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Notes on Giving Away my First $100,000

For my 42nd birthday, Mrs. MM let me give away all this money

For my 42nd birthday, Mrs. MM let me give away all this money.

Here’s a little quiz:

Suppose you are living an extremely happy life  – all your material needs and wants are met, and there is still money to spare. Then suddenly, you get even more money. Do you:

a) Try to think of even more stuff you could buy for yourself with that extra money?

b) Try to find more efficient things to do with the surplus?

 

For many people, this might seem like a trick question. After all, needs are cheap but how could you ever have all your wants met?

I mean sure, you might already have a Honda, but you obviously still want a Tesla, right? And if you could afford it, why would you not forego ground transportation altogether and have a private helicopter on call, with a Gulfstream G6 waiting on the airstrip? Perhaps at that point you could be satisfied – you’re sensible and not one of those greedy people who needs a yacht. But that still leaves a long, long climb to full life satisfaction.

For me, the point of full satisfaction is also pretty high – not just basic food but fancy stuff from around the world. A glorious modernist house on a park in one of the country’s most expensive counties, and unlimited, bikes, music, computers, and whatever else happens to appeal. Hell, I even have a brand new electric car just to see what the buzz is about. The tab for this lifestyle – a little over $25,000 per year – is not quite at Gulfstream elevation but it still puts my family in the top 2% of the Global Rich List.

Since I hit my consumption ceiling a little earlier than a proper rich person, I have been thinking about option (b) above for a number of years now. And if you care about trying to be logical when dealing with surplus money, your research will very quickly lead you to the Effective Altruism movement, and indeed I wrote about it as far back as 2012 with a review of Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save.  As with most useful things I’ve learned in the last five years, it was readers of this blog who clued me in to the idea.

Effective Altruism is an attempt to answer one simple question: where can our surplus money do the largest amount of good? When buying something for yourself has only a neutral or small positive effect, funding charitable causes in a relatively rich country can be a way of getting more happiness for your dollar. But meeting even bigger needs in a much poorer country can measurably outperform either of those options by a huge margin.

Taking an example from the video below, $40,000 can raise and train one beautiful golden retriever to help a blind person in the US – undeniably a good thing. Or it can pay for simple trachoma operations to permanently cure about 2000 people from preventable blindness in Africa – quite a strong argument to allocate at least some of your generosity there.

Watch: Peter Singer’s moving TED Talk explaining the ideas behind Effective Altruism in about 17 minutes. Or you can read the same ideas on his The Life You Can Save website. 

Even way back in 2012 I knew the idea was solid, and yet somehow the MMM family has managed to give away only relatively small amounts of money each year relative to our income, and thus other money has continued to accumulate.

I have been stuck in an analysis paralysis, wondering if I should give individually to conventional charities, or use wider reach of this blog to do something cooler that would make news headlines and thus create a multiplier effect. For example, what if I could:

  • Personally fund some critical bike path in my town, drawing attention to the highest-returning investment any city can make?
  • How about hiring some creative geniuses with an appropriately bizarre sense of humour to help me run a brilliant and educational YouTube channel?
  • Could we collectively buy up a few blocks of a neighborhood and permanently shut down the roads to cars, keeping a few shared vehicles in a lot at the periphery and tearing up the pavement to become a little woodland/garden for our kids, and our utopian living space? Imagine how much the US would change if this became the new model for town planning?

These are great ideas, but they all take work, and my power to get stuff done is quite finite. So by holding out for them, I am falling in to the classic trap of Perfection is the Enemy of the Good. Why not try something I know is good, right now?

So I resolved to start with a donation amount that feels big enough to be meaningful to me, but not so big I am afraid to do it, and just do it. For me, that number was $100,000.

It sounds big if you think of it as “Four years of the family’s spending!”, or “An entire University education for a kid!” but only medium if you consider it’s only a mid-range Tesla. And downright small at less than a quarter of what this blog earned last year (before tax at least), which I managed via only the occasional typing of shit into the computer.

By keeping our lifestyle* at the previous already-glorious level we set at retirement, we have found that 100% of the extra income and windfalls we’ve encountered in these subsequent 11 years has been a pure surplus.

Effective Altruism is based on the principle that All Human Lives have Equal Value. Thus, they suggest that you simply give to the charity has the largest effect on improving and saving human lives, per dollar. The intellectual headquarters for the movement is a website called Givewell.org

According to them, the most effective charity per dollar is currently the Against Malaria Foundation – a very minimalist organization that distributes protective Mosquito nets in Africa – efficiently and with a focus on measurement.

But being a flawed human, I wasn’t quite satisfied with such pure logic and decided to spread out my first donation just a bit, according to some of my values. What I came up with is this:

Health and Poverty: 

Environment:

American and Local Causes:

  • Planned Parenthood: (helps people control when they have kids, but often under political attack) $5,000
  • The American Civil Liberties Union: (uses the law as a watchdog to prevent powerful established groups (whether corporations or religions) from overriding individual rights): $5000
  • Khan Academy: (amazing, always-growing great education, free for millions of kids and adults) $9000
  • Wikipedia: (via WikiMedia foundation – an independent, hard-to-suppress open source of information for the world) $1000
  • Bicycle Colorado: $5000 (works to push bold new bike laws and infrastructure into the fertile ground of Colorado, which are then copied by other states).
  • My local Elementary School (just a bunch of good people doing good work for kids): $5000

These are pretty arbitrary numbers, adjusted just to prioritize the Effective Altruism stuff most and still have it all add up to the right amount. My list is not meant to be expertly allocated, just to start putting some money to work, highlight a few causes, and give me a wide range of different things to start feeling good about.

What Does This Feel Like, and Should You Do it Yourself?

In summary, deeply satisfying and happy. I have known for years that I wanted to start doing this, but on the day that I actually dropped all those checks into the mailbox, I felt a great lightness. That night, I fell asleep with the happy peace that comes from letting go of just a bit of selfishness and fear. After noticing not even the slightest regret, I can see that it will become even easier as time goes on.

I get quite a few emails from readers asking if I think charitable giving should be prioritized early in life, or if it’s more efficient to wait until you reach financial independence. After all, certain religions come with the concept of tithing and suggest that people do it even if they are in personal debt.

For anyone with my personality type, this would not work – obligations imposed by others are counterproductive and you must decide for yourself what feels right. Getting out from a stressful situation – whether it is debt or an unsatisfying career, is a good use of your time and may even allow you to be more generous over your remaining lifetime.

On the other hand, if you’re a beginner and are curious, there’s no harm in just trying out the idea on yourself. You might try giving just $100 or so to a few favorite causes and noting the effect on your feeling. If you are financially stable and that amount is too small to cause a thrill, try $500 or $1000. If the practice proves satisfying, you’ll automatically decide to do more.

The thing about money is that even in a country like the US where almost everybody is rich by world standards, the top 10% of us own over 75% of the wealth. As a member of that lucky little slice, I won’t waste time complaining about the system. But I will suggest this: Since we obviously have all the money, and yet building a happy lifestyle for ourselves should not be particularly expensive, we might as well put the bulk of our money to efficient use improving the world – if we happen to enjoy that sort of thing. Meanwhile, since the bottom 90% is sharing the remaining quarter of the earnings, I’d expect a lower rate of philanthropy.  How’s that for hardcore capitalist libertarian socialism?

What Other Causes are Worth Supporting?

Since this is just my one round of donations, all the doors are wide open.

If you were assigned to do the most good for the human race with each dollar you had available, what would you spend it on? Please share your ideas in the comments and we’ll keep getting better at this stuff together.

