The Giving Fund

My best friend had moved an ocean away, when her husband died in the line of duty. There wasn’t anything practical I could do to help being a whole continent away. So I went out and spent $300 on new shoes for her. Cute shoes. Snazzy boots. I didn’t have $300 to spend in that month’s budget. But I didn’t give it a moments thought, because we have a Giving Fund.

We have spent a lot of money in our lives on things I have long forgotten about. Can I even count the number of Chipotle burritos I’ve eaten? Or the clearance clothes I bought on whim but never really wore. Some things are best forgotten.

But the money I have spent from the Giving Fund? I remember all of those dollars.  Each is a meaningful story. Stories I cherish long after they happened.

Our giving fund enables us to meet people in their moment of greatest need without notice. We can also surprise people with a huge blessing at the perfect time. No need to work the numbers. No wondering how it will effect our own budget for the month.

Here is how to get started:

1. Create a separate checking/saving account

There are 2 organizations we give to every month and I love seeing the long term effects that has. But we also have a Giving Fund. Each month we transfer money into that account so we are ready when the need or opportunity strikes.

Each person can start with a number that works for them. Right now we give an extra $200 a month to help fund these one time gifts, but any amount can add up! Even $10 a month could be leveraged into a huge impact. Imagine if you saved that up for a year ($120) and gave it as a Christmas bonus to your favorite cashier at a local grocery store. Armed with cash in hand (or in a nice card), that gift might be a bigger blessing than you could ever imagine.

In college, I had a friend was working at a ice cream shop. When a customer asked her how her day was going she admitted, “Honestly it has been a rough week for me.” ( A family member had passed away that week) The older gentlemen pulled out a $100 bill and put it in the tip jar. She was blown away by his kindness.  I have never forgotten that story because of how meaningful it was to her.

When we already have the money set aside, we don’t have to stress about using it when the opportunity arrives. It’s in a named account, and for a specific purpose. We can give with more joy because we are prepared. It’s a line item in our budget.

2. Eyes wide open

One of the great things about having a Giving Fund is feeling empowered to make a difference. When we feel powerless to help, it’s easier to live with blinders on. We keep our heads down because we feel we have no ability to effect change. We want to connect with people but can be overwhelmed by not being able to fix things, so we keep a distance. With a chunk of change in our giving account, my eyes are wide open. I can lean into conversations to hear what someone might need. I can be attentive to someone’s struggle, knowing I might be able to help. My eyes can scan for fun opportunities to be a blessing. It gives me a framework to act freely. I can look at the number in our giving account and know that up to that dollar amount, I am prepared.

I can’t fix every problem, but I can do something.

Sometimes that is all people need.

Someone to show up and care.

To send a gift basket when they experience loss. Or drop off some ice cream at their office if they have had a hard week. A Costco gift card at the holidays so they can buy holiday gifts and food for their family. A Papa Murphy’s gift card when a new child arrives (adopted or biological.)

3. Be stealthy

Although I have dozens of amazing stories about giving, most of my friends have never heard them. Maybe they helped me play a part in one story. They keep my secrete safe as my accomplice in a good deed. A few times I have talked to a friend about how I could help. Most often the money just shows up in a card, or via a friend of a friend. When the story is retold, my name is left out of it. It’s better that way. For me, and for the story.

 

Here is one such story where my name was omitted after the fact.

 

Mr. Mt and I had decided to give away 10% of our net worth (on top of our regular giving) when we had about $25,000 saved up. So we pulled $2500 out of our account and kept our eyes and heart open. We were down to the last little bit, and I had it sealed up in a card. I carried that card around for weeks, waiting for the perfect opportunity.

 

I met up with the Children’s pastor from our church one evening, and he mentioned a strange experience he had that day. He had stopped to get his guitar repaired. When he was in the shop he spotted a certain guitar. He played on it for a while, as he waited. He told me, “You know it’s crazy. But I felt like that was something I needed. I never buy anything. And I absolutely don’t have the money for it.  I just really felt that I could use this guitar for work. I had to walk away because it’s an impossible amount of money, but it’s been hard to shake.” “Really?” I asked. “How much exactly was that guitar?” He pulled out a little slip of paper that had the price with tax written on it. I almost fell over. To the dollar, it was the exact amount of money in the card I had been carrying around. I pulled the card out of my bag, and said, “I think this is meant for you.”  Now, beings we didn’t have any idea what we would do with the money when I took the money out of our savings account, it was a stack of  all sorts of bills. $10’s, $20, $50’s and $100’s. As he unsealed the envelope and started counting the stack of cash, the weight of the moment was palpable. When he got to the exact dollar he had been quoted, his eyes filled with tears.

