Weekend Edition: The Life You Can Save

As a Mustachian, you are bound to get richer over time, even as your cravings for expensive manufactured stuff gradually fade away. If you haven’t seen this happening yet, don’t worry – it is inevitable, and you’ll love it. But eventually, the end result is likely to be a surplus of savings, a certain amount of unnecessary income, and the continued desire to put it to work.

The thing is, “putting it to work”, just like “rich”, means different things to different people. So at the recommendation of some MMM readers, I just read an interesting book called “The Life you Can Save“.  Written by Peter Singer, an Australian-born philosopher and professor at Princeton University, this book has been creating a pretty big stir in the few years since its release.

I read it in search of perspective on how to give to charitable causes in an efficient way. As a newcomer to any serious form of giving, I figured it would be good to learn from people who have done it for all of their lives. But I got a bit more than I bargained for. Singer not only explains in detail what type of charitable giving allows your dollars to go furthest, but he lays out a powerful logical argument for why it is worthwhile doing in the first place.

To explain the basic premise of the book, let’s have an imaginary version of Peter Singer participate in an interview with an imaginary past version of myself (we’ll call him Mr. Non-Charitable Money Mustache), to see how he answers my questions.

NCMM: “I like the idea of helping people, but I’m kinda busy leading my own life. Why should I care about helping those I don’t know?”

Peter Singer: “Put it this way: if you were out on a hike, and you saw a small child falling into a pond, starting to drown.. would you wade in and save the child?”

NCMM: Well yeah, of course.

Peter Singer: Now what if you were on your way to work and the same thing happened. To save the child’s life, you’d have to ruin your nice work clothes and maybe even miss an hour of work while you get cleaned up. Would you save the child’s life then?”

NCMM: Yes again.. but that’s a real kid there that I can see. Of course I’d save her. But charitable work often involves people you’ll never meet. Maybe even in other countries.

Singer: Imagine you’re on a lifeboat, and the titanic has just sunk. People are swimming all around you. You can save five lives. There’s one person floating off in one direction, and there are five people stuck under an overturned lifeboat in the other direction, so you can’t see them. But you know they are alive and can be saved. Given only one choice, which direction would you row?

NCMM: OK, you got me there. But wait a minute. Does saving lives really help the world, given that we are way overpopulated already? Won’t a person “saved” now just die of starvation next year, or decrease the wellbeing of all the remaining living people so there is no net gain?

Singer: Actually, the effect is the opposite. Saving lives (decreasing childhood mortality) has a very powerful effect in reducing the birth rate in developing countries. Mothers become less afraid of losing children, so they have fewer of them. Also, as the education and productivity of societies rises, the birth rate drops. This has been scientifically documented and the effect is enormous – so powerful that most rich countries actually have shrinking populations based on birth rate alone –  immigration is the only thing that provides net growth.

NCMM: All right. But wouldn’t my contributions just be a drop in the bucket, in a hopeless sea of needy people?

Singer: No, but you’ve hit on a classic problem with human behavior: diffusion of responsibility. If a single person sees an injustice being committed, like a thief or a child drowning, he is very likely to step in and help. However, if a crowd witnesses the event, the help becomes much less likely, even though there are more people available to help. And if there is a real cost to helping out, the problem becomes more extreme: people don’t want to contribute their fair share, if they see the rest of the crowd not doing the same.

NCMM: Let’s assume I can get past all the barriers and I decide to get into charitable giving. Where will it go furthest? Would it be donating to help low-income families in my own community? Or for those who are part of a church, donating to their church? It seems that overall in the US, many people are involved in these things.

Singer: Unfortunately, while the US population is slightly more generous than the average rich country when measured in absolute donations, it is one of the least generous when measured in helping those who need it most – the people of the poorest countries. When you donate locally, you are still doing some good, no doubt about it. But when you help someone in, say, a really poor village in Rwanda, you are saving people from decades of debilitating diseases – things like missing limbs or a lifetime without being able to breathe properly. The needs are just staggeringly higher, and the cost of solving them is much lower. If you have a strong stomach, look up “fistula” and see what millions of women are living with for lack of a 20 minute surgery. I’ve estimated that an entire human life is saved for each $200 donated to the right organizations. And in fact, if the wealthiest one percent of the world were willing to give just 5 percent of their wealth to the cause of eliminating extreme poverty, it would be sufficient to pretty much wipe it out within one generation.

NCMM: But what about the “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever” paradox? Isn’t foreign aid ineffective?

Singer: Yes, it can definitely be ineffective. When we ship our surplus crops to poor countries, we allow temporary eating, but destroy the country’s local farming industry in the process. If we provide money to prop up lazy governments, a country may never develop the ability to produce for their own needs. So, effective aid is usually targeted in the “teaching how to fish” category. Vaccination against disease allows people to be more productive through their lifetimes. Drilling a central water pump for a village will save labor previously wasted on hauling unsafe water from miles-away rivers. Providing solar power systems can allow villages to benefit from electricity without waiting decades for a national power grid to be made. And microlending organizations allow people to start businesses without resorting to dangerous loansharks which are currently the only source of investment capital for some.

MMM: All right, this has been pretty convincing, and I definitely feel better about having most of my own charitable contributions go towards world poverty. I may still do some “luxury giving”, like helping out my own elementary schools, but that is sort of the icing on the cake that provides motivation for the real work. What organizations do you recommend as most effective for people who share this goal?

Singer: This scene has brightened in recent years, and you can now go to GiveWell.org and pick efficient charities from their list. They in turn evaluate and recommend groups like the Against Malaria Foundation, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Small Enterprise Foundation, and many others you can browse through. On top of this, Oxfam, Unicef, and The Hunger Project are effective organizations.

So where does this leave the typical person saving for early retirement?

The point of this article is definitely not to throw a monkey wrench into your plans for financial independence, or to create any sort of guilty feelings. Singer himself suggests that it’s a good thing that Warren Buffett did not choose to give away his first million dollars to charity, because it was the seed from which he has built over $50 billion dollars which will eventually go to eliminating poverty (via the Gates foundation). On top of that, there is a logical case for not giving too much of a rich country’s GDP away at once, because some of our luxuries (nutritious food, fast transportation, and fancy computers) are precisely which let us become so productive that we can generate sufficient wealth to help the rest of the world.

Taken to extremes, the Peter Singer ethical argument can lead to bizarre outcomes. For example, he suggests that people should not value the comfort of their own children more than the lives of the children of other people, which could lead to some very barebones parenting if taken literally. Luckily he reconciles the viewpoint at the end of the book by suggesting a simple scale: allocate only 1% of your first $105,000 of income to charity, 10% of your next 100,000, and so on.

If I were to add my own twist try to make sense to all of this, I would throw in some Richard Dawkins: we’re all really just collections of selfish genes, and it is in our nature to care more about people in our family than people outside of it, and people in our community more than people outside of it. The reason is that our genes are more likely represented in our family, and our chance of successful reproduction improves as we have a well-knit community. So don’t be ashamed of your human nature, or your natural desire to help yourself first.

