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Beacon Senior News

How to be more generous in a me-first world

Dec 07, 2016 08:48AM ● By Guest

Americans like to think of themselves as generous people, and often, the numbers back that up. A recent report revealed they gave a record $373.3 billion to charity in 2015.

But as impressive as that seems, most people still struggle with the stingier side of human nature, putting their own material wants first and considering charitable giving only as an afterthought, according to John Cortines and Greg Baumer, