How to Give When You’re in Debt

When I was paying off my student loans, one of the hardest things I had to deal with requests for charity. I was making $30,000 (or less) and trying to pay off $28,000 in loans in three years – what extra money did I have for charity? Giving to charity is extremely important to many people, but how to give can be difficult if you're in debt. Here are some options for giving while in debt!

In this scenario, I include charity as Kickstarter donations, requests from friends running a race or invitations to bridal showers or weddings. All these events caused me massive anxiety as I thought about either ways to get out of the situation or how to cope with giving money that I didn’t plan on.

At the time, my budget didn’t have any extra room for giving, so spending $10 on a coworker’s wedding present made me nervous. It’s not that I was spending my extra money on new clothes or going out to eat – anyone who knew me could tell you I was being frugal.

Give What You Can – Not What Society Says

I know this one probably seems really obvious, but it’s so easy to get sucked into peer pressure, even when it comes to charity. One time my parents asked me how much I was giving as a wedding present and were aghast to find out it was only $25. They gave me more money so I could give a “presentable” amount.

I felt this way at my job too. I worked at a nonprofit and most, if not all, employees gave money during our annual fundraiser. We kept a list of who gave what and you were only listed if you gave more $100. I remember feeling anxious that everyone would judge me for giving less even though my boss had made it clear he didn’t care.

If I could go back, I would simply tell myself, “Zina, it doesn’t matter if everyone around you is giving more. Give what you can and feel grateful about it. And always write a nice card.”

Plan Giving Into Your Budget

One of the biggest reasons that I struggled with giving is because it had no place in my budget. I planned ahead for Christmas gifts, but I didn’t include it in my regular monthly budget. If you know that you have a wedding coming up or will likely have to pitch in for a coworker’s baby shower, try setting aside money every month. That way, when it comes up, you’ll be prepared instead of annoyed.

You can do this by setting up a bank account for gifts (banks like Capital One allow you to create sub-accounts super easily) or use an app like Digit that will transfer your money into a separate account. You can even transfer random amounts of cash into a piggy bank to use when you need it.

Use Coupons and Discount Gift Cards

Usually, if you need to buy something for a wedding or baby shower, you can get it from Target or Bed Bath & Beyond. The latter is famous for its 20% off coupons, which you can get for signing up for their email list.

Try combining these coupons with discounted gift cards, which you can purchase through sites like GiftCardGranny or CardPool. You can also use apps like Honey and RetailMeNot to find coupon codes for online retailers.

Here’s an example: if you’re buying a $50 wedding gift through BB&B, you can use the 20% off coupon to drop the price to $40. Then you can go to GiftCardGranny and search for Bed Bath & Beyond gift cards and buy a $42.48 gift card for only $37.59. By using this method, you’ll save $12.41. If you have five weddings this year (like I do), that’s more than $60 a year.

Finally…Let It Go

I’ll be honest – I spent a lot of time worrying and complaining about all these extra events when I could’ve let it go. Yes, sometimes it sucks to feel pressured to donate money. And sometimes people may even judge you for not giving as much as they think you should. But only you know how much you can give and still feel comfortable with your finances.

As long as you stay within those parameters, don’t worry about your bank account and what others might say. Remember, giving away your money can make you happier than spending it on yourself.

Giving to charity is extremely important to many people, but how to give can be difficult if you're in debt. Here are some options for giving while in debt!

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