The Gift of Generosity

There’s a website that goes by the name of Rockstar Finance. The primary purpose of the site is to aggregate all personal finance blogs in one space, and organize blog postings according to subject matter, and other relevant categories. As of today, the site boasts 1,321 listed blogs. That’s a whole lot of folks (including yours truly) sharing thoughts about money, doing their best to inform and educate readers about anything and everything related to the notion of money.

How to earn more money.

Get out of debt.

Save for retirement.

Stick to a budget.

Pay off your mortgage.

Build wealth.

Invest smart.

Spend wisely.

Reduce expenses.

Become a millionaire.

Live frugally.

Consume less.

These are some of the common topics discussed by bloggers. And the posts are often helpful. Because we live in a money-centric world. And too many people lack knowledge/information supporting effective navigation of day-to-day money issues. So, we educate our self thereby increasing our self-sufficiency, maximizing our sense of freedom.

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What About Giving?

The tagline for the BuddhaMoney site is: Find Balance, Be Wealthy. And my idea of balance comes from more than focusing on the self and improving the state of my finances. Don’t get me wrong here; money is important, we need money just to get by in life never mind affording luxuries.

But money and accumulating stuff can’t be the sole focus because an integral part of balance and wealth includes sharing and giving to others. A little something called generosity. And when we are generous, when our focus is not solely on our self, well, this is when we experience peace and freedom and happiness.

You ever hold the door open for another person to walk through ahead of you? Give directions to a stranger? Snap a photo for a tourist? Recognize someone’s birthday? Give clothing to charity? Say ‘thank you’ and mean it. Listen, truly listen, to someone without interrupting, without judging? Say ‘I’m sorry’ after you’ve caused hurt through words or actions? Lend money because the other person needs it and because you can afford to?

These are all small acts of generosity. No, wait. Let me clarify. There are no ‘big’ or ‘small’ generous gestures. Because generosity is generosity. There’s no point in quantifying or measuring. It’s not a competition.

When we feel generous, we give. What we give is entirely up to us (i.e., money, material objects, time, wisdom, support, etc). But whatever the gift, the act of giving itself says ‘I’m putting another being first, relegating my personal wants to the backseat’.

Why does this matter? Because when we give without reservation, give from the heart, we feel pure joy, a sort of lightness of being. And it’s an amazing feeling.

In part, this feeling is generated by a sense of letting go of whatever you’re holding onto too tightly, i.e., money, stuff, an idea, expectation, or your own sense of importance. And when we let go, we broaden our perspective and broaden our world simply because we’re no longer self focused, and others gain as much importance as we ascribe to our self. Then our world grows more expansive and our happiness more habitual.

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Joy to the World

When I was in third grade, my teacher was friends with a producer of the kids television show, Sesame Street. Somehow, my teacher finagled for myself and several other students to appear on the show, mostly to sing a song the title of which I knew to be Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog. Sometime later, I learned that the actual title is Joy To The World (the band Three Dog Night sings the most well known version. Although, in my biased opinion, I will say that the version belted out by my enthusiastic classmates and I would surely hold its own against Three Dog Night).

Such generosity! What an amazing gift! And to this day, I thank my teacher for her kindness, for going out of her way to bring this experience to her students. And it’s an experience I always look back upon fondly and with appreciation (the memory is most often triggered by hearing the song!).

Everyday, several times per day, we have the choice to bring it, to bring Joy, to our self, and spread it to others. And we can do this in so many ways starting with showing respect, offering good wishes, or being polite to others. Not just because family and society teaches us this sort of behavior, but because this is our nature. And when we behave in a manner that’s true to our nature, we feel balanced and calm.

To the contrary, when anger or jealousy or pride take hold, we’re completely out of balance, filled with negativity, suspicion and distrust. Who wants to be around people like that? I mean, when I’m feeling negative, I don’t want to be around myself!

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Find Balance, Be Wealthy

Read personal finance blogs (shameless plug: BuddhaMoney knows a thing or two), mainstream financial media, and other sources of information intended to educate your self about money management. Learn ways to up your income, decrease expenses, save, invest and grow wealthy.

And … if you’re of the mind that peace and happiness are important, know that a starting point to healthy well being and relationships with others includes practicing and cultivating generosity of spirit. Because this, not a seven figure portfolio, is where true freedom and joy come from (that, and daily sing alongs with Three Dog Night to Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog).

