Is Not Wanting To Be Rich Selfish? Ways To Help Others If You No Longer Seek Or Have Wealth

After working for 10 consecutive years post college, I no longer wanted to be rich. Instead, I wanted to be free and went John Galt in an attempt to unplug from the Matrix. It took three more years of planning but I finally managed to escape, or so I hope.

There’s just one nagging feeling of guilt that is weighing me down ever since I finished my 2012 taxes. The guilt is that I will no longer be able to comfortably afford to donate as much to charitable causes. What do I say to an organization who has come to expect a $2,000 check every winter now that I can no longer afford to do so? Sorry?

Am I supposed to simply block out all the stories of hope such donations provides to foster children? I don’t know. I always think back to 1989 when I went on vacation with my parents to the west shores of Malaysia. We visited a temple famous for its ancient relics. I was warned not to give anything to the begging mothers and children who eyed us as we stepped through the gates. I couldn’t help myself so I gave one child one ringgit. As soon as I did, I was mobbed and had to be rescued. At age 12 I wanted to become rich so I could give everyone enough ringgits so nobody would ever have to fight over money again.

Ever since the financial crisis began at the end of 2008, the world has gleefully bashed the rich for our many financial problems. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch a TV clip without witnessing blame being assigned to a “greedy 1%er” for someone else’s decision to buy a home, a car, or an expensive education they could not afford.

When things are going swell, it’s OK for rich people to make money so long as we are also making money. When things turn south, it becomes intolerable for the rich to stay rich while we lose our shirts. It’s ironic because during the depths of financial chaos, I was $8.5 billion dollars closer to Warren Buffett’s net worth given that’s how much he lost. Long live the middle class!

Over the past four years I hope many of you have come to the conclusion that most rich people are not evil. Most start off middle class and work very hard to get to where they are. Sure, some are extremely lucky, however, many created their own luck through risk taking. The top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all federal income taxes. Some are so rich that on top of all the taxes they pay, they even start independent foundations or grants in higher education to help everyday people get ahead.

THE PURPOSE OF TRYING OUR VERY BEST

Many of us have been taught since an early age to try our very best at everything we do. Succeed or fail, so long as we try our best that’s all that matters. But what about those who don’t give a damn? It’s understandably much easier to slack off in the short run. Who wants to study five hours after school every day? Nobody. Who wants to cut algebra class and eat ice cream with a crush instead? Everybody.

When we don’t try our very best, we are only thinking about short term pleasures. Little do we realize that by the time we grow up to be magnanimous adults, it’s sometimes too late because we’re stuck in suboptimal financial situations. If we try our very best, at least we know that our current situation is also the best we could do, no matter how unlucky we are. If we so happen to get lucky, then we can pass on our luck to many more people.

I caught up with a good friend who works at a foundation to keep Oakland kids off the streets and in the classroom the other day. We first met three years ago after I attended a fundraiser and donated $500 to their cause. Since then, she’s kept in touch by sending me e-mails about their kids’ progress. Many finish high school and attend trade school or college afterward. There is the occasional sad story of a student being shot or sent to jail for drugs, but these incidences are few and far between.

Over lunch Sarah mentioned an anonymous donor gave $100,000 the other week to her surprise. The gift was $50,000 larger than the previous largest donation. Such a gift really got me thinking, perhaps the greatest way to help the poor is to become rich?

If you are rich, nobody needs to financially help you anymore, thereby lessening the resource demands of the government or others who want to help. If you are rich, you can also donate a tremendous amount of money to people in need as one donor did with a $100,000 check. But if you are poor, it’s very hard to donate any money to help others given you’re just trying to make ends meet. Even time might be at a premium because so much is riding on spending more time making money.

HELP LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE MUCH

Education is really important to me, which is the main reason why I started the Yakezie Writing Contest. The YWC not only donates at least $1,000 to three deserved contestants for educational purposes, it also helps teach contestants to market themselves and experience the correlation between hard work and achievement. Although I can no longer donate as much money, I will focus on spending much more time making this contest a success.

I’m always amazed Bill Gates can donate billions of dollars to help fight disease and starvation around the world. I’m equally amazed Warren Buffet handed over most of his multi-billion dollar fortune to the Gates Foundation to help others long after he’s gone. Those guys have more than they can ever spend in their lifetimes, and they are doing the right thing. Of course all of us can’t give so much to charity. However, we can all do more to raise awareness about issues that we care about most.