 

I heard that story retold second and third hand for weeks. My name had been erased from it, and it was a far better story that way. Be stealthy when you can. After 15 years of giving to all sorts of organizations and people, I have never once been asked for money. I think people fear if they start helping, it will be like a damn that sprung a leak. Soon they will be flooded with requests. But that hasn’t been my experience at all.

 

I felt so honored to be able to be part of that story. And it only happened because we planned for it before the moment came. I am able to lean in to others stories, and help write an alternate ending without  worrying about our personal budget. That is the joy of a Giving Fund.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you set aside money for certain organizations or spontaneous gifts?
  2. Any fun giving stories you care to share?
  3. If you could set aside $10 a month, what act of generosity would you put it towards?

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42 thoughts on “The Giving Fund

  1. I used to be involved with Soldiers Angels, where you write letters and can send packages to troops deployed overseas in hazard zones. It was easy to feel good about that, particularly when they wrote back and showed appreciation. Makes your life sound a whole lot less complicated when someone talks about being stuck in the middle of the water or a desert.

    I’ve considered starting a DAF, as I’m unlikely to be in this tax bracket again any time soon, but I haven’t pulled the trigger just yet.

    • That is awesome. I think being able to connect with other stories and situations really helps keep me grounded in mine. Small acts of kindness don’t change the circumstance, but sometimes it can give people the encouragement and hope they need. I’ve had a lot of friends and family deployed overseas, and those small gifts can really brighten your day when it feels like 50% of the people you encountered that day hated you and wanted you dead. So thank you for that!

  2. What a great story!

    I am with you completely on this. I used to give to charity when I felt compelled or when I had extra money in the budget. It felt great when I did it, but it felt like I had to run the numbers and make sure it was feasible first. I wanted to make charity a higher spending priority this year, so I started setting aside a certain amount from each paycheck into a “Charity” spending category in YNAB. At the end of each month I take money set aside in that category and pick a charity to donate it to.

    I later added a “Gifts” category that is for situations like the story that you opened with. I want to be able to help friends when they are struggling and I don’t want to feel like I need to worry about moving money around to do it, so this extra spending category let’s me build up money to use just for that purchase like your Giving Fund does for you.

    • Those are great examples! With just a little bit of planning and thought, it’s easy to set up these kinds of systems. I think it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to give without having to think through our finances for that month.

  3. Having a giving fund is a really smart idea and a great example of the power of steadily saving over time. By putting regular amounts away each month, you get used to not seeing the money. And as a bonus, eventually you just notice a big chunk of money saved up. I’ve been doing this for my Christmas fund for the last few years and it always makes the holidays far less stressful.

  4. What a heart warming story, Ms. Montana! We don’t have a specific account set aside for giving, but we do donate to two particular charities. I think the idea of having the specific account set aside for this purpose is positively wonderful. On my to do list for today! 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Yeah! We have loved having our giving fund so much. A few years back I had a friend go through a horrible situation, and I was able to send $500 to help resolve it. Another mutual friend was just as heart broken about it as I was but said to me, “I would love to be able to help like you can.” Both of our husbands were in the military at the time and made the exact same wage. And it made me realize the only difference between us, was I had set up this account ahead of time. If she had been putting $40 a month into a giving account each month, she would be able to give this kind of gift every year to someone. I’m excited to hear what opportunities you come across after you have a little stash of cash set aside. It really gets to be fun keeping your eyes open, looking for that perfect moment to have a huge impact.

  5. This is awesome, Ms M! I am setting up a Capital One account for this right now. I get a thrill moving X amount each month into my 13 accounts (yes, I have a problem), and I can only imagine how much more fun it’ll be to watch the giving one grow!

    • We have rocked a lot of accounts too! It is an easy way to budget. =) I’m so excited for you guys to have a little stash of cash and all the opportunities that will cross your path. I love giving stories. =)

  6. PiC and I each get $100 per month in our budget for anything that we need to spend on that’s solely for us and not for the family: clothes, shoes, hobbies, etc. We haven’t made room in the budget specifically for giving yet, but every year, at least half of my annual allowance is directed to giving and he coordinates a match from his employer. I don’t decide what it’ll be ahead of time except we know that we’ll always give something to the rescue that we adopted our first dog from. Exactly one person in my non blogging life knows that we do this and that’s how I like it. It’s not precisely that I worry I’ll be flooded with requests, the people who would do that aren’t the ones I try to give to anyway, it’s just that I don’t want to make people feel like it’s charity instead of a gift because we care.