* Actually this part about completely resisting lifestyle inflation is a lie. Since becoming richer than expected I have dropped all restraint in the area of buying myself fancy burritos. Especially on trips. I even pay for my friends’ burritos frequently. Man, have we had some good ones.

—-

Other Helpful Stuff:

Unsure about the value of giving away your hard-earned money? Apathy towards giving ususally comes from believing in various Myths about charity.

Tax Strategy: A further bit of great news is that this $100k round of donations will actually save me about $30,000 in income tax. Contributions like these come off of your taxable income as “itemized deductions”. The limit is 50% of your Adjusted Gross Income, and the deductibility also starts to phase out slowly in certain cases if you make more than $311,000. A few details on my Accountant’s blog (The Wealthy Accountant), and on this Fidelity page.

During research, I wondered about  Charity Navigator, which ranks a larger number of charities based on administrative overhead and other stuff. How do they relate to GiveWell?

Freakonomics says the Givewell method is better, because there is much more to effectiveness than this ratio, and the ratio itself can be manipulated. When I saw this Angry Rebuttal by Charity Navigator founder Ken Berger, which resorted to name-calling and based his argument on, “Yeah, but who are YOU to say it’s better to donate overseas than in rich countries? If everybody did that, we’d never help anyone locally!” I felt even more confident about Givewell and Effective Altruism.

  • Jwheeland October 26, 2016, 12:56 pm

    I love that you actually wrote a check, instead of giving online. Old school.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 4:14 pm

      For most of the donations, I sent checks because otherwise the organizations would be losing almost 3% ($300 of every $10,000!) to fees from the credit card companies or Paypal.

      A few of them offered direct bank debits, but I felt a bit more secure about mailing a paper check vs. hooking up my bank account to a new counterparty over a low-tech website. This fear may be irrational as I did not research the relative risk very thoroughly.

      Reply
      • Joel October 27, 2016, 12:58 am

        Good job avoiding the 3% processing fee PayPal and credit cards usually charge. Another option for minimizing fees is giving via bitcoin. Of the non-profits you donated to, the Against Malaria Foundation, Wikimedia, and the Khan Academy all accept bitcoin, according to https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=758674.0.

        Reply
      • Allison October 27, 2016, 8:18 pm

        Again as a former fundraiser, this was the correct instinct with the bonus side effect of keeping your info slightly more private

        Reply
  • Dr. Peppers October 26, 2016, 12:58 pm

    The comments so far are inspiring – so awesome to see so many people advocating for and personally supporting great causes! I want throw in my two cents about supporting other causes when you are in debt or not making a lot: try it. If you can’t give money, give time. If you can’t volunteer regularly, look for individuals or families in your community you can serve as needs arise. The whole of my 20’s was spent in school, in debt, and making $0/year – giving still felt right. Now that we have jobs we love and make way more than enough (but still have student/business debt) we give a little more in money than we used to and a lot more in volunteer time/cooking food/doing service projects/service trips. As we get more and more financially secure, we’ll add more monetary donations to the causes we love. It’s true that we could probably be investing said money and time differently now, but we count the giving as an investment as well. We can’t control what effect it will all have, but we hope and pray that everything we give has a domino effect of good in the world — and maybe teaches our kid the value of giving and serving while he is still young enough to think Mom and Dad are cool. :)

    Reply
  • Tyrone October 26, 2016, 1:02 pm

    Wow! Good for you MMM! I give part of my earnings to charity every month but nothing like that amount. I subscribe to the same way of thinking in that so much of the world lives in poverty that I feel my giving is better used in those parts of the world. I’ve also got two young children and this has really made me sympathetic to children’s charities. As such a lot of my giving is to World Vision to sponsor children in third world countries. I look forward to visiting these sponsored children one day and having my own children come along.

    With the type of money you have available to give, you could probably support a small village in each poor country. You could then go on a world tour visiting them (how’s that for a plan?). Incidentally, your story reminds me a little bit about John D Rockefeller who ended up putting a lot of pressure on himself to give away his money. In the end he hired someone to help him give it away. I remember a quote on this from a PBS special that said something to the affect of “Mr. Rockefeller your fortune is becoming an avalanche. You must give some of it away before it crushes you”. Good for you for starting to give away such large amounts.

    Reply
  • Kris Porter October 26, 2016, 1:05 pm

    While my husband attended seminary, we had a random friend of his parents decide to give us $400 a month. Having two small children and trying not to rack up debt while getting a master’s meant things were very tight. And since we had not heard of MMM, yet, we were not in a position of strength. Find someone who is battling cancer or is a single mom going to night school, or some bum on the street, and give them an amazing surprise! It might not rank high up on the effective-o-meter, but you never know how life changing it could be for that one person.

    Reply
  • SteveG October 26, 2016, 1:09 pm

    You’re aware the ACLU is trying to legalize possession of child pornography? “Our policy is that possessing even pornographic material about children should not itself be a crime.”

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 4:11 pm

      Sounds reasonable to me. Sexual abuse of minors is obviously illegal, and creating/publicizing/selling/purchasing images of them are illegal because it drives the market to create more exploitation.

      But imagine if a young man has a few .jpgs in his old porn downloads collection from college that the authorities snoop out, and they determine some participants are under 18 and thus he is now a criminal. Is this a reasonable use of our legal system? Even though teenagers have perfectly healthy sexual relationships at age 16 or younger, and indeed this is close to the human body’s optimal age for producing children*?

      I think some of our sex laws in this country are based on old puritan and religious traditions rather than more recent and objective findings about the human species. The ACLU’s role includes protecting us from biases like that.

      *Not that it’s a good idea in modern society to have kids at that age!

      Reply
      • CP October 26, 2016, 5:09 pm

        Said by a true secular humanist

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache October 27, 2016, 3:09 am

          This guy has been trolling me in the background for a while and I don’t publish his comments, which he does not like. But this one, intended as an insult, is particularly interesting.

          When I read the definition of secular humanist, I think – “Well, Fuck yeah – of course!”
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism

          If we can’t agree that is a rational framework for life, how can ANYTHING I’ve ever written on this blog make sense?

          Why would a person not on board with this just go to a different website and find their fun elsewhere? I sure hope Clayton does.

          Reply
          • Mikey October 27, 2016, 6:56 am

            I respectfully disagree. I am a devout Catholic, and thus disagree with your purely secular-humanist worldview, and I find your website extremely useful. Most of your advice is great, common sense, useful stuff; I just take your ideological rants with a grain of salt.

            I wonder, will this comment get posted? I’m don’t think I’m trolling, just challenging you to defend your view. If you are confident, and truly believe that stuff you wrote years ago about honesty (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/11/get-rich-with-good-old-fashioned-honesty/), then I think you will. Of course, you’re also free to explain to me how I’m trolling, if that’s the case. En Garde, MMM!

            Reply
            • Archon November 1, 2016, 2:15 pm

              I understand that there’s a clear motivational ideological divide between secular humanism and catholicism, but I’m not sure what there is to argue or defend at this point in the thread (from either of your perspectives).

              MMM, upon being politely questioned about one small facet of the ACLU’s efforts, explained why even that facet was important despite its controversial nature. Another commenter then, very politely, congratulated him on being an excellent example of a group of people who choose to direct their efforts to improve the lives of people around them (or people from far away, if that’ll be more impactful).

              Mikey steps in, and tells us that he disagrees, but not what he disagrees with. I’m assuming with the virtue of secular humanism due to your catholic faith? Say what you will about the merits of a relationship with god, but the ideal secular humanist makes a fantastic neighbor and dinner party guest. So do most Luciferians, despite how scary that name might sound to you. So do most practitioners of (what catholicism considers) heathen or pagan religious systems. Each of these systems can include the idea of positive charity and the necessity of helping your fellow man. Each encourages meaningful citizenship. If you see a person doing charitable work and you don’t ask them why, they could be any of the above, including secular humanists.