Why We Give

Yesterday, a homeless man knocked on our front door asking for work. ‘Anything you can offer’, he gently said. I thought for a moment then recalled that there were …

Yesterday, a homeless man knocked on our front door asking for work. ‘Anything you can offer’, he gently said. I thought for a moment then recalled that there were sad looking flower beds in the yard that were crying out for attention. It was a job that never seemed to climb past the bottom of my things-to-do list, even though it wouldn’t take more than an hour or so.

Walking outside barefoot, I asked the man to follow me then showed him exactly what needed to be done.

“Sure, sure, that’s fine,” he said, “Any work at all is welcome.”

Not thinking, I asked, “ Do you have any gardening tools?” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I gave my self an eye roll and head shake, wanting to take back the words. Gardening tools? Seriously? It was a hot summer day, the man was dressed in oversized long pants and a long sleeve shirt, sweating, uncomfortable, with no sun protective hat or sunglasses, and I ask him whether he happens to be carrying gardening tools? Oy.

“Nope. I don’t have anything but my two hands.”

So I found some gardening gloves, a trowel and several garbage bags. Before the man started working, he said he needed $31 in order to get room and board for a few days at the Tortoise, a homeless shelter. He didn’t ask to be paid $31, didn’t imply that I should pay him this amount or in any way play on my sympathy. Straight up, he simply asked for a fair wage.

He finished the work in less than an hour. I thanked him and gave him $50. Yes, that’s a fair bit for less than sixty minutes of gardening work. And I was fine with it. Because here was a human being who was down on his luck, who wasn’t asking to take something for nothing, and who made me reflect upon, and be thankful for, my good fortune. As far as I’m concerned, I got a heck of a bargain.

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Why We Give

Many of us give to create meaningful opportunities for others, to support individuals and causes that are close to our heart.

Equally important, giving leads us to reflect upon how fortunate we are to be able to support those in need. And it has a way of prompting us to be grateful for what we have, not just for our net worth but as importantly if not moreso, our health, friends and family.

As for giving to the man who knocked on my door, this was spur of the moment, not planned out giving and I didn’t receive a tax receipt that would go toward reducing my income taxes. The way I see it, that’s all good. Strict financial prudence need not dictate all of our actions. Sometimes, it’s good for the soul to hang loose (ya, this is the amusing thing, for financial types –- ahem, yours truly — foregoing the opportunity for a tax deduction is considered hanging loose).

And I engage in this type of wild, liberated giving now and then, whenever the opportunity presents and the mood strikes. This is in addition to planned giving. Meaning, each year, my wife and I allocate a certain dollar figure to charitable giving, decide which charitable organizations we want to support, then divvy up the funds to each organization as we see fit.

No one is telling us (and if they are, we’re respectfully listening then doing things our way) to give or how much to give because these are entirely personal decisions. And we don’t feel guilty for giving to one organization but not another, for telling charity volunteers who knock on our door requesting donations that we’re tapped out, that we’ve already determined who is on our Giving List and they didn’t make the cut this time around.

Because guilt should never drive decision-making. Rather, we choose for decision-making to be love centred. For the act of Giving to be a constructive act, something we feel good and right about, knowing that we’re doing what we can, doing our bit, to contribute to life.

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How Is Charitable Giving Different?

It goes without saying that you may give whatever you want to anyone, including charities. That said, if you want the tax benefit of giving, then know that there are certain rules around who to give to, what to give, and how much.

For tax purposes, ‘Charitable Giving’ is a defined term. It refers to making a voluntary gift to a registered charity or other government qualified organization. These gifts entitle you to a tax credit that vary depending on where you live. Only a charitable organization may issue official receipts that may be used for tax purposes.

As for whether or not a particular organization is a registered charity or otherwise qualified, for Americans, see the following IRS website:

https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/organizations-eligible-to-receive-tax-deductible-charitable-contributions.

And Canadians, check out this CRA website:

https://www.canada.ca/en/services/taxes/charities.html


What To Consider Before Making a Charitable Gift

When thinking about how much to give and to whom, consider the following:

  • Importance. Start by thinking about what is important to you. In this regard, take time to consider what issues you care about and why you would offer support. Because giving is a completely personal issue, there is no right or wrong answer; we simply follow our heart.
  • Influence. Next, ask your self what kind of gift would be most effective in helping the charitable organization? What kind of gift would truly make a difference? And when should the gift be made (i.e., today, at a future time while you are living, or by way of your will)?