    There have been too many years when a faraway friend has lost someone dear to them, and some of our giving goes buys a condolences box: comfort food, comfort reading, something warm and cozy to carry our hugs to them. It became a little bit of a bittersweet tradition when my dear friend, that I’d gotten to know because of PF blogging, completed the circle years later sending me the same box when my mom passed. Another friend carries baggies of supplies: water, dental hygiene supplies, pads/tampons, to give to those who are homeless in Her City. We share ideas in our groups about ways to support causes that we care about.

    • A condolence box is a wonderful idea. Sometimes people don’t know what to do, but a little gift box is so nice. I had 2 friends send me one once and it was so special to me. It had tea, cookies, macadamia nuts and other little gifts. It is a great way to show that you care and are thinking of them during such a hard time. Love it. =)

  7. I do this! It’s hard to keep things quiet, but thankfully I have a few partners in crime so no one knows it’s me. One of my favourites was when we had some flooding which primarily affected a smaller neighbourhood outside of town. Two weeks before my friend’s wedding, her mom’s house flooded. I secretly bought her mom a massage (turns out it was her first one ever and she’s hooked!). It was so fun to see my friend’s Facebook wall light up with likes and comments when she posted a thank you to the anonymous massage giver.
    We don’t explicitly budget for it, but that’s one of the joys of having an income that’s much higher than our spending. My spouse gets cross with me sometimes with how much I spend, but too bad, it’s in my blood, I learned it from my Mom!

    • That is so awesome! And you story is the perfect example about how we don’t have to fix everything. Sometimes people just need to know someone cares and is thinking of them. It can transform a really stressful and difficult situation (like having a house flood before a wedding) into something bearable. You should totally consider setting up an account. Maybe your hubby would feel better knowing there is some kind of parameters and limit. Whatever the amount, $50 a month being auto transferred, he knows it was planned for, and you know how much you have to give. Right now we have $2400 in our giving report, it’s even listed on our net worth update. And it helps me figure out what I can and can’t do quickly. $20 gift card to the homeless man we meet in the coffee shop? Easy. Someone needs a new car? That might be outside of our ability right now. But I know we could do a $1000 to help.

  8. I love this idea and am totally stealing it! 😉

    What a beautiful story about the guitar. I give to organizations and individuals but have yet to include it as a seperate fund or line item since I don’t use a budget. I do, however, track my seperate accounts. This would be a great addition to those and also more efficient for me.

    • Awesome! I think you will love it. =) For me it’s like having a fun money account, but for other people. Sometimes it builds up, and sometimes we spend it down. But I always know what I am working with. Let me know how it goes. =)

  9. Kudos for all of this giving.

    Our giving right now is only time. I donate quite a bit of time to helping the school of my ids by being an active parent in the different activities they set up.

    I used to donate to the red cross. after some poor communication of them towards me, I stopped…

    • Giving time is so important. I know the schools are always grateful for the help! I think it’s important to find an organization that you really connect with for giving money. Maybe you could look into one that your kids are interested in also? You could try to raise money as a family. Often overseas organizations put out a Christmas catalog. Our kids like being able to pick something out for kids overseas; a few ducks or a soccer ball. The cost is about $20, so they pitch in a few dollars from their chore money and I cover the rest.

  10. LOVE this!!!!! One of my fave giving stories is when I was able to send a really decent sized anonymous cashier’s check to a friend whose husband had been laid off. That check kept them from falling behind on their mortgage payments. To this day she has no idea who sent the money, but she still remembers it vividly.

    Love the giving fund idea. I think we will start one. Today. 🙂

    • That is awesome. Being laid off is not only practically challenging but very emotionally hard on people. What a perfect gift at the perfect time. =) I think you will love the giving fund.

  11. I really like your idea of a Giving Fund. Although we are trying to do better with our charitable giving and do budget for it, we don’t have a specific fund or account allocated to holding these dollars until we are ready to release them into the world to help others. You’ve mentioned the fund in previous posts, but thanks for touching on it again. This is def. something Mr.Need2Save and I need to consider. It may be something we can implement easily when we refresh our budget for 2017. Thanks again for the inspiration.

    • Yeah, beings it has it’s own account, it ended up in our net worth update too. I figured it was time to give a basic how-to on how it can be set up and work. =) It has given us so many cool opportunities to give spontaneously over the years. It has created a planned spontaneity. Which for me, is really the best kind. =)

  12. Beautiful stories! I think we could be better about preparing for spontaneous giving. We just try to be generous in the moment but we do not have a separate account for it (we do plan ahead to give a certain percent of our income to certain causes/organizations). That’s a great idea. I think the different types of giving do interact in our hearts and maybe that regular, planned giving makes you a more generous person who is ready to give and softened toward others’ needs.

