Do You Feel It’s Our Duty To Help If We Can?

My duty to help: A helping hand Financial Samurai

As a parent, there's nothing more rewarding than helping your kids. They're born into this world completely helpless and need you to grow and thrive. It's a parent's duty to help, love, and support. But, what about helping distant relatives, friends, or even complete strangers? Do you feel it's our duty to help if we can?

As a personal finance blogger, I love discussing all sorts of topics that revolve around how we spend money, invest, and grow our wealth.

The Duty To Help Others Vs Just Help Yourself

When it comes to money or dreaming about getting rich, so often we're just focused on what we'd buy or splurge on for ourselves.

For example, I'd like to be fabulously wealthy. So wealthy that I wouldn't think twice about taking a taxi home or booking a first class ticket to Europe on my next adventure. Heck, regularly flying private would be incredible.

Alas, I still ride coach with terrific strangers who take both arm rests even though I'm sitting in the middle. It would also be nice not to have to pontificate for years whether or not I should finally buy a new car. And on a similar note, it would be lovely not to get upset about speeding or parking tickets.

To the mansion, Alfred!” would be a fun phrase to say once in a while.

But I'm happy because the journey is a riot. To be able to share stories with all of you makes life so much more fun. I swear, if I wasn't already writing for free online, I'd consider paying Al Gore, the creator of the Internet, the right to continue publishing online every month!

So I got to thinking during hot tub time one day whether we all have the duty to help if we can help.

Is It Crazy To Feel We Have The Duty To Help Others?

A friend of mine recently said, “Sam, you are a crazy, insane person. What kind of financially independent person writes all the time, subjects himself to public hanging, then writes some more? Are you a masochist? Why are you then slaving away by consulting another 25 hours a week? And now you've started a podcast? WTF?!”

I shrugged.

He continued, “Look. If I didn't have to work, I'd be popping bottles at the clubs and hooking up with chicas bonitas all the time! If you've got your shit together in your 30s, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. You can't miss! The jocks had their time in high school and college. Now it's our time!” as he beat his chest with great furor.

I laughed.

We had a couple more drinks and decided to move on to a game of darts. This is New York City after all where darts at 1am followed by a jazz club until 3am on a Tuesday morning is the norm.

A couple days later on my miserable 6-hour plane ride home to San Francisco, I thought about my friend's questions. Seriously, why bother doing anything helpful if you're free to do other more insanely fun things?

The answer is that I think it's the responsibility to share what we know. I believe it's our duty to help others if we can. Besides, it's much more fun working if you're not depending on the income to survive.

It's Fun To Share What We Know

Even though I spend around 20 hours a week writing on Financial Samurai for free, I feel it's my duty to help others learn about personal finance. I also feel it's my responsibility to share my financial knowledge. There's obviously affiliate and advertising revenue here, so don't pity me just yet.

And, I've been fortunate to go to college, work in finance, go to business school, and make my financial nut relatively early. There are plenty of people like me. But, there aren't plenty of people like me who also really enjoy writing out their thoughts.

It would be amazingly wonderful to read three posts a week from Warren Buffett or President Obama about their crazy shenanigans. But alas, they are too busy making billions or saving the world. Even if they did have time to write, they might not find as much joy writing with the same amount of frequency.

So you'll have to live with small-time folks like me and the hundreds of millions of other people out there who are not billionaires and who don't run countries.

Branson's Necker Island
Branson's Necker Island

But man, if I ever get so fabulously wealthy that I can rent out Richard Branson's Necker Island and host a party for the thousands of Financial Samurai readers all week, I promise you I will STILL be publishing at least a couple posts a week and responding to as many comments as possible! There would be so many more fun stories to tell!

Maybe I will continue to write because I don't have much talent elsewhere. I'm never going to be a professional athlete. I'm stuck strumming the same five chords on my guitar for the past 15 years. And the only art I ever created was a bunch of abstract paintings a child could do. However, I'm furiously addicted to pounding a computer keyboard. So, I might as well share as much as possible before I croak.

Do You Feel It's Your Duty To Help Others?