              I am content to leave the question of Internet Strangers’ relationships with their gods unanswered, because I prefer to focus on actions as a measure of an indicator of a person’s quality. We may differ in this, and that’s okay. For the purposes of learning to invest in the future of humanity, we now know that you’d do it a little differently than MMM because of your religious beliefs. I don’t understand how this would cause debate.

              I don’t think your post was trolling (or if it was, everyone who reads your comment will probably read this and perhaps do a little learning). It did strike me as being apropos of nothing, like there was a big piece of conversation you were responding to that I can’t see.

              Reply
          • Bill October 27, 2016, 7:26 am

            Hey MMM – don’t give in to this stalker’s pokes & even acknowledge his attempts to lure you into responding. Stay Classy!

            Reply
          • Patrick October 27, 2016, 11:22 am

            Now, I’m no philosopher and I’m not joining CP’s camp however, I think the issue at hand here is from the wiki page: “Secular humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god.”

            I think the argument against this statement is simply that without a “supreme judge” moral truths cannot exist. Truth needs a judge which is not influenced by the winds of society… Your moral truth may be considered abhorrent in a few short generations… your moral truth may be just a social construct. A lot of people are fine with that, but it strikes me as not really a pursuit of “capital T” Truth. Are we striving after “capital T” Truth here at MMM?

            Reply
            • Mr. Money Mustache October 27, 2016, 5:39 pm

              Of course not! There is no moral “truth” other than our best summary of observations about ourselves, and this interesting ecosystem we find ourselves in. Human morals are the evolved preferences of our socially complex species, which is why they are different from, say, Ant Morals.

              If you pretend that there is something truly objective that can never change, you’re closing your mind to that bit of inquiry. And the gods we site for moral authority, of course, number in the thousands and are continually being invented (and occasionally forgotten) by humans.

              There’s still room for excitement and mystery though – the Fermi Paradox about why we see no other life around us leads to the possibility that our entire observable universe is the creation (possibly even an elaborate simulation) of a higher intelligence. While just a theory, you could even call this thing “God”. The difference is that it’s not a white dude with a beard who writes wise quotes into our religious texts and monitors our abortion policies while giving the nod to selected Southern state senators.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox

              Reply
              • JN2 November 1, 2016, 3:44 pm

                >> There is no “truth” other than our best summary of observations about ourselves <<

                Unless there is. Universal truth that is. Just a thought…

      • Chris November 24, 2016, 10:24 pm

        The laws which protect the sexual abuse of minors, are designed to protect those who have not developed mentally enough, to give consent objectively. It has nothing to do with the rights of individuals who view pornographic material, at whatever age they personally feel ready to engage. These child protection laws, are decided under recommendations by psychologists and practitioners in behavioural/brain development, not religious puritans.

        I point this out, not because the ACLU doesn’t have a role to play, or that there isn’t misuse of laws in individual cases. But that we don’t excuse the legitimacy of how the legislation is augmented to protect minors, with those who find themselves in a sticky wicket, because they were thinking with their sex drive. That is no way to position the scales of justice in a rational discourse, when it comes to who can give consent.

        Because that is the issue. Consent. When is someone mentally and emotionally ready enough to give objective consent, to actions of a sexual nature. And when can they only be of a mental and emotional development, to be influenced by the needs of others? That is a community issue, not exclusive to religious domains. It is why the judicial system seeks objective opinions, in the relevant medical fields, to discern law with.

        I have found all your advice and comments to date, of good humour, sound reasoning and willingness to be fair. But this comment demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the legislative process works, and I truly hope the ACLU wasn’t responsible for that. It is the ACLU’s job to represent civil liberties, but it is the judicial systems process to seek MORE information than from one special interest group, to formulate decisions with.

        It is not enough to site a few recent studies, to determine what the age of consent should be either. There has to be a majority consensus, across several fields of study, to substantiate without a reasonable doubt, the need to change the age of consent. Then by association, criminal laws associated to pornography can change. But it is the child protection laws which determine the interpretation of criminal law involving pornography. Not the other way around. As it should be, too. The ACLU doesn’t exactly spell that out, as they represent individuals caught with their pants down.

        This comment is not meant to weigh in on your donations to the ACLU. Obviously they represent a service in the community, beyond what SteveG has focused on, and my comments relate to. But the ACLU is not a panacea to any former religious bias, when they seek to overturn laws they simply disagree with on behalf of their clientèle. They’re doing battle with the State and Federal law now, founded on knowledge derived form many different sources. Not exclusively religion based either. That particular boat sailed years ago.

        Reply
  • Gwen October 26, 2016, 1:11 pm

    Once I retire early, I plan on starting up a scholarship fund at my alma mater. I only got through school because of a full-ride scholarship funded by donations. I really like to see immediate benefits up close and personal! Other than that, I will donate my time to various causes (Girl Scouts, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, local rebuilding charities, etc).

    Great job on giving it away! You must feel great!

    Reply
  • Chris October 26, 2016, 1:13 pm

    To the german speaking MMM-reading community: Check out https://www.betterplace.org for charitable giving where you can chose which project you want to directly support, knowing that they will channel 100% of funds to the projects and to their own “administrative overhead costs”

    Reply
  • Kathleen Coco October 26, 2016, 1:14 pm

    Dear Mmm,
    Great stupendous blog.
    Giving away money makes me feel inside like I am rich enough and secure enough to give away money. It is similar to meditation giving me the feeling I am rich enough in time to sit and do nothing for an hour. It has the be done to be felt. The deep security only comes from the true experience. My habits become me. I am made deeply richer in wealth and time by using wisdom in my choices. The most altruistic is actually the most selfish. Just my fifty cent.
    Thank you from r your work.

    Reply
  • MRog October 26, 2016, 1:16 pm

    Hey MMM,

    It is great that you are giving back. My friends and I run a 501-c3 non-profit organization where all the proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish foundation of Michigan. We sell tickets, merchandise, and have raffles for our annual hockey game to raise money. In the past 6 years, we have granted 10 wishes and raised over $50,000 for sponsoring wishes for sick kids. It is the best time of the year seeing the wish kids and their families who attend the event, because then it is up close and personal. Check out us and give us a like on Facebook!

    https://www.facebook.com/glschockey/

    Thanks!

    Mike

    Reply
  • Erik H October 26, 2016, 1:17 pm

    I have donated more than once to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Doctors Without Borders. Each time I ask that they don’t email me, or send me snail mail.. A few months later, it starts, and I get bombarded. I understand that they have their systems in place to raise funds, but I also wish they would respect their donor’s requests.

    Yes, I know I could do it anonymously, but I like to take the tax deduction, and need the receipt in my name.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 3:55 pm

      I did put a note telling each group to keep me off of all their lists. I’ll let you know (via an update to this article) if any of them violate that wish.

      Reply
    • mary w October 26, 2016, 4:17 pm

      Do you have appreciated stocks/mutual funds? I donate appreciated stock to Fidelity’s Charitable Gift fund and take the tax deduction (but don’t pay cap gains). Then I anonymously donate from the Charitable Gift Trust. Keeps me off mailing lists.

      (Interestingly, Planned Parenthood, ACLU and Doctors without Borders are the charities I donate to which are on MMM’s list also.)

      Reply
    • Allison October 27, 2016, 8:25 pm

      The best, best way to stay off lists is to use a Vanguard Charitable Trust account or something of the like–you can stay totally anonymous that way and still get your deduction. I would guess it wouldn’t be worth it unless you meet a minimum threshold of giving, though I’m not sure what it is. You can also set up your own trust but that’s a lot more hassle up front.

