Sunday, January 13, 2013

"The Case of the Mysterious Twenty Dollar Bill."

We all have our own quirky attitudes about money. Although, I am sure that many folks have healthier ones than mine. I have been wrestling with a particular problem for awhile now. It has to do with charity. This is my story.

"The Case of the Mysterious Twenty Dollar Bill."

I don't think my parents gave money to any charitable causes until very late in their married lives. It wasn't until I, the youngest child, had left home that I noticed my mother donating to public broadcasting and a few nature charities. The lesson I learned was, once you are financially secure, then you can think about charitable giving.

I spent many, many years being financially insecure. Those ten years between marriages, as a single parent, took quite a toll on my sense of financial stability. A dollar for the collection plate in church, yes, but charitable giving? That was for rich people.

Well, I have been married for thirteen years now, and the magic "click" of financial security has somehow never gone off in my head. I have given small amounts from time to time, mostly in the twenty dollar range, when specifically asked by someone I know and like. But every time I think about giving on a regular basis, the specter of running out of money looms large in my head. "What if I do this and I don't have money to buy groceries?" I worry.

The other day, after shopping around online for several months, I purchased some craft supplies. I refused to make the purchase until I could make the cost of the item come to less than the cost of shipping. (!) The total came to just over twenty dollars. I have a hard time spending money on myself, so I did feel a little guilty. But I told myself, "Don't feel bad--it's only twenty dollars. That's practically nothing."

And then it hit me. When I make that little splurge, every so often, on craft supplies, I am not afraid I will run out of money. Why? It is the same darn twenty dollar bill! What is wrong with this picture?

Perhaps I still see charitable giving as an activity for rich people. Perhaps I think that twenty dollars is too puny a donation. Certainly my thinking is influenced by my parents' views, and by my years of living paycheck to paycheck. Although now I live comfortably, I'm never far from the thought that I could "run out."

Recently I was in church with my family, listening to my husband's choir sing the musical offering. The collection plate was coming around, and I looked in my purse. I had three singles and a twenty. I needed the singles to pay for my daughter's school lunch the next day. I felt a twinge of panic. What was I going to do?

With a rush of adrenaline, I put the twenty in the collection plate.

And nothing bad happened. I didn't run out of money. Nor was the donation scorned for being too small. It was a very simple thing which I have been making complicated for a long, long time.

So now I begin. I need to start with that symbolic twenty dollar bill, and make peace with it. It begins with me, my choices, and that twenty dollar bill. And maybe the rest of my family can learn something along with me.

I'm not rich. But I am able to make a contribution. A good lesson for the new year.


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