I was on a crowded bus to work one day when a couple passengers in the very front shouted for the bus driver to pull over. The two passengers quickly got out and rescued a kid who was getting beat up on the sidewalk by some bigger kids. They didn't have to do anything. But, they felt a duty to help save a child they witnessed getting bullied. Their actions are just another example of helping if they can help.

Regret is one of the things I'm hoping everybody on Financial Samurai gets to minimize over time. Regret is the worst because it tends to eat you up inside as time passes. If I'm able to share stories that help minimize people's regrets, while potentially maximizing happiness, then I need to share. Otherwise, I'm just being selfish and lazy. There's no do-over despite all the personal finance land mines awaiting us.

If you have a particular talent, or even the sustained interest of doing something better than average, I think it's your responsibility to keep on doing it and sharing it with others until you no longer have the energy.

Further Reading

I'm curious to know if there are some things you're doing because you feel it's your responsibility to share? Are we all given a particular talent we should maximize? Or do some of us simply have nothing to give to the world? Am I stupid for continuing to work so much? If you have a burning question in a comment that I haven't answered, please post it again and/or shoot me an e-mail. 



About The Author

44 thoughts on “Do You Feel It’s Our Duty To Help If We Can?”

  1. I do believe we have a responsibility to give back as much as we can. In fact, I have been meaning to ask you if you could do a post on vanguard’s charitable endowment program, or similar donor-advised funds. My husband and I are in our early thirties and have recently passed the million mark in investable assets. (Although, 3 million is the new million! Lol) we have been considering starting one of these with the minimum of 25k, then adding to it as we go through life and leaving it for our children to administer after we are gone. We would like to instill in them a charitable mindset. However, I’m not sure if it’s too early for this type of thing — is it smarter to wait? Or just give from our bank accounts and not from an endowment?

    1. I’ve got a great idea Mina. Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of work on the subject. I’m not familiar. How about you gather your notes, write out various benefits and costs in a post on FS for all to ponder!

  2. Obama saving the world?

    He’s far too opposed to working with people with differing ideologies to ever come close to saving the world. He should give back his Nobel Peace Prize until he’s demonstrated actually having earned it.

    And in full disclosure, I voted for him twice, I thought he would actually bring people together (not just identify that coming together is what needs to happen.)

    Tying this quasi (sp?) rant into your post and questions. I do think that most people have one thing or a few things that they inherently excel at. Keeping the same example, President Obama excels at identifying how society can be better and articulating in a well structured, written out speech. What he doesn’t excel at (in my opinion) is having the patience and endurance and drive (like internal gut motivation) to want to make those societal improvements his preaches become reality. He currently demonstrates that he’s NOT a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King Jr. He’s not bringing people together but helping to drive people apart. He forces his approach onto others or into the system under the guise of “it’s the right end” while ignoring the fact that there also has to be the right means, the right way to get to that right end.

    Maybe it’s his current role that makes it so difficult for him to get things done…maybe once he’s out of office he’ll be able to pull people together as much as he wants to…or maybe it’s just not within him.

    My point here (using the Obama example) is that may would agree he’s a great speech writer, orator, but he can’t deliver on what he “preaches”. This is a signficant limitation – should someone who does something exceptionally half way continue to do it? Does it matter that he shares his ideas on a happier, more just society if he can’t help make it reality?

    I think the duty to share is important but only to the extend that it can actually provide productive/positive contribution to others. For example, if my comments here aren’ seen as productive to other readers than I definitely shouldn’t feel a duty to share them…to do so would just be noise.

  3. help im a 40 year old navy vet with a bachelors degree and no debt ,and have no job no savings maybe 1 or 2k in a old 401k dont own any vehicles or property or have any insurance debt free just would like some advice were to start over with a solid auto do x and auto pay all my bills looking for some steps lost to many jobs over my life time sick of worrying about money ps no credit card debt or no student lones i worked and paid my way threw college open to advice feel free to email me was thinking of just buying a diversified portfolio worth of dividen Aaristocrats and keep investing till it totally replaced all my monthly bills then enjoy the rest of my life . thoughts financial ninja’s

  4. I do believe you have a duty to help and add value to the world if you can – but the duty is really to yourself. People can and will generally do whatever is in their own best interest, but there’s not much that’s better than realising your own potential, and making a positive impact on your part of the world and the people around you, however big or small. It’s almost like a duty to your future self, so that when you’re sitting back reflecting on your life and the world you’re closer to leaving behind, you’ll do so with tremendous satisfaction.

