Monday, February 11, 2008


I received a comment the other day about making money but using it for good causes. I think this is sort of a sticky point, so I want to discuss it. First off, I think that this is often a cop-out. You like your lifestyle, you like your stuff, so surely the little that you donate to a good cause entitles you to have more stuff than the guy that doesn't donate as much as you. I think that mentality is the reason we are battling to keep up with the Joneses.

I also want to be clear that I don't think that everyone who has money is like that. I know that when I was in high school my family all moved away and I had nowhere to live. A friend's family took me in and gave me EVERYTHING! They had more money than I did and they used to to serve me. I am EXTREMELY grateful for their generosity and I'll never be able to fully express to them how much I appreciated what they did for me. If they had less money, or had not used their money to have extra room in their home, would I have been able to live there? I don't know. But I do know that I hope to someday be able to provide the same experience to a youth in a similar situation. I could think of nothing more rewarding than to use my resources to serve people as I have been served by others who have more than me.

Do you see why this just got sticky? I really like the idea of simplifying so that I can work a part time job and have more time to spend with my kids and family. But if I do that, how will I have the resources to really help people? ...I wouldn't.

If you know anything about me, you know that I'm currently working on a PhD in Health Promotion. Although it would be a fun twist of irony, I don't intend to work part time at McDonald's when I'm done here. I intend to get a job and make a reasonable salary. I want to spend my carreer helping people healthier and I hope to help people on a larger than individual level. I want to make the world a better place for those who will follow me. In so doing, I'm going to make money. By many standards, I'm going to make a lot of money.

So am I a complete hypocrite? Maybe. I'll be honest with you, I'm afraid to make more money than I currently make. I like my simple lifestyle and know that it helps me keep my priorities straight. If I have access to more money, things could certainly change, and that scares me.

Then comes the big question. If you make more than you absolutely need, what do you do with the rest of your money? I see a couple of options. You could donate it to good causes. I heard somewhere that Bill Gates makes over 50% of all of the charitable contributions made in the United States. I don't know for sure if that is true, but I do know that he does a lot of good with his money. I also know that he has a LOT left over and he has a lot of stuff. In many ways I like the idea of donating money to good causes, but I like to see what my money does. I would really like to take homeless people out to dinner or hire them to do jobs and help them build skills. Anyway, I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

Another thing to do with money is not to spend it, but to invest it so that I could retire early and spend my days farming on my little organic farm in Maine. For some reason that just seems really greedy... It also sounds a lot like something I would like to do. I suppose I could do a lot of good on my organic farm in Maine. This just got really sticky. I am glad that I can live below the poverty level for now so I can procrastinate making those decisions.

Anyway, I don't have solutions. I know that I don't want to use my money to accumulate stuff. I want to maintain simplicity and maybe help others do the same thing. I would also like to support more things that are in line with my ideals (organic beeswax soap, for example), that I just don't have the money to do now.

So what would you use your money for?


Anonymous said...

Heh, I think that was me who posted that comment. When I originally posted it I wasn't thinking of charity work at all. You ended up talking about exactly what I was thinking of but didn't explicity mention: rendering (personal) service to others who don't have.

This is forefront on my mind at the moment as a fellow student (MSc) in severe debt. As I type this I'm eating some delicious left overs of a meal that someone else cooked for me (I realise you don't have to be rich to feed someone but still..)

I get a lift off a memember of the local ward out to the supermarket every week or so to do my shopping and he also takes an OAP with him who otherwise would really struggle. I had decided a few years ago that I never really wanted a car, but watching how this man uses it to ferry people about, run errands and generally do so much more with his time to help other people that he would be able to otherwise has caused me to waver somewhat in my resolution.

I spend a lot of time mooching off people more fortunate than myself, and I know that if they all had as little money as I did they wouldn't be able to help me out like they do.

It's a tough one. And I'll hopefully be looking at things from the otherside of the lens after graduation this summer :)


Anonymous said...

i agree, it is way sticky. . . but i believe that we can find opportunities to share AND to simplify no matter how much we have (or don't). just keep your eye on the goal: to help others less fortunate and give health and happiness where you can.

thanks for addressing my comment :)

Heather said...

I believe that money is the root of all evil, but money itself is not evil. Many people let money dictate their circumstances and decisions, they let money control them, that's where the evil comes in. (I believe a majority of people are in this situation.)
However, if you learn to make money work for you, instead of working for money, that's when you can do a lot of good.
It doesn't matter if you are poor or rich, money can control you. If you master controlling money when you have little, then it won't matter how matter how much money you have in the future.
Earl and I have read a bunch of finance/investment books lately. He has some good comments. I think he's going to post them.

Earl said...

Here are some thoughts I had. This is what I want to do in the future.

Take the money that you don't need for your lifestyle and invest it. I believe that investing is different than buying consumer products. With consumer products your really just buying junk. With investments your are buying something that will produce income and help you do good in the future.

In addition to retiring and spending time with your family, investments can help you change the world. Imagine if you had income producing assets that could fund scholarships, or a job training program for the homeless, or budding organic farmers subsidies.

You mentioned Bill Gates. He and his wife don't just mail a check to Friends of Scouting. They have a foundation (with $40 billion in investments) set up that works on the problems they want to solve. Since the foundation has so many assets, it has a lot of power and ability to do good.

So I think that by investing your extra money you can avoid consumerism and be better able to help others.