Warren and Bill are just two examples of millions of wealthy people around the world who donate their time and money to help others. We just don’t know who they are because they may not be as wealthy or they don’t want to publicize their gifts. If you can’t donate your money to charitable causes, below are three of the best ways to positively affect lives that require practically nothing but time.

Inexpensive Ways To Help Others 

* Start a blog. You can go on wordpress.com or blogger.com and start a blog right now for free to raise awareness on issues you care about. A big motivation why I write so much is because I’m upset there are homeless veterans in America, sexist policies by the government, and a plethora of discriminatory acts in the workplace. So long as there are injustices, I will do my best to highlight them so at least people can think about the issues. Writing online is accessible to anybody with Internet access. You can even set up an account for free at the local library. If you have no money to donate, blogging is one of the best ways to affect positive change due to leverage. I’ve probably spent over 2,000 hours writing online for zero income. Hopefully some of my articles have helped readers buttress their finances.

* Volunteer. Giving your time is one of the most noble things you can do. We all earn different amounts of money, but when we give our time, we are better able to connect with those we are helping. Through such connections, we can hopefully build lifelong relationships to help along the way. Til this day, I still keep in touch with a young friend I met 20 years ago when I lived overseas. Despite growing up with no parents and no money, he managed to graduate college and find a job at a semiconductor company in Singapore.

* Be a mentor. Wisdom needs to be shared. There will always be a new crop of people who could use some of our guidance for a better future. Mistakes are made because we often just don’t know any better. Some are proactive in seeking help. Meanwhile, there are many more who are in desperate need of tutelage. If everybody can take on one mentee, we can collectively make a huge difference across the globe.

* Go directly into public service. Society can’t have enough teachers, non profit workers, and service men and women. It’s a shame that teachers don’t get paid more given how vital they are to the well being of every single country. Perhaps being a public servant is not an inexpensive way to help others if the alternative is to make more money in another profession. However, once you capitalize the value of a pension, a public servant wage is not bad at all.

LET’S STOP THE DIVIDE

It’s sad how media and society vilifies rich people so much nowadays. If rich people can empathize with the poor by donating billions of dollars to charity and setting up foundations to fight disease and promote education, why can’t we just say thank you?

We are all in this together. It is delusional to think someone is completely self-made. Therefore, it’s our duty to help others in need if we so happen to accumulate far beyond the median. There will always people who will hate you for having more. Don’t let them get you down. The best way to react is through understanding and further kindness.

Readers, is not wanting to be wealthy selfish? Why do so many people hate rich people, even though they could be one of the biggest community supporters? What are some of your favorite volunteer activities? Are you a mentor?

Photo: Brugge, Belgium, 2012. SD.

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I think a lot of the animosity towards the rich in recent years doesn’t come from their richness so much as it comes from the rich getting richer while the rest of us get left behind. If the tide lifted all the boats equally there wouldn’t be the anger towards those who are succeeding.

    I have started to give money towards some of my favorite causes now that I’m more secure financially, but I think there is nothing more valuable than giving your time. Volunteering means so much to those you give your time to, and it is much more rewarding personally than writing a check.

    • says

      During the financial crisis, “the rich” lost way more than the rest of us since the rich own more assets. The $8.5 billion Warren Buffett lost is one extreme example I use in the article to illustrate a point. During disasters, the rest of us gain on the rich simply b/c we lose less.

      I agree that volunteering is very important, and something those of us who are no longer rich or seek riches should do more of. That said, there’s a price for everything. If you are a family in need, would you rather have someone volunteer 5 hours of their time for a year, or have someone donate $1 million bucks? I guess it all depends.

      • says

        During disasters maybe, but longer term trends show stagnation for the middle class as the rich leave us far behind.

        Giving in any way you can is important. Most charitable organizations are just as desperate for volunteers as they are for money. How you decide to donate is a matter of preference I suppose.

        • Matt says

          It doesn’t have to be either / or. My wife and I donate $500 each year to our local food pantry. But rather than hand it over, she uses “extreme couponing” to turn that into $4,000 of food. It takes time, but it’s a hobby she finds interesting. And we get preferencial treatment from the grocery store, because they know we are doing it to give it away, not storing it in our basement until it expires. Everyone knows and feels that they are helping, including certain cashiers that my wife knows, who gladly go through the mountain of coupons. (which, I suspect, they otherwise would not look forward to. Something I remember from my cashier days waaaaay back)

  2. Chris says

    Simple answer, now that you have a surplus of time over money, how about volunteering your time instead of your money.

