Giving 50%

My personal story (written in 2012)

I didn’t always give 50% to charity and until about five years ago, I gave nothing. During college, I had the immense fortune of learning about Peter Singer and eventually reading his Famine, Affluence and Morality. His essay left a long-lasting impression on me, I felt he opened my eyes to something that was clearly true – helping others when it is of so little cost to you is the right thing to do.

Giving was not what my family did, so it was foreign to me to give my credit card number to someone for a service I would never see performed. Nevertheless I felt it was right, and continued to learn more about the issue, reading books and going to philosophy lectures. Giving more was a gentle progression, first joining a pledge to give 1%, then, realizing how good it felt, giving larger amounts and giving more often. I started doing “Birthday for Charity” – I would ask my friends who insisted on giving me a present to  donate to a charity of my choice instead; it was slow at first, but it’s become a wonderful tradition.

The turning point came when an acquaintance from the Philosophy Department offered to meet up for lunch. We talked about utilitarianism and other exciting topics; a bit into the conversation he asked if I’ve heard about Giving What We Can (I had) and then said “What do you think about joining?”. At the time, he and our colleagues were starting a Giving What We Can chapter at Rutgers and I eagerly joined in.

What excited me most was that the organizations I was now donating my 10% to were cost effective and transparent. Finally, in December 2011 when I started my first full-time job as a high school math teacher, I realized I could give 50% without decreasing my quality of life one bit. Even after all the donations I was earning more than I was when I was just a math tutor. I’ve never liked wasting money and have always been frugal. Now I simply apply the principle of cost effectiveness not just to my donations, but to my spending. By thinking strategically how to spend money, I get to enjoy a quality of life higher than if I had been spending 100% of my earnings as most people do.. I still get to enjoy restaurants and outings with friends, though we’ve found that movie nights or potluck at home are more fun. I don’t feel I’m missing out; this year my girlfriend and I are going on a road trip across the US.

Giving 50% has been a rewarding experience. The difficulties people said I would face have not materialized. It is astounding to me that I live better than most kings in history: I eat fresher and more varied food, I listen to the world’s best music at a press of a button, I have heating, cooling, and internal plumbing in my apartment, and I don’t need to worry about being assassinated. It brings me a great deal of satisfaction to know that a significant fraction of my time that I spend at work, I work not to better my life, but to tremendously help thousands of others.

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