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5 Ways I Give Back While Making $12 An Hour

I believe in each person’s responsibility to help make the world a better place. One day, I hope to grow my wealth and influence to a point where I can make significant contributions to the world around me. For those of us who aren’t Oprah Winfrey, however, that day is not today. The way I see it, I have two choices: I could wait until I start making serious bank to start giving back, or I can lay the foundations of a giving life now, while making $15 CAD an hour (which is just under $12 USD). Here’s how and why I decided on the latter.

I will begin with the most obvious “how”: I’m privileged. I was able to live at home while I attended two years of University, thus minimizing my student loan repayments. I live in a small city with affordable transit and housing. I have regular employment that gives me health care coverage, which allows me to save money and even have a little left over. It is because I have these basics covered that I can even begin to think of giving back.

Now that that’s clear, let’s get down to the five ways I give:

1. My Time. Not everyone can afford to give in dollars. Luckily, there are countless organizations that are looking for people who are willing and able to take a few hours out of their week to help them meet their needs. Personally, this is how I started giving back when I was living below the poverty line. I began volunteering a few hours each month or so to a local non-profit by adding my voice to their decision-making process. This works perfectly for me, as my ever-changing work schedule makes it difficult to do anything at a set time each week.

2. My Automated Banking. I may not be able to justify a lump sum donation, but I can justify giving a modest amount each month. The non-profit of my choice has a great system that allows me to set up an automated monthly transfer. That way, it gets taken from my account before I even have a chance to see it. In my case, this amount is roughly equivalent to going out to eat at a restaurant. It’s pretty much a win-win for me; it helps me have to eat in regularly, forming good habits, and I give back by default.

3. My Guilt. There’s nothing like deciding to large-size the fries on a fast food order for an extra dollar, then getting asked to donate a dollar to a great cause on top of it. If I was willing to spend a dollar to make myself feel overstuffed and groggy, I should be willing to help any of the diverse causes to which corporations are prompting their customers to donate. While I may have a love-hate relationship with this being a corporation’s philanthropic method of choice, I can’t fight its effectiveness on me. It’s an easy, simple way to contribute to the betterment of the world, without it draining my bank account — depending on how much fast food I eat, which is a whole other can of worms.

4. My Gifts. When my annual income was at my lowest (roughly 35% below the poverty line), I felt the most grateful for what I had. Which also meant I felt the most empathy for those who had fewer opportunities than me without having the means to do anything about it. Having a birthday near Christmas means I get two times the gifts at the same time of year. One year, in particular, I got a promotion just prior to this season. I had no reason to ask for essentials anymore, because I now had a steady flow of disposable income to top off my bare-bones budgeting should I need anything for myself. So instead, I asked my family members to give me a gift card for Kiva.org. It’s a fantastic micro-financing organization that pairs people in need of loans all over the world with donors who can afford to give as little as $25. Kind of like a go-fund-me for the developing world. I was so appreciative of the family members who took this request seriously and gave me the power to help someone I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise at the time. It sounds like martyrdom at first, but asking for gifts that pay it forward makes you realize how little “stuff” we actually need in order to be fulfilled. It also bided me more time against the near-inevitable lifestyle inflation that comes with being one year older and a pay raise richer.

5. My Workplace. This December my workplace has decided to start a reverse advent calendar. Essentially it’s a box we fill with things every day rather than take things out. The much-needed items we collect as a team will be donated to a local organization that shelters those in need. Another simple, small way that helps add to what I can give cumulatively. Plus, donating items as a team makes it feel that much more impactful.

*****

And now begs the question why. Why, when making what I make, do I give to charity rather than saving my money, prioritizing paying down student loans, or using that time to make more money instead? Why am I giving it away rather than hoarding it, building it, or spending it?

1. I Can. It wasn’t very long ago that I was eating plain ramen noodles with ketchup for my daily meals. I wish I were joking. Being an independent person is hard, and it’s made a hundred times harder when you don’t make enough money to feed yourself a healthy meal. Feeling helpless to the world around you is a terrifying feeling. Having anything to give, however little, helps me feel powerful, useful, and in control of what happens in the world, if only a tiny sliver of it.

2. I Should. I don’t just mean this in the moral sense. Yes, I do feel like I owe it to my community to give back after I have reaped the rewards of it. In addition, though, I am expected to give back. As a volunteer for a local non-profit, I ask members of my community to support the organization. How much of a hypocrite would I be if I were to ask those around me to give their time and money to something I wasn’t supporting myself? I fully believe a leader should lead by example, which is why I do in the ways I can. Not to mention all of the new experiences giving my time to different organizations has given me. The lifestyle points volunteering has given me throughout my life has greatly outweighed the income I could have earned working for pay instead, in my opinion.

3. I Will. At the end of the day, I will spend money on something either way. If I’m not giving it to an organization that will do something better with it, I’d be spending my money on large-sizing more fries. Or buying new furniture I don’t actually need. Or buying new clothes I don’t actually need. And, full disclosure, I’m terrified of the entitlement that leads to lifestyle inflation. What better way to keep me grounded and give me perspective on life than by regularly reminding myself someone else needs this money more than I do? If I don’t keep looking back and helping those behind me catch up and meet their basic needs, then I’d be focusing on catching up to the people ahead of me instead. And my goal is to never get caught up in the race to the point that I forget to enjoy the run. Not again.

Shae is an East Coast Canadian deciding what her next dream job could be. A recovering workaholic, she currently focuses on being a human in her community while balancing work, volunteering, and family. She’ll never always get it right, but that won’t stop her from trying.

Image via Unsplash

  • I love this post Shae! I make a similar amount of money, and I have had similar privileges in my life that allow me to live on that income more or less comfortably at the present moment. Ever since November 2016 (I’m an American, which should tell you what was going on in my world at that time), I’ve been making a conscious effort to give back. I recently discontinued my Spotify Premium account (about $10 USD), and initially I thought I would just save that money every month, but now I’m going to try to make that amount my monthly “giving” budget.

    • Shae McCarthy

      I’m so happy this resonated with you! I did the same and shifted extra money to “giving” when I got a raise. If you’re already meeting your Emergency and basic savings goals, why not? It really is possible to contribute to our community even before we become upper-middle class. I took a page from Emma Watson “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

  • You have really good values and I love your story. Thanks for sharing

    • Shae McCarthy

      Thank you – my values are a product of the community of people who raised me. I am so grateful to them.

  • Girafe

    So happy to read a Canadian East Coast voice! (Hi from New Brunswick) 🙂

    • Shae McCarthy

      Howdy neighbour! It’s nice to remind the rest of Canada (and beyond) that we do exist out here haha.

      • Girafe

        I’m so happy you didn’t reply that you were in Toronto (as if that’s the East Coast)… haha.

        • Shae McCarthy

          Nope, New Brunswicker born and raised haha!