What’s it like to give half?

A guest post from Julia Wise, previously posted on Giving Gladly.

It’s been a while since I ran the numbers on how much Jeff and I give.  Recently we figured out what we gave in 2012: it was about half our income.  In 2012, Jeff was working as a computer programmer and I was mostly in grad school, then starting a job as a social worker towards the end of the year.

In the interest of transparency, here’s what we did with the money:

(Note: it’s surprisingly tricky to figure out what counts as income and donations  for example, if I do a job for someone and ask them to donate instead of paying me, does that count as me donating or the other person donating?  For simplicity’s sake, this post will use the income and donations from our 2012 tax return.  More detailed information on Jeff’s website.)

  • Donations: This was our best year yet for donations.  If we earn more in the future, we’ll be able to give more.
  • Taxes: Our taxes are lowered because of donating.
  • Savings: We’re saving for a house, children, and retirement.
  • Housing: Our costs were unusually low because we’re renting from Jeff’s parents.  This will go up soon when we buy a house.
  • Food, clothes, transit, etc.: We spend about $200 a month on groceries.  We pay $70 each for a monthly public transit pass.  We each get about $40 a week in spending money, which covers clothes, cell phones, gifts, vacations, meals out, etc.
  • Medical: Jeff’s work pays for most of our health insurance, but we pay for some of the insurance and some out-of-pocket expenses.

These numbers are atypical, because Jeff earns more as a computer programmer than most people do.  (He’s an example of the earning to give model — if you want to be able to donate more, seek a higher-paying job.)  We also save on living expenses because we’re two people living together.

So let’s look at how I might budget if it were just me. This hypothetical budget is based on my earnings as a social worker from the past year, including four months when I was unemployed.  My total income was around $38,000 (close to median personal income in the US).

This assumes:

  • Saving 15% of income, which is pretty standard financial advice
  • $800/month rent and $100/month utilities, which is doable in the Boston area in a small apartment or an apartment shared with friends
  • $150/month on groceries, $80/month for public transit and $45/week on other personal spending, which are all more than I currently spend
  • My employer might pay 60% of my health insurance, so I would pay $250/month for insurance and out-of-pocket medical spending
  • Leaving $8,500, or 22%, for donations.  Not bad!

So even on a modest salary, it’s possible to give a significant amount.  You don’t even have to live in a cardboard box, I promise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *