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Charity vs “Greed”

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  • Charity vs “Greed”

    Having climbed my way out of debt and into a comfortable life within 3 years of finishing fellowship in 2017, I am struggling with a feeling of guilt for not currently contributing much to charity.

    For background: finished fellowship with about $200k in debt. Have paid it all off, bought into a private practice about a year ago, and have accrued paper assets of around $1.1 mil.

    I have worked my a** off selling vacation, picking up shifts, work a side gig 1099, etc. I enjoy the work a lot, which my wife finds somewhat alarming, though I am deeply satisfied with my job.

    I’m not religiously inclined, though my wife is. We haven’t joined a church officially and COVID definitely put that on hold. Not opposed if it makes her happy.

    My radiology group provides a LOT of indigent care and we write off a lot of bad debt. I have rationalized not directly contributing “much”(maybe $2-3k last year) to charities as I provide so much uncompensated care at work, though am self aware that this is likely a coping mechanism to mask my guilt.

    I know it’s a personal decision, but I would like to hear from others about when you started contributing serious money to charity and how to decide what percent of your income to contribute.

    I can’t help but think if I invested the money now I could use a DAF to make a larger impact later, and be richer myself. I know other physicians who still have student loans and contribute 10% of their income to a church. I just can’t wrap my head around such a move. Deep down I may just be greedy. Hard to know.

    Any and all opinions welcomed.


  • #2
    i don't think anyone who doesn't give large amounts of money to charity is necessarily greedy for doing so.

    i also don't think someone who gives 10% of their income to a church because it's dogma is necessarily generous for doing so.

    there's way more that goes into this calculation.


    • #3
      Why do you feel guilty? It’s your money, you earned it, do what you want with it.

      If you decide you want to give to charity, be just as intentional with your giving as you are with your spending. If you’re going to give, do it as part of your overall financial plan rather than because you think you should or others are telling you that you should.

      Read a book or two that gives some guidance on how to select charities. I read this one last year that I thought was pretty good:

      I personally have a hard time getting past all the what ifs - “how much is long term care going to cost in 2065,” etc. But I still give small amounts anyway because I’m trying to get more comfortable being less rigidly attached to money.


      • #4
        Although WCI and others write about their charitable contributions, there is no particular reason you should feel any pressure to give money to charity while you are digging out of debt and building wealth. Personally I think good people help others who need it. But there are many ways to do that that do not necessarily involve giving cash. And frankly, as Phil DeMuth says, most organized charities are a wasteful and spend way too much on overhead. For what it’s worth, I find your practice of serving indigent patients to be generous and an appropriate way to give back. Maybe you will find other causes to support along the way with cash. Great, but do it because you support the cause, not because you feel social pressure to give money. One caveat: if you are attending a church, it is only fair that you support the church and it’s good works. I would put this under the category of “other causes you found to support.”


        • #5
          Its a personal choice. Do what you feel is right. If you do want to donate to charity, but don't know which one, please look up which ones actually use the donations for good rather than keep most of it for their board members or foundation.
          Sometimes, a life event will occur that will make your choice more obvious- picking a charity for a rare disease if your family member has one for instance.
          Time is another way to be charitable, it doesn't have to be just money. But cutting a check is easier.


          • #6
            I believe that whether you are religiously inclined or not that giving money away helps keep us from relying on money as our security. On this forum and other similar ones, folks are far away and doing better financially than the vast majority of people in the world. We get so caught in optimizing this or that and don’t enjoy our hard earned money. You can certainly enjoy your money by spending it, and you can also find enjoyment by giving it away to someone or some organization in need. I think you should look for some cause is meaningful to you and research those charities. Put in the time and effort to find out how you can make a difference. Maybe that’s a local food pantry. I’ve never experienced food insecurity, so it bothers me that so many in America do experience this so it’s an area we have started to give to. Remember, you cannot take it with you when you die. Find way to enjoys money. You and your spouse have clearly done an excellent job so far.


            • #7
              I spent the first 30 years of my life giving 10% to my church. Even when taking out student loans in medical school. I was pretty dogmatic about it. Then I learned my church was using the money to build what amounts to a giant hedge fund. Oh and to build a mall. Who knows what else as they're not exactly transparent about it. Anyhow, that really turned me off to charitable giving (and my religion) and I decided it was best to get my own financial house in order first. As we get to where we want to be we have started a few different regular donations, like the local food bank. I also like to give to individuals who are in difficult situations. But the goal is to set up a DAF in a few years and focus on charities that support things we believe in. But I don't think you can measure a person's goodness based on how much they give away, if that is what you're getting at. Plenty of ways to be generous and to make the world a better place. It sounds like you're well on your way, just in the way your group runs your practice.


              • #8
                Congrats of the personal gains.

                Note this -- Any dollar or effort that's given withan open heart is generosity beyond what is indicated.

