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?