  5. Love this post. Giving is very important. You can give financially but also through knowledge. What you’re doing is great. I do appreciate all the PF bloggers out there writing and sharing their knowledge. It’s a great community that we have.

    1. It’s definitely a fun and interesting one. I think of two categories: “The purists” and “the money seekers.” It’s interesting to see how blogs evolve when money starts getting in the equation. I think I’ll always write for the fun of it first. Growing the revenue stream is definitely fun too though, as is figuring out how to optimize the site.

  6. Great post Sam,

    Collaboration and helping others have brought nothing but happiness and new ideas. Just gathering money or hoarding skill must feel pretty empty (no experience just a thought) because even if you think of them necessities, can’t imagine the goal on this earth was to just keep on getting ahead.

    Give back till it hurts

  7. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

    Helping others and sharing what I know (however little that may be) gives me purpose and joy in a way that no massive income ever could. Though a private island would help ;)

  8. I enjoy your blog so much, and you have influenced me a lot!

    I donate my time to spay/neuter clinics for shelter animals and people who want to have pets but can’t afford to pay for the surgery; and also help with low-cost vaccine clinics. I realize pets are a luxury, but for many, they bring a lot of joy.

    The pets and their families aren’t the only ones who benefit– I do, too, by knowing I make a difference.

    1. Wow Robin, that’s a niche thing I’m assuming only of few people can do or want to do. I’d love to have a pet again (mine died this year). Maybe a Corgie mix or a Siberian cat.

      How did you learn your skill? Thanks for being a part of the community.

      1. Hi Sam,

        I went to vet school at Virginia tech. I think either a Corgi mix or Siberian (maybe even a Siamese, if you like talkative cats with personality +?) would be great! Very sorry to hear that you lost your pet. They never, ever, live long enough….

        Thanks so much again for writing this blog!

  9. I appreciate that you take the time to write here. To see the subject matter of each new post is like a present to unwrap in my feedly. I appreciate your dedication, insight and intellect. However, if you wanted to downshift your volume, I wouldn’t fault you.

    Do whatever it is YOU want to do. I would imagine that is why you are consulting, because you like it. The fact that your publishing has the potential create value for others is a great benefit. I can’t imagine that constantly boozing and hooking up with as many people as possible would provide a great sense of accomplishment.

    I think among many cultures and religions it’s generally accepted that you are really maximizing your own value when you are helping as many people as you can.

    1. Austin,

      I’m thinking of writing more for the new year actually, with new forms of content. I’ve been inspired by companies with marketing budgets and will try to emulate their production with a minimum budget. Will be fun to compete.

      I always wonder how the little guys can compete against the big guys with lots more money. My hope is that the Internet is a meritocracy where anybody with a will can make it.

      1. The Internet is a more level playing field. Your advantage in the meritocracy is that you have a tribe that appreciates you and your efforts.

  10. Thanks for writing this, Sam. I’ll answer your question with a resounding YES. Have you ever read Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth? (Not coincidentally where I got the name for my blog). Carnegie had a few weird ideas about why the wealthy are that way, but he was all about those who have more giving to those who have less, whether it was money, talents, knowledge, or badassity.

  11. If your friend hit the lotto and didn’t have to work, he may live like a rock star for few years, but that lifestyle will feel empty pretty quickly. Most people need goals, the need to feel productive, and sense of having some purpose. Once we have enough to take care of ourselves and families, sure help others through volunteering, donations, other charities, etc.
    However, as for helping people in physical altercation, I’d recommend against it mostly, especially in large cities. Too many people are armed with guns, knives, other weapons and perfectly willing to use them. It’s not worth it to risk your life for a stranger. Calling 911 and then leaving the scene is typically the best option.