Often, gifts take the form of money. That said, gifts may also be made in other forms including: furniture, clothing, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and other assets.

  • Gift Portfolio. Finally, consider how much you may afford to give. And once you’ve decided which charity(s) to include on your giving list, then figure out how much money, other assets and/or time to give to each charity.

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Giving Pledge

In 2010, 40 billionaires led by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, joined together in a commitment to give more than half of their wealth away.  They called the commitment, The Giving Pledge. And it remains an open invitation to billionaires to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

The Value of Generosity espoused by these 40 people inspired others. And today, more than 170 wealthy people representing 21 countries, have signed on to the pledge. In effect, these additional signatories are saying, ‘we share your values when it comes to helping others.’

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We Give Because We Care

And that’s what this is all about. Values. And though the Giving Pledge is specific to billionaires, to the top 0.1% on the net worth chart, sharing productive values is open to everyone. How much you have is not the point. How much you give is not the point. Rather, it’s the act of giving, the mindset of sharing and caring, that matters.

Because in this simple act of giving, we experience a sense of purpose and well-being. In turn, these feelings deepen our sense of compassion. And acting with compassion, this is part of who we are, part of being human. When we stay true to who we are, we benefit our self, others less fortunate than us, and society as a whole.

 

 

Imprinting Generosity On Kids

You know the saying that goes something like, ‘they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it’? I’ve come across folks like this. Folks who are wealthy, who have more money than they’ll ever need, and who are at a loss as to what to do with their good fortune.

Invariably, these people pose the same confused question: ‘what’s the point of having money just sit there? If I have it I should spend it, I should buy stuff, right?’

When I come across this sort of self-indulgent, inward focused, Me, Me, Me thinking, my insides instinctively seize up, judgment floods my airways, and my tongue prepares to peel a strip or two off this kind of attitude.

But before saying anything, I calm myself. I breathe deeply. And I remind myself that everyone is on their own life path, and it’s not for me to TELL someone about the benefits of adopting a generous mindset.

bmEnter Buddha

The practice of generosity liberates you from feelings

of separateness or alienation.


Measuring Wealth

Instead of trying to direct someone’s behaviour, I tell them stories in an attempt to lead them to water.

The first story is about Bill Gates, Microsoft founder (NASDAQ:MSFT), the man with the most money in our world. Not only preposterously rich in monetary terms but also spiritually rich, here’s what Gates says:

“Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organization and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world.”

With Gates and his wife having established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization that recognizes the equal worth of all lives, helps people and communities lift themselves out of hunger and poverty, combats infectious diseases, and devotes hundreds of millions of dollars annually to supporting the Foundation’s objectives, his words are far from empty.

The second story involves my two eldest kids, The Teenagers. They have had the good fortune to learn about, and participate in, the WE MOVEMENT, a phenomenal organization that is all about giving back.

Here’s a few highlights of WE taken from their website:

  • WE is a movement that exists for one reason: to make the world a better place.
  • Anyone can make a difference and there are myriad ways to participate both through giving back and our daily choices.
  • We are defined by our daily efforts; small things add up to great change.
  • Our lives take on a deeper, transformative meaning when we impact the lives of others.
  • We believe in giving of ourselves to help raise a compassionate future generation that looks for any opportunity to make a difference.

In relating these stories, my hope is that the Don’t-Know-What-To-Do-With-My-Money-Crowd will at least ponder why some people choose to give back. And consider the possibility that their heart may just smile and go thumpity thump thump simply by shifting their focus, if ever so slightly, away from ME and toward sharing with others less fortunate, impacting their lives in a positive way.

Because the point of having surplus money is not just to hoard it or spend it on stuff for your self. Far from contributing to your personal happiness and sense of well being, clinging to money, allowing money to possess you, makes you miserable.

Giving, however, is what contributes to a sense of fulfillment. Giving is what makes you wealthy.

This from Anne Frank, the young girl with the wise philosopher soul:

“No one has ever became poor by giving.”

