How to Include Charity in Your Budget, and Other Ways to GIVE!

There’s no right or wrong way to be generous. Charitable giving is a beautiful thing, no matter who it comes from or how big (or small) the dollar amount! One question I consider all the time is “How much should I give to charity?Today, I’ll talk about some ways to include charity in your budget, whether it’s a donation of money or time.

As a kid, my parents taught me to tithe, giving 10% of all my earnings to our family church. It wasn’t much at the time — like 10 cents here or there — because I was only earning pocket money doing odd chores around the house.

When I turned 14 and started working at McDonald’s, 10% of my income seemed like a much bigger amount. Working 4 shifts a week would earn me about $100, so I’d have about $10 to give to church each Sunday.

Around age 16, I started working on the weekends and stopped attending church on Sundays. I still siphoned off 10% of my income and just let the money build up until I had a few hundred dollars in my “charity” account.

I remember asking my Mum one day, “I don’t want to give to church anymore … where else can I do charitable donations?” My Mum told me that some of our family friends were buying a house and were going through a tough financial situation. We ended up giving them an envelope full of cash one day, and it was the biggest gift I had ever given as a teenager. It felt great.

Put charity in your budget, and donating time instead of money

I wish I could say I kept giving 10% of my income through adulthood, but I’d be lying. As my income rose, I found it harder and harder to give money away. It wasn’t really about the dollar amount … It was more difficult finding charitable causes that I was personally passionate about and could see the impact of my charity directly. Or maybe that’s just the excuse I told myself?

On the flip side, I do love claiming charity and donations as a tax deduction! The higher your income, the better the tax benefit. :)

Yet charity isn’t just giving money to a nonprofit and then putting it as an itemized deduction on your next tax form.

Over the years I’ve found a TON of different ways to be generous — donating time, helping friends or strangers, paying it forward, volunteering, etc. I like to think any type of selfless giving is a charitable activity.

If you’re looking for different ways to make a charitable contribution to your community, check out some of the following strategies :)

*Keep in mind… Whether you give $1 or $1 million, I believe charity should be a FUN budget item — something that makes you feel good! There should be no guilt or shame associated with the money you give or don’t give, no matter your annual income!

Add charity to your budget process slowly, or include it in your “gifts” budget line item

For me, I include charity in my “giving” line item in my budget. For 2020 my wife and I have $5,000 budgeted, which includes birthday gifts, Christmas stuff, favors for people, sponsoring friend’s charity events, and setting up a UGMA gift account (stock donation) for my new baby nephew!

Throughout the year, it feels easier for us to donate small chunks of money here and there, simply because we’ve already budgeted and accounted for it.

If you’re not in the habit of giving money regularly — and want to be — try adding a small amount to your budget for charity, and increasing your monthly donations very gradually.

Even if you start with $1 for 1 month, $2 the next month, $3 the month after, and keep growing by just $1 additional per month … then in 5 short years you’ll be giving $60 per month to charity (that’s a $720 line item in your annual budget! Woo!). This is a slow strategy that will build a habit of giving without shocking your current annual spend.

Cut a subscription, donate the money instead

A friend of mine recently cancelled her Hulu Premium streaming service. She’s keeping the $12 per month line item in her budget, and just moving it over to a “gift fund.”  She hasn’t quite made up her mind about how she’ll give this money yet, but it’s being kept aside ready for when she finds a good cause.

My friend says, “It’s sort of a win-win because I give up something I feel guilty about, and replace it with something I feel great about!”

Pay it forward

If you’re finding it hard to justify giving to charity, think about all the blessings and advantages you have been given in life. Consider paying it forward, just as someone helped you. Like for like, or in different ways, here are some examples of paying it forward:

  • Someone gives you a lift and saves you $5 in gas? → You tip your server $5 extra that night.
  • Your boss picks up the tab for your lunch? → You make an extra dinner for your neighbors.
  • Your grandma leaves you $5,000 in inheritance money? → You set aside some gift funds for someone else in your family one day.
  • You get $1,200 in stimulus payment that you weren’t expecting → You help local businesses and those who are less fortunate.

Next month I’ll share some of the financial gifts my wife and I have been given and our plans to pay it forward to our younger relatives.

Volunteer or donate your time instead of money

When I left my job in 2018, my income was reduced to zero. I found it hard to give away much money because I wasn’t earning any. However, I had an abundance of time.

I stumbled across a flyer for a local Meals on Wheels organization and started volunteering there just 1 day per week. Sometimes I feel my time is more valuable than money, and I definitely feel happier volunteering than I thought I would.