    • says

      When my husband launched his own gig and we had to cut back, this is how I shifted my charity. Now that I am in grad school this continues to be the way I give back. I actually enjoy it more being able to literally see the impact that my time is having on my causes. That said, there is nothing wrong with scaling back monetary contributions if you still want to do that.

  3. says

    Part of our plan when we leave the 9-5 grind is volunteering for causes that we care about. The way I see it, we have highly marketable skills that are pretty well compensated at our jobs. If we took even some of those skills and translated them into work for a given charity, we could easily have our time be worth far more than any donation we would have made with earned income.
    In my head, I’m seeing this as grant writing (me) or something along those lines.

  4. says

    I am not sure that money is the answer although every charity needs some to function. I have been volunteering for an organization that feeds the homeless, but I think I could do more by helping the homeless rejoin society. I could teach them skills such as interviewing or job skills. I think it is the next step for me, but I will need help because I cannot devote a lot of time.

    Although I am a teacher, I decided to step into the mentor role too. We just had a 5 week progress report and I am exposing my students to a a method to improve their grades. It is a way of keeping them accountable. I took a kid who was failing and he started getting all A’s & B’s. I know people talk about making a difference, but this is what keeps me motivated and really makes me happy for the kids who succeed.

  5. JayCeezy says

    As someone who has done both, may I say that neither one has been completely satisfying.

    Supposedly, the money goes, one “feels good” and writes it off their taxes while feeling they have “made a difference.” My own turning point came in 2003. I was hit up by my former institution of higher learning for a contribution towards an athletic facility. This was around the time the S&P 500 had declined 50% from 2000, the U.S. was just about to go to war in Iraq, and this institution had some outstanding legal liabilities (think Jerry Sandusky times 565). Ridiculous. The athletic team at the time was made up of 80% foreign nationals, that would take their scholarship education back to their home countries and produce as competitors to the U.S. I was astounded, especially at “the ask.” My answer was “no”, I did not think a $750,000 tennis stadium surrounding a $20,000 tennis court was a good use of donated funds.

    I also contributed a sum I felt was substantial to the Red Cross after 9/11. It was disappointing to learn that the funds were simply placed into the ‘General Expenditures’ designation, and along with the many millions of others who contributed specifically for the 9/11 victims and city, the funds were used for Red Cross operating expenses.

    My wife was a professional grant-writer, since retired; she was rebuffed in her offers to volunteer. I attempted to contribute time. I offered my professional services pro bono, to my small-town City government in an attempt to get the Capital Improvement expenditures and schedules under control. After five attempts, including a free demonstration project, I did not even receive a reply. I am not above any job, I do windows and will cut grass for the right cause. I was even rejected as a library volunteer, because “we save these opportunities for our teens.” I volunteered in a literacy program, as I feel reading can open up great opportunities for everyone. The students who came just didn’t stick with it, and I felt badly for them as I know what it is like to work at something hard that doesn’t come easily.

    I admire the Samurai for putting his time and money where his satisfactions lie. The country has moved in a European direction, where the government is now expected to attend to the needs of those who can’t or won’t provide for themselves. Without putting a percentage on it, it is safe to say that most people do not give time or money.

    • says

      Hmm, I would have enjoyed playing on those tennis courts JC!

      That is interesting you and your wife have been rejected from volunteer activities before. You would think every organization could use as much free help as they can get. I wouldn’t turn anybody down if their intentions were good.

      Part of the reason why I enjoy the Yakezie Scholarship program is because 100% of the funds raised go to the recipients. There are no operating costs to pay bc I donate my time to run the program. Giving is hard work, but it’s worth it.

  6. says

    I do all three of the things on your list.

    I started a blog, as is evident from the link on the comment.

    I volunteer. I volunteered a lot where I previously lived. I’m currently looking for some groups in this area to volunteer with as I’ve gotten more accustomed to my new job and the area.

    And I mentor. I’m actively mentoring several junior colleagues to help get them through graduate school and hopefully into real jobs in a few years. I’m also thinking about signing up to be a mentor in some formal professional mentorship programs. I was in one previously as a mentee and it helped me out a lot.

