My caffeine fix this morning cost $4.74.
That's nearly $5 dollars for a cardboard cup of caffeinated liquid with a lot of frothy milk added.
I lamented just this weekend to friends that, while I'm thrilled to join a charity like Modest Needs as an employee, actually giving to any philanthropic group is still something that feels beyond my reach. My income is fixed. I live on a tight budget without luxuries like TV. I have major medical expenses and panic every time that student loan repayment slip arrives. So when holiday requests for donations land in my mailbox, I guiltily slide them into the trash. I mean, how can I possibly give when I frequently need to receive just to get by? Philanthropy feels like something I'll only be able to participate in once I have disposable income--you know, when I'm a real adult.
I've been fearing that this tradition of non-giving makes me the ultimate hypocrite, an outreach worker encouraging others to donate while my own wallet remains sewn shut. So as I stared at the receipt for my foamy pool of latte-ed goodness this morning, the clammy truth slapped me like a cold herring across the face: I am a hypocrite, and I can give.
Let's take a (very brief) moment for math. Now, I don't drink fancy overpriced lattes everyday, but for the sake of this exercise we'll assume I do. A latte before work every day at $4.74 amounts to $23.70 per week, or $94.80 per month. Almost a hundred dollars a month on coffee? How did I let this happen?
During a quick canvasing of the neighborhood I easily found a deli that sells regular coffee (all of the caffeine of my routine latte, sans fancy frothy milk) for just $1.70. At that price a cup of regular coffee before work comes to $8.50 per week, or $34.00 per month.
That's a savings of $60.80 per month if I regularly go for deli coffee over bougie lattes--$60.80 that could go toward helping those who don't think about coffee because their minds are saddled with things that are actually important. Like trying to save a home, afford medication or fix the car that brings them to work.
[Insert sinking feeling of coffee-related guilt here.]
The first thing I did after doing the math was finish my latte, which by then tasted like shame. Hot, liquid shame. Then I sat down and looked even more closely at my finances, seeking more black holes--like the latte--that made giving seem impossible. Finally, I finessed my account with Modest Needs and began funneling funds from the coffee budget to worthy applicants.
Is $60.80 going to save the world? Not alone, no. But when added to the efforts of other donors it can help save a home or cover essential prescriptions for people in desperate need. There's proof it can do this right on the Modest Needs web site.
For many of us, finding the resources to give is as simple as making one tiny tweak--like trading lattes for coffee, eating one less meal per month at a restaurant or shopping the sale rack--to a monthly budget.
Knowing that my spare cash is going to families in need instead of a corporate caffeine dealer is so satisfying I can taste it--and it goes great with a large deli coffee, extra half-and-half, no sugar.
What tweaks can you make to your budget to make room for giving to others? And what changes in your life have you made to make helping people possible? Your answers can inspire others to take similar action toward making a difference, so please share.