      Barring that, a PO Box ,which is arcane and ridiculous. Or sending via an attorney which is also arcane and ridiculous.

      Really, as fundraisers, we’re pernicious and unstoppable people.

      Reply
    • tom November 3, 2016, 9:20 am

      My wife donated to the MS society, and on their website, she clearly checked the do not contact me box. And they haven’t. But it didn’t stop our state chapter of the MS Society from mysteriously getting her contact info to ask for more :-/

      Reply
  • Hammo October 26, 2016, 1:17 pm

    Bravo!
    You can’t take this money with you and it appears you don’t need much more than your standard yearly cost of living, so why not enjoy the gifting of this money while you’re still alive to watch these organisation prosper.
    It seems most people don’t figure this out, until much later in life.

    I’m trying to give my kids a headstart on this idea too, by enforcing the Save, Give and Spend jars. Each time they earn a few dollars, or get money instead of a present I ‘encourage’ them to ‘Save’ some, ‘Give’ a little, and then put the remainder in their ‘Spend’ jar. Hopefully, this is a habit they’ll carry on throughout life.

    Of course, if they question this model, I’ll send them a link directly to this page and tell ’em t man up. lol

    PS: I’m glad I met you at WDS, and you’re exactly how you portray yourself to this audience. Genuine and down to earth. Keep up the good work. And keep giving while your living.

    Reply
  • Amy October 26, 2016, 1:18 pm

    Every year, I choose different charities to support. So, last year, each month I donated to DonorsChoose to a different classroom to get needed supplies. This year, I started saving up to sponsor a random child to go to camp. Next year, I am thinking about supporting various creative projects (for example–GoFundMe, Kickstarter, etc…). That way, I am spreading the wealth a little bit.

    Reply
  • BicycleB October 26, 2016, 1:19 pm

    MMM, I’ve been wondering when you were going to talk more about giving. Congratulations on stepping up and hitting a home run! Happy for you, my friend.

    As someone who has spent years exploring the how-to-give problem, with dozens of adventures in donating, volunteering, visiting the destinations of foreign donations, and serving on nonprofit boards trying to maximize the impact of donations, I gradually concluded that one of the most effective ways to give may be properly focused political donations.

    This idea may be unpopular…that’s why I’m mentioning it. Political structures and administrations have a huge impact. Change one rule (say, by having a carbon tax, or putting tax money into international schistosomiasis efforts, or requiring Freon to be replaced with something better) and you can change thousands of lives. Yet companies routinely gets rules changed or written for a lobbying cost of mere thousands of dollars, at most a few millions.

    One of my “someday” projects is to get a better analysis of impact of the most efficient political donations vs the most efficient donations to nonpolitical nonprofits. In the meantime, am looking forward to the comments in this blog as one of the sources of legitimate comment and analysis.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 3:54 pm

      Cool ideas, Bicycle B. I get frustrated with the political process (so much misinformation and emotion-based argument!), so I tend to focus on direct market-based interventions with this blog.

      But I agree that it’s still a big opportunity for people who enjoy the process. Small changes in a rule book can affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people for the better (or worse if the wrong changes get lobbied in).

      Reply
    • Debbie M October 27, 2016, 11:33 pm

      Interesting point.

      I don’t make political donations, but I do sign petitions. Once you sign one petition, you get more in your e-mail in-box from the same organization. This is both a blessing and a curse. It takes me about an hour a day to go through my e-mails. (Good thing I use a different address for my personal e-mails!)

      Reply
  • Mac October 26, 2016, 1:19 pm

    I personally think soap operas with social content focusing on changing the behaviour and mindset of a population are a very good cause. PMC (Population Media Centre) makes soap operas for tv and radio in developing countries addressing topics like family planning, child abuse, female education, just to name a few. They have a very high impact.

    https://www.populationmedia.org/product/serial-drama-impact/

    Reply
    • Jamie October 26, 2016, 1:45 pm

      Whoa, that is some seriously creative social good. Thank you for sharing that. Amazing.

      Reply
  • Amy N October 26, 2016, 1:20 pm

    Thanks for identifying the charities. You picked one of my favorites, Doctors Without Borders. An excellent organization that addresses a nearly bottomless need. One of the things I do is provide funding for micro-loans through Kiva. It’s been great to see how people all over the world can help themselves with just a little seed money. I grew up in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), where the per capita income in 2015 was $750 per person. The people there do so much with so little!

    Reply
  • Keren Duchan October 26, 2016, 1:21 pm

    400K USD from a blog in one year is a staggering sum! Wow.

    All of my donations go to an organization in my country for the welfare of animals. I feel that humans can care for themselves and have done plenty of damage to the planet and its inhabitants (and continue to do so, including myself). Have you read “Guns, Germs, and Steel”? Have you watched” Samsara”? The way people live and that animals like a resource breaks my heart.

    Reply
  • Henry October 26, 2016, 1:21 pm

    “Could we collectively buy up a few blocks of a neighborhood and permanently shut down the roads to cars, keeping a few shared vehicles in a lot at the periphery and tearing up the pavement to become a little woodland/garden for our kids, and our utopian living space? Imagine how much the US would change if this became the new model for town planning?”

    This sounds like a “pocket neighborhood”. It’s not a new idea, but Ross Chapin is the architect who first coined the term back in the mid-90’s. It’s a pretty interesting concept, and there are a few of these neighborhoods built/being built – mostly in the Pacific northwest I believe. If you haven’t heard about them, I recommend that you check them out. Pretty neat stuff.

    Reply
  • Sheryl October 26, 2016, 1:26 pm

    You are awesome! If you get a chance, you should check out Kiva.org. It’s an international organization that lends money to small entrepreneurs. You get paid back (almost all of the time) but the loans (most of them relatively small) make a world of difference to the individuals. You can choose specific categories of loans, specific regions, and you can read about what an individual needs the loan for and decide how much you want to provide. My husband and my teen-aged daughter both loan funds through Kiva and they really enjoy “knowing” the person/family that they’re helping. Kiva gets four stars on your Charity Navigator website.

    Reply
    • Jamie October 26, 2016, 1:43 pm

      Kiva rocks!

      Reply
  • Nacho October 26, 2016, 1:26 pm

    What is your opinion on donating to your local NPR station?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 3:50 pm

      I like it! NPR rocks and I’ve even done a blog-related interview with them once or twice.
      I have donated before, but not very much. Maybe that should go into my next round of the “luxury/local giving” basket.

      Reply
      • Jone October 26, 2016, 6:51 pm

        I agree that NPR is underfunded. I have no financial interest in their operations (and actively avoid their roses campaign in February) but do appreciate their attempts to provide content with minimal reliance on advertising.

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        • lurker November 5, 2016, 4:16 pm

          how about planting many many trees!!!!!! in honor of Bill Mollison…..another plug for permaculture here

          Reply
  • rachael October 26, 2016, 1:27 pm

    Although I am not yet in a position to give $, I am very much living vicariously through your experience! Thank you for the links/ analysis.

    Reply
  • Van guy October 26, 2016, 1:28 pm

    Very impressive. I especially like the 5k to the local school. Thanks for not being an obnoxious rich dude who complains about public education. We all benefit when every kid gets a good education!

    Reply
  • Norm October 26, 2016, 1:31 pm

    I love this. I have nowhere near the ability to donate $100k right now, but I donate to some of those same charities through my payroll deduction program: Doctors Without Borders and Planned Parenthood. I also donate to three local charities: a community center, an animal shelter and a land conservancy. These probably don’t hit the top of the effective altruism spectrum, but I like to keep some of it local. Ever year I increase the amount that comes out of my paycheck, so I barely feel it.

