Friday, March 26, 2010

29 Days of Giving

I discovered this website a few weeks ago deep in the cobbled confines of cyberspace. In all honesty, at the time, it didn't really strike me as anything fabulous or do much for me, but the idea did stick with me.

Why 29 days of giving, and not 32, or... 57 days of giving?

I didn't think of it again, until yesterday.

It was immediately after I read this article about saving money for retirement. The case study is a woman named Dayna, a single mom who loses a significant portion of her income due to divorce, and struggles financially to make ends meet. She also struggles to cobble together an emergency savings, retirement fund or for her son's college tuition.

After noting that her ancillary spending was not at all exorbitant, I plodded on, wondering where this magical money man was going to come up with his super duper powerful elixir to solve Dayna's money woes. I am and was a skeptic of these types of articles/schemes, and yet, this one hooked me because Dayna had so little in extra spending budgeted before and after her divorce, I knew there was no way his first line could be like every other article I've read on this topic which says: "cut out coffee for a year and you will save $1,057.23."

To which I typically say: suck it. Have you seen me without coffee? That's $1,057.23 well spent, mister.

The chart that laid out Dayna's finances also had one other glaring part that stood out. Prior to her divorce, Dayna had exactly zero dollars allocated to charitable/giving, and after her divorce, with the help of this money management expert and much less in net income, she now allocated to giving 5% of her net income.

The article claims that giving would encourage Dayna to be more empathetic to the needs of others, and that recent research suggests that those who put their money in the mouths of others, so to speak, tend to be rewarded for their generosity many times over.

A HUGE believer in the idea that abundance reaps additional abundance, my mind began to race.

I did some additional research, and found surprisingly few statistics to back up the article's claim, but I so liked the theory that I started to think about all the ways I had given in the past, and I began to wonder if they'd add up to my own 5% net.

I recognized almost immediately that a good deal of the reason I have never given in a managed and deliberate way is because not only had I never pulled together any kind of action plan of how I might implement giving in my life in a way that works for me, I also had never quantified many acts that were incredibly fulfilling to me as giving because it seemed, well, self serving in some morphed way. It's as though, I assumed through action that this act of giving, should be financially painful.

I am always willing to give of my time and my space, many times to a fault. If I like you I will put you up, feed you, wash your sheets, give you my home, no questions asked. My profession is one where my most valuable asset happens to be my brain, and therefore I noted that I freely give away each week countless billable hours of my time.

And yet until yesterday, I never even considered that these sorts of gifts could be among the categories in my own gifting structure/plan. I think because, in some masochistic way, they are not as painful as writing out a check and sending my hard earned bucks off to Neverland so they don't feel like they qualify? Strange.

Sure, I also texted that 800 number and gave $10 to Haiti relief, and most years I write a check to the Sierra Club, United Way, and to some version of cancer research but each time there is this underlying skepticism: what is that money going to do anyway?

And yes, every year I take a boat load of clothes, appliances, bedding and other stuff to Goodwill (largely because I am too lazy to hold a garage sale) but again, has this really made a difference for someone? Made someone's day? Does it count?

I pick up trash when I see it, never litter, and separate out my bottles and such to recycle. What's that, giving to the earth? I drop more money than I care to count each year at my kid's school carnival and on various school fundraisers that promise a nut roll, or crappy cookie dough, or shitty wrapping paper, but getting serious about giving and quantifying it like this guy was suggesting, that requires a plan.

In thinking about this, I reverted back to the 29 Days of Giving idea, with my thought being that it could be a really empowering way to do my own market research.

I realized immediately that much of my fear around creating a 5% net giving budget was not so much that I was against giving my hard earned cash away, as I do it nearly every day, it was about the idea that giving needed to be painful somehow, that the mere act of writing that check, or whatever it was must hurt like watching someone stand before me and slowly tear up each dollar made waitressing on a particularly hellish night.

I resolved yesterday that giving does not have to be (and probably should therefore very rarely for me be) about writing a check to a charity when I know little about my money's destination. It doesn't have to hurt to give, however, in fact, it should actually feel pretty damned good.

So yesterday, I set out on my own, very personal journey of 29 Days of Giving....and I hope to document here in some fashion at least, the various ways in which I conduct my "market research."

I had and continue to have no idea what this will look like, but I figured if I set the intention, that something would come to me. It did. I logged on to Facebook approximately 10 seconds after the unofficial kickoff to my little campaign and noted that one of the most positive, happy, and supportive moms in my stream (whom I have never actually met) was pining badly for a chance to go to the Black Eyed Peas concert last night. She and her husband also happen to be the two most likely people in my stream to offer help when needed and are always going above and beyond, whether tending a trail, or making homemade soup for the homeless. I whipped out my credit card, charged two tickets and emailed them to her.

I see on Facebook now that she's looking for toothpicks to hold her eyes open, after a long, unexpected, fun night dancing.

I cannot stop laughing.

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