                Raised SDA, tithing has been strongly engrained. Yet, like wideopenspaces, our family has broadened our giving beyond a church for many different reasons. We still strive for 10% gross to nonprofits of our choice every year since earning my first paycheck.

                Find what balances well for both you and your spouse. That guilt may stem from your different POV of what counts and levels of commitment that's comfortable for the family.


                • #9
                  I give zero. I'm selfish with my money. After the mortgage, it goes into investments. I'm fine with it.(though I have donated over 100 pints of blood in the last 20 years).

                  My wife gives about 12-16k/year(not tithing and all anonymous). I would have preferred to have fully funded our kids' education by now. But it's her money as your money is yours.

                  If you have a guilt complex about it, that's a you thing. Either donate or get over it. Fretting about it is a waste of time.


                  • #10
                    I am not religious but my wife is. It is expected for her to give to the church so she does. It is a few grad a year so not that big of a deal but if it were completely up to me I would choose otherwise.

                    We also give to our local volunteer fire department. It is a small operation and they could use the funding. I know several of the volunteers and hope to be one of them again some day. Time is precious right now. They also did a drive by for my kids birthday. That was nice.

                    Another significant sum goes to our library. We take advantage of the kids activities and I am a big reader and wish more people read.

                    I don't give to my college or medial school despite they'd repeated asking. My wife gives like 25 bucks a year and they send her 10x as much mail as me.

                    Give what you want to give. Don't feel guilty about not doing it. Just be a good person.


                    • #11
                      1. Being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself.
                      2. Having no regard for the needs or feelings of others.
                      No reason to have guilt. You asked about serious money and percent.
                      •The latter first. 10% and whatever else tugs your heartstrings. Write the check. Feel better?
                      It has a religious basis, but seems to be a widely accepted norm in society.
                      •To me, “Charity” has become more of a tax definition than being unselfish. I would suggest you focus finding ways of being unselfish. Your way to give back to the community and society.

                      You mentioned indigent care. Well, it seems incidental rather than an act of unselfish behavior. You personally need to connect to society and give back something, time or money. To me, writing a check to a meaningless non-profit that you don’t connect with is kind of like a bribe. Accomplishes nothing but checking a box. If the non-profit has value to you, it will mean a lot more. Putting personal time into it is leverage. I am sure you can find a good cause where you live that need some help. Do some good with your good fortune, just a little, don’t be too selfish.


                      • #12
                        I am a firm believer in "What you do unto the least of my brothers you do unto me". You already do that with the indigent care you give, as do most docs. I know we did a fair amount of indigent care in our practice. Having said that we are truly financially blessed in medicine and you can help further by charitable donations but as others have said try to be discerning where you give as there are many out there who make a living off guilt tripping others.


                        • #13
                          Some thoughts:
                          1. When I think about it, some of the greatest experiences I have had in my life involve doing something to help other people. I believe we are charged to look beyond ourselves and help others. There are so many ways to help and there is much need.

                          2. Giving of resources and time is personal and should not be flashy in any way. Something done anonymously is usually best because it shifts the focus away from the giver. IMHO, there is nothing worse than a braggart talking about their charitable contributions.

                          3. When I look at our family this past year of COVID, we have wanted for absolutely nothing. We have only been inconvenienced. We all want to travel, but that is really not a hardship. We have saved so much more this year because of not spending. Being FI has allowed us to not be affected. This is not the case for everyone. This year has caused us to be more aware of need and to find ways to help individuals and groups.

                          4. I always wonder about the example we setting for our kids to teach them about genuinely helping others and thinking beyond their own world. Try to always involve your kids, if possible.

                          5. Volunteering is tough and humbling for high earning professionals because we want the experience to be scheduled, tidy and meaningful/fulfilling. Sometimes that is not the case with volunteering. Find an avenue to volunteer your time that fits your skills and beliefs. It doesn't always have to be with a group. There are many ways and opportunities. It can even be simple and small things at work and in your neighborhood.


                          • #14
                            "Find an avenue to volunteer your time that fits your skills and beliefs."

                            Probably preaching to the choir so to speak. YOU can benefit your community.
                            Just a silly example: Child obesity and organized activities ! It doesn't take a neurosurgeon to supervise a bunch of kids. Track team, soccer league, baseball, softball or even a chess club. The hard part is recruiting the "volunteer parents" and organizing practice and events.

                            Or the library with a story hour or a games session at a nursing home. Be a referee at the YMCA. Do you think the kids give a hoot what the rules are? They just want to play. It is a thankless job, but someone has to do it. It does not need to be the "save the world", it is make someone's life better. Not a thing wrong with improving your own community in a selfless way. No need for skills, need for commitment.

                            Off the soapbox, find something you enjoy.


                            • #15
                              Thanks for everyone’s input.

                              My plan:

                              Aim to build up to contributing 5% of income to 2 local charities (food bank and housing assistance). Start at 1% age 35 and increase 1% per year over next 5 years.