    Reply
  • Jamie October 26, 2016, 1:42 pm

    I’m a professional non-profit fundraiser, and this post makes my little fundraising heart sing.

    On behalf of all the people you will help with these generous gifts, THANK YOU.

    Reply
  • Kim October 26, 2016, 1:42 pm

    For a future donation, consider https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/Where-to-Donate/Fistula-Foundation

    I was reading about their organization from The Life You Can Save link. They do amazing, important work.

    Reply
  • Alexandria October 26, 2016, 1:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing!

    Since you mentioned early on in your blog your wish to do “bigger giving,” it is one reason I follow your blog. We aren’t there yet, but we will be some day.

    Reply
  • Kim October 26, 2016, 1:48 pm

    You might want to consider saving up some money and then starting a foundation.

    Reply
  • Fit Saver October 26, 2016, 1:49 pm

    You inspired me to pull the trigger and donate through givewell.org. I normally would have been a lot more biases towards donating domestically but you really closed the deal with the Freakonmics link, I’m always a sucka for Freakonmics.

    Reply
  • Chris October 26, 2016, 1:49 pm

    First I’d like to echo the sentiments of the other posters–it’s a wonderful thing you’ve done. Like others, I, too, have wondered if there was a post like this coming. Not, though, perhaps, for the same reasons.

    Like everyone who follows you, I’m attracted to the idea of financial independence. At the same time, I’ve always felt selfish for wanting it, let alone pursuing it. It’s interesting that you call on Singer to explain your motivations. If you’ve read up on EA then you must have already come across his organization Giving What We Can and its affiliate 80,000 Hours. Both organizations offer tremendous advice about how to allocate your donations effectively, but the latter also gives tips on how to maximize your ‘difference-making power’ by earning to give. Here’s the rub–if you buy arguments like Singer’s about the seeing-eye dog, then you have to ask yourself why you aren’t giving away more.

    Consider:
    Even before making 400K last year, you were FI. So there’s nothing that other 300K is doing for you now, whereas it could be saving three times as many lives as the 100K you have already given. (Or improve total global utility 3x more–whatever your metric is).
    Moreover, you’ve hinted that even before last year you probably had more than enough to finance your retirement. So why not give that away too? i.e. why not give every penny away beyond the 25x your annual expenses (or 30, if you want a buffer) as and when you earn it? You could make an argument that, in your hands, the money will grow and so 10K now in your hands will even more in a few years, and thus able to help even more people if or when you donate it in the future. But Singer and his lot don’t always think this kind of reasoning is wholly justified. Saving one life now might just be better than saving three tomorrow, if it means the one now has to die.

    But all this is prologue. Here’s where I really get stuck: By what logic do I justify limiting my future earnings by banking my stash and then living off the interest when I could KEEP working and living badassily and donate everything I make to charity? Maybe I could keep making money in retirement, though few of us are likely to be as financially successful in retirement as this blog. (Many ‘retirement’ projects simply don’t have any commercial viability.) So the safer bet would be to stick with the career as long as possible. Even if I don’t like my job especially, what’s that to the kids who need trachoma surgery right now? Is being a little grumpy worth more than the vision of a hundred or a thousand kids? Their lives? Indeed, is my being downright MISERABLE in a crappy but high-paying job worth a damn next to the suffering of the hundred or thousands of children whose lives I could save?

    There’s a distinct utilitarian vibe to the whole FI movement, but it is therefore vulnerable to one of utilitarianism’s (as a moral philosophy’s) most famous weaknesses–it demands far more of us than we care to admit or accept. How do we square it? I just don’t know.

    Reply
    • ThriftyChemist October 26, 2016, 2:31 pm

      I believe that the key to squaring the utilitarian nature of mustachianism and the “selfless” nature of philanthropy is the fact that we can receive immense satisfaction from the charitable expenditure of our time or finances. Financial independence can be viewed as simply an enabling aspect of overall personal independence or freedom; as we achieve that freedom, we can choose our pursuits such as philanthropy that will continue to enhance our personal lives. Viewed “selfishly,” we can optimize our charitable giving (whether time, money, goods, or other) to maximize personal satisfaction. Our own happiness, viewed in this way, is neither superior nor inferior to the happiness of others. As we approach an equilibrium of how much to work (give) vs. how much to spend for ourselves, we will each find our own balance point. Clearly, that balance point will be different for each of us, just as our individual tastes may differ from the general guidelines of mustachianism as enumerated on this blog.

      Reply
      • Chris October 26, 2016, 10:40 pm

        That’s all well and good, and likely the best most of us can strive for–but it isn’t consistent with the logic behind maximizing happiness, even if all people’s happiness counts equally. If I’m ‘content’ at 100 happiness points and I can make 100 people 1 point happier for a 50% decrease in my own happiness, then I ought to do that, since it yields a net of 50 happiness points.

        The problem with optimizing self-happiness vs. other-happiness is that it’s hard to justify. What if I get very little kick out of philanthropy? To use an example of Singer’s, even if I hated children and loved my shoes, I would still have an obligation to jump in a fountain to save a drowning child, though my shoes would be ruined. That is, whether or not I get a happiness bump from doing a good thing doesn’t seem to matter to my moral obligation to help others, at least when the stakes are high enough (as they are in the world today.)

        The badassity promoted on this blog is spot on–why waste money on stuff that won’t actually improve our lives? Why spend $10 on a movie ticket when I could borrow one (or better yet, a book!) from the library and invest the cash instead. The worry is that goal is unjustified. Why invest it at all? Why not donate it? You have to measure the happiness of 30, 40, 50+ years of your own FI against all the years of all the people whose lives you could have saved if you’d kept working–don’t you?

        I realize MMM’s post is about allocating the money you do decide to donate efficiently–and in that regard it’s spot on. MMM has undeniably done a great (and smart) thing. But it opened the door to questions about the justification for pursuing FI itself. (Which, I hasten to add, is very much something I want to justify for myself.)

        Reply
        • ThriftyChemist October 27, 2016, 3:50 pm

          That’s a very interesting viewpoint! I hadn’t ever thought about the fact that many people won’t get the same level of satisfaction out of charitable giving, though it seems quite obvious in retrospect.

          For me, the key is this: reducing happiness is never acceptable. Delaying happiness (e.g. sacrificing for a loved one) is fine, but when it comes down to it, either making other people happy adds to your happiness, or it’s not worth it. Now, that sounds rather selfish, but since I believe that helping others be happy will always help me, it works out.

          It’s also worth recalling the difference between happiness and pleasure. I may get a jolt of pleasure from a donation, but that’s really a separate phenomenon from the happiness I feel from having done so. That may seem pedantic, but I believe it’s crucial: if pleasure were the measure of happiness, hedonism would be the only philosophy with a significant number of adherents. For me, the difference lies in the source of the two feelings: pleasure is a fleeting condition that arises largely from physical sources; even the pleasure of giving to others seems to come from the hormones. Happiness (interchangeable with Stoic Joy) is primarily mental; the act of giving is perhaps less important than having given. You can make a choice to feel happy even when there’s no pleasure to be had: the displeasure of ruined shoes seems pretty insignificant compared to saving a child, even if you dislike kids.

          Anyway, I’ve rambled a bit, but focusing on adding happiness with every act and being sure to differentiate between happiness and pleasure will give us a better guideline than thinking of some impossible-to-achieve target of “maximum net happiness.”