Animal shelters, national parks, veterans associations, local chambers of commerce, food pantries and delivery services, Habitat for Humanity, museums, the YMCA, emergency preparedness outreach programs, etc. — chances are, they ALL need help. Find an area you think will be fun and see how you can help!

Attend a fundraising event!

I’ve only been to a few fancy fundraisers (when my past employers covered the ticket sales or sponsored a table). And while sometimes they were very over the top or expensive, it was always fun and supported a good cause.

Also, fundraising events are a great date night! It’s fun dressing up, pretending to be fancy, throwing around the word “philanthropy“, and rubbing shoulders with the uber-wealthy people who attend. My wife and I awkwardly slip $20 into the donation box while others write $20k checks like it’s nbd! 🤑


My parents sponsored a few children via Compassion International when I was growing up. Compassion is a religious organization that helps children living in poverty around the globe. What we loved most about their system is interacting (via written letters) with the kids from overseas. Seeing and hearing first-hand the impact that our donations made was really cool.

Some Compassion programs start at $7 per month — a small amount for you could mean a huge amount to someone else!

Write to a prisoner

Speaking of writing letters, last year while listening to a podcast called Ear Hustle, I learned about a website called Write A Prisoner. This site connects you directly with people serving time behind bars. I signed up (it’s free) and now I have 2 pen pals who are in different California prison systems.

Although this isn’t really considered a traditional form of charity, I am giving of my time here. I truly believe it’s a great cause and I’m making a small difference in people’s lives. The more that prison inmates learn and interact with the outside world, the less likely they are to resort back to crime when they are released!

*Side note: The last few inmate letters I’ve sent have gone unanswered due to Covid lockdowns at the prisons. Just FYI if you are considering writing yourself – be patient when waiting for replies! :)

Do things pro bono — use your skills or business to help others!

You don’t need to own a business to offer pro bono work. You can help people using the experience and skills that come easy to you — at no charge.

  • Know how to build websites? Help a charitable organization that needs one.
  • You’re good at graphic design? Try making a logo for a friend or neighbor’s business.
  • You’re a yoga enthusiast and know all the moves? Host a free virtual yoga session for all your Facebook contacts and save them a few bucks from buying a workout class.
  • Got a sewing machine and spare time? Make some face masks for your neighbors and friends.
  • Are you a lawyer, doctor, accountant, acupuncturist, therapist, personal trainer, or have a unique certification in something? Consider offering some of your services free or at a reduced cost to someone who generally can’t afford your expertise.

Donate the stuff you don’t use anymore

Next time you’re decluttering and clearing out your house, consider donating your unwanted items instead of selling them. Your old iPhone, kitchen appliances, or the nice clothes you never wear. Giving them away is a great charitable cause!

Giving stuff to people you know is nice, because you get to see and feel the effects of your generosity directly. But Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity are also good alternatives. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped someone else out there get a deal on an item they need, and the profit those organizations make also goes toward helping the less fortunate! These places also give receipts for fair market value that you can use to claim a charitable deduction on your tax return!

Would love to hear any non-traditional ways you guys give back... What’s the largest (or most impactful) donation you’ve ever made?

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  1. Fiona July 24, 2020 at 7:13 AM

    These are great ideas. I echo your thoughts in that I try to give one or more of three things as it relates to charity: 1) Time; 2) Treasure; or 3) Talent. I find that since I am just building my net worth at this point, I give my time and / or talent. However, I plan to give my treasure as I grow my net worth through the years. In my opinion, giving back is so important to continue your legacy – even if you positively touched the life of just one person. That’s what it’s all about.

    1. Joel July 24, 2020 at 9:23 AM

      The three “T”s. I love it! Big or small, making a difference is what it’s all about. Thanks Fiona!

  2. Laura Z July 24, 2020 at 9:06 AM

    As our work situations have changed, and our family has grown, we’ve reduced our giving and are in the process of building it back up, so I love all these ideas. I also recommend that people check out effective altruism as a way to measure how impactful your donation is. Give Well rates the most effective global charities, 80,000 Hours encourages you to make an impact with your career, Animal Charity Evaluators (?) ranks the best charities for reducing animal suffering, and Giving What We Can is a modern day tithing that challenges people to donate 10% of their income. Peter Singers “The Life You Can Save” is a great primer on the movement.

    1. Joel July 24, 2020 at 9:46 AM

      THIS IS AWESOME! Thank you, I didn’t know about these. I think many people (including myself) are worried that donations aren’t being used in the most efficient way. These places investigate and vet out foundations so you don’t have to. Cheers!

  3. Lisa O July 24, 2020 at 9:24 AM

    Love this article! Giving money, time & goods is a great feeling and helping your community stay strong is what it is all about. You are so right that the amount doesn’t matter it is the act of doing that makes it feel “like a large” contribution.

