Earlier in the week, I penned a call to giving. Of course, volunteering time and talent makes a difference. I’d like to think that Mr. P and I both know that well from firsthand experience. But charitable giving matters just as much–maybe, in some ways, even more. As a result, Mr. P and I work to prioritize charitable giving as we pursue financial independence. To keep the act of giving at the forefront of our minds, we include it in our monthly budget, but we also make sure to include weekly giving when we grocery shop.
I grocery shop once or twice a week. I’d like to tell you that this is primarily because we buy a lot of fresh produce, but it’s also because sometimes I don’t have my act together nearly as much as I’d like. Whether I’m running in with a list or simply scooping up a single forgotten item, I also make sure to purchase an item or two for our local food pantry. Some days, I’ll choose non-perishable food items; other times, I pick up toiletries or paper goods. Sometimes I pay full price; sometimes I put my couponing chops to the test and see how many I can score inexpensively or for free.
Even though I know I will ultimately donate the items, I actually record those numbers within our grocery budget. And for good reason. I have never had to wonder about my next meal. In fact, sometimes poverty — true poverty — seems so unfathomable that I have to remind myself that it is a haunting reality for all too many people, some of whom live in my community. In order to stay cognizant of the issue, a most-needed food pantry item is added to the grocery list right next to Mr. P’s treat request for the week. I would never be so bold as to claim that these dozen or so items are set to save the world – but every little bit helps. In fact, I can’t help but wonder what my food pantry’s shelves would look like if every shopper did this each week*.
At the end of each month, Mr. P and I run through our spending tracker app and key those numbers into our budget spreadsheet. Then, I look to see how much money we’ve already donated that month. Though we are not particularly religious people (sorry, Mom), we do attend the occasional mass. More than that, though, since we are both teachers, there is nary a month when one of our schools is not doing a fundraiser for some organization. And then there’s my classroom library. Certainly meriting a post of its own, my library is my most prized part of my classroom and it’s funded entirely by yours truly.
After tallying up any of the giving that we’ve done throughout the month, we make sure to top off our giving at the month’s end. That’s the one budget category that I’m excited about maxing out. In case you’re curious, we currently give to a local food pantry, a local animal shelter, a low-income educational foundation that supports my district, and a literacy outreach program that we visited last summer in Akumal, Mexico on a monthly basis. We also pepper in other organizations based on local and world events and illnesses that impact loved ones. I can’t claim to be the most generous donor (not even by the wildest stretch of imagination), but knowing that I’m able to spread the wealth certainly makes balancing my budget much more satisfying.
Currently, our gifting budget is $200 per month. If you’ve read the blog for a while, you know that $200 is also our monthly grocery budget. As we slashed away at our grocery budget, we padded our savings but we also grew our gifting. That means we are currently budgeting for $2400 worth of charitable giving each year. That’s nothing to shake a stick at, but we are hoping to be able to increase this amount more each year. We do not have the largest of incomes, and we certainly are no Bill and Melinda Gates when it comes to money donated each year. But I do believe that there is real power in prioritizing charitable giving, and I refuse to settle for less.
* Maybe I should boldly claim that this grocery game would make all the difference. I live in a city with approximately 70,000 people. If the average family size in America is 2.54 (but we round to 3 because we like whole people and whole numbers), that gives us approximately 23,333 families. If every family donated four items each month for an entire year, our food pantry would receive 1.12 million donation items each year.
So Tell Me…Do you plan your charitable giving ahead of time or do you donate when the need and ability arises? Do you have any gifting goals?
I try to prioritize my charitable activities but I know it’s usually my own expenses that take the lead. I’m working on that. I do, however, plan it but not in much detail. Like when the holiday season approaches, I know I have to pick a date and donate some money to whoever I think will benefit from it. Oh, and when I have a bit of a surplus in my savings at the end of the month, I give some of it away. I’ll be honest, I’m not the most charitable person I know and it’s something I’m working on.
I did come across an interesting article that said it’s just better to donate money to charities instead of actual goods because they can draw more mileage from the money than we can. For instance, they get huge price discounts when they buy food in bulk, whereas we pay the retail price.
