Saving and Giving

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.

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!)

Going Forward

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!? 

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32 thoughts on “Saving and Giving

    • Thanks Julie! We don’t have to be Batman or Superman to make a difference in someone’s life. Although, being Batman would be super awesome….

  1. Good for you. I have never been homeless, but I have had plenty of interaction with people who were at the time or had been in their past. They are people. Good people. Most of the time they just want a good conversation and someone to interact with who does not snub or look down upon them. A solid meal goes very far for someone who has not eaten in a few days.

    The day we stop treating everyone with respect is the day we lose respect for ourselves.

    Glad to hear Mike is utilizing your donation and working his way back.

    • I couldn’t agree more! I don’t usually see too many visibly needy people in my day to day life, so I wanted to help when I could. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I love seeing this so much, Gwen! And not just because you featured our projects (though beyond thrilled you did :)). I admire all of you guys where this stuff comes natural because it’s always been a struggle for ME to do myself. In fact, one of the main reasons I keep launching projects around giving back is to FORCE MYSELF to do more of it! And because only certain types of giving bring me joy (i.e. person-to-person where you can immediately see the impact you’ve made!), these projects all tend to go the more personal and direct routes.

    So not only do I thank you for your generous contributions to our new project, but also for PUTTING ALL THIS OUT THERE so others can hopefully be inspired too. Others just like me who need constant reminders to make sure we remember people outside of ourselves 🙂

    So thank you!

    • Thanks Nate. I feel really great about it. Moreso than I ever thought I would about giving my money away! Thanks for all the work you’ve been doing on RCF and the forums!

  3. As if I needed another reason for you to be one of my favorite people on the planet. I know that, for me, t’s incredibly easy to put the blinders on with stuff like this, I don’t want to hear about the people with dire struggles because that makes me feel bad or sad. It sounds like you changed Mike’s life in a big way. And that’s so awesome. You are a rock star.

    It also breaks my heart so much to learn that there was a time that you were briefly homeless. 🙁

    I initially tossed $100 towards the RCF and was blown away at all the good that people are doing with it.
    TJ recently posted…Pre-Road Trip Leg 1 – The Preliminary RouteMy Profile

  4. Awesome! I feel like sometimes the FI community can come across as money hoarders, so I always like to see posts about acknowledging our ridiculously good fortune and helping out others. This is also not your average lump-donation-to-MegaCharity, which is cool. Thanks for the insight.

    • Thanks for commenting, Dylan! I got a stroke of good luck that could be shared, so I did. Can’t miss the money I never had! I’m so glad I shared the story now 🙂

  5. I really love that you prioritize charitable giving! I admittedly don’t, and that makes me feel kind of guilty. :/ Once we’re out of debt I do plan on upping the ante with helping out the community, either in the form of time or money donations.

    Great idea including donations in your reports! It gives a little more light to such an important action. 🙂
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…5 Ways To Live With IntentionMy Profile

  6. I think our stories are so important. It took me a quite a few years to be comfortable sharing my stories about giving. But if no one talks about it, we can’t learn from each other. Just like any other part of personal finance.
    Ms. Montana recently posted…December ExpensesMy Profile

    • I feel like the hardest posts to write are those that will make the biggest impact on the world. Like I said I was originally hesitant to share the story about Mike but now I’m so glad I did!

  7. I love the direction “our community” is taking. J$ feeding off a great idea, and making it happen through the Rockstar network. The impact we’re going to make is exciting. I just finished a post on the same topic, but won’t be publishing til 1/24 due to biz travel. I’m beyond excited about it.

  8. I have been following your blog for a while but this is my first time posting a comment. I live in the Northeast and I feel very touched by this article. Sometimes we never know how much the little things we do mean to someone. What you did right there for this gentleman was a huge deal and something that could have possibly turned his life around. You should be proud.

    I made it one of my goals to give more this year, I give away almost 10% of my take home pay to people and organizations I feel are in need. In addition, this year I felt a need to do something dear to my heart so I am volunteering my time on a weekly basis at an organization that prepares, packs, and delivers lunches to those who are terminally ill. I feel like I get so much more from giving than I give. The feeling I get by helping someone either directly or indirectly who needs it so much is awesome.

    • Toni, that’s an incredible story. I’m sure those that get the meals are grateful for more than just the food you provide as well. Keep up the great work! We might get to FI a little later than we otherwise could, but the life we’ll have when we get there will be so much richer from our efforts. Thank you so much for commenting! I’m glad you’re a reader <3

  9. I’m glad to finally see this finally being addressed on a financial blog- they all seem to focus on accumulating wealth just for ourselves. Visiting Guatemala in college made me realize how blessed we are in America. Sure I could be farther on savings goals if I didn’t give away any money, but sharing some if one of my favorite budget lines- since 2013 donations are the second largest spending category I have. In November 2015 I visited a Guatemalan non-profit and started sponsoring a kid who lives in the dump community.

    • That’s amazing Josh! I could use the extra $2500 for sure, but he seemed to need it more than me. The world could use a few more people like you 🙂

    • Thanks John! I personally love how much I was able to positively impact his life when that money wasn’t doing that much for me. I’ll be excited to see how well he does in the future!

  10. Hi Gwen

    Good on you for bringing more charity into you financial independence journey. I know it’s not hard because every dollar is a dollar close to FI!!

    I recommend getting involved in the Effective Altriusm movement (if you are not already). This movement is entirely dedicated to understanding and evaluating how you can have the most positive impact in the world. If that is by donating money, their research focuses on finding and evaluating the most effective charities in the world, and providing guidance on where your money will be best used. Check out and

    The Against Malaria Foundation is my chosen favourite 🙂

    All the best

    • Hey Nick thanks for commenting! I’ve heard about the Effective Altruism movement! I confess, it’s not something I’ve looked into too much but I’ll for sure check it out more in depth!

  11. I was very impressed by your action. The fact that you have helped a man to start life with a clean slate is very important. This means that good still wins in the world.

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