How can you give to charity when you’re broke?

CashWhen I finally faced up to my debts a couple of years ago, I went through my bank statements and systematically questioned every single area of my spending. I knew that not only did I need to start living within my means, I also had to free up a huge wedge of my pay packet to pay down my debts.

But there were some things I just didn’t want to cut back on. One of these was a monthly donation to a charity. Easy as it might have been to cancel that one – it’s not like I was getting any personal benefit from it – the guilt factor was just too much.

My budget still needed help though, so I took a deep breath and sought a second opinion. A debt-themed forum on the MoneySavingExpert site offers a frankly terrifying service where fellow forum members dissect every aspect of your spending habits. And, as you might expect from a pack of frugalistas, they can dish up a fairly harsh wake-up call.

I posted my incomings and outgoings and waited. Then the comments came rushing in. People seemed horrified at three main areas of my spending – entertainment (eating out, movies etc), gift-buying and charity donations. ‘Charity begins at home’, someone pointed out. I was £15k in debt, after all.

So, just as I cut back on the cinema trips and restaurant visits, I also went ahead and cancelled my charity subscription. And I’m now ok with that. Once I’m on a firmer financial footing, I’ll be able to afford to give again, and probably give more.

Of course, I’m not boycotting charities. I still donate to various causes fairly frequently, I just decided I could no longer commit to a regular payment.

If you are in a spiral of debt, it’s ok to stop giving money to charity. But just because you don’t have money to donate, it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to a good cause. Here are three ways to do just that.

Give your stuff

One of my favourite pieces of mail to receive is one from a charity which tells me how much it has made from selling my old stuff at its local charity shop. It’s usually a fair bit more than I would ever have made from selling it myself, and it shows there are now happy new owners for my unwanted crap.

Give your energy

Organise a charity event. Alternatively, do something silly, something impressive or something brave, and get sponsored for it. Knowing you’re raising money for a good cause can be the motivation you need when you’re training for a big run or bike ride. One note of advice: make sure people’s sponsorship money is ALL going to charity. In my book, it’s not fair to expect others to fund your trek up a far-flung mountain or jump out of a plane.

Give your time

There are loads of volunteering opportunities out there, whether it’s on a one-off or a regular basis. This is something I’d really like to get into. I’m going to do some research and see what might work for me.

2 thoughts on “How can you give to charity when you’re broke?

  1. Leesa says:

    Many years ago I was part of NOW – we were discussing staffing chapters, raising money, etc. One of the members of the discussion made a very good point – there are two kinds of volunteers – those who donate through money (which is needed) and those who donate through time (also needed!). She said to remember that usually folks are one or the other type of volunteer and not to judge as both types of volunteers are necessary to a good organization.

  2. Rose says:

    I appreciate the view from where you stand right now. I did not give for years because I felt I did not have “enough”. I am currently enamoured with Dave Ramsey’s plan for debt free living… and I genuinely believe in the importance of giving (I give 10% to a charity of my choice). If your hands are gripping all that you have too tightly, you will not be able to receive that which comes your way. That said, it’s also important to make sure that you are caring for yourself/family/home before giving outrageously. I should mention that I currently owe a little over $40,000 on student loans, and $50,000 to my parents all for my graduate work. But I am making good traction despite giving 10%. Getting aggressive with debt and whittling down lifestyle have been amazingly rewarding for me! I wish you success in your own journey, and am enjoying reading your story!

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