The question of how much I ought to give to charity is one I reconsider many times throughout the year. I’m going to say right now that I honestly don’t believe there is a “right” answer to this. This is something every person needs to answer for himself.
When I consider what percentage of my wealth I should give to charity, I always begin by figuring out my needs first. How much does my rent, food, dog, and transportation cost me? Once all of that is taken out, only then I can start thinking about how much I want to spend on clothes, drinks, and finally, donations.
Without revealing too much, I’ll tell you that after taking out all my basic needs (house, food, dog) I am left with 8% of my income to play around with. That means I have 8% to divide among all things fun and all things charity. Let me tell you, that 8% does not go very far.
In Judaism, we are taught that one ought to give about 10% of his income to charity. Problem is, I don’t even have 9% left to give. So do I give the 8% that I, technically speaking, could give? This is when things get tricky. How do I know how much of that measly 8% to keep for my selfish, fun-loving needs, and how much should be given away?
I won’t tell you what percentage I end up giving each month to charity- it’s too depressing when I write it down- but I will tell you this. I made the decision that I would give up a meaningful amount. To me, a meaningful amount means that without that money, I miss it. It means that if I weren’t giving that money away, I could instead get something I honestly did want, but not something I couldn’t live without.
Sometimes it means giving up the morning iced coffee. On days I just must have that coffee, it means skipping out on a movie with friends, or not ordering an extra beer. I’m not going to pretend that giving up my meaningful amount is fun- it’s not. Choosing not to buy something you honestly want is undoubtedly frustrating.
But then the end of the month comes, my money runs low, and something funny happens: I don’t remember skipping that coffee, or not seeing that movie, or not drinking that beer. But I do get to make a donation to my organization of choice. When I give up my coffee, I’m giving something to someone else. Sometimes it means giving them a loan to start a business. On months I give elsewhere, it means giving someone their next meal, or maybe their son’s school books.
As long as the amount you give is meaningful to you, I can assure you it will be meaningful to a charity.