Saving for early retirement increasingly feels like a juggling act. There are so many ways to utilize the money coming into my pockets. Way more ways, actually, than the amount of money coming in. I could buy burritos every day, sock as much as I can into every tax efficient account possible, and even give it away!
I've got a pretty good handle on the first two options, and I think now is the time I decide how I'm handling giving some of my money back to the community as part of my Year of Caring.
The Story So Far
I haven't been much one for charity in the past, even though I can well afford to give most of the time. I used to work retail and was forced to ask every single person who came through my line if they wanted to give to ________ charity. I would much rather give my time than the money, as I feel as though my time can be mismanaged less easily. I'm also suspicious of a lot of “charitable organizations” out there, as most seem to exist solely to provide people with paychecks, not to give money to the people who actually need it.
My charitable efforts have been limited to immediate family for the last few years. I give money to my eldest sister every month in support of her efforts as a missionary. I started that in 2014 when she lived in Australia and needed help dealing with an increase in rent. $150 a month to me was no big deal, but for her it was a major problem. She would've had to find a new place to live, and finding reasonably priced rental options in Western Australia is an almost insurmountable task. So, I started to give her money each month and continue to do so. I know she puts it to good use and I've been able to piggyback off some of her locations (staying with her for 3 weeks in Australia saved me about $3.5k, and staying with her in England for 10 days saved me roughly $2k).
I've been content to leave it at that until just recently. I initially wasn't going to share the story behind a contribution I made and just leave it as a line item in my November 2016 Monthly Status Report, but I changed my mind after talking with several different bloggers. They encouraged me to share the story behind it, so I am. I want to be clear that I'm not bragging about my donation. This was a deeply personal donation that I felt called to give. I am also sharing this story with you because it dovetails nicely with an effort I'm more than happy to promote!
There I was, bored out of my mind at work, mindlessly browsing Reddit. I clicked on an AskReddit thread that asked what formerly homeless people wanted others to know about being homeless. As someone with a very brief exposure to being homeless after my parent's kicked me out the summer after my high school graduation, I was intrigued. The general gist of the thread was treat the homeless like people. Have a conversation with them. Don't pretend like they don't exist. See if they need anything and help them do that. Maybe give them meaningful work in exchange for things like a safe place to shower, shave, change clothes, or a solid meal.
Of course, not everyone in the thread was formerly homeless. Some chiming in are currently homeless and that's how I ran across “Mike” (name changed to protect his identity). Mike had a series of unfortunate events happen one right after the other. The loss of a parent and their housing. A bad car accident that put him in the hospital for a while and caused him to lose his job. Taking the car to a shady mechanic who charged way too much and didn't actually fix the problem.
All of these events, when spread out far away enough from each other, wouldn't have been such a big problem. But strung up together, one right after the other, caused him to lose his housing. He is now living illegally in a storage locker because he doesn't have anywhere else to go and has debt hanging over his head.
$2,300, in fact.
That's it. A debt of $2,300 caused this man to live in a storage locker with no electricity, no running water, and definitely no sanitation facilities. He's in the Northern half of the US, and it's cold.
So, after chatting back and forth with him a bit to verify his story, I sent him $2,500 via PayPal. It's a lot, I know. I just couldn't stand the thought of someone in the US sleeping in a storage locker because of $2,300 in debt to a title loan company. He said the high interest was killing any gains he makes on the debt.
$2,300 is roughly the amount of money I spend AND pay off each month. It's not nothing to me, but it isn't an overwhelming problem to me either. Here I am, well-fed, happy, and with a great job that is gave me even more money in the form of a bonus and moving allowances. I didn't really need that money, but he did. So I gave it to him.
— Melanie Lockert (@DearDebtBlog) November 28, 2016
And then I saw that tweet from the lovely Melanie. Her blog is on how to conquer your debt. See, she used to be in debt as well. Big debt. So she knows how it feels and writes some really great stuff. Once she paid off her own debt (Go Melanie!!), she reserved money in her budget each month to give away to those in need. People kept emailing her out of desperation and needed help. She likes to do what I do: helping out one person at a time in a big way!
As it turns out, J. Money saw what she was doing and wanted to help.
Thus, Debt Drop was born! They've been helping out people here and there for a while now. J liked it so much, he (with a few other people) started an even bigger project: the Rockstar Community Fund! The RCF focuses on 3 main projects: Debt Drop, the #GivingCards project, and Just-in-time Giving. The #GivingCards project issues a challenge each month and supplies a $20 pre-paid gift card to help carry out the mission (first come first serve).
Here is something that dovetails exactly with what I'm doing. In addition to helping out Mike with my big gift last year, I also signed up for one of the $20 gift cards in December and gave it away. Someone on my Facebook feed had their car- full of Christmas presents and other belongings – stolen from them while at work. I know $20 doesn't go far when trying to replace a car and Christmas gifts for their two little kiddos, but I hope they read the note and had some faith in humanity restored.
The Just-in-time Giving is dedicated to those in our community who could use a boost to deal with an unexpected expense. So far, they've given $100 to a member of the financial blogger community recently diagnosed with cancer. (Who still needs help if you feel so inclined!)
As detailed in my 2017 Goals post, I want to turn this year into a year of caring. What better way to start than to get involved with the Rockstar Community Fund!? This year, in addition to supporting my sister, I am donating $20 a month ($240/yr) to the Rockstar Community Fund. I will also start keeping my eyes peeled for those that need help around me and do what I can to help them out.
Oh, and Mike? I got an update from him:
“Hey! Thanks again for your help. I had to pay some other bills first so I was only able to allocate 2000 to the loan sharks. It will be a few weeks before I can actually pay them completely. Just wanted you to know progress was made. As for the future. Once I get the title back, I can sell the car. Once I sell the car, I can pay off the rest of my debts. Once that happens, I can sign up for college full-time for CS and I won't need the car. There isn't much work near my family but there is a decent college there, so free living and school is in the near future. That's the plan at this point. I'll be moved out of this place by the end of the month, which is good, because 2 days ago I very, very nearly got caught. :\ “
So, readers, ready to go out and do some good in the world!?