  7. says

    I was always interested as to why Mitt Romney being rich was a bad thing. Most of my friends really disliked this aspect of him, but I don’t think it was simply because he has a lot of money. I think they were upset because he was born into wealth, so he didn’t understand the plight of someone born into poverty. I guess that just seemed unfair to a lot of folks even though he did give quite a bit to charity.

    • says

      I’m sure Mitt did a lot of good. It’s unfortunate that he failed to connect with all Americans. Making stupid $10,000 bets on national TV, incessantly talking about the 47% non tax payers, and having little diversity at his rallies were a sure fire way to defeat.

  8. Darwin's Money says

    Much of the angst about the rich has emanated from Obama’s class warfare rhetoric. What better way to point the finger away from the lousy policies and economy we have today and blame “the rich”, as if they stole our prosperity. I’ve lived through plenty of recessions, and we’re not in a “recovery” believe it or not, and yet, I’ve never seen this level of hatred toward wealthy, successful Americans. There’s a pretty clear correlation.

  9. Michael says

    Check out “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t” about Chuck Feeney, a guy who made billions and then literally gave it all away. For a long time it was all anonymous donations, which I thought was cool. Interesting story about a guy who was making huge sums of money all so he could donate to charity.

    I know the story isn’t quite the same thing you are talking about, but this post reminded me of the book.

    • says

      I heard about that story Michael. I can’t imagine his funds not making a huge difference to the lives of many. If we can provide better financial education to all, I think we can do a lot to help alleviate poverty in America.

  10. says

    A lot of foundations and nonprofit organizations that help the less fortunate wouldn’t be able to survive without the donations they get each year. Sure there are people in the middle class who donate funds but the majority comes from the wealthy. There are a lot of very generous rich people out there who genuinely want to help those in need.

    I think a lot of people hate the 1%ers because there is a misconception that they were all born into money and have stuck up attitudes. While there are millionaires who were born into wealthy families, a lot of them made their fortunes entirely on their own, and are actually really nice people. I went to school with a girl who was super rich, and was also one of the most humble and friendly people in my class. Until people actually have met someone like her, I think it’s easy for them to be stuck in a mindset that rich people are evil and selfish.

  11. says

    I give blood and volunteer at community clean ups. I do not have a regular work schedule so it is hard for me to commit to volunteering for any one organization but my city organizes park and creek clean ups and I attend if it is my weekend off.

    I often see things I would like to give money too but I can’t afford to help anyone if I can’t take care of myself. I want to be able to give to the food bank in the future and not be a client.

  12. says

    Sam, this post is right up my alley right now. I am about to leave my job as an education administrator (on its face, the job is great…until the public education system rears its ugly head; definitely a longer story than the space here!). Ironically, my passion for education and doing it (what I deem) the right way has caused me to leave and pursue it on my own.

    Just the other day I thought about the fact that my charitable donations will go way down for at least a year due to my pay cut…I give a lot. However, I am taking my time to further develop my own Non-Profit that I run..does that make it okay?? Who knows…

    You inspired me to start my blog, so “check” on that one. I will certainly donate my time.

    What a great morning read this was.

    BTW…I thought I have heard every musician joke in the world…until you told me the last one. HAHA!!

    What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless.

    • says

      Tony, is love to hear your public education ugly head story one day on your site. I think it’s great you’re going out there and giving your non profit a go. What is the focus and let me know if I can help.

      • says

        Sam, it’s coming my friend. Trust me! As far as the non-profit, that is so unbelievably nice of you to say. It’s called Kinhaven (www.kinhaven.org). I never thought I would use my blog to promote it, but it is an incredible place for young students to be for a million reasons. I will absolutely talk about education soon…..

  13. says

    Interesting post on helping others! We don’t really need to be wealthy in order to help others, because as mentioned on the post, there are other ways to help those in need if our finances does not allow us to do so. One of the things I noticed in today’s fast changing times, more and more children are getting more self centered so parents should train their kids as early as possible to help others.

  14. says

    I think richness shouldn’t be defined in terms of wealth but rather how we treat someone else. If we spend more of our time trying to help through alternative means-volunteering, mentoring, Donating old clothes, etc. If we define helping the poor in terms of monetary issues, I think we miss a lot of things that might otherwise provide us the ability to appreciate what we have.

  15. says

    As always great points Sam. There are a select few millionaires who inherited their fortunes and statistics show if you have not earned your fortune and don’t have a sound financial background you will squander it over your lifetime thus sending it to the hardworking middle class. I came to the realization a long time ago that the wealthy are wealthy for a reason. I use to think wealthy was a professional athlete but like Chris Rock says, “Wealthy is the guy who signs Shaquille O’neals check!”