          Reply
    • Cogirl October 26, 2016, 3:02 pm

      This, exactly this! My struggle in words. I don’t have the answer, but continue to give away money (although less than prior to reading about FIRE) to many of MMM’s charities, and have started to do more with my time until I get completely FI. I also do Kiva where the money gets reused repeatedly. I think my current giving may lead to an extra year of working, but I can’t live with myself not giving.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 27, 2016, 4:33 am

      Chris – yeah, I have read through that whole thought process from other people too. And it’s logical – Thrifty Chemist makes it even more logical by balancing in the personal happiness aspect.

      My answer is that “I’m fearful and not perfect – seeing I have more money than I need is comforting and empowering, at least for now.” But this article is an attempt at addressing what you do in that situation, which is probably not all that rare.

      The great news is that perfection is not required – the entire world can be improved with just the slightest tweak to our efficiency, because we are Soooooo inefficient with our resources right now.

      Reply
      • Chris October 29, 2016, 4:51 pm

        Again, I think this article is spot on for its aims–if you’re going to give, doing so efficiently is hard to refute.

        But the justification for giving efficiently goes beyond efficiency itself. Efficiency is neither a goal nor an ideal. (I could strive to be the most efficient serial killer, for example–I get no points for that. Indeed, it would be better if I were inefficient.) It’s merely a metric for measuring our progress towards other ends. Assuming we think that our ends ought to be justified, i.e. ought to have reasons supporting them, then I’m not sure I see why Thrifty Chemist’s comments make the argument ‘more logical’. With respect, we need to be able to offer a *reason* why we should balance our own happiness in the way suggested.

        Suppose there’s a war going on (picture a suitably nasty bad guy and his armies knocking at the nation’s door) and my choices are to risk my own life and fight or stay back, buy some war bonds to support the cause, and hope things work out OK. If the baddie is suitably nasty, you might think you have something like an obligation to fight *even if* it was true that *if* everyone just bought a war bond, the good guys would win, easy peasy. Moreover, we know, as matter of fact, that not everyone will do their part, and so the bad guys might win, and the hang-back position seems hard to justify.

        Saying that ‘perfection is not required’, while, of course, true, is besides the point. Again, to borrow Singer’s own example, say you drag the drowning kid from the fountain, but then leave him on the pavement, not breathing. After all, you had a meeting to get to, and, hey, you never said you were perfect. You could have done more (call an ambulance, start CPR, etc.) but at least you did *something*–surely that’s enough, right? If any of the other by-standers had tried to help, if they had done *their* part, the kid wouldn’t need you, and you could go on your way. But so long as they aren’t helping, so long as the kid is lying there not breathing, can you really justify walking away?

        Now, all this is moot if, as is suggested in an earlier response, there is no ‘truth’, since presumably, then, there is no morality either. i.e. It isn’t capital ‘T” true that you *ought* to do anything. I seriously doubt anyone reading (or writing!) this blog believes that. We *ought* to combat global warming. We *ought* to support education and (yay!) financial literacy for our children. We *ought* to eschew Justin Beiber in all his forms. These are truths in any sense in which the word has meaning. And we can say that because we can offer reasons for why they are true. (I agree, we don’t need a deity to tell us that they are true–but they can be true nonetheless.) So, while, again, I understand that the point of the article was not to open a discussion on moral philosophy but rather to highlight a new cool efficiency gadget for giving, I believe it opened a door for a discussion that’s worth having, and worth more than a few words about how great the world could be if only…

        I sincerely hope I’m not coming across as critical of MMM’s actions–donating 100K efficiently is undeniably a good thing. But there’s a lot of talk about reason and philosophy and what’s good and bad in these pages, and I think we’d all benefit from some deeper investigation into some of this.

        Reply
        • Aaron February 27, 2017, 12:15 pm

          I’m a huge fan of Singer and reading The Life You Can Save motivated me to start contributing monthly to Living Goods, which does tremendous work to save children’s lives and grow local economies through a really neat model. Even better, Living Goods has evidence of their program’s impact because of randomized trials performed by a third party showing something like a 30% reduction in infant mortality. Pretty badass.

          With that out of the way, Singer himself states that by the utilitarian argument, personal happiness doesn’t really enter into it (which I think is where Chemist is misinterpreting things). If it costs us $200 to save a child’s life (which it does, using reasonable estimates), it’s morally obligatory to donate regardless of any personal satisfaction it provides to us.

          That said, a 100% committed utilitarian would work full time, save every penny even if it meant living in poverty personally, and donate each dollar in the way that was most likely to save a life. After all, you can’t justify a movie, fancy burrito, big house, or nice car when every single one represents withholding lifesaving funds from someone else. The same argument applies to financial independence – I would say if you’re a utilitarian, as long as you can save more lives by continuing to work than you can save by not working, you ought to continue working.

          That said, these demands are so extreme (even if they are perfectly rational) that they will probably alienate many potential donors. And giving something to help those in need is always better than giving nothing. So we need to be careful to temper rational utilitarianism with a call to action that’s reasonably demanding but not discouraging. Singer acknowledges that and says that while it’s admirable to live a life of total dedication to others, putting that demand on everyone is probably counterproductive, because we might drive away people that would have given a small amount.

          So, I think MMM is right on here – of course he isn’t perfect, and while he COULD save many lives by giving all of his investment money to charity and you can even make an argument that a true utilitarian SHOULD do so, it’s also worth noting that many people in his position are instead buying vacation homes and exotic cars. Donating this money makes him a solidly above-average and badass human, even if he is still far from being a perfectly rational and selfless utilitiarian.

          And on your bigger thoughts about the nature of Truth – your conclusions about utilitarianism are valid, IF you accept that all the premises of utilitarianism are themselves true. Specifically, the idea that the most moral decision is the one producing “the best outcome for the most people” – it’s compelling and many people would accept that as a reasonable basis for a system of morality, but it’s really a subjective choice at the end of the day. What makes it better than following Christian or Buddhist ethics, or just being a relativist? By deciding to become utilitarians we’re still making a subjective value judgment.

          Finally, since Descartes at least we’ve known that while objective truth might be out there, we can never be certain that we know what it is, since human experience is inherently subjective. So utilitarianism is an internally consistent moral system, but right at the outset becoming a utilitarian is a subjective choice based on a flawed and biased human experience.

          Reply
  • Solana October 26, 2016, 1:51 pm

    One highly efficient method of giving I have learned about is a concept called microfinance, where instead of “donating”, you “invest” without receiving any returns, in a “Social Business” such as Grameen Bank that uses that money to make small loans to poor people (usually in third world countries) that allow them to start their own small businesses and lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty. Mohammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been wildly successful in this, helping millions of families in Bangladesh escape poverty. I read his book called Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. Your investment can be returned to you in full in some period of time, or you can “reinvest” it. You don’t get a tax deduction for this, but you can get all your money back (far more than your marginal tax bracket amount). I think Whole Foods has partnered with one of Yunus’s organizations as well. I really like the idea of giving something that will help people make a permanent change in their own lives for their future and empower them.

    Reply
  • Tiffany October 26, 2016, 1:57 pm

    Have you considered giving to the International Justice Mission https://www.ijm.org/?

    Reply
  • Abdel October 26, 2016, 1:58 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache. The more I read your articles the more inspired I become. The wisdom that you impart seems to me like universal truths. It would be truly amazing if you could write a jewel of a book comprised from all of your online articles; that way more people could become less spenders have more money left over and be able to donate to others. I personally, want to be able to be completely debt free and be able to go to third world countries and donate to those less fortunate. When I visited my Cuban distant relatives in 2013, I gave away almost everything I took for myself (flashlights, boots, jacket, tennis shoes, baseball cap, clothes). I arrived to Miami wearing flip flops because I gave away my shoes to the boyfriend of a cousin who had a piece of newspaper stuck inside his tennis shoe because it had a hole by his toes. He never asked me for anything, I simply discovered that he had a hole in his shoe because one night we crossed a puddle and he told me to wait so that he could change the newspaper in his shoe that had gotten wet. Helping others that are in need to me is truly gratifying. This article seems to be the epitome of being a Mustachian.