BUT.. as people studying happiness in some depth, we have an advantage in that we have a greater understanding of what “helping ourselves” really means. For example, I have found that regardless of how selfish I choose to be in living my own life, my material desires simply don’t extend beyond about $2000 per month. That is why it was an easy decision to commit to donate a potentially unlimited amount of future income to charity in the future (with the very small $10k amount already allocated). It’s because I can do it without having to sacrifice anything at all! (And of course because giving is very rewarding for its own sake).

If we could get more of the world’s rich people to grow similarly bored with spending so much on themselves and their immediate families, the effects on society would be astounding.

So there’s the message I took from this very influential book. Whether you relate more closely to Peter Singer or Mr. Money Mustache, the message is the same: if you really evaluate the marginal benefit of spending money on yourself once your needs are met, and you learn about the other options for putting your money to use, you may be in for some beautiful results.

elsewhere on the web:
Peter Singer has been everywhere and talked to everyone about this. Even Stephen Colbert: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/221466/march-12-2009/peter-singer

 The life you can save – official website: http://www.thelifeyoucansave.com/


  • totoro September 29, 2012, 12:20 pm

    Thank you for providing this framework. I have been a little confused for some time about how much and when and to best effect to make donations.

    I used to run an international charity that delivered medicine to sick children in Russia directly. We would raise money, show up at a local clinic and ask for a list of those most in need and buy the medicine or pay for the operation and meet the people directly. It avoided any corruption and we charged no fees for our time and no overhead as we regularly travelled to Russia anyway. It was really effective on a small scale, but after returning to North America to a different job, I have been at a loss as to how to make effective donations and whether to wait for FI to do so and how much.

    I like your approach and am so happy with your plan to use funds from this website/blog to do this. It reaffirms my view that people are basically good, they just get out of touch with how to express it to help others because our society is confused about this.

    • Nurse Frugal October 2, 2012, 11:45 am

      Mr. MMM, I am SO HAPPY that you spoke about this! Giving is essential in building wealth! There is something that changes inside of you when you give your money away and realize that there are others that can better benefit than yourself.

      Giving 10% of our income has changed my heart, I’ve become less selfish and have had the opportunity to work with different organizations and go on mission trips that have changed my life. I will never forget seeing the people in Guatemala City that made their living by scavenging in the dump. It’s a real wakeup call that we have such an abundance! I never would have had an opportunity to go on this trip had I not heard of this organization through charitable giving. They are “Kids around the World” and they go around the world building playgrounds for areas in need.

      My pastor made a good analogy: which makes you feel better: opening up a present or seeing someone else open a present you gave them? Probably the latter because it FEELS GOOD TO GIVE!!!!

      Other organizations to check out for anyone who is interested in charitable giving:

      Kids Around the World
      Young Life
      Nuru International
      Heifer International
      Love 146
      Homeboys Industries

      Great post!!!

      • Mac July 9, 2016, 1:02 pm

        An organization that does non-profit work with profound large scale impact in developing countries is Population Media Center.

        They make soap operas for TV and radio in developing countries focusing on a social theme, like HIV/AIDS, women’s right, family planning etc. They have literally helped millions of people thoughout this media approach. According to a Yale professor (http://oyc.yale.edu/molecular-cellular-and-developmental-biology/mcdb-150) the non-profit organization with the most impact on human population and with it our environment.

  • Shilpan September 29, 2012, 12:37 pm

    This reminds me of Andrew Carnegie and his thoughts on giving away wealth.

    “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” — Andrew Carnegie.

    Community, of course, is this beautiful world we live in.

    Thanks for the solemn reminder that our purpose in life is not to acquire monetary wealth; it is rather to acquire boundless happiness by giving and making a difference.

  • Lorraine September 29, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Another great post about a subject that has been on my mind lately. I am also at the stage where I have all of my needs and wants met each month. We still have our mortgage to finish paying off but I am thinking more and more about how we can help others. We do give to some local charities on a sporadic basis and they do great work for underprivileged kids in our area, however I want to help those in other countries who are really deprived of basic life necessities but worry about aid being misused etc and not reaching those people it’s intended for. I will be checking out this book and the web links to become more informed and start giving. I like the advice of the incremental stages of giving according to wealth. I think a lot of folks perhaps feel that they cannot give enough and end up being overwhelmed. It’s good to have it broken down like this and some advice and where to look to the right organisation to handle your donations. Here’s to making this world a better place!

  • The Stoic September 29, 2012, 2:00 pm

    I’ve always had respect for you MMM, but anyone who brings attention to Singer’s work deserves an extra slap on the back. His book, “How Are We To Live: Ethics in an age of self-interest” should be read by anyone questioning the need to help others if one is able. It is an excellent work and my copy is well worn.

    Have a great weekend!

  • Petra September 29, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Very cool… And humbling. Nice to get another perspective on this difficult question.

  • Rob September 29, 2012, 2:15 pm

    I was with you up until the point of the Selfish Gene argument. One of the main points of SG is that, left to its own devices, the world would be dog-eat-dog (with some exceptions). I don’t see being ‘natural’ as a convincing argument. Many natural things – murder, rape – are bad, and some artificial things are good – medicine, scientific knowledge. We should be more objective, aiming for actions that deliver the greatest positive effect.

    Of course parents should look after their own children first, but I fear the argument is often taken to extremes, making parents shower their kids with unnecessary material goods rather than bringing them up frugally for fear of depriving them, being judged etc.

    For those currently without kids, a sensible choice for those in rich countries might be to stay child-free. We need to accept that there’s nothing particularly special about our genes versus anyone else’s. Indeed, evidence shows those without children are happier than parents on average [1].

    I realize many will see it as extreme (a bit like Mustachianism, then), but arguing that our own kids are ‘better’ or more deserving than those of others sounds like the same hypocrisy as complainypants. It’s generally an unwarranted sense of self importance combined with the diffusion of responsibility mentioned in the article – those starving kids abroad are somebody else’s problem. I don’t think Singer’s approach suggests barebone parenting – just that all kids are equal and all of us should take responsibility to help every one have a fighting chance.

    [1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/complete-without-kids/201103/fact-or-fiction-childfree-couples-are-happier-couples-kids

    • Josh September 29, 2012, 7:55 pm

      The Selfish Gene perspective doesn’t say the world would be different than it is. It tries to observe the world as it is and to understand and explain why based on natural causes. It also doesn’t say what is good or bad or what people should or shouldn’t do.

      I understand the Selfish Gene perspective as MMM seems to characterize it: it explains why we have the emotions and motivations we do. Saying an emotion arises from natural causes doesn’t make it good or bad.

      The Selfish Gene perspective wouldn’t suggest we’d end up in a dog-eat-dog world. It suggests how “selfishness” of genes leads to altruism in individuals, for example, which was difficult to explain otherwise.