    I blame the mainstream media for vilifying the top 1% and I also would point my figure at the public education system here in America. There is absolutely no course taught on personal finance or basic economics. If we could have a grassroots effort to change these two things I believe the outlook of the 1%ers would be a lot better.

    • says

      Chris Rock is right! Everybody thinks pro athletes are wealthy, and they are. But wow… look at the mega wealth behind the owners!

      I hope my site, and the PF sphere is the virtual public education system for teaching finances to Americans and everybody around the world.

  16. Tiffany says

    My pastor told a story of a very wealthy man he knew that no longer needed to make any more money to sustain his life. Once he quit working, he then wanted to know how he could best use his talents to help others. After much consideration, he realized one of his greatest talents was making money! So he started another business and used all the wealth to give away to those in need.

    As the consummate entrepreneur, that story has always stuck with me. I am not in a position to give away everything I earn but we do give a substantial chunk (15%+) now and will hopefully give away quite a bit more once we have paid off our house.

    • says

      Excellent perspective Tiffany. Glad you touched upon the “talent for making money” as a way to help others.

      I can relate to you and the old man b/c of my interest in entrepreneurship and the fortuity I have experienced w/ making money so far. I’m constantly asking myself when will I wake up from this dream.

  17. Paul S. says

    I’d like to add a couple ways to contribute if you don’t have lots of money to donate.

    Host a fundraising dinner:
    You can always contact an organization and ask how you can fundraise for them.
    If you have a little money to spend, some organizations encourage their donors to invite friends/associates for dinner and give them a presentation about the organization and ask for donations. Of course, they would know learn the purpose of the dinner when they recieve the invitation. I haven’t done this and I don’t know how it’s all done, but the organizations that encourage it would be able to tell you how it’s done. Heifer International, I believe, is one of those orgs.

    Serve on a Board of Directors:
    Unless you’re a CEO/CFO, very well connected or have a considerable amount of BoD experience already, you’re unlikely to be able to get on your local United Way or Red Cross BoD, but every city has hundreds of smaller charitable organizations that are looking for professionals to serve on thier BoDs. BoD members may contribute to an organization in areas such as accounting, human resources, strategic planning, fundraising and many other areas. They help locate resources, plan events, talk to donors and foundations, write budgets as well as volunteer. Once you find an organization you would like to serve, contact the organization and ask how you might be able to serve on the board. It helps to have been a volunteer and/or donor but is not necessarily required. Be prepared to provide professional references. You might also prefer to serve on a BoD committee as a non-board member if you have a particular area of expertise, this usually takes less time. I served on a BoD for the last six years for an organization that has a food pantry, medical clinic and literacy lab. It was an extremely rewarding experience for me and I believe that I contributed to the organization in ways that greatly exceeds the value of my monetary donations. Even though I resigned from the BoD this year, I have two young children and not as much time as I used to have, I continue to serve on the Fundraising Committee.

    • says

      Good suggestions. I personally really hate asking anybody for money for a cause I have to pitch. Giving is a very personal matter and it feels a little off to try and hit up anybody for money. Instead, I’ll seek folks who believe in similar causes and figure out ways where we can give more. I think those who are on fundraiser committees do a great job. It’s just not for me.

  18. Jason says

    An interesting article, but for me, only theoretically. I have been working very very hard for literally decades and finally I’m able to see the finish line of financial independence in the next few years. I’ve sacrificed basically everything I could to get where I am and cannot imagine having anything left of myself to give once I set foot in the promised land of early retirement.

    At that point, it’s going to be *only* recovery, mental healing and regaining all of those lost experiences.

    • Paul S. says

      Jason,
      You won’t have anything left of yourself to give? Wow, how depressing! I hope I never say that about myself.

      The interesting thing about giving is that often the more you give, the more you recieve.

      • Jason says

        Maybe I’m wrong; time will tell, I guess.

        It would be great and quite surprising if, after a little bit of a break, I’m rarin’ to go again. But, it just seems far-fetched.

    • says

      I’d love to hear more about your story as it sounds like quite a battle you have with achieving financial independence. Perhaps you are interested in writing a guest post here for some catharsis? If not, what necessitates the mental healing and lost experiences?

