The other day a friend asked me if I gave to any charities, or did I just save all my money in order to keep myself debt free. The questioner seemed to think that a debt free life automatically equates to a miserly life. There seemed to be a belief that one cannot be both debt free and a giver.
I will admit that when I was much younger and had very little money that remaining debt free took every cent that I had. I didn’t have any money left over to give to my church, or any other charity that I cared about. Just paying the bills was all I could do; charitable giving would have had to go on credit cards and I wasn’t willing to do that. But just because I didn’t have any money didn’t mean that I gave nothing. I found other ways to give.
I volunteered whenever my church had a bazaar or barbeque to raise money. If they were having a community yard sale to raise money I always scrounged up things to donate. If there was a disaster, I worked at the food bank and Red Cross, helping to assemble disaster relief. I volunteered for other organizations that I wanted to help, too, giving as much time as I could. I also donated unwanted items to the Salvation Army and Goodwill so that others could use them and the charities could profit from the sales. If a charity had a food drive, I’d take some of the freebies and surplus that I got from good couponing and sales shopping and donate that. I also ran races for charities that I wanted to support, raising money against the miles that I ran. All of this cost me very little or nothing and yet was a very tangible way of giving back.
Now that I have more money, I do give funds to my church and to charities. As my income increased, I gave a little more each year and still remained debt free because the giving was part of a carefully planned budget. Last year we gave away about fifteen percent of our income. While I have no doubt that these charities put the money to good use, I find that I prefer the more tangible ways of giving that I learned when I was broke. Writing a check is impersonal; getting directly involved is a chance not only to give, but to be involved in the community that you’re trying to help.
Now I do both. I write some checks and I get involved whenever I can. I find that this balanced form of giving is good for my soul. I try to give the most money to the charities that I cannot help physically because they are too far away or do not have any way for me to get directly involved. I try to give more of my time to local charities and those that offer a tangible way of giving, such as road racing. I still give some money to these organizations, but I’d rather give my time and take joy from a job well done and the knowledge that I’ve helped someone directly by my actions.
Being debt free does not mean that someone is a miser. While I’m sure that some debt free people give nothing, part of the joy for me in being debt free is knowing that I have money to help others. My money isn’t all tied up in other obligations. But even if you’re just starting out on the debt free path and have little money to give, it is still possible to give of your time, energy, and belongings, and to share some of your abundance with others. Such contributions are just as valuable and appreciated and they give you a chance to get involved with the cause you are helping.