    1. Joel July 24, 2020 at 9:41 AM

      Yep! I used to feel bad about ‘only’ volunteering one day per week. But it’s 100% more than what I used to do… and for the people who we’re helping, it’s a massive contribution. :)

  4. angie pannkuk July 24, 2020 at 10:47 AM

    We don’t own our money. We are stewards of it. We shouldn’t be asking God “How much should I give”, but “How much do I get to keep”?

    1. Joel July 24, 2020 at 10:56 AM

      Great way to look at it. :)

  5. Jacq July 24, 2020 at 6:14 PM

    As things this year weren’t ‘normal’ I donated to the Audubon in support of a bird of Mom’s choice for Mother’s day. She doesnt need another knickknack, or plant/ flowers to care for and we both can feel good about the gift.
    I’ve gotten unexpected money and as it was not planned for I decided to give to charities with the abundance.
    I usually budget $x per month for charity with some months designated for association with a person, but some months ‘free’ so when a request comes in to sponsor a charity race etc, I have some flexibility.
    Your comment about yoga, I am a yoga teacher and sometimes teach for a good cause as a way to give back. (Before the pandemic). Sometimes donating my time is also just easier to not have to worry about taxes for the income too.
    Thanks for a fun creative post!

    1. Joel July 24, 2020 at 6:40 PM

      Cheers Jacq! I just learned about Audubon – my aunt and uncle are hard core bird watchers. What a cool cause. Having money already budgeted always makes it easier to say yes to those spur of the moment donations when someone asks.
      Thanks for all you do, and have a great weekend!

  6. Teresa Campos July 25, 2020 at 1:11 AM

    I really enjoyed your ideas about how you can donate to charity. When you think about donations, you think money. There are other things that can be donated or if you don’t have money, maybe you could donate you time. I also feel warm and good inside when I donate to a charity, church, or someone in need. I know that the world is going through some tough times, so now is the perfect time to think about how you could add charity into you budget and life.

    1. Joel July 25, 2020 at 8:58 AM

      My thoughts exactly! Thanks Teresa :)

  7. RS July 26, 2020 at 5:30 AM

    Some great ideas there, the write a prisoner one is not one I’ve come accross before reminds me of the “Social Return on Investment” that the Crisis homeless charity discuss. One approach I’ve taken is creating a specific brokerage account where any dividends from the shares are donated. So in a nutshell it involves putting money regularly into the account and any dividends are automatically paid back into a bank account where the funds are then transferred to a charity through a bank transfer. I’ve gone into more detail here:

    1. Joel July 26, 2020 at 9:22 AM

      Great idea! Automation is great – makes it easier to give regularly. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Emma Vinson August 12, 2020 at 11:32 AM

    Thank you for this article, it is a very inspiring one!
    Having worked a few months as a full-time volunteer in India, I totally agree with the following statement that you made: “sometimes I feel my time is more valuable than money” and I observed the truth of this statement during my volunteer time. Charities, of course, need money, but once they have this money, it is worth nothing if they don’t have people that do something with it. Sometimes gathering motivated and talented volunteers is harder than raising funds! Moreover coming up with a great project idea can, at the end, raise more money than once could have donated.
    To add to your point “pay it forward”, I often also find it easier to pay people small amounts on the spot and to see directly who I am giving my money to, rather than donating one big amount every month. Also, as I feel we should value good work, I often like to pay a little bit more than what I was asked for when good work was done. For instance, I am always going to the same tailor when my clothes/bags are broken, and he is doing a fantastic job. So, I am almost always tipping him.
    I hope that your article will encourage people to donate more. In my case, it does!

    1. Joel August 12, 2020 at 12:27 PM

      So good to hear this Emma! Just knowing that I have a budget for charity makes it easier to give incrementally throughout the month. I agree that giving small amounts directly (tips, donations to friends, etc) makes me feel better than large amounts. Thanks for your feedback and great work over in India! I’d love to take a trip like that one day!

  9. Rebecca Gardner December 21, 2020 at 11:20 AM

    I like how you said that giving to charity should be fun and we shouldn’t feel any shame about what we are or aren’t able to give. My husband and I have talked about using some of our holiday budget to donate to a local charity to help disadvantaged kids in our area. Thanks for teaching me about his mindset we can have to keep a positive outlook and continue to donate to charity.

    1. Joel December 21, 2020 at 12:38 PM

      Thanks Rebecca! Giving is giving, and there should be no guilt. It’s a beautiful thing no matter how you do it :) Thank you to you and your hubs. Have a great holiday season!!