      • Jason says

        Hi FS

        Well, I’d be open to sharing my story, but I have no idea if it would be suitable. My story may even commit the most heinous of sins: being boring.

        One thing to note: I’m not FI just yet. (It’s about 5 years away).

        Basically, for the past 20 years, I’ve been trying to build my career as best I could, often to the detriment of most other things (social life, health, etc.) and now realize that I’ve missed out on many of life’s finer things. And now, ironically, the pressure and distaste is so bad, I can’t wait to abandon the career that I’ve worked so hard to build.

        But, there are a few hard-won financial lessons that I could share; some things that I had to learn and accept to get to where I am now. I don’t see these around very often, especially in the early-retirement / frugality forums and blogs.

        I’m sure that many of your wealthy readers would think my achievements truly meager. But, to me, this is my shot at real freedom and if I’m careful and I work like hell, I may make it to the other side.

        If you’re still interested in the details after all this long-windedness, let me know and I can write something up.

        • says

          Jason, I guess I’m trying to get some perspective and highlight that perhaps going all out for financial independence may not be all that it’s cracked up to be due to too many sacrifices.

          If you have a story to tell with details, is love to hear it because although I sacrificed by working my ass off for 13 years while saving the majority of every paycheck and bonus, I never felt like I was sacrificing. It felt great to save and now I’m free. I think when u get there, you’ll find it to be worth it.

        • Jason says

          Yes, I definitely can attest that it’s not all rainbows and roses. For me, it’s been grueling, especially the past 5 years.

          I’ll write something up for you in the next week or so. Let me know where I should send it.

  19. No Name Guy says

    ” What do I say to an organization who has come to expect a $2,000 check every winter now that I can no longer afford to do so? Sorry?”

    Well, you answer your own question later on in the post – volunteer and become a mentor. Depending on what the charity is, being ER / FI / Independently Wealthy allows you to contribute FAR more in time than in direct cash. What’s your time worth? Being ER / FI / IW allows you to contribute fantastic quantities of hours, which translates to 5 or 6 figures of value.

    I happen to volunteer maintaining trails on our public lands. I took the training necessary to become a certified saw team leader. Each hour doing this on the public lands is valued at…not sure exactly, but on the order of $25, is what the charity I volunteer with puts down on the Form 990. 80 hours a year having fun with an old school cross cut saw out in Wilderness or a chain saw in non-Wilderness areas provides the same value as the cash contribution. Plus, I ENJOY that time far more than I enjoy earning $2,000 cash money wages to donate. Forest & Wilderness versus cubicle….yeah, no comparison.

    • says

      Yes, the act of helping often trumps the act of monetary giving. But philosophically, if it’s about what we enjoy, is that not selfish? I’m often drawn back to the concept of karma. We give without expectation, but deep down, we may give in hopes of receiving good karma in the future. But if we think that way, we are not being selfless in our giving! A quandary.

      • No Name Guy says

        One need not suffer while giving. IMO, one can enjoy the act of giving. Good question on the karma thing. I’m not a philosopher, so….meh, I’ll do good and enjoy it at the same time. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy working with my hands (since I sit at a desk all day). I enjoy building (sime I’m an engineer. Put those together and volunteer trail crew is something I can enjoy WHILE giving to the public. I don’t expect hikers to fawn over me while out there, so in that sense, I don’t think I’m being selfish. I may enjoy the trails I worked on more – certainly, who wouldn’t enjoy hiking on a trail free from blown down trees, or clear of encroaching brush. But I’m but one of hundreds or thousands who would enjoy it. I also work on trails that I’ll probably never hike or ride myself.

        • No Name Guy says

          A further reflection: What’s the difference in giving money versus giving time if one expects karma points? In the end, I’d rather spend 80 hours out in the woods giving to the public trails, than in the office, earning enough money to give to an organization to hire a youth crew member to do 80 hours out in the woods. Besides, it’ll be more efficient – cut out all the middle men and their overhead, plus get the satisfaction of seeing the work done.

  20. Paul S. says

    Sam,
    Don’t take this the wrong way, but it sounds like you partially failed in your objective to be free, unplug, escape, if continuing to donate to this organization every year would have made you feel more fulfilled. Perhaps working another six months or a year would have put you in a financial position to continue the annual donations. That’s something that others with the same objective might think about. Of course, maybe you can get back to that donation level with the YWC or another method with your newfound freedom.

