Money, politics, and sex. Three things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company. So, let’s talk about them. At least, the first two. I’ve got to know you a bit better before we talk about sex. I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal in that way.
I’m a financial planner, so talking about money goes without saying. And I think we’ve all given up the ghost that we can afford to not talk about politics.
I’m not going to get into my specific political beliefs, as they are not relevant to this post. (If you’re curious: Ask yourself, “What would a woman, who got a degree at a liberal arts college, had a short stint in a socialist organization during college, and now lives in the Pacific Northwest, believe in?” I’m fairly predictable.)
But it has not eluded my notice that I tend to attract like-minded folks, and their like minds are all fairly horrified at many of the things happening in this country right now. And they’d like to do something to make things Less Horrific.
I don’t pretend to be a political activist. But, in my role as a financial planner, I actually feel I can have a big impact. Not because I’m going to give away skads of my own money (I do my best). Not because I am going to tell my clients to give money to this or that charity or cause. But because I can honestly tell my clients:
You want to do something more? You can. Time, money, or both. It’s not a matter of can or can’t; it’s a matter of choice.
First Things First: How Do You Want to Support the Causes You Care About?
How can financial planning help you do more for the causes you care about?
Step 1. Figure out what’s important to you. Which causes? Do you want to give money or time?
Step 2. Figure out the financially savviest way to support those causes in that way.
Notice the order of those steps.
The financial considerations come after the personal considerations. The financial serves the personal.
As much as we financial planners like to talk about the financially efficient way of doing things (like, say, donating company stock to charities because of the tax benefits), sometimes that financial tactic doesn’t serve the personal desire, and making financially “inefficient” decisions is in fact the best path forward.
For example, the easiest way to contribute to a cause is to simply give money. And when you give money to a charity, you can get a tax deduction. So, that’s how most people do it. People sure do love themselves a tax deduction. And sure, it’s nice to support Operation Smile or Save the Children or other 501(c)(3) charities. But what if the cause you care most about isn’t tax deductible?
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I could have continued my tax-deductible contributions to fairly non-controversial charities (who doesn’t want to help the children, after all?). But I thought that the organizations fighting for environmental health, civil rights, and women’s reproductive rights—organizations whose lobbying arms don’t provide tax deductibility—needed help more.
So, I gave money to causes I care about and received no tax benefits. But that’s okay, because the point is not to get tax benefits. It’s to provide support. If you can find a financially savvy way of doing that, great. But not at the expense of the support you want to provide.
If you work in tech, chances are you make a goodly amount of money. More than you need to live comfortably on. (Not more than you need to do everything you always wanted to do. Travel and Amazon can, after all, consume an unlimited amount of money.) Many people need to think about finances first, and everything else second. You, I hope, are or could be in the position to think about values and priorities first, and then figure out the necessary financial choices.
How You Could Use Financial Planning to Improve Your Political Involvement
I am not proposing you sacrifice yourself to help others. I bet you dollars to donuts you can help more without hurting yourself. Sure, maybe it’ll involve changing yourself and your life, but change isn’t necessarily hurtful.
Here are some direct ways that managing your finances in an intentional way can help you support the causes you care about.
Want to give more money?
- Evaluate your current spending habits and identify places where your spending doesn’t align with what is important to you. Do you spend a lot of money on takeout or restaurants every month? Would some of that money be better spent (according to your value system) on recurring monthly donations to a charity or a political cause?
- Set up recurring monthly donations to a charity. Start small, so you don’t “feel” it, and gradually increase. When you get a raise, consider beefing up your charitable contributions by, say, half that amount (the other half going into savings, of course).
- Use your company stock to make big, lump-sum donations to charities. Stock that you’ve held for a long time (and has had time to grow in value) and stock you got by exercising options at a low strike price are great choices for this.
Want to give more time?
- Squirrel away a bunch of your nice tech-industry compensation so that you can take time off (maybe a sabbatical during an election year?) to volunteer.
- Take advantage of your current time in tech to save money and make connections in other careers in preparation for eventually switching to a career you find more meaningful, but with a cash cushion and professional network to ease the transition.
- Figure out how much less money you could live safely on, then negotiate with your employer to work (and get paid) less so you can have more time to work for causes now while staying in the tech industry.
Regardless of your political and social persuasion, being thoughtful and intentional about your financial choices can help open up a world that might not be available to you now. I don’t mean to guilt anyone into anything. I just see this as a recurring theme with my clients and the people I meet in my work. They want to help, but they feel almost paralyzed.
This has to be a clear, intentional part of your financial planning if you want to do it. I have seen far too many people say they want to help more and then not do it…simply because they prioritize other things higher.
I am not here to judge your prioritization of financial choices. I just want to make sure you know that you need to prioritize your political activism (or any other goal) and build a plan for it, if you want it to actually happen.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.