      I don’t think MMM is suggesting anyone’s kids are *better* than anyone else’s in an absolute sense, just that we personally value our own kids more.

  • Tony O. September 29, 2012, 2:48 pm

    Great perspective and framework to live by, especially the points about why it’s just as important (or possibly even more so) to help those outside of our communities rather than the ones closest to ours. I had previously always thought that I should help people closer to “home” rather than elsewhere; this article gives me pause. Makes sense in terms of ROI – the same amount of money can most likely go much farther in a 3rd world country than in a 1st world country.

    Did Singer talk at all about giving to communities via non-monetary means? I think that would be another category of giving that fits into this overall framework, especially for those who don’t have as much money to give.

    • WalrusBuilder May 18, 2017, 5:44 am

      “Did Singer talk at all about giving to communities via non-monetary means? I think that would be another category of giving that fits into this overall framework, especially for those who don’t have as much money to give.”

      As someone in the first world (assuming you are since you are here), you’d probably be better off working a minimum wage part-time job and giving that money to effective charities in the 3rd world (unless you have another way of “saving a life” for every 28 hours of work doing work that wouldn’t be done by other volunteers if you weren’t doing it). Or running effective fundraising campaigns (things like being a well-known and respected blogger like MMM and writing an article like this one, not “baked goods” sales) that lead others to donate money to more effective charities. Although going to Africa to help deliver anti-malarial bednets may be an effective way to provide non-monatary support and may make for an interesting trip.

      Haven’t read the book, so obviously not saying Peter Singer said that.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies September 29, 2012, 2:48 pm

    Dan Ariely provides some more insight into the “distance” aspect of charitable giving in his book Upside to Irrationality. He’s actually done social experiments where he measured the difference in giving based on how an issue was framed and presented to people. People give more based on anecdotes than with statistics. Might sound counter-intuitive to a true Mustachian, but he’s got the results, so I trust that it’s true across large swaths of society.

  • Jerred September 29, 2012, 3:05 pm

    Great article.
    I’d like to add another way that you can help the exact same causes for no extra money (but I think that donating is still a priority). I highly recommend that people interested in helping with many of these causes (fighting Malaria, Schistosomiasis, cancer, etc. and also searching for ways to cheaply get clean water) install IBM’s BOINC application from the World Community Grid (www.worldcommunitygrid.org) on their computer. Once installed, it will run in the background (e.g., while you read MMM) and with all of its excess processing power it will try to solve many of these same problems through research. The software is free and you won’t even be inconvenienced while you surf the web or anything else. It’s a really amazing way to give to a good cause. In fact, MMM can start his own bad-ass team and his readers could join it, so that all of the computational hours spent solving these problems can be kept track of.

    • LennStar September 30, 2013, 1:47 am

      I also recommend BOINC (but you should use the original site http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ ) for everyone.
      You don’t need to run it 27/7 as some people do, just have it start and do its work whenever you are on your computer.

      That said BOINC does increase your power usage (of course), but less per result then e.g. a dedicated supercomputer.

      You can also use your graphic card on some projects, but that can really slow down the usage feeling (standard is such projects start only of you haven’t moved your mouse for a bit of time meaning you are absent).

      I run BOINC on all computers I have since a decade and on my laptop as I type now.
      That said: be careful with laptops. They are mostly not designed for 100% heat for long time. It can get hot under your fingers or on the table. You propably want to reduce the tasks to only 1 core or to only use 50% CPU time (you can do this easily in the BOINC software).

      If you have time to “waste”, want to get a Nobel Prize in medizine or just like puzzles you can also try http://fold.it/ – crowdsourcing humans to solve the structure proteins. Addictie game for some and the players already solved a few medical problems like a protein that is important for AIDS and was a mystery for 15 years (players took 3 weeks).

  • Tanner September 29, 2012, 3:34 pm

    Awesome article! I’m all about giving, financially and/or otherwise…I believe it is an essential step of living a badasss life. If you can realize there is more to life than “me” it empowers you to live below your means and for an even greater cause than getting rich which is just a by product of giving.

    Hope you help influence people to see the benefits of giving to those less fortunate than them especially the truly needy in other countries. God bless

  • Allison September 29, 2012, 3:56 pm

    I absolutely love the direction this blog is taking! While I agree that helping the most impoverished in other countries with monetary donations is incredibly important, the gift of time shouldn’t be ignored. Local organizations like schools, hospitals, and non profits can benefit as much from skilled and caring volunteers as from cash infusions.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty September 29, 2012, 4:41 pm

    This article is awesome and made me think of charitable giving in a way that I had not before. Thank you!

  • Executioner September 29, 2012, 7:47 pm

    Although I approve of the overall message of this entry, I found it much too humanity-centric. I believe some of the most important and necessary work in the charitable arena includes conservation and preservation of the natural world. There are far too few advocates for the other life forms with which we share this planet. Both the creatures themselves and the realms they inhabit are in dire need of responsible stewardship. Throughout recorded history, people have time and again demonstrated a willingness to adopt and persist in destructive behaviors which benefit humanity, to the detriment of our non-human neighbors. My future charitable efforts and resources will almost exclusively be earmarked for organizations whose mission statements focus on limiting and reversing human damage to the planet and its non-human inhabitants.

    • Jamesqf September 29, 2012, 10:22 pm

      I would go even further: those destructive behaviors usually don’t benefit humanity as a whole, and quite often cause long-term harm to those who make short-term profits from engaging them. We don’t even need to limit this to the natural world: every corporate manager who tries to jack up this quarter’s results at the expense of long-term profitability is a poster child for this attitude. It’s the reason those golden egg-laying geese became extinct so long ago.

  • JaneMD September 29, 2012, 9:21 pm

    I advocate strongly giving to charity (we contribute between $200-900 a month), but I think people also tend to support causes that align with their personal ethical beliefs. For example, DDT is the most effective method of destroying mosquitos and is used extensively in the campaign to eradicate malaria – an environmentalist probably won’t be pleased. While Peter Singer’s website is a good start, the statistical information some people would use to evaluate their decisions based on their own beliefs is not available.

    I would also warn people to be selective about how they share their personal information with causes. Even organizations doing alot of good share their mailings lists. . . I think St. Jude’s just sent me a fourth letter this month.

    • Jamesqf September 30, 2012, 12:03 pm

      DDT is actually not at all effective in destroying mosquitos. It was used intensively in this country (and otheres) for some years, yet there are still just as many mosquitos as there ever were.

      This is just another instance of human short-sightedness. Spraying DDT or other chemicals gives the illusion of doing something, but the problem is that one has to keep on doing the spraying forever, regardless of whatever side effects may occur. (And of course this transfers money into the pockets of chemical companies and the folks doing the spraying, but of course that’s not why they support it.)