    1. The question is: how do you know that his lifestyle will feel empty pretty quickly if you have never hit the lotto, and you aren’t him?

      Everybody is different. I’m amazed at how some of my 40+ year old friends still prance around thinking like they are 25 years old.

      1. That’s true, you know your friend. Maybe his hero is Hugh Hefner and his life aspiration is to hook up with as many hotties at the finest clubs as possible to live a life he feels he missed out on during his years in school and feels the only thing holding him back is the lack of funds or fame. You sound fairly responsible, so it surprising that you have many friends who aspire to lead that sort of lifestyle. Maybe it’s because your background is from the high pressure finance industry?
        However, I believe most people will prefer the Princess Diana and Richard Branson lifestyle of partying like a rock star while also doing helpful and productive endeavors for society.

          1. I’m Asian, immigrated to U.S. at 15. I mentioned I’m surprised you are friends with someone like that, because I’m a firm believer people have to be true to themselves and not lead a life of lie, especially after a certain age. If your friend’s true personality is to lead a life of a clubbing lothario indefinitely in his 30s, 40s, 50s without tiring of that lifestyle, that says a lot about his core personality. It isn’t someone many people I know would want to be associated with. If he isn’t currently living that sort of lifestyle, then my guess is that he’s just posturing and saying it as a joke. Money typically tends to magnify someone’s true personality.

  12. I think we absolutely have a duty to use our resources and talents to benefit the less fortunate – ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ What makes you or I so special that we were lucky enough to be born as U.S. citizens to parents who nurtured us into productive and resourceful adults? I don’t think we’re deserving of our destiny any more than the kid born in war-torn Africa is deserving of her destiny. If I’m not doing something every day to make someone else’s life a little better, I think I’d become depressed and throw my hands up in the air at the injustices of life. Rant over – thank you for writing your blog!

    1. Great quote and I agree that we are fortunate just being able to grow up in the US system.

      I wonder when search engines from more international countries will start leading people here and other US sites. Maybe each country has their own version of FS.

  13. Good post.

    I choose to use the term “opportunity to xxx” rather than “responsibility to xxx” because I think the latter is too old school guilt-laden.

    And I think our opportunity can net out to ANYTHING incremental we can do. But I don’t think how one helps has to be related to a professional vocation…at all.

    Case in point: I’ve been early retired for the last four months and not doing much of anything, per se, except that I:

    I walk my young daughter to pre-school every morning. As a result, she and I have become much closer.

    I do all our laundry, and grocery/incidentals shopping. I cook dinner for my wife and me every night. I ‘cover’ for my wife on the many evenings when she is out for work ‘stuff.’ I do our landscaping. I manage our finances and pay our bills. For right now, my purpose is: make life much easier for my wife and do everything I can to further strengthen our marriage.

    Oh! Every four to six weeks I spend a few hours at GLIDE in SF doing food prep for an organization that serves 4,500 meals per day to the needy.

    In the eyes of most, all of these items are not much at all. But I equate every one of these elements to HELPING.

  14. First of all, I want to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog. So keep writing! Even when you write long or unpopular posts, you need to keep sending you voice out there. And I like it that your voice is different than a lot of bloggers.

    Now to this recent post: yes! If we are so fortunate as to have a talent or skill that others can benefit from I think it’s important for us to share it. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about this as I retired early last June. Sadly it wasn’t b/c I could afford it, it was for my health & well being. So now as I try out different paths I’d like to take the one I keep coming back to is a crazy little business idea that could help people who are entrepreneurs learn from my experiences as an entrepreneur.

    And it seems no matter how much I want to rest (I had been a teacher in special ed) I find that I still have the desire to share my skills and abilities. After all, I am smarter and more talented than a lot of people and so I think I can make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging its just that I’ve noticed these things.

    So, yes, Sam, keep writing even when you can afford to rent out Bransen’s place. See you at the party!


    1. Sounds good Cristi! Any long and unpopular posts you’d like to point out so I can correct my mistakes for the future?

      I’m going to be experimenting with more short posts.

  15. To people who have to continue to work to survive, they have an idealized vision of what it would mean not to have serious financial worries anymore. The assumption is that money fixes everything.

