you support most. I recommend a monthly donation that you increase with every pay raise. Fundraising is a perennial challenge for nonprofits; your regular donations will provide a needed, predictable income stream for your favorite charities.

Strengthen your financial future by taking these six steps to emulate what successful 30-year-olds do with money.  If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

Six Expenses I’ll Never Cut Back On

The difference between cheap and frugal lies in priorities. Someone that is cheap enjoys spending as little as possible. They prioritize cost reduction in all expenses, in every area of their life. 

Someone that is frugal reduces expenses selectively. They prioritize specific experiences or things that deliver value and are okay with spending more in those areas. Those that are frugal do focus on reducing or eliminating expenses associated with things that aren’t a priority.

I've shared three ways I live frugally - but there's another side to that, as I don't view myself as cheap. In this post, I’ll share six areas where I splurge. This topic is important because many personal finance enthusiasts inadvertently create a culture of shame, judgment, and embarrassment around spending more than the minimum on any item. I’ve fallen into that trap myself; it isn’t motivating to others. We all have different values; part of becoming financially free is aligning your spending with your unique goals. For many of us, that doesn’t include deprive ourselves of all of life’s luxuries.

Shoes. I have a weakness for fabulous shoes, which are often (but not always) expensive. I prefer shoes to either clothes or handbags and get an irrational frisson of happiness when I’m wearing a pair that I love. As I write this, I'm wearing a pair of studded Marc Jacobs mouse flats. These little rodents make my day. The right pair of shoes bolsters my confidence, lifts my mood, and takes my primarily monochromatic wardrobe to the next level.

When my grandmother passed away, she had accumulated over 100 pairs of shoes. Clearly, I inherited her passion for footwear. My shoe collection includes inexpensive, unique heels that I snapped up at no-name shops alongside fabulous Manolos, Louboutins, and Choos. It’s a Carrie Bradshaw cliché - a woman who loves shoes. But I do!

Wine. In the past several years, I’ve become an amateur wine enthusiast. My splurge on wine doesn’t include endless cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, but I do have a 200-bottle wine fridge that I keep stocked with delicious discoveries. Wine allows me to explore the world with each bottle and I get quite a lot of enjoyment from the different tastes, characteristics, and regions represented in my collection.

I use CellarTracker to keep track of my wine; what I’ve bought, tasted, or have on my wish list. It also keeps track of how much I spend on the bottles I log. I could save more money if I drank less wine, visited fewer wineries, or switched completely to Bota Box (which I enjoy and often have in my pantry, it's a great price-to-value.)

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sunscreen. My daily sunscreen is an indulgent beauty splurge. While I buy drugstore brand makeup, the Kiehl’s sunscreen I prefer is over $20 an ounce. It protects my skin and feels amazing. Similarly, I splurge on two other skincare items, my nightly moisturizer from Dermalogica and a lovely Origins moisturizer ironically called Starting Over. These products might have less expensive alternatives, but I haven’t yet identified them.

I had terrible skin in my late teens and used to spend a ridiculous amount on high-end skin care and makeup in my early 20s. Once I figured out the right way to protect and manage my skin, I happily continued to buy the pricier items made a difference in my complexion.

Travel. Exploring is something I value tremendously and will always budget for. I aim to spend more on traveling as I age; my current retirement budget includes a line item that is three times what we spend today.

My partner and I both enjoy a wide range of travel experiences; we have as much fun climbing a mountain in the Pacific Northwest or camping in West Virginia’s gorgeous Monongahela National Forest as we do on a luxurious Parisian getaway. Even in lean times, I’ve been fortunate to continue to invest in travel experiences that both broaden my perspective and recharge my batteries.

Home. This is my biggest splurge; Mr. Financier and I live in a home that is quite generously sized for two people. I’ve shared the ridiculous terms of my first mortgage and I’ve occasionally considered selling, downsizing, and investing the balance.

However, my partner and I have created a home that provides us with plenty of space to enjoy a variety of different experiences without leaving our property. We have a library where I can curl up and read, a theater room to enjoy our favorite movies, a dining room that we use regularly, a basement bar to serve wine and mixed drinks, and an outdoor space that allows us to explore nature.

We’re lucky to have these experiences at our fingertips and while a tinier space in a lower-cost location would make financial sense, I’m quite certain we wouldn’t be as happy. Mr. Financier and I enjoy socializing, but both of us are introverts, so having a space that is truly ours to retreat to is our biggest luxury.

Giving. This is an area I aim to increase over time. Ever since I started working, I’ve been contributing regular, automatic donations to a few of my favorite nonprofits. With each raise or bonus I earn, I always set aside a portion for these groups. Many that I support are related to nature and conservation, as well as supporting and enabling women. One of the most exciting things about increasing my household income has been the ability to donate even more meaningful sums to the causes I care about.

My giving strategy is to engage more deeply with fewer causes; this can be difficult because there are so many amazing groups doing powerful work. However, I enjoy getting to know the leaders of the nonprofits I support, understand their short- and long-term objectives, and connect them to valuable resources. I aim to spend even more time (and money) with these organizations once I reach financial freedom.

Those are six expenses I’ll never cut back on, which means I need to work longer and grow my income consistently in order to fund them. I’m curious to hear if there are expenses that you’ll never cut back on? What are the things you happily spend more than the bare minimum on?

xoxo, Ms. Financier