      Meanwhile, programs that have taken longer views have completely eradicated smallpox, nearly done so with polio, and are making progress against a number of other diseases. The up-front cost may have been greater (or it may not have), but once its successful, the ongoing cost is zero.

      • JaneMD September 30, 2012, 2:53 pm

        The vaccine programs you are referring to took hundreds of millions of dollars and are still ongoing and worked because humans are the main targets. Even smallpox, as a potential bioterrorism vector, is still very expensive. Considering that the vaccination rate in the US keeps falling, any day now we are going to see the reemergence of Hib with epiglottitis and measles.
        Malaria, however, is continued in the lifecycle of mosquitos and DDT worked well in the US – malaria is almost exclusively a third-world disease now. I wasn’t discussing the pros versus cons of DDT, just that an environmentalist would be less than thrilled. You may enjoy this article.


        • nubbs180 September 30, 2012, 7:29 pm

          Just to add a little something to this discussion, I’d recommend the book “Scientists Greater than Einstein.” It talks about the 10 scientists and the specific contributions of those 10 individuals that has lead to the documentable saving of the most human life.

          The invention of DDT and the prevention of malaria is one of those 10 life-saving discoveries, as is the eradication of smallpox. Others are the refining of penicillium (the mold) into penicillin (the antibiotic), the discovery of insulin, the development of rust-resistant food staples (wheat, rice), the discovery of blood types, and more.

          MMM, this is a very numbers-based perspective on scientific contribution. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it, should you ever read the book!

        • Jamesqf September 30, 2012, 10:39 pm

          It’s hard to see how DDT could be credited with eliminating malaria in the few parts of the US where it historically occurred, since it has been banned for 40 years. Indeed, if you read a bit on the history, you’ll discover that those running eradication efforts were becoming less than thrilled with the results from DDT spraying, as resistant varieties of mosquito were evolving.

          It’s a case study in human shortsightedness: try to fix a problem by using a tool that will create even worse problems a few years down the road.

          As for declining vaccination rates in the US, I can only think of that as an example of evolution in action.

  • Mrs EconoWiser September 30, 2012, 2:40 am

    Thanks, I am going to try and grab that book from the library. Unfortunately, Dutch libraries usually don’t have that many books in English.

    This weekend I’ve been collecting food for the local food bank. That does give me the feeling that I am directly helping someone.

    I like the idea of how far you can stretch a dollar (in my case euro) when it comes to helping other people.

    P.s. My husband and myself discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago. We’re addicted to your blog now. Thank you very much for your inspiration.

    • Lina September 30, 2012, 9:24 am

      Maybe they have translated the book to dutch? I am normally searching the library database in both my language and english.

      At least in my library you can make suggestions of which books you want the library to buy. The library has bought about 80 % of my suggestions.

    • Hanne van Essen October 1, 2012, 2:13 am

      The Dutch translation is: Het kan wel: Armoede hoeft niet. See: http://bibliotheekutrecht.aquacatutrecht.nl/?branche=9990&x=15&y=8&q=the+life+you+can+save

      And I agree with your complaint about Dutch libraries not having very many english books. Every time they don’t have a book I am looking for I submit it as a suggestion through the website, so maybe it will change sometime in the future…

  • Rich September 30, 2012, 5:10 am

    That’s a great book! Thanks for sharing its basic ideas here, MMM! Even though I have some basic philosophical differences with Singer (since I’m a committed Christian, and he’s… otherwise committed), I’ve loved his argument in this book ever since encountering it a couple years ago.

    Since discovering your blog, I’ve hoped you would “take the next step” into generous giving. Once we discover that our happiness isn’t found in the accumulation of more stuff, and reorganize our financial lives accordingly, it makes sense to use our surplus to help others… especially once we realize that by doing so we can literally save lives!

    So again… thank you! This blog gets more exciting every week!

  • Lukas Halim September 30, 2012, 5:49 am

    Hi MMM – longtime reader, first time commenter. You wrote, “we’re all really just collections of selfish genes.” This materialist perspective is hard to square with the fact that we are conscious beings. David Chalmers has explained this in the technical philosophical terms, and he’s also done a good non-technical introduction in Scientific American. I’d recommend taking a look at it – here is the link: http://consc.net/papers/puzzle.pdf

  • RW September 30, 2012, 6:03 am

    Nice post, Always great to give to the right cause. I would suggest to check into the charity to see how much of your donation actually goes to those in need. Most large charities have also large overhead expenses. Just like a Mustachian likes to see his or her money work hard for them. I would want to know the a charitable gift does the same. You might be surprised to see what percentage of your dollar actually is spent on those that need it. Thanks for the awesome post!

  • Elizabeth September 30, 2012, 7:02 am

    Really enjoyed this post, thank you! I’d like to pick up this book now. It’s so hard to know how to make one’s donation dollars go the farthest. I like the perspective in this book.

  • Debt Free Teen September 30, 2012, 8:36 am

    Our family does something called Just Pack One. We pack a backpack with a few toiletries and mostly food.

    We keep the backpack in our car and we hand them out to homeless or poor people that we see asking for money on the street. We also include a map and directions to the local food bank.

    We can’t help them all but we are trying to get them to the places that can help them and get them connected.

    • Joy September 30, 2012, 11:15 am

      Debt Free Teen,

      That is a great idea! I will be discussing this idea with my
      husband. :)


      Thanks for this post. :) I hope it changes the lives of all who read it. :)

  • et September 30, 2012, 8:36 am

    For many years I’ve picked three or four “causes” that I strongly support and found an organization or two with a good record in each. Then I set up monthly donations which makes their planning and budgeting easier. I also aim for a mix of international and local organization.

    My causes: environment, human rights, health care, small scale farming.

  • Yabusame September 30, 2012, 9:51 am

    Does anyone know of a GiveWell-type website for UK-based charities? I give a bunch of cash each christmas and it would be handy to do the homework on one website, rather than having to contact them all individually.

  • Sylvia September 30, 2012, 10:00 am

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Thanks for the article, MMM. I have a longstanding interest in third world development efforts, but I think books like “The Life You Can Save” need to be seriously tempered with a dose of reality on what donating money can actually accomplish in the countries that are the worst off.

    For an alternate viewpoint, read this book – The White Man’s Burden. For an executive summary, here’s the subtitle – “Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good”

  • jennypenny September 30, 2012, 10:37 am

    Once you begin regular charitable giving, I would suggest holding back 10% of what you planned on giving every year. There are always charitable “emergencies” that come up. Sometimes it’s an event like the earthquake in Haiti, and sometimes it’s something more personal like a friend getting cancer or a natural disaster near where you live. Holding back some money is a way of budgeting for those unexpected, one-time contributions you want to make. You can still give the bulk of your money to established charities that you’ve researched, but you’ll have a little aside for when something unexpected pulls at your heartstrings.