    Money doesn’t garner true friends. It doesn’t raise your kids. It doesn’t keep you happy.

    Don’t get me wrong, money can make to easier to do these and many other things, but by no means guarantees them. I run into retired folks fairly often. I saw them in my old neighborhood when I visited my parents. I’ve spoken with a number of them. Most are financially independent. All continue to pursue meaning in their lives via church, hobbies, activities, jobs, mentoring, etc. and the happiest seem to do so with one underlying theme:

    They want to be useful to family and community.

    It’s easy to say you’ll kick back and drink beer and party for a while regardless of how or at what age you achieved finacially independent. But it’s got to get boring doing only that, it begins to lack meaning and either you start doing something you think is worthwhile or you end up seeking new thrills via drugs or wilder activities that are likely to kill you. Even the people with gobs of money who seem to be slugs justify many of their activities as having meaning and providing useful benefits (e.g. they support causes or argue how their spending on excess stimulates the economy, etc.).

    IMHO it’s why so many people when they retire or win a lottery or get a huge inheritance become lost. Loss of meaning and loss of feeling useful.

    So if you like doing what you do, and it makes you feel useful, go for it. Doesn’t have to be a big deal, maybe it’s just working part time or babysitting the grandkids or sitting on a church committee or writing a blog. Doesn’t have to be the same thing for twenty years either. That’s the nice thing about being financially independent, you can easily change it up.

  16. Sam,

    Found this blog over the summer and as a fresh college grad (May) and financial professional now myself, I can’t express how much I enjoy this blog. I’ve followed a lot of your advice/strategy, and thanks do a debt free college experience, am well on my way to achieving my financial nut. Thanks for continuing to post!

  17. Fascinating topic. I have wondered about what portion of people are truly accurate when they say “If I were X, then I would Y.” It’s hard to really know Y if we haven’t experienced X. Not to say it can’t be done, but you hear so many people say “I would never spend $1000 on a watch even if I had all the money in the world!” Maybe they really wouldn’t, but I sometimes doubt it. However, I do not doubt YOU Sam.

    1. Definitely do not doubt the raging week or month long party we will have on Necker Island if I ever make it big! I guess I have to make friend’s with Richard first though. But, a friend got married there this summer, so I think we’ve got an in! Yeah baby yeah!

  18. Wall Street Playboys

    You don’t have a duty to anyone but it sure is fun to blog and realize you were right.

    The best feeling is when people email you saying that XYZ worked immediately (you already know it works because you did it yourself! But the reaffirmation is fun).

    Overall the main draw is really that it creates less EXCUSES. After hearing so many people complain all day about there not being “resources” to solve their problems you now know you’re part of the solution.

    Beyond that the income is secondary, no one with actual success cares too much about their blog income, it’s not gonna break the bank or move the needle materially. It’s not even a job! It’s just a fun hobby.

    1. It definitely is nice to get a email from a reader who writes that something they read really helped them achieve something else.

      The needle being moved from blog income is the ability to remain stimulated while trying new things.

  19. Yes, I agree with you Sam! My husband does very well and I have the luxury of staying home with our 3 growing girls. They are in school full time now so based on my passion…I am teaching personal finance to high school kids a few days a week. We do need to be helping people and it makes my soul happy when I do it. I’ve done the corporate thing before kids and this by far is WAY more rewarding!

  20. I found your blog a couple of months ago and really enjoy reading it. I’m someone that had to find my talent which I found in real estate now that I do it full time its something that I love getting up every morning to learn and teach others about.

  21. The first time I read Joe Dominguez’ and Vickie Robin’s book “Your Money or Your Life” one of the things which struck me was their comments about after you don’t have to work, what will you do? They talked about doing things which make the world better and which you care about (either for money or as a volunteer). They talked about giving back, which was why they wrote their book. That struck a cord with me and during my last year of two of employment I actively looked for such opportunities. When I retired, I knew what I was going to do that was worthwhile. I had known too many people who retired, became couch potatoes and were dead in 3 years.

    Thanks for your blog, I enjoy your thoughts and insights, even though I have been FI for over 10 years.

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