After working for 10 consecutive years post college, I no longer wanted to be rich. Instead, I wanted to be free and went John Galt in an attempt to unplug from the Matrix. It took three more years of planning but I finally managed to escape, or so I hope.
There’s just one nagging feeling of guilt that is weighing me down ever since I finished my 2012 taxes. The guilt is that I will no longer be able to comfortably afford to donate as much to charitable causes. What do I say to an organization who has come to expect a $2,000 check every winter now that I can no longer afford to do so? Sorry?
Am I supposed to simply block out all the stories of hope such donations provides to foster children? I don’t know. I always think back to 1989 when I went on vacation with my parents to the west shores of Malaysia. We visited a temple famous for its ancient relics. I was warned not to give anything to the begging mothers and children who eyed us as we stepped through the gates. I couldn’t help myself so I gave one child one ringgit. As soon as I did, I was mobbed and had to be rescued. At age 12 I wanted to become rich so I could give everyone enough ringgits so nobody would ever have to fight over money again.
Ever since the financial crisis began at the end of 2008, the world has gleefully bashed the rich for our many financial problems. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch a TV clip without witnessing blame being assigned to a “greedy 1%er” for someone else’s decision to buy a home, a car, or an expensive education they could not afford.
When things are going swell, it’s OK for rich people to make money so long as we are also making money. When things turn south, it becomes intolerable for the rich to stay rich while we lose our shirts. It’s ironic because during the depths of financial chaos, I was $8.5 billion dollars closer to Warren Buffett’s net worth given that’s how much he lost. Long live the middle class!
Over the past four years I hope many of you have come to the conclusion that most rich people are not evil. Most start off middle class and work very hard to get to where they are. Sure, some are extremely lucky, however, many created their own luck through risk taking. The top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all federal income taxes. Some are so rich that on top of all the taxes they pay, they even start independent foundations or grants in higher education to help everyday people get ahead.
Many of us have been taught since an early age to try our very best at everything we do. Succeed or fail, so long as we try our best that’s all that matters. But what about those who don’t give a damn? It’s understandably much easier to slack off in the short run. Who wants to study five hours after school every day? Nobody. Who wants to cut algebra class and eat ice cream with a crush instead? Everybody.
When we don’t try our very best, we are only thinking about short term pleasures. Little do we realize that by the time we grow up to be magnanimous adults, it’s sometimes too late because we’re stuck in suboptimal financial situations. If we try our very best, at least we know that our current situation is also the best we could do, no matter how unlucky we are. If we so happen to get lucky, then we can pass on our luck to many more people.
I caught up with a good friend who works at a foundation to keep Oakland kids off the streets and in the classroom the other day. We first met three years ago after I attended a fundraiser and donated $500 to their cause. Since then, she’s kept in touch by sending me e-mails about their kids’ progress. Many finish high school and attend trade school or college afterward. There is the occasional sad story of a student being shot or sent to jail for drugs, but these incidences are few and far between.
Over lunch Sarah mentioned an anonymous donor gave $100,000 the other week to her surprise. The gift was $50,000 larger than the previous largest donation. Such a gift really got me thinking, perhaps the greatest way to help the poor is to become rich?
If you are rich, nobody needs to financially help you anymore, thereby lessening the resource demands of the government or others who want to help. If you are rich, you can also donate a tremendous amount of money to people in need as one donor did with a $100,000 check. But if you are poor, it’s very hard to donate any money to help others given you’re just trying to make ends meet. Even time might be at a premium because so much is riding on spending more time making money.
Education is really important to me, which is the main reason why I started the Yakezie Writing Contest. The YWC not only donates at least $1,000 to three deserved contestants for educational purposes, it also helps teach contestants to market themselves and experience the correlation between hard work and achievement. Although I can no longer donate as much money, I will focus on spending much more time making this contest a success.
I’m always amazed Bill Gates can donate billions of dollars to help fight disease and starvation around the world. I’m equally amazed Warren Buffet handed over most of his multi-billion dollar fortune to the Gates Foundation to help others long after he’s gone. Those guys have more than they can ever spend in their lifetimes, and they are doing the right thing. Of course all of us can’t give so much to charity. However, we can all do more to raise awareness about issues that we care about most.
Warren and Bill are just two examples of millions of wealthy people around the world who donate their time and money to help others. We just don’t know who they are because they may not be as wealthy or they don’t want to publicize their gifts. If you can’t donate your money to charitable causes, below are three of the best ways to positively affect lives that require practically nothing but time.
* Start a blog. You can now start a blog like this one for as little as $3.95/month with a WordPress optimized hosting company like Bluehost. They also give you a domain name for free. Starting a blog is a cheap and easy way to help others. A big motivation why I write so much is because I’m upset there are homeless veterans in America, sexist policies by the government, and a plethora of discriminatory acts in the workplace. So long as there are injustices, I will do my best to highlight them so at least people can think about the issues. Writing online is accessible to anybody with Internet access. You can even set up an account for free at the local library. If you have no money to donate, blogging is one of the best ways to affect positive change due to leverage. I probably spent over 2,000 hours writing online for zero income the first couple of years. Hopefully some of my articles have helped readers buttress their finances.
* Volunteer. Giving your time is one of the most noble things you can do. We all earn different amounts of money, but when we give our time, we are better able to connect with those we are helping. Through such connections, we can hopefully build lifelong relationships to help along the way. Til this day, I still keep in touch with a young friend I met 20 years ago when I lived overseas. Despite growing up with no parents and no money, he managed to graduate college and find a job at a semiconductor company in Singapore.
* Be a mentor. Wisdom needs to be shared. There will always be a new crop of people who could use some of our guidance for a better future. Mistakes are made because we often just don’t know any better. Some are proactive in seeking help. Meanwhile, there are many more who are in desperate need of tutelage. If everybody can take on one mentee, we can collectively make a huge difference across the globe.
* Go directly into public service. Society can’t have enough teachers, non profit workers, and service men and women. It’s a shame that teachers don’t get paid more given how vital they are to the well being of every single country. Perhaps being a public servant is not an inexpensive way to help others if the alternative is to make more money in another profession. However, once you capitalize the value of a pension, a public servant wage is not bad at all.
It’s sad how media and society vilifies rich people so much nowadays. If rich people can empathize with the poor by donating billions of dollars to charity and setting up foundations to fight disease and promote education, why can’t we just say thank you?
We are all in this together. It is delusional to think someone is completely self-made. Therefore, it’s our duty to help others in need if we so happen to accumulate far beyond the median. There will always people who will hate you for having more. Don’t let them get you down. The best way to react is through understanding and further kindness.
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Updated for 2021 and beyond.
Photo: Brugge, Belgium.