  • Per J. September 30, 2012, 11:12 am


    I joined Kiva some years ago and I really like the way they work. Basically you can say that you lend a small amount to an entrepreneur somewhere in the world (you choose which one) and you get paid back in steps. You lend without any interest and you might not get back the whole sum of money you lended. But according to Kiva, the repayment rate is close to 99% and after 73 loans that I have made, I think there are only one or two that has not been paid back to the full extent.

    The money you lend is used to some kind of local business. It can be somebody who needs to purchase fertilizer and prepare the land for the season so he/she can sell the things he/she grows or money for a small business start-up.

    Check it out on http://www.kiva.org and feel free to join my lending team, Backebo Runners Lending.

    • Hanne van Essen October 1, 2012, 2:07 am

      I lend out money through Kiva as well. It is great that you can help so many people over and over by lendng them a small amount of money.

  • anotherengineer September 30, 2012, 12:05 pm

    I too am pleased with MMM’s new focus on charitable giving. I have been a long time reader, drawn primarily to the frugality, optimization, and reduced consumption aspects of the blog. My wife and I value giving enabled by frugality much more than FI, and our finances reflect that, as we give about 10% of our income, making giving our third largest “expense” category.

    After Singer’s powerful description of our responsibility to the needy in the world, his call to give only 1% was shocking to me. I suspect he intended it to be a jumping off point for those already spending ~100% of their income. I would suggest that those Mustachians saving 40-60% of their income consider giving more and not delaying the joy and satisfaction from making a difference now. It might even be worth delaying retirement for.

    • Joy September 30, 2012, 5:55 pm


      We give more than 10%.

      It feels good to give.

      My husband and, I practice Christianity. 10% and, offerings go
      to our Church. Yet, we give to other Charities too.

      Our Charitable giving is our largest monthly payment. We are debt
      free including the mortgage. We are working toward FI. Yet, we
      can’t “stache” all the funds and, forget that others are going without

      I am thankful that I am blessed to be able to give to others.

  • Jason September 30, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Peter Singer makes some remarkably good sounding arguments built around some remarkably bad philosophy.
    To be clear: There’s a lot of good reasons to be productive (conventionally and otherwise) and also to live a frugal lifestyle. I think we all agree here that there are far more important things to value in life than endless and mindless consumerism. We also know that it is likely that a person who is both productive and frugal over his/her lifetime, i.e. the target audience of this blog, will acquire significantly more wealth than he/she values spending on personal consumption. Hence the dilemma of what to do with the extra money, that sooner or later most of us face.
    Singer’s answer: Put the money where it will do the most good for other human beings, regardless of one’s personal connection to them or lack thereof. Now, facially this sounds like a good answer. But we can see its fundamental flaws surfacing in those who have responded that even Singer’s prescription is too “selfish”, in this case too “human-centric” and that what we really ought to be doing with our money is helping out animals and plants and the environment. In both cases, the emphasis is on using the money to help some entities which exist and are presumed to have intrinsic value outside of one’s own values. This stands in contrast to the idea of putting one’s wealth toward the realization of things that you, personally, value more than personal consumption. Singer’s course is a dead end, as the concept of “intrinsic value” cannot answer whether a million acres of rainforest has more or less value than a child. To value requires a valuer – and that’s got to be you!

    What ought to matter in what you do with every single dollar you have, begins and ends with what *you* personally value. As I said, this is not a call for unbridled consumerism, which is not virtuous, rather it is a statement that making your own values paramount is the only truly moral course of action. If you value the rainforest more than you value children in Rwanda, perhaps because you prefer to live in a world where more species exist rather than less, then spending your extra money on environmental causes is the most moral thing for you to do. On the other hand if you value the child in Rwanda because you think it’s very possible that someday someone in Africa is going to find the cure for cancer or invent the next internet – and you want those things to exist – then the most moral thing to do is to save the children in Rwanda. And it you value living in a community of people who have both the education and infrastructure to produce way more than they need to consume, then maybe local education and development efforts are where you should put your extra money. No matter what, the decision should not be about what the trees feel, or what the people in your town or the children in Rwanda want or need – it’s about what you, personally, value.

    The reason why saving the drowning child on the way to work is paramount whereas saving the child in Rwanda typically is not, is not that the American child feels any more or less pain or is any more a human being than one in Africa. The reason is because you value not being in the immediate presence of drowning children. And you value that much more than you value not living in a world where people can starve thousands of miles away from any place you’ve ever been or are likely to go. Whether that’s a useful set of values or not is a valid discussion to have. However, it is criminally bad philosophy to dismiss it out of hand, and to suggest that what really ought to matter isn’t one’s personal values at all, but the values of others.

    Finally, whenever someone like Singer presents everyday decisions in the context of extreme “lifeboat” type scenarios, it should be a red flag that bad philosophy is at its core. Human beings, even the desperately poor in Africa, do not spend most of their lives in lifeboats. The morality of everyday life is not the morality of extreme emergency situations, and anyone who says or implies that it is, is likely using the technique to mask fundamental flaws in their moral framework.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2012, 8:47 pm

      Interesting point Jason, and similar to that of the Executioner before you.

      It should be noted that Peter Singer is also a big animal ethicist and, I believe, very environmentally motivated as well. I’m just saving that angle for future posts.

      For now, the reason I’m suggesting saving the poorest humans is partly that it provides a happy way to stop population growth, and counterintuitively, to reduce environmental destruction (because people only start to care about their own natural resources once they are out of desperate poverty).

      There will be plenty of time for us to talk about climate change and rainforesty biodiversity too, and there is some similarly powerful and relatively effortless stuff we can do as rich-world residents to help out in that department. But let’s take it one step at a time rather than writing long complaints about the life’s work of an excellent dude like Singer.

      • Jamesqf September 30, 2012, 11:00 pm

        “…people only start to care about their own natural resources once they are out of desperate poverty.”

        I believe I have to call BS on that, in a couple of ways. I’m not sure exactly how you define desperate poverty (or what portion of the world lives in that as opposed to merely being poor), but:

        1) A lot of fairly poor people do care about their natural environment, because that’s where and how they live and make a living.

        2) We only have to look at the US, or even the upper middle class fraction of the US, to realize that a substantial majority of the prosperous don’t give a damn about the natural environment, and in fact use their wealth to isolate themselves from it as much as they can.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 1, 2012, 5:25 am

          It’s hard to believe for me too, Jamesqf, but I’m quoting that concept from some pretty hardcore environmental authors like David Suzuki rather than just pulling it out of my own Mustache. Here’s a bit more of the idea:

          In rich countries like the EU and Canada (and even the US although we’ve got the Republicans who often campaign against it), we have things like the EPA and environmental protections that ratchet up and get stricter over time. Gasoline taxes are instituted, federal lands are protected and not sold off to the highest bidder, surviving across multiple generations, and the government actually tests the air, water, and soil and sets up pollution regulations. This shit actually costs us money in the short-term by lowering the next quarter’s profit, but society is rich enough to see the larger picture and vote to preserve their own land.