That’s a good point about certain organizations needing money, possibly more than goods. I do think, though, that if I can coupon and score items for free (or really cheaply), I actually probably can do better than they can – or it might be a close tie. However, my 16-pack bundles of TP aren’t going to keep their lights on, so I always try to give money too.
Good for you! My mom is like you: She scoops up some deals when she sees them for the local food bank or women’s shelter. (Toiletries and diapers for the shelter. Food for, well, the food bank.)
I’m glad you just include everything in the grocery budget. Trying to keep track of a separate “giving” category seems like it’d get tricky. Plus I suppose it’s another way to keep yourself a little extra frugal.
You’re right about the grocery game budget getting too crazy, Abigail. I thought about teasing out the donation item or two from each receipt, but I like feeling like I’m offering a seat at my kitchen table in a way. Plus, I’m all about tracking my spending to the penny, but I’m not about to be calculating tax on each individual item or making a bunch of separate purchases in the grocery line for separate receipts.
I love the fact you’re donating that much money each month. That’s fabulous. While we donate money to local charities each month, the amount is way less than yours. Having said that, we do donate to other charities throughout the year as we see fit. Giving is a very important aspect of life. It’s great to be able to help other people.
Thank you for the kind words…and it’s definitely not a contest. 🙂 I hope to give more eventually – I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that we give “enough”. I do feel very privileged to be in a position to help others. You’re so right when you say giving is an important aspect of life!
I’d say that I donate when the need and ability arises almost exclusively. I rarely plan to give ahead of time. Kudos to you for setting aside a specific figure each month for charity. You are definitely helping a lot of people/organizations with that total. $2,400 per year is very commendable. Thanks for sharing.
FF @ Femme Frugality
Love this! With variable income, ours is more when we can, though we do have it budgeted in during the holidays.
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor
Thanks for continuing to cover this topic, Penny! I like the idea of incremental giving like the grocery donations, because it is manageable for many people and meets a real need.
We decide a minimum percent of our income to donate throughout the year, and this comes out in monthly chunks to various organizations. We also try to give as needs arise throughout the year, but the bulk of it is decided ahead of time. I think it is important to respond to timely needs, but for us, we give more if we decide ahead of time.
Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless
I admit this is something I’m really struggling with lately. I strongly believe in charitable giving, but I also strongly believe in paying my loans back as quickly as possible, and it’s unfortunately very easy to think of money donated as money lost.
I’ve actually never tried planned giving — rather, I usually donate whenever something specific comes up, like a friend asking for contributions for a cause, or when Wikipedia or NPR are asking for money. My family is also pretty into doing charitable donations in lieu of birthdays/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day gifts. But there’s no real schedule or goal in terms of amounts. This is something I’m a bit uncomfortable with — I’d like to figure out a solution that feels better to me, like I’m actually making giving a priority.
I should really do the food panty thing. I actually don’t even know if the new grocery store I just started going to has a food panty box, but I will definitely check that out this weekend.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to comment. I love that you’re talking about this and opening it up in such a true-to-life way. So many people just say, “Don’t forget to give a little.”
I am loving it. You’ve inspired me to work this into my grocery routine, now that Mike and I will be settling down again. I think it’s awesome.
Thanks, Liz! If you do end up working it into your routine, I’d love to hear how it goes.
I like how you save small and give big. You may not be Bill or Melinda Gates but you are helping another family buy their groceries entirely (if you add up). If only 10% of the world did that, there will be no more poverty in the world.
I am a lousy planner when it comes to budgeting. I have tried to bugdet before, but it is so difficult, as my expenses are so different each month. But I do not buy anything I do not need (most of the time) and I feel like I can do it without budgeting ( I know I can do better). I just track my income and expenses. But I do want to budget just for experiment to see how it works.
When it comes to charity, It is almost the same. I get requests from friends and family occasionally about some genuine causees and I donate to them. I also sponsor a student in Nepal for his education,which has been the most rewarding experience.
We are definitely not the Gates! But we give what we can. I’m currently re-examining to see if we can increase this at all 🙂