    One of my close friends had a very hard time conceiving. After six years, she finally got pregnant and then miscarried. Thank God she was able to conceive again soon after. When she finally celebrated her baby shower, I knew I had to do something special. I also knew they were stressed about money and would be showered with lots of gifts, so I gave her a check for a lot more than I normally spend on showers, or even weddings. I know it meant a lot to her.

    • I find it helps me know the parameters of what I can do. Within x amount, I am able to help without having to run the numbers, look at our budget, or stress about it. Plus when I see the $’s in our account grow, it helps remind me to keep my eyes open for opportunities. And that baby shower gift is awesome! It conveys that you know what they are dealing with and are coming alongside to support. Just that act of showing you care is so meaningful.

  13. I love the idea of a giving fund! We are constantly being told to pay ourselves first, but I think we should pay ourselves AND others first. I think most all people love to give but if there isn’t money in the budget, we don’t allow ourselves to give. A giving fund solves the problem.
    My wife and I set up a giving fund about a year ago and it is so much easier to give when you have the money already set aside. Giving generously is so rewarding and a giving fund is a great start for doing so.

    • “it is so much easier to give when you have the money already set aside.” Yes, a hundred times yes! Even if it’s a small amount, $10 a month, then you know what you can do and are empowered to act quickly.

  14. Around 2007 I was 20 and making over $40,000 more than I ever had to that point or since, and we did a gift giving thing at work for Christmas. The employees could pick out cards that had the name of a child who’s family was poverty stricken and they had a list of their hobbies and interests. One boy liked sports and video games, two of my favorite things in the world. So I bought him a brand new PlayStation2 and a copy of that years Madden. I never meet the kid but just knowing that his parents would be able to put this amazing gift under their tree and how much something like that must have meant to them, still makes me tear up to this day. Coming from a low income house myself I know how hard Christmas can be for parents who can’t make it perfect for their children. The fact that I was able to let those parents give their child a perfect Christmas when they usually struggle, best thing I ever did with my money

    • That is amazing and wonderful! Christmas can be a hard and stressful time for families who are struggling. Those acts of kindness can really boost the family moral. Those great stories have a way of staying with us. I agree that it is money well spent! Thanks so much for sharing. =)

  15. Great story!

    One thing that I want to start doing in the future is doing a giving fund. I’m so laser focused on my family’s financial goals that I don’t think as much about helping the world around me. I feel like I don’t know where to start when it comes to finding an organization or cause to donate to on a regular basis. Your post definitely inspired me to look again! 🙂

    One thing that I do is that I give generously when things come up. If a friend or family member is in need, I don’t hesitate donating a little bit to help someone out. I’m also willing to donate to other people’s causes if it’s something I know they’re passionate about.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • The habit of giving is a lot like saving. It’s hard to start, but once started can really grow. With the age of your daughter, you might try a charity “gift” catalog. That way she could help pick out items for kids around the world. My kids love bringing able to help in a tangible way they understand. They donate their own money from their chores (and I chip in a bit to help.) And if you need a bit of organization inspiration, one of my absolute favorites is CASA. At our local office they can train and assist a CASA volunteer for a year for $1200. These amazing volunteers advocate for kids in foster care from the time they are removed till they find a permanent family. They are the voice of the child, and often only consistent adult in the picture. These volunteers donate about 10 hours a week, sometimes spanning years, if the case is moving slow. $1200 seems like a heck of a deal to train and support one of these amazing volunteers for a year. =)

  16. Love the idea for a Giving Fund and was very touched reading that story about the guitar. What’s even more awesome is that now he gets to use that guitar to bless even more people. The chain of kindness keeps on going. Thanks for sharing this!

    • It is great to see good things roll forward. I like to think that years later, when someone compliments him on the guitar, he says, “well that is a great story, let me tell you how I got this.” =) Sometimes we all need to be reminded of all the goodness in the world.

  17. I like how you carry around the envelop, although I am not sure if I should carry cash around. How I give usually is by bank transfer unnamed. True enough, I never get unwanted request but I also never get to see someone happy face. Not directly. I am fine with that, just that it does sounds better.

    • Hey Lynn, thanks for your comment! I don’t always carry some of the cash around. =) But every once in awhile we will set aside a little bit for a “kindness project.” And then I will make sure I have it. The bank transfer is a great idea!

  18. I love this! I set aside $50 a month and generally go shopping on Amazon. I send a local animal shelter items from their wish list. It’s amazing how many charities have Amazon Wish Lists. Some even write little descriptions of why they need items. I love being able to send sick kitties their favorite chicken treats.

    • I love being able to send sick kitties their favorite chicken treats. Oh, I love this! That is such a great idea. I didn’t know about the Amazon wish lists for organizations, but that is brilliant!