          In poor countries, people will slash and burn the rainforest to make farmland, or set up a huge uncontrolled tilapia farm just upstream from a city of 5 million people, or chop down mangroves to farm palm oil on the coasts, and there’s nobody there to care, no local government or collective will of the people to keep the environment intact. They are doing it to serve US, the rich world, because they want our money through trade. Sure, many of the citizens don’t agree and see the damage that is done, but the desperate need for dollars keeps most people silenced.

          We could definitely all do better, but apparently the biggest environmental problems are coming from the big, low-income tropical countries changing their ecosystems in an uncontrolled way. Making them strong enough to care about that is apparently one way to improve it, as well as voting with our dollars and not buying stuff that was made in unsustainable ways.

          • Jamesqf October 1, 2012, 12:20 pm

            I don’t think argument from authority works too well.

            If we look at the United States, most of the national parks & forests were set aside around the beginning of the 20th century, when the US was far less wealthy than now. Sure, protections have increased over the years, but that’s largely because increased understanding of the causes of problems.

            To say that there is nobody to care in the third world seems to be a gross overstatement. It’s rather that the people who do care often don’t have the power to do anything about it. That’s nearly as true in the first world, though: I certainly haven’t managed to do anything much about e.g. strip mines, coal-fired power plants, urban growth, or much else.

      • Jason October 1, 2012, 12:50 pm

        Karl Marx was also “an excellent dude”. I’m not accusing Singer of being a communist, just making a point about philosophy.
        Bad philosophy will eventually lead to bad outcomes, even when its proponents sound like they’re promoting really good things. That’s why philosophy is important.
        My point wasn’t about climate change or biodiversity or animal rights or anything else being a better recipient for extra money than Rwandan children. I think Rwandan children are a really good cause – just for reasons that are fundamentally different from Singer’s.
        Singer is promoting a philosophy based on intrinsic valuation: the Rwandan child is as intrinsically valuable as the American child, and you’d try your best to save the American child, so you should try your best to save the Rwandan child too.
        That argument is *wrong*, because that philosophy is *wrong*, and it leads to some very bad places as soon as you try to incorporate anything other than homogeneous human beings into your ethical consideration. Intrinsic values do not and can not exist. Anyone who tries to tell you that intrinsic values exist is really trying to get you to substitute their values for your own.

        • Sarah December 11, 2012, 12:15 pm

          It brings up an interesting dilemma that really bugged me about the lifeboat scenario: It doesn’t specify if the people have any value to you other than being people. If the single person floating away was your spouse/child/parent and the 5 people you can’t see are strangers, would it change your answer on who you will save? I know it would change mine.

    • mikeBOS September 30, 2012, 9:52 pm

      I don’t understand why he thinks that, because you might have a gut instinct to save a child at a particular moment, then that instinct must inherently be good and worth expanding on in non-emergency moments. Many gut instincts are, when you stop to analyze them, actually bad and more worthy of being suppressed than cultivated. What makes this one different?

      Just because saving someone is your instinct, where’s Singer’s argument for why that instinct should be cultivated rather than ignored or even suppressed?

    • James October 1, 2012, 1:44 pm

      Jason, your strange version of personal-moral relativisim is ‘criminally bad philosophy’ if anything is.

      If “making your own values paramount is the only truly moral course of action” then what about people who really value a world without black people, or Jews, or etc. Does this make the KKK and the Nazis the most moral people ever (yes, Godwin’s Law and all of that). If you want to give a slightly plausible defense of moral relativism, at least start at the cultural level. And once you make that shift, try providing a plausible defense of cultures that support genital mutilation and the like. Good luck.

      • Jason October 1, 2012, 4:23 pm

        I am definitely not advocating cultural relativism. There are objectively good values and objectively bad values, and all of the examples you gave were of objectively bad values. They are bad values precisely because they rest on intrincisism like Singer’s – just of the inegalitarian variety rather than Singer’s egalitarian variety.

        What I am saying is that to value anything (good or bad) requires a valuer. There are no intrinsic values – only the values that each of us choose, hopefully based on a personal, critical and logical analysis. If you have more money than you value spending on personal consumption, then you cannot assume as Singer does that some intrinsic values will determine for you where it is most moral to allocate the excess. You must determine where to allocate the excess based on its impacts and their expected value *to you*, based on the best knowledge available *to you*.

        To do otherwise is to fool yourself into thinking you are being objective, when what you are actually doing is adopting some authority’s values (in this case Singer’s) in place of your own. That’s extraordinarily dangerous as history amply demonstrates.

        The right way to read people like Singer is to analyze what reasons he and others can offer for you to value what he’s advocating that you spend money on, and compare them to your reasons for valuing other things. To the extent that the reasons are persuasive *to you*, then by all means help the same causes Singer helps. That’s what I mean by it being the most moral course to follow your own values. Just don’t short circuit your own critical thinking process by accepting bogus examples that rest on the idea that there are intrinsic values which require you to spend it a particular way.

        • James October 2, 2012, 7:21 am

          Before I address any of your other points, please explain how subjective values can be objectively good or bad. The Nazis want to live in a world without Jews, you want to live in a world without drowning children in your immediate vicinity–what is the objective good or bad-making property of these values? How is yours non-intrinsic and theirs intrinsic?

          • Jason October 2, 2012, 12:54 pm

            Sure. The realization of good values makes your life better, whereas the realization of bad values makes your life worse.
            Wanting a world without Jews makes your own life worse. Jews (like any race or religion) discover useful knowledge, invent useful technology, etc. that make eveyone’s lives better. It can be objectively demonstrated that race and religion are not effective methods of discriminating between good and bad people, and that the majority of human beings as well as the members of any race or religious category are good rather than bad. So wanting to get rid of the people who are of a particular race or a particular religion is wanting to get rid of all the net good things those people do, *for you* as well as everyone else. That is an objectively bad value.
            The difference between this and intrincisism is that it doesn’t require any notion that Jews (or anyone or anything else) has “intrinsic” value. You and I and everyone else have the responsibility to determine and implement good values rather than bad values. Nothing dictates for us what the relative values are – that is a process of knowledge discovery. What morality requires is that we recognize reality – in this case the reality that members of any race or religion or other broad category of human beings create more value by being in the world rather than not.
            So back to the Singer question: To want Rwandan children to die would be a very bad value, and to want to save them is good. To want American children to die would also be a very bad value and saving them is good. These are facts of nature (other humans are, on balance, more good than bad). But there is nothing in nature that dictates the value of saving a nearby child is equal to the value of saving a child thousands of miles away. If you think there is, then what does this supposed intrinsic value tell you is the value of saving one child versus the same cost to save 10 middle-aged people? How about telling you whether it’s a net value add to save 20 women at the cost of 10 men? Or how about saving an entire species of tree frog at the expense of 5 human beings?
            It doesn’t, it can’t, and whoever tells you that it does is trying to get you to substitute their values for your own without critical thinking.