 

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Giving The Gift of Generosity To Kids

My kids love receiving gifts. Six months before their birthday, I’m being told what’s on their wish list. Often, I respond by rolling my eyes, and issuing a reminder that I’m open to receiving b-day lists no sooner than one month before the magical date.

But, wow, I think to myself, they get so excited! The anticipation, the mystery, the fact that people are giving you stuff that you’ll probably like a lot and use for at least one week … it’s all heady stuff for a kid.

That said, the two teenage creatures in our home seem to be evolving. Having passed the halfway mark of their second decade, they’re no longer kids in many ways.

And while they still enjoy receiving gifts, they now understand the joy of giving too. They understand the satisfaction that comes with watching someone receive your gift and express true appreciation for your thoughtfulness. They understand that Giving is the Gift they give to them self as much as to the other person, one that is worth so much more than money or stuff.

Most of us get to this place sooner or later, the one where we get that we’re wired to help, support, and give to others. It’s part of feeling connected, acknowledging that we’re social animals, that we’re at peace when we show love and care for others, that giving is as essential to our well being, if not moreso, as receiving. It’s our natural disposition, our fulfilled state of being. And when we inhabit this state, we feel good, knowing we’re making a positive difference.

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Why Should I Be Generous?

I’ve taken my kids to several birthday parties where parents of the birthday girl/boy send an invitation asking for a small donation, say $1 or $2, and no other gift. And I’ve done the same with my kids. I get it. I mean, some kids have enough stuff. And parent thinking is that this is an opportunity to teach the kid about giving to those less fortunate. So parents take the donations and, together with the kid, decide upon a charity worthy of donation.

It’s the rare kid who doesn’t see this type of parental scheme as nothing short of diabolical. Sure, the kid hears what the parent is saying but the will, the desire, to forego a truckload of cool toys just isn’t there. And that’s fine because Lily or Lenny is still a kid and the Giving Gene hasn’t yet been activated.

Still, how can you be sure that Lily or Lenny won’t want toys all to them self for their entire life time? How do you make sure that the giving gene is activated one day, and that children, teens, and late blooming adults eventually understand that generosity is a good thing for them self and for others?

  1. Make Giving Personal. Tell them your story. Tell them how you or family members were given a hand up.

Maybe you received a student loan from the government or a generous aunt and these funds allowed you to attend university, graduate with a degree, get a well paying job and now provide for your family.

Maybe you had a grandparent who risked leaving their home country to settle in the USA or Canada, and their doing so meant that you grew up in a political system supporting rights and freedoms, and providing opportunities.

Maybe your mother was struck with breast cancer, survived owing to a skilled physician working in an advanced medical system, and as a result you grew up with two caring parents instead of only one.

There are countless ways, small and large, in which we’ve been helped by others. The thing is, no one gets to where they are without someone setting the foundation for you, without someone helping you or your family or friends along the way. So tell your kids all of your stories, over and over again because what you say and do matters, specifically in terms of imparting the value of generosity.

  1. Give Together. Your kids may not know how they want to give back or what they want to give. So take this journey together.

Consider different forms of assistance such as charitable giving, being a friend to a recently arrived immigrant family, or volunteering at the local Alzheimer’s Foundation because a family member was stricken with the disease.

Whatever cause you choose is not as important as joining your kids on their giving journey, sharing your enthusiasm, and displaying your own sense of generosity. Because awakening their own sense of generosity would likely be your finest gift ever.

  1. Giving Circles. Charitable giving circles involve a group of people pooling assets and then deciding how, and to whom, to give those assets.

In my family, we have five people in our circle, including my kids and spouse. And each year we make a collective decision about which charities to support financially and which causes will receive our time and energy.

This year we’ve spoken to several friends, inviting them to join the circle. Without pressuring them (because giving is best when it comes from the heart not because you feel pressured by family, friends, culture, religion, etc.), we’ve received positive replies from seven people.

And we’re excited about this larger circle that’s being created. Because with more people sharing of them self to make an impact on other lives, with more giving, and more generosity, we all feel better.

And like the WE Movement says, giving paves the way for our lives to take on a deeper, transformative, more satisfying meaning when we positively impact the lives of others. And it’s really, kinda amazing that our kids our learning the value of giving, the value of compassion, and in the process making themselves as rich as they could possibly be.