Change to Spare?
Total Black: $406.64
Total Red: $228,519.06
In a prior entry, The Lowly Penny, I wrote about my own struggles to unclench my hand. Unfortunately, despite quite a few opportunities, I still haven’t given anything to people I pass on the street. In fact, at one point last week, the only money I had was $2.50 in my pocket from one of the participants of the bookclubs I organize when she paid her RSVP fee in cash moments earlier. As I walked home with that money in my pocket, I wrestled with giving it away versus getting something to eat to hold me over until the morning when unemployment money came through. I don’t know which is more embarrassing, that I kept the $2.50 or that I used most of it to purchase an instant noodle dish for dinner. I must have stood in Duane Reade for about fifteen minutes thinking through all the variables of the items I could afford. A box of pasta for $1.99 would supply at least three meals, but I’d have to eat it plain because I didn’t have any sauces, oil, or even butter to dress it up. A can of tuna fish for $2.09 would’ve worked, but it was tuna in oil and I don’t really care for that type. Tuna in water cost more than I could afford. I debated the chicken-flavored Ramen noodle six-pack for $2.49 because that would have provided at least three meals (I usually double-up on the Ramen noodle packs because they’re small portions). But I decided not to chance it because I was unsure if New York charges tax on food and I didn’t want the embarrassment of having to give it back because I didn’t have enough on me. None of the credit cards had room to cover the few cents extra it might have cost. I had to laugh though as I stood there comparing prices. I had this image of myself on The Price Is Right deciding whether the actual retail price was higher or lower than the price being displayed on the can of stew or box of mac & cheese in front of me. I knew the answer, I explained to Bob Barker, because of that low point in my life in Duane Reade figuring out what I could afford to buy.
Later in the week I had one instance where I felt happy telling someone on the street that I was actually prevented from helping. As I walked past the person staffing the Bloodmobile, I explained that I’d love to donate but the law prevents gay men from giving blood. (It’s assumed we all have AIDS. Google it. It’s true.) For that brief moment I felt oddly relieved that the decision was taken away from me. Later, as I passed yet another homeless person, ignoring his request for money, I suddenly realized that I don’t have to give money to homeless people on the street. No law—spiritual or otherwise—says I must give them my money. I suppose it speaks to my character that I wrestle with this guilt every time I do walk by. But I realized—all of a sudden really—that I can donate money instead to a charity. So, earlier tonight I set up a recurring donation on NYCharities.org of $20 each month for the Coalition For the Homeless. In her book The Courage to Be Rich, Suze Orman writes how giving helps us feel richer. As we open our hand, we open our heart. Putting yourself in a position of giving opens yourself up to receiving as well. She also notes though that you should give to feel richer, not to make yourself poorer. So, I figured that even though $20 a month isn’t much, it’ll help me feel better knowing that I’m helping someone else.
As I watched the funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy this afternoon, I started thinking about all the different ways we can help improve the world around us. A few more obvious ways include spending your career in public service as Senator Kennedy did. I started down that path when I joined the United States Peace Corps. We can also donate money to charities—one-step removed, but still direct aid. Another option even further removed, but still direct, would be to give some of our spare change to that guy on the corner. Even though it probably wouldn’t lead to any lasting change, he’d be grateful.
With the onset of the digital age, even easier options exist to spare make a difference, some of which don’t even cost anything. For example, maybe you noticed this box also shows up on the main page. It’s a feature WordPress.com provides for bloggers to provide a charitable contribution in their blog. WordPress pairs organizations with businesses, I selected Showtime, and for each click on the icon, Showtime will contribute to the cause I selected (only certain causes available). I chose DoSomething.org as the organization I wanted to sponsor. DoSomething.org encourages teenagers to help get involved in their communities and make a difference. As of this posting, I’m the only person who has clicked on the link. (Note the “1” in the snapshot.)
Part of the new experience of blogging my way out of debt is thinking outside the box and coming up with atypical means of generating income. Maybe you also spotted the Amazon.com icon in the sidebar. It’s one way you can help me reach my goal, but without it costing you anything. For whatever purchase you make on Amazon.com, I’ll get between 4% – 8%. Amazon.com established Amazon Associates accounts that give you a percentage back from any of the business you route their way. It’s not much—if you buy a book for $10.00, I’ll get $0.40—but it’s still money I didn’t otherwise have.
Another cost-free way to help: click on the Upomise icon and you’ll be taken to a guest shopping website. A percentage of whatever you purchase through that website will go directly (not first through me) to SallieMae as a payment on my private student loan debt. It costs nothing extra to you, in fact it might even cost less with various coupons, discounts, and other incentives to attract your business. Members link their local grocery store card, for example, debit or credit cards, and earn dollars that get paid to student loans. Even family and friends can link their cards up as well. An ingenious idea, Upromise is a pretty new savings vehicle established for parents trying to put away money for their children’s college tuition. Graduates with student loan debt are also able to use the same features to pay down their student loans. Last month Upomise sent a $20 payment to my loans at SallieMae. Imagine how quickly I could pay off my student loans if, say, two hundred people linked their grocery discount cards, for example, or their pet store point cards to my Upromise account! Or if they used my guest shopping link first before buying a book through Barnes & Noble or booking a trip with Expedia.com.
And, of course, there’s always the old stand-by: just ask for a hand-out. In a previous entry, Res Ipsa Loquitur, I calculated, based on its Annual Report, that Starbucks earns 18 million dollars a day from beverage sales alone. Insane! Imagine if we pooled that money instead and used it to bail out families facing eviction? Or used it to help people pay down their medical bills or credit card debt? Nine hundred people could each receive $2,000 only take up 1.8 million dollars. Sure that’s not a lot, but that’s also nothing to sneeze at.
Got any other ideas I can try out? I think I might be on to something here. Imagine if all of us spared a little of the change we’d like to see in the world? Maybe you can buy me that beer and we can talk it over. Got any change to spare?