  • Jen September 30, 2012, 9:01 pm

    Actually my husband just yesterday came back from a 5 day trip to Vietnam – as a part of his multinational company’s CSR program, he volunteered to help out at an orphanage of HIV-positive children.
    I won’t go into heartbreaking details. He said the trip made him grateful for all we have. Then he joked that our children are spoiled and, well, fat.

    For many people actually seeing the poverty is the ultimate eye opener. I believe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was started that way.

  • riley September 30, 2012, 9:17 pm

    What about this idea. Our family has reached FI. I have no motivation fiscally to go back to work. What I struggle with is that I have a background in Mechanical Engineering; went to school for 6 years to receive a MSME, and now work for my kids’ school system as a “lunch lady” and office assistant (which I invest 100% into a 403b). I keep thinking that I could do more with my skill set. I’m currently in process of applying for the Woodrow Wilson National Teaching Fellowship. This is for $30K towards tuition, fees, and room & board (which would be free). In exchange, I would need to sign-up to teaching in a “high needs” local school system for 3 years. An alternative would be to pay for teacher certification myself (totally doable), and teach anywhere. However, being a “mustachian”, I am concerned about my ROI- so the fellowship is my favored choice. The issue is my most valuable commodity at this point is my time. Do I invest 3 years + to benefit those students who need it most, or do I donate my time locally, and invest in my kids’ school system, where exceptional parents are already overflowing with their time and money? My husband thinks I should just help my kids at their school with their Science Olympiad program. Often I’m asked, “Why not go back into engineering?” My response is that I’m still view my family as my number one priority, and there are not “part-time” engineering jobs readily available. The teaching option would follow my kids’ schedule. Also, I enjoy teaching- I’ve substituted as a Classroom Parapro for Y5’s-K, and teach Sunday School to 1-4th graders as well.

    • Gerard October 1, 2012, 9:08 am

      I think this would make a great MMM column idea. Many FIRE people are highly trained at something, and it would be interesting to think about how to leverage that into the most good for the most people.

      • Yuriy October 1, 2012, 12:33 pm

        I think this is an excellent question for MMM to address, but meanwhile I’ll throw in my 2 cents. A great way for technically skilled individuals to contribute to the common good is to work on Free and Open Software and hardware projects. This particularly applies to programmers, but there is plenty to do for everyone from writing to graphic design to community organizing. Contributing to almost any Free Software or Hardware project indirectly helps many people around the world and helps developing countries (and of course your own developed one!) build industry and business and self-reliance. If you want to feel a more direct contribution projects like the OLPC (one laptop per child) are worth looking into (I personally find that particular concept rather dubious, but it’s a good easy example of a project that directly works to benefit developing communities and needs contributions from all kinds of skill sets.)

        To put it in a more general perspective — if your skill set is valuable for paid employment, it is inevitably at least as valuable for volunteer work. You just need to find a project you enjoy and believe in.

    • Uncephalized October 1, 2012, 9:21 am

      Do you enjoy/are you good at inventing things to help people/make life better? You could use your engineering skills to “donate” new inventions to the public domain (as opposed to patenting them for personal profit), where anyone (not just a mega-corp with an exclusive patent) can then build on them and bring them to market to improve the world. Seems like a pretty good use of your skills,if you’re inclined that way. It’s pretty much what I plan to do with a lot of my time, once I’m FI (I’m an ME as well).

    • Lina October 1, 2012, 11:40 am

      I think you already answered your question. :D It sounds like you would enjoy teaching and using your skills. What is the point of FI if you can’t do something that you enjoy?

  • Uncephalized October 1, 2012, 9:15 am

    MMM, really good post. Thanks.

    I’d love to see a little more on the background details–specifically, how you personally decide how to allocate your surplus income between doing the most good now, vs. growing your Charity ‘Stash bigger, so you can help even more people/trees/whales/etc. in the future. Do you simply have a percentage of your surplus allocated to reinvestment?

    Keep up the good work, you badass dude!

  • Per J. October 1, 2012, 1:15 pm

    If one is interested in how the world has changed the last 100 years or so when it comes to health, babies per women, CO2 emissions etc per capita in different countries, I must recommend http://www.gapminder.org

    There are also some videos where one can see prof Hans Rosling (the man behind it) demonstrating the changes. I went to a conference last week, where he gave his performance and he is really charismatic (and you probably have to be that in order to learn the world statistics that are available but hard to grasp)

  • Chelsea Gale October 1, 2012, 1:25 pm

    Very nice, MMM, thank you for sharing these beautiful ideas. I’ll make sure that book gets read in good time.

  • James October 1, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Singer wrote an article version of this argument a long time ago in “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” in case anybody wants to read it instead of the book. I recommend them both.

  • Erika October 1, 2012, 4:03 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. I will be reading the book.

  • J.R. Reynolds October 2, 2012, 3:08 am

    Great Article, and nice to rea comments where people aren’t cursing each other or making statements of ‘facts’ without a shred of evidence.

    Kudos for the Dawkins reference, while the Selfish Gene does not advocate for selfishness, it also done’s not excuse it. Dawkins also coined the term Meme, a cultural replicator that many see as a stronger force for human evolution than biological. We have a conscious brain and the ability to reason, which allows us to make choices less steered by genetic favoritism and potentially more altruistic (although I often wish more wealthy people would see that things would be better for everyone if they took a little less of the overall wealth).

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 2, 2012, 6:57 am

      Indeed! This is something I often try to explain to my fellow wealthy people: even if your motivation is purely selfish, you STILL end up further ahead by supporting a kinder society (stricter environmental regulations or better education for all, for example). Because the whole society will end up wealthier, allowing YOU even more opportunities to make money off of it from your position at the top. Plus, you get to breathe cleaner air for your entire life, which is surely worth a few bucks.

  • Maritimer Moustache October 2, 2012, 5:52 am

    Been a long time reader but had to add my first comment.
    MMM ,every time I think I can’t respect you more for what you are creating here, you keep raising the bar and putting your money where your mouth is. I am still in the growth stages of my stache, but I did sign up for Mint.com via your site, so I like to think I am contributing to your charity work in a small way. Best of luck in growing your Charity stash.
    PS Mint is amazing and so easy to use.

  • Holly Thrifty October 2, 2012, 6:58 pm

    After visiting Africa I have a new perspective on charity. We’ve seen poor–really poor people. And, we’ve helped them with the basics. But then there is a group of people who are trying to get these folks in houses, instead of the huts they’ve lived in for hundreds if not thousands of years. And, they are trying to get them to use toilets and become more civilized. Yes, I want that lifestyle for me–but is it HELPFUL when we force it on them? We’re killing off a culture that existed for thousands of years by forcing our charity on them to “improve their lives.”

