The Morality of Saving

I read an article this morning on a couple who lives on a low portion of their income – and gives the rest away. They believe that their money can be best used by being given to effective organizations, like deworming or anti-malarial events.

It made me start thinking about the choices I make. I also live on a low percentage of my income, but I keep most of the rest of it for myself (yes, I donate some, but I could afford to donate much more).

I want to save up enough money that I can live off the returns and do whatever I want. I want to be able to stay home with my potential future children, to travel, to write a book, to volunteer, to do more theatre. To do that, I invest 50-60 percent of my income every month.

That money could do so much good. It could contribute to research, or scholarships, or getting medicine to people who desperately need it. Do I have the right to prioritize my own hopes and dreams over the lives of hundreds of strangers?

I basically live by a belief in taking care of myself first. I don’t want to become a burden on the people I love or on society as a whole – my savings mean that if I become unemployed, I won’t have to move back in with my parents or sign up for food stamps. I also have a developmentally disabled younger brother, and while the day he becomes my responsibility is hopefully far in the future, I know it’s coming. Caring for him will be tough, and I don’t want to be broke at the same time.

Morally, I’m okay with those goals. But the point at which I might be able to consider early retirement puts me far beyond basic stability. A stash with enough money to throw off my middle-class living expenses would be big – if not seven figures, then close to it. Do I have the right to try to accumulate that?

I’ve reconciled this with the idea that, if I succeed in my financial goals, I won’t be drawing down the capital. I’ll live off the returns, and the amount I started with (adjusted for inflation, assuming I do the math right) will still be there when I die. At that point, I’d like to leave it to an organization that can do good with the money.

That’s how I am trying to balance my desire for financial independence with my general goal to be a decent human being. It feels right to me, but I’m interested in other people’s thoughts.

How do you strike a balance between saving and donating?


4 thoughts on “The Morality of Saving

  1. chemit1 says:

    I completely agree with you. I do donate as well but I could certainly afford to donate more. I feel like ensuring that I will not be a burden on society and can take care of myself has been key to finding confidence and happiness. We don’t need to throw aside our own personal goals in order to be good people. There are so many other things we can do in addition to current level of donations -if you feel you should be doing more. Many charities need volunteers more then money, time can be just as valuable 🙂


  2. Jennifer says:

    I think it is wonderful that you are actually thinking about that, when so often people don’t. I think it’s important to take care of yourself but to help others that can’t take care of themselves. Maybe that’s the Marx in me… or perhaps its just moral decency like you said.


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