“I’ve made all my money on my own without my family and I work very hard.” -Paris Hilton
Unless you are Paris Hilton, you probably owe some thanks to other people for helping you get to where you are today. Your schools probably helped you out quite a bit (I know you can read, so that is something to be thankful for). Maybe you had a life changing experience at a summer camp. Maybe you find your fulfillment playing a sport and you’d like others to have access to that sport. Maybe you or someone in your family had an illness that you would like to help find a cure for. Maybe your rescue dog is your best friend.
The point is, we all have had things in our lives that have been important in some way or another, and most of us didn’t get here on our own (except for Paris Hilton, obvi). That is why it is important to give back.
Considering all of the other financial obligations you are facing for the first time, giving back can be very daunting in your 20’s. If you are a student with loans, you are probably very aware that every dollar that you spend now will cost you more in the future. If you are living off of student loans, this may not be the time for you to make monetary donations because that is like robbing from the poor to pay the poor. This does not mean there aren’t ways for you to give back, they just might not be financial right now.
If you are paying off loans or other debt, you are probably also very aware that the money you put towards your debt today will save you money in the long term. It can be easy (and tempting) to put off making financial donations until you are debt free.
…but you might buy a car. Or a house. Or start a business. Or have kids and send them to college. As we get older, most people make larger purchases that require that they go into some sort of debt. Chances are, you will have some sort of debt in the future. And as we already discussed, you didn’t get to the point where you can buy a house without benefiting from education, the love of your loyal rescue dog, etc etc. So being in debt is not a good excuse to not give back (but don’t go into debt because you give more than you can afford. That isn’t helping anyone either.)
If you have any sort of disposable income at all (this means you can pay all of your required bills on time without going into debt- and no, paying for beer does not count as a necessary expense!), you can afford to give some ca$h back to your community.
How do you decide how much to give? Christian tradition supports tithing, which is 10% of your income. Other people give suggested donations depending on what the charity asks for. Other people have a certain amount scheduled into their budgets and then distribute to each of their favored charities using automatic bill pay (don’t be surprised that this is my method of choice).
I have specific charities that I donate 75% of my charity budget to, and the other 25% can go to any cause that hits me in the feels. (Like one time I was watching PBS in the middle of the day and I saw a documentary about this group. They leave gallons of water in a dangerous area of desert because hundreds of people die of dehydration each year trying to make the crossing into the US. Regardless of how you feel about immigration, I can’t imagine a scarier way to die and I support any organization that saves people from dying of thirst in a desert. So I gave them money and I was glad I had that 25% available in my budget to give without feeling like I was taking away from my other charities and without worrying whether I could make the rent.)
If you really don’t feel that you can make a financial donation right now (or if you are a student living on loans), consider volunteering your time. There are always opportunities to volunteer to help out your community, and many would argue that a gift of time is more valuable than a gift of money. You can work for a formal volunteer organization, organize a drive, or fundraise to run a race. There are tons of options.
Giving back is personal- what you choose to give (time, money, talent), how much you choose to give, who you choose to give to. But I hope you will choose to include charitable donations as part of your budget and as part of your lifestyle- part of growing up is recognizing those who have helped you get to where you are today (I’m talking to you, Paris).