    Before we hand out, let’s be sure the folks want it for themselves as bad as we want it for them.

    • Adrienne October 3, 2012, 2:00 pm

      Holly Thrifty, I couldn’t agree with you more. We also must be careful that our aid doesn’t harm. I not a fan of the Gates Foundation’s use of GM crops. As for Peter Singer (Yes I have read some of his books.)..I prefer MMM’s blog.

    • Uncephalized October 3, 2012, 2:45 pm

      Of course there is also the angle, when talking about such things as pushing Western housing and plumbing on native populations, that it creates a dependency on the Western industrial machine. These are people who, when living in their native houses, can build and repair their own structures totally self-sufficiently–which means they’re not actually poor, at least not in that regard. They just don’t use the same technology we do.

      But the answer, to my mind, is simply to ask them what THEY want. And if they want our houses and our technology, to help them get access to it. If they want to be left alone to live the way they are used to, then we should leave them alone.

  • sumera October 15, 2012, 10:02 am

    I think encouraging your children to give is also important and instills this value in them early on. No one ever goes poor for having given too much, it just never happens. It is a strong belief within the Islamic tradition that giving to charity helps in increasing your wealth. And I’ve seen in happen many times where whenever I’ve given, I saw that some how through something else that money seemed to get replaced.

  • Flat Broke October 20, 2012, 6:47 am

    Care to put your money where your mouth is?

    Love the article MMM! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “next thing” once I hit FIRE (about 5 yrs out). This really clarified to me what I’ve been looking for.

    I do have an idea on top yours…would you be willing to “bet” your profits against mine? Winner takes all. For example, I invest 2K and if I make more money than your 2K you’d donate to my cause and if you make more money I’d donate to yours (I’m willing to go against anyone in the community on this one). There would need to be some ground rules of course:

    1. matching from a company employer doesn’t count (I have a match, but it doesn’t seem fair)
    2. I’m willing to donate to most “goods”, but I do have some reservations on some (I’m Catholic, no “family planning” stuff for this guy). Ideally I’d donate to a “people” cause, but I’d be willing to donate to an “environmental / animal” cause (please no banter on how “environmental / animal” causes are “people” causes..that not the point of my post)
    3. $s donated are the maximum to be donated to your cause. For example a 1K donation can only win 1K (with profits) from the other betting party. This prevents someone from betting a series of $100 bets to try and control a $10K donation
    4. documentation would have to be supplied of course to show actually achieved results were achieved (account numbers suppressed)
    5. a fixed time frame

    This is the kind of gambling I actually would take part in (I hate the lotto).

    This article really spoke to me, I have a little 2K donation waiting in the wings for a year end donation to go to a good cause and I think this is it (developing countries). Even if you don’t take my bet. ;)

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 20, 2012, 5:01 pm

      Hey Flat Broke.. I’m publishing your comment in case others want to take up the challenge with you, but I will decline myself. Competing won’t make me invest any more effectively, and I’m happy to maintain my freedom of choice for where to donate. (In fact, I think promoting birth control and making it widely available is one of the most helpful things we can do in all countries – both rich and poor).

  • Sarah August 3, 2013, 10:58 am

    (not needing a back pat) Thought you might like to know I just signed up to give 1% every month to The Hunger Project, and challenged my Facebook friends to do the same. Thanks for the post, introducing me to Singer

  • Johan November 1, 2013, 10:27 pm

    I recently came across an amazing and inspiring charity by the name charity:water. The founder has incredible stories on how the charity came about . There is a keynote presentation by the founder Scott Harrison that does a nice job explaining the non-profit organization. Perhaps one day there could be a Mustachian challenge month where all the proceeds can go to helping people get clean water.


    • Dominic November 30, 2022, 9:41 am

      Absolutely – he is totally inspiring… have worked with him a few times and got me off my backside to start my £10,000 ($12,000) challenge… https://www.charitywater.org/dominic_ee

      Going to be putting together some talks to give at schools. :D

  • Mike February 26, 2015, 5:46 pm

    Great post on Peter Singer. It raises for me the primary reason why I refuse to retire in my 30s.

    I save and invest about half of my salary in order to donate it to charity. I plan to make most of this donation from my estate. In order to maximize my donation, I’ve decided to stay at work for as long as I can. Lucky for me I usually enjoy my work, so postponing retirement is not so onerous.

    There are definitely workdays when I reconsider early retirement. But I cannot see how to justify retiring early, thereby giving up decades of salary–potentially millions of dollars–that could be used to save lives.

    I would love to read more of your thoughts on this matter. Ultimately, my comments here are not about personal finance, but rather they are about ethics. So perhaps the topic lies beyond the scope of the MMM website.

    Nonetheless, further posts from you about charitable donations could do a lot of good, given your readership. I hope to read more about this here!

  • Chris June 8, 2016, 10:39 am

    Like Mike above, I would also like your take on the conflict between working longer to have more financial capital to devote to charity versus retiring sooner and having less. If an individuals time is their most valuable commodity and the most productive way for them to help the less fortunate is to spend it working even after their own lifetime spending needs are met, this is in direct conflict to retiring early. Altruistically speaking, everyone should keep working to maximize their ability to assist the less fortunate, regardless of how much they spend. Unlike Mike, I don’t really like my job. But when I weigh continuing to work against what others in the world deal with it makes my complaints seem pretty petty.

  • Garrett July 25, 2017, 8:03 am

    “Luckily he reconciles the viewpoint at the end of the book by suggesting a simple scale: allocate only 1% of your first $105,000 of income to charity, 10% of your next 100,000, and so on.”

    I like this. Especially as one’s income is in the process of scaling up. That still gives a good $1050 in donation income on the first $105,000. After that, it scales up donating pretty quickly, yet still allows one’s finances to build up at a rapid pace… without eating up too much seed money.

  • Ashley Zappe November 27, 2018, 3:34 pm

    One point of philosophy: It is too narrow to apply Dawkins’ ideas here, as you say “we’re all really just collections of selfish genes.” We may indeed be selfish genes, as our individual existence, but we can also be considered to be part of a superorganism of human society– a functioning bit of the collective humanity. As such, charitable behaviors (toward those who do not share genetic similarities as closely as family) do more than just stimulate selfish genes to increase a little bit of personal happiness. While selfish genes may be a factor, they are a week explanation on their own for the motivation to help those outside of one’s inner circle. Charitable behavior may be an essential part of our functioning as a whole ‘human hive’ and may be an emergent property of collective behavior, rather than a individual, physical genetic presence. …Just trying to expand the understanding around ways that large scale and anonymous giving can fit into the MM framework. I would discourage thinking that *everything* can be fully explained by selfish genes– other factors are at work too.

  • TomP October 4, 2022, 8:45 am

    This is by far the best book I can recommend on this subject, it is a life changing read: Author: Matthieu Ricard
    Title: Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World
    He has worked 5 years on it and has used 1600 references. A masterpiece



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