Sometimes, donating to causes and organizations that are important to you may seem like a goal that's just out of reach. "Once I'm making a bit more money," you think, "I can start giving." Then an unexpected expense comes up and the idea of donating fades from your mind until the next time you get an email or phone call about the cause.
It doesn't have to be this way. Setting up a giving plan for yourself involves setting priorities and considering your other spending. Yes, you'll have to make some adjustments, but if the organization is important to you, it's worth a little extra budgeting.
Choose your causes
Choosing an organization or cause whose mission you're passionate about is the key to giving in a way that gives you a sense of satisfaction — and the most bang for your buck. Whether it's legal services for immigrants, arts for kids, local theater, or a university or church, there's a group that aligns with your values.
"Contributing to a cause that resonates with your values is better than donating to everything that comes across your email or Facebook feed, because it will mean more to you," Tyler Dolan, a financial planner with finance site Society of Grownups, told HuffPost in 2017.
Instead of giving to a lot places, select one or two. Limiting the number of organizations you support lets you make a bigger impact on their bottom line. Small to mid-sized donations likely go further at smaller, local organizations, according to Self.com, than they do at national nonprofits.
Consider how the organization will use your money. Will it go to overhead, or will it help people directly? Contact the organization and ask how your donation will be used to help the mission. This information may help you decide where your money goes.
Do the budgeting work
Now that you've done the research, here comes the hard part: budgeting your money.
1. Figure out your monthly expenses, including everything from rent, mortgage payment and car payments to utilities, groceries, gas and recurring subscriptions.
2. Look at discretionary spending on extras like coffee, dining out, hobbies and so on. Decreasing your discretionary spending can make room in your budget to give to a cause that matters to you. It's easier to change your discretionary spending — fewer lattes or video games — than adjusting what you pay in utilities.
3. Determine what amount a month will work best for you without harming your financial situation.
4. Set aside the money you'll donate instead of just leaving it in your checking account. Priya Malani is the founder of Stash Wealth, a finance company that helps young people manage their money. She told HuffPost that setting up an additional savings account with your bank can help you stay organized.
Donate monthly or once a year?
It depends on your personal preference. Setting up monthly donations can make giving a regular habit, like a subscription to Netflix or a food kit delivery service. Monthly donations may help the organization more than a one-time deal.
Monthly donations "provide charities like ours with a regular, consistent, and predictable source of support," Jennifer Bernstein, managing director of development at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told HuffPost. "It's also more cost-effective for [us], as we can forgo renewal notices, save on our mailing costs and put more of our money to work defending the environment."
Still, give however works best for you. An organization that needs donations is going to be pleased to get $10 every month or $120 in December.
You can give more than money
If you can't make the budgeting work, there are more ways to help than making a financial donation. Time, skills or expertise can help, too.
So if you're good at graphic design, maybe the local shelter needs help updating their website to attract donors. Any help is appreciated, but a consistent presence is likely to help the cause more.
All of this will likely help you, too. According to "Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending" by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, giving money to charity resulted in people feeling wealthier, regardless of their actual income level. Having the money to give away simply made people feel like they had enough. Indeed, Dunn and Norton found that giving money increased overall happiness on the same level as doubling income.