Dear Mrs. Riches,
My husband and I are having a disagreement about how much money to give to charities this year. He works on a sales commission and earned less in 2006 than last year, so he says we should cut donations out of our budget altogether. I, on the other hand, feel that giving to charity is a very important example to set for our own children, who lack for nothing. It's not just something you do when things are going exceptionally well. Of course, I'm right and he's wrong! Please help me to show him the error of his ways.
-- Gung-Ho to Give
Dear Gung-Ho to Give,
I commend your commitment to charity, as well as your desire to pass along the example to your children. Yes, it is generous to want to share your financial gifts with others, but I can't immediately assume your husband lacks in the generosity department. I'll reserve judgment about your husband's seeming reluctance until I know more about his background, your current financial circumstances, and your history together. Perhaps, for example, he was raised in impoverished circumstances and always fears that his children will have to experience the same hardships. I have known many a person who survived the Great Depression (including my parents) who has to save every last scrap to feel comfortable, lest such lean times come again. I wouldn't say that someone who acts out of such vivid recollection is lacking in generosity.
So, with the controversial question "Is my husband right or wrong?" removed from consideration, let's take a look at the more important question: "How can we teach our children to be kind, thoughtful, generous people?" Ah, that's a question I can sink my teeth into.
Remember that, for children, action will always trump words, even those backed with money. Your children are far more likely to remember the times your family helped dish out food at the soup kitchen, for example, than the times you simply wrote a check. What's more: Research indicates that volunteering can offer better self-esteem, a greater sense of life satisfaction, an improved immune system, and lowered blood pressure. So teaching your children to help others not only helps others, it can help them become happier, healthier adults.
If your family is lower on time than money, try at least to make an experience out of sending money. For example, involving your children in researching charities and then making a family decision about where to send funds may make a greater impact than just writing a check. Look for charities with which you have a personal connection (my family has such a connection with Half the Sky, a Foolanthropy finalist this year); a life link can help your children to understand the gift a bit better. Or stage your own mini-Foolanthropy drive at home: Ask each family member to select their favorite charity, establish a time frame (one month or so), and require each person to raise money for their charity by doing extra chores at home, staging a yard sale, selling lemonade, or something else clever and entrepreneurial. No fair taking money from your paycheck, Mom and Dad; you have to level the playing field somehow.
However you choose to do it, give. Give of your time, your money, and yourself in a way that is meaningful, helpful, and rewarding. Your children are sure to benefit from your example, and even more so if both parents are happily, wholeheartedly involved.
Want to hear more from Mrs. Riches? Try:
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor (a.k.a. "Mrs. Riches"). Her better half is The Motley Fool's own Robert Brokamp, editor of the Rule Your Retirement newsletter. She hopes you will find a personal connection with a charity as great as Half the Sky.