    • says

      I probably have failed them. My original plan was to work 5 more years and have that much more passive income, but I decided to starve and do my own thing. It’s not so much I feel less fulfilled giving less, its more I feel guilt for not being able to help someone more. Having grown up in developing countries and now living in the richest country in the world, guilt always seems to pop up. Writing this post helps me deal w/ my guilt of living a decent life.

  21. says

    Wealth is a tool, nothing more. People can use it for good or for evil. Or just for themselves, which isn’t inherently bad either. But I am of the belief that we need to foster a society that loves the rich and encourages them to give, not forcibly take it from their paychecks. I hope to one day build enough wealth to be able to write those checks, or help out a struggling stranger, or just bless my family.

    All of that being said, if people don’t start giving while they aren’t wealthy, nothing will change once they gain wealth. It’s an attitude that needs to start before the money comes rolling in. I think it a great goal to pursue wealth to help others, but you need to help others while pursuing wealth for that to become a reality.

  22. says

    This post raises an interesting question. I think not wanting to be rich because we just want to sit around and enjoy freedom would be selfish, but not wanting to be rich for other reasons (like fighting consumerism, to help others, etc) is a different story. I guess it’s not a matter of whether we are rich or not (or even wanting to be rich or not), but the motivation behind it.

    These types of questions are really important. This is something that I faced when looking for a new job. I realized that I wouldn’t make the most money in a non-profit position, but I would much rather spend 40 hours a week helping people than earning 6 figures and then donating a portion of my income to charity. Both are important to do (and I respect those with more money who donate), but how I spend my time was more important.

  23. says

    I don’t think that not wanting to get richer is selfish…..but I do see what you’re saying. I personally started a blog for selfish reasons…to make money. I do give away money to charities that I believe in but I also mentor. I started last month at a financial class given at a local church. I was assigned a family and I have helped them identify needs vs. wants and create a budget. It’s been fun.

    • says

      I’ve rarely heard anybody admit they started a blog to make money, so thanks for your candor! I hope you do make some good money from your blog. Goodness knows we try hard without ever any immediate expectations of monetary compensation.

      • says

        Yeah, I will totally admit it. We made zero dollars for the first 3-4 months but have steadily increased our income every month since. Anyone who starts a blog “just for fun” is probably a better person than me.

        • says

          Nice. I forget how long you’ve been blogging, but once you hit that 2 year mark, momentum really starts to build as synergies emerge with your emerging portfolio of writing.

          I started my sight out of catharsis during the crisis.

  24. says

    We all want what we can’t have and if we don’t see a way to get it than it’s easier to bring down those that do. There once was a man who wanted to spread the good word to help those that might need motivation to help them turn a leaf in their lives. Some people would laugh and say “why are you wasting your time on these people” and others would say “I’m proud of You”. You will always have people turning up a nose at your decisions in life but richness comes from what is deep in our hearts and what we value as individuals. No one can take away how we feel so if someone says you are wasting your time, turn to them and say, well “it’s my time to waste”. Shannon Hoon said it best ” I know we can’t all stay here forever , so I want to write my words on the face of today, And they’ll paint it”. We only live once, so live it the way you want, richness is what we all desire.. but richness is most powerful in our actions and words. Great post Sam

  25. Socialism Saves Lives says

    Being rich is unfathomably selfish because it entails the notion that one is entitled to buy 6 mansions or hoard $5 million in the bank instead of saving hundreds of lives with that money. Of course, if you have $5 million you can easily give 1 or 2 million without really sacrificing, and it in fact it makes you feel much better about yourself. I don’t believe it is generous it all, and I’m guessing God doesn’t either. Just saying. What’s really pathetic is that very few rich people even give 1 million out of 5 million. If someone gives 4 million out of 5 million, then we can start to discuss generosity- I still believe they are selfish, although more generous than at least 95% of people would be in that situation. I won’t even begin to talk about those who have hundreds of millions or billions.

    Do I have way more money than I need and I do I spend money on frivolous things while people starve and die of preventable causes? Absolutely. Does that make me unfathomably selfish? ABSOLUTELY. The problem is that I don’t have the willpower to donate a large fraction of my money, although I am 100% that it would be the right thing to do, and I am also sure that the main reason I am doing well financially is due to the advantages I was given in life.

  26. Ishmael says

    Well, I know you poo-poo what you like to call socialism, particularly by taking an extreme case and comparing things against that, but I’ll try and offer a different perspective.