    Reply
  • Casey Fogle October 26, 2016, 2:01 pm

    I don’t necessarily agree with your choices BUT I do respect your methodology in making the choices. I work to help adults with disabilities get needed assistive technology and modifications (think hearing aids, ramps, and wheelchair lifts).

    One thing that I would love to do is to help other adults get hearing aids who cannot afford them – these precious little things can cost up to $5,000+ for a pair, and most of the time they are NOT covered by health insurance of any type. Communication is vital and could help so many people. Thank you for the inspiration to actually do something towards this end – and I encourage you and followers to look into how to help others with this issue as well.

    Reply
  • Petra October 26, 2016, 2:02 pm

    This was fun to read. So my 500 nets against malaria are joined by your roughly 12,500 ones. Together, they should do some good. (Or, as the dwarf said to the giant, when stomping around: “Boy, do we make a lot of noise together!”.) :-)

    Reply
  • Paula October 26, 2016, 2:06 pm

    Hi MMM-

    How about the folks at Planting Justice, based in Oakland, CA. They are trying to cure a bad food desert in Oakland and reduce recidivism with paroles and are doing a great job of it.
    Take a look: http://permaculturenews.org/2016/10/14/planting-justice/?inf_contact_key=ddfeb9d8e9b57c734e74719715046c77a7846bc566c7ba185ba5a0504c724007

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    • lurker November 5, 2016, 4:18 pm

      Rock ON!!!!!!!

      Reply
    • Reade November 5, 2016, 6:44 pm

      Wow that’s a great article, I never heard the term food desert, but it’s a very good analogy.

      Reply
    • Gerard November 18, 2016, 10:44 am

      Thanks, Paula, that was a cool link. Amazing how many alternative options end up being win-win… good for the environment, and employment, and nutrition, and revitalizing neighbourhoods.

      Reply
  • Erin October 26, 2016, 2:08 pm

    You were already our hero but even more so now. After reading your post, I went and donated to give well. We identified giving more as a goal last year when we made our budget and have done so. But it’s a dream of mine to get to the point of being able to fully donate 10-15% of our income. We are still working towards that. You are so inspiring. Brought a dang old tear to my eye.

    Reply
  • CZ_Technically_Frugal October 26, 2016, 2:09 pm

    Hi MMM,
    in general I’m pretty skeptic about charities. How much money will reach the target and what percentage would be used for charity organization itself (3% / 97% was the worst I have heard so far)? So I’m not inclining to give money to charities. But I must say, that I pretty trust half of organizations you have chosen and that surprises me much. (I don’t know anything about the others) so I’m very positively surprised.

    I’m also not sure how to “help” in poor countries, because almost any help is going to make them more dependent and there is some truth in thing I have heard: “Donate $1000 to Africa, save 12 years old girl to let her die because of starvation with her three children 5 years in the future.” Still the pessimistic me thinks your donations are pretty well targeted.

    What I’ll* do after I reach the point with surplus money** is to donate science and technology. It will help all people around the globe and move our civilization forward. We’re not hungry just now because of our science and technology. And even in places where people are hungry, they have cellphones, internet and therefore the ability to find how to solve their problems, and make their lives better.

    The key is in diversity. Someone will help local hospital, someone else will help with health situation in some poor country, someone will go to create cleaner engines, cheap satellite based internet for everyone, simple low-tech water pump repairable locally in poor countries (see afripump) or something else. As a group/humanity we’ll go forward.

    *I’m planning to reach financial independence and with 3% rule, the building of surplus money has pretty high probability. But economy, politicians or one’s own health can go south of course.

    **Relatively speaking I’ll need more than you. My children would like to live somewhere and considering historic events in Europe it make sense to have some bug out money. Absolutely speaking it would be less than half you have amassed I guess. I’m able to live on less than $2k/year*** with some gardening, some technical skills, extreme frugality and well designed house.

    *** Alone. And It’s way under poor level even here. $4k/year would allow me to buy some gadgets I can’t build myself (and it’s still under poor level and minimal wage here).

    Reply
    • Aaron February 27, 2017, 12:42 pm

      Respectfully, if you take some time to read up on givewell.org and some related sites, I think you’ll find most of your objections are addressed. Going through a charity watchdog like GiveWell gives you confidence that your money is well spent – not only is there financial transparency to ensure that donated funds are being effectively used to achieve the program’s goals, there are additional measures like randomized trials used to estimate the actual impact of each charity to show that it’s making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

      That said, donating to science is certainly a worthy goal – it’s just worth crunching some actual numbers to see where your dollars will have the maximum impact. With some charities, you can likely save a life with only $200. Donating $200 to a research organization is unlikely to have as much of an impact, but I agree with you that donating is still a worthwhile thing to do.

      Reply
  • Bruce October 26, 2016, 2:10 pm

    I think it’s great that you’re giving now instead of waiting. According to “Rosenberg’s Rule,” a donation now will likely solve more than that same donation later because “societal ills generally increase at an exponentially greater rate than does return on capital.” So you could wait until you have $1 million in some donor advised fund, but you won’t accomplish the same amount of good you will today by preventing most of those problems from happening in the first place.

    Reply
  • Bonnie October 26, 2016, 2:20 pm

    You just keep upping the stakes, good for you! I too wondered what would be the best use of my charitable giving. When my church asked for an increase, I chose instead to turn to helping those closest to me – family members. Oh my, has that been a learning experience! Have you had an occasion to help family that may not have done as well as you ? I’m finding it to me a real lesson in humility, respect, tolerance….

    Reply
  • Jim October 26, 2016, 2:22 pm

    Great post, which made me think. I’ve often copped out over giving to charity on the basis that it just lets governments off the hook – why should they bother chipping on eradicating malaria if enough punters chip in on this of their own accord? This might be fine if I was a political activist pushing on that front, but I’m not. I still have to admit though, that I watch Peter Singer and wonder what he’s getting out of it? If you’re inclined to give away money, then get on with it. Why tell everyone else? I realise this is completely cynical, and this post is a good counterpoint – tell everyone in the hope that you can inspire others.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 3:42 pm

      Interesting questions Jim. Regarding the government, I’m personally kind of happy with the stripped-down government we have here in the US. It does a lot less for its people, but in exchange it is MUCH easier to become extremely rich and do good more efficiently by yourself.

      Where this model fails is if it ignores big externalities of economic activity (*cough* two dollar gasoline and subsidized roads), or allows rich people to get so much influence that they can control all the elections (super PACs, professional lobbyists), or tempts people to spend infinite money on themselves so that they never get around to helping anyone else.

      Still, as long as the corruption remains somewhat in check, I think the world needs at least one country like the US – kind of an unregulated entrepreneurial furnace where the optimism runs on overdrive. If you’ve spent time in the San Francisco / Silicon Valley business culture, you see it is just a world apart that could not exist where people are trained to follow rules and regulations too closely.

      As for Mr. Singer, I think his motivation is pretty clear: inspiring others is much more powerful than just doing something yourself. Same reason I started this blog. What he gets out of it is the knowledge that other people are adopting the ideas.

      Reply
  • Shelby October 26, 2016, 2:26 pm

    My personal favorite charity is Water Wells for Africa (http://waterwellsforafrica.org/). I’ve traveled to Malawi with them three times and gotten to see, first hand, the good that clean water can do. 100% removal of cholera, girls being able to go to school since they no longer travel to collect water, etc.

