Deciding whether or not to give to charity is tough. You want to give back, but can you afford to donate if you’re in debt or having trouble saving for retirement? You may also be worried your donation won’t make a difference, especially if you can only make a small contribution.
Some charities spend as much as 80% of donations on overhead costs. Depending on which organizations you support, most of your money may be put towards employee salaries or marketing expenses.
Knowing all of this, it’s hard to figure out what to do. You may feel ethically obligated to pay it forward, but feel worried about your financial future at the same time. Today I thought I’d share my perspective on this topic to help you decide if there’s room for charitable giving in your budget.
Should You Give Back While You’re in Debt?
We all want to make the world a better place, and giving to charity is a great way to do that. But if you’re struggling under the weight of student loans or credit card debt and living paycheck to paycheck, you shouldn’t donate to charity until you’re more financially stable. Your desire to contribute to charity is generous and noble—however, your health and well-being come first. You can’t fill up someone else’s cup until you have what you need.
But if you can comfortably afford all of your bills (including the minimum payments on your debt) with disposable income left over, you may be considering donating some money to causes you care about. However, I’d urge you to consider how much interest you’re paying on your debt every month. If you have high-interest credit card debt or student loans, it may be better to put your disposable income toward your debt instead of giving to charity.
If you only make the minimum payment on your high-interest debt, most of your money will just be going toward interest. So it could take you a pretty long time to climb out of debt. Making more than the minimum payment will help decrease your balance faster so you aren’t stuck in debt for years or paying thousands in interest.
As Dave Ramsey says, “If you live like no one else now, later you can live and give like no one else.” Imagine how much more money you’ll be able to give to charity once you no longer have to worry about monthly debt repayments. You’ll be much more financially stable and in a better position to share what you have with others.
Other Ways to Give Back
If you can’t afford to donate money, there are plenty of other ways to give back, such as volunteering your time and skills to a charity you love. You can help raise awareness for charities you care about by sharing the organization’s social media posts, talking to friends and family about the cause, signing petitions, and participating in fundraising runs or walks. Some organizations like Goodwill or women’s shelters will even accept household items like gently used toys or household items in lieu of cash.
My Personal Approach to Giving
I didn’t start donating to charity until a few years ago when I felt like I was financially stable. I believe that you should make sure your financial house is in order before you donate, which means having an emergency fund and contributing at least something to retirement.
Most Americans donate to charity and feel like they have an ethical obligation to help others, which is wonderful. But if you can’t afford a $400 emergency like many Americans, it may be better to save your money and help out in non-monetary ways. I waited to donate until I was on solid financial ground, not just treading water and living paycheck to paycheck. I didn’t want to land myself in a bad situation by donating when I couldn’t really afford to and end up needing assistance myself.
Currently I don’t have a line item in my monthly budget for charitable donations. I’m lucky that I can afford to give whenever I feel called to in a spur-of-the-moment fashion. However, before I make a donation, I do some research and check the charity’s overhead costs to ensure they’re low.
Charities with low overhead generally spend 25% or less of donated money on fundraising and administrative costs. Sticking to charities with low overhead ensures my money is making the most impact possible and getting to the people who need it. I also like to keep my ear to the ground for opportunities to help people more directly through GoFundMe campaigns or online assistance networks on Reddit, like r/assistance or r/randomkindness.
Don’t Feel Guilty If You Can’t Give
Growing up, we’re all taught to help others and give people the shirt off our back. So if you can’t afford to donate to charity, it can make you feel guilty or like a bad person. But try to remember that making the world a better place is all about doing what you can, when you can. If we all give what we can afford to spare, whether that’s time or money, we can solve so many problems.
Do you believe we should all give what we can to charity? Do you currently donate your time or money to any causes? Let me know in the comments section below!
Vicky Monroe is a freelance personal finance and lifestyle writer. When she’s not busy writing about her favorite money saving hacks or tinkering with her budget spreadsheets, she likes to travel, garden, and cook healthy vegetarian meals.