    Government has the potential of improving the overall level well-being in a society more efficiently than the wealthy benefactor model you describe. (Yes, I said government and efficiently in the same sentence.) For an example, take health care – in pretty much every Western economy, there are national health care systems that deliver better outcomes at far lower cost than the private-only model of the US. Why is that? I’m guessing because the administrative costs of attempting to battle who-pays-for-what keeps compounding so that the administrative costs in that system are much higher than even the relatively inefficiently run government.

    Some things make sense to run through government, because it has a unique set of incentives that are different than in the private sector. The same goes for charities, non-profits and co-operatives. They all need to be utilized in the right way to solve the problems that matter.

    What matters in government is not ideology, but accountability and transparency. Corruption is what matters, not these silly artificial debates about ideology that the US “right” seems to love to waste time on. Having engaged citizens deeply involved in a meaningful, respectful debate, and lawmakers that are genuinely interested in the societal good is the best case.

    You make the case that talent and hard work should be rewarded, including in the parable about GPAs in your other article. That’s a silly point, because I have never met a single person of any political stripe that does not believe the same thing. Of course people who work hard and are talented should earn more money than However, you obviously know from writing this blog that the thing that creates wealth is wealth itself, i.e. ownership.

    An example: many musicians are truly hard-working and amazingly talented, yet who continues to make the bulk of the money in the industry? Those who take ownership of their work, by exploiting the musician’s financial situations, and control of the distribution channels. The internet is helping change this, because IMO in a good society there would be regulation that would prevent music industry labels from exercising this level of control, thereby creating a level playing field in which musicians can maximum access to people that enjoy their music, creating a diverse, eclectic environment that benefits the 99% of everyone, not the 1% of the music industry.

    So the real problem is how wealth has concentrated in the hands of the few, and how ownership is continually concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. This creates a society that is unbalanced, and the effect snowballs over time because wealth creates wealth far better than talent does. If you happen to have talent in an area that’s associated with money (i.e. investing), you get far wealthier than someone in an area that might matter far more to the overall good of society (i.e. teaching).

    And wealth inequality hurts everyone, including the wealthy. In a society that makes an attempt to even out the highs and lows of the economic spectrum, a more level playing field is built, which allows each individual to live up to their potential. There’s no debate that people born in poverty have to overcome much more (and therefore be that much more talented and work that much harder) to achieve the same thing.

    How can anyone argue that this level of wealth inequality is because of “laziness and uselessness”? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

    Taking two of your examples: Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Warren Buffet is incredibly, uniquely talented, no doubt. Bill Gates, on the other hand is talented, but not moreso than thousands and thousand of other people in your country. But, he happened to be in the right place at the right time and make some good decisions; then he worked very hard to create an illegal monopoly that disrupted commerce and other talented people. And neither of them would be nearly as wealthy as they are if they didn’t exist in a society that gave them opportunities.

    There are lots of places in the world that have the elitely wealthy and the rest, and all of them suck. Pakistan is a great example – very little regulation, deeply religious – a tea partier’s paradise. Not mine though.

    I find the political points you try to make on this blog to be somewhat disingenuous; picking an absurd extreme case and then attacking it might be the norm in US political discussions, but it doesn’t help build a better country. Should everyone pay at least some level of taxes? Yeah, pretty much. At the same time, the workers who make everything function should be getting a lot more than they are, and the inventors that create things should maintain some level of ownership of their work so they can profit off it as well as the people who simply contribute money to something.

    I hope this brings a slightly different perspective into things.

      • Ishmael says

        There’s no magic bullet; not ideology, at any rate. I think solutions will come from gathering facts and data interpreted by a diversity of viewpoints. Not just what make the 1% sleep better at night. Also, that all those that contribute positively to that society should benefit – not equally, but proportionately, to the value they contribute.

        Also that it’s more efficient to provide a comfortable base for everybody than to attempt to mop up the mess at the other end (e.g. it’s far more expensive to run someone through the justice system and jail them for much of their lives than it is to make sure they get enough food to eat and a good education). This is simple project management – in software development, the cost of catching a bug in requirements is something like 1/100th the cost of catching it in testing.

        As far as to whether it is selfish to not want to be rich – of course not. You can’t live your life for other people, although contributing in the way you can that is compatible with your own happiness makes the world a better place. I like the Dalai Lama’s quote summarizing Buddhism here: “If you can, help others. If you cannot, at least do not hurt anyone.”

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