    My favorite part is that WWFA also helps stimulate the Malawian economy. They hire a Malawian drilling company to do all of the work and they set up water councils in each village where they teach the group how to perform maintenance on their well. They build a system where the village is not reliant on Americans or charity, which is awesome!

    Reply
    • Shelby October 26, 2016, 2:50 pm

      I should add that each well costs around $8000 and serves about 2000 people. That means about $4 per person to provide clean water for 20+ years. One Starbucks latte (which is a no-no around here) covers that.

      WWFA also provides the receiving village with hygiene and sanitation training. The training of the water council is essential for the well to continue functioning, and without hygienic practices, clean water is much less effective at reducing health issues because people are still exposing themselves to disease.

      I could go on for days!

      Reply
  • H.P. October 26, 2016, 2:34 pm

    Hi!
    You should know there’s quite a many readers from Estonia, who actually love your blog! (Me myself have discovered it quite lately and am reading it just now from the beginning – lot’s of hours nicely spent, I hope -, and newer posts via Feedly.)
    But my 5 cents about charity.
    As I am a teacher in Estonia, my salary is less than €11k/year. (It’s less than an average (year)income in Estonia.)
    Nevertheless I support an handicapped kid in Kenia to be educated (it’s her third schoolyear for now, and I’m informed that her wish is to become a teacher :) http://www.mondo.org.ee/ For me it’s like 10% from my month income, but for her it’s a whole schoolyear!).
    Then I have an agreement with my godmother that our Christmas’ presents are not to be classic presents (we both have all basic things we need in our life), but doing one or another way smth good – i.e charity.
    Of course it’s not all I’m doing, but some ideas however…

    Reply
  • Leslie October 26, 2016, 3:03 pm

    It can be so tough deciding where to give, as there is so much need, and so many great charities and non-profits out there. Good job in your selection. One organization I am really into supporting, and suggest you take a look at and consider for future donations is the International Rescue Committee: https://www.rescue.org/

    Reply
  • MarciaB October 26, 2016, 3:03 pm

    I think it is wonderful that you are donating to so many worthy causes. I am concerned though with the probable onslaught of junk mail you will receive from these charities and the other charities that they sell your contact information to. It is very dispiriting to see your donation money spent on unwanted begging letters asking for even more money and not spent on the charitable mission of the organization.

    Reply
    • FuR October 26, 2016, 4:01 pm

      This. I wonder if stipulating you don’t want to be on the mailing list would work at all in these situations?

      Reply
  • Katharina October 26, 2016, 3:05 pm

    You are a total 100% badass inspiration on so many levels! Congratulations.

    Reply
    • Jone October 26, 2016, 6:54 pm

      Totally agree! +1

      Reply
  • DenverLarry October 26, 2016, 3:10 pm

    Thanks for the great post. I would encourage you to check out http://www.hopehouseofcolorado.org, it’s in our backyard and helps teen moms learn to parent, get a GED, get a job, an apartment, etc. Many of these teen moms come from 2 and 3 generations of single teen moms, all living off the government, and by changing one generation the benefits will be seen for all future generations.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • Jason Fehr October 26, 2016, 3:19 pm

    Fantastic post, MMM.

    I’ve used GiveWell for years, they are the gold standard for effective altruism research. I’m so glad you found them.

    As you said, you can give via their website and they will distribute your donation among their top charities per your preference.

    This is what I’ve done with nearly 100% of my charitable donations over the past seven years.

    Reply
  • Nik October 26, 2016, 3:22 pm

    This is wonderful! I’ve been making small donations to a couple of small non profit organizations that are important to me each month. It’s not much, about $20 a month total, but every bit helps!

    Reply
  • ken kienow October 26, 2016, 3:24 pm

    For me, charitable giving falls prey to the law of diminishing marginal returns. It feels really good when you put the tab for improving the lives of 10 kids on autopay, but after a year of autopay, you completely forget about it and gain no more marginal happiness. Maybe it’s better to manually cut a check every time, I don’t know.

    But there’s also such thing as “doing something because it’s a good thing to do” versus “doing something because it makes me happy”. Sending money to Africa falls under the “doing something because it’s a good thing to do” category for me. The happiness diminishes. It’s hard to see the affect of your money on someone who’s half a world away.

    I do think that doing good in your local community is, bang-for-buck, the most happiness-inducing strategy (though maybe not the “do the most good” winner). SEEING the results of your charity is really happiness-inducing, and seems to be pretty in line with your loose bloom-where-you-are-planted philosophies. Neighbors need friends. Bike paths need support. Homeless need shelter even in the rich ol’ USA. Might not be the most bang for buck, but may be more happiness inducing, I dunno.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 26, 2016, 4:26 pm

      Wise words Ken – I think this is why I included a chunk for visible local stuff. One of my ideas in progress is to buy 1000 almost LED sticks to swap out the old flickery inefficient fluorecent bulbs currently used in the elementary school.

      The kids (including my own son) and teachers get better light right away, the fellow parents hear about it and might try saving energy in their own homes, and the school will save over 50% of my investment amount EACH YEAR on the electricity bill. Very visible and luxurious local giving!

      Reply
      • Jone October 26, 2016, 6:56 pm

        This is a good idea. I hadn’t previously thought about it. So far, my thought have been limited to how to assist just the band department!

        Reply
      • ThriftyChemist October 27, 2016, 3:54 pm

        I think that this also partially comes back to the difference between happiness and pleasure. You may have diminishing returns of pleasure because of autopay, but you won’t lose the happiness. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the available opportunities for pleasure as they come up, but the happiness is far more reliant on your perspective and choices (including mentally reviewing your contributions) than the pleasure of donating. It’s not the whole picture, but I think it’s a big piece of it.

        Reply
  • Erith October 26, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Hi
    I applaud your giving. Well done. However, I try to balance my giving to charities, with helping my kids and also extended family. I gift my 2 (grown-up) kids each month the same amount as I regularly give to charity. That does not include the one-offs where we gift for charity appeals. The charity giving has been going on for more than 20 years. (Cancer research , school / college education bursaries, church, children’s hospice, seafarers -if you’re interested). A few years ago, we decided we didn’t need a second car, and on speaking to a distant cousin around the same time, her daughter was in real need of a car to enable her out of work husband to take a job 20 miles away with no public transport. We handed it over, and some years later it is still used (and needed). I was so glad to be able to help them.

    My bigger problem going forward, is how to transfer money to my kids (MMM – look forward 20 years when JMM has found a partner and is setting up home…), without them ‘expecting’ it. The UK inheritance taxes are pretty restrictive. If you’re worth more than $400k on ths day of death, your heirs have to pay 40% tax on the difference! But if you give it away 7 years before death, it is tax-free.

    So it’s worth doing, but only if your children aren’t ‘wasting’ it, while you are doing your utmost to save it…

    A few family conversations at least.

    Reply
  • steve poling October 26, 2016, 3:27 pm

    Good for you! Years back there was a guy named LeTourneau who started a business building big construction equipment. The IRS was not happy when he started tithing 90% of his income, but they had to allow it. At least in those days it was all tax deductible. I’m not in that league, but I’ve never had any problem deducting any charitable giving.

    The challenge is finding worthy causes. I just saw a documentary, Poverty Inc., wherein 1st world charitable impulses cause harmful distortions to 3rd world economies. Well meaning gifts of food, clothes, or shoes bankrupt local farmers, tailors, or cobblers creating a cycle of dependency. My son-in-law used to work for an NGO in West Africa doing micro-lending. He said you could spot the UN guys by their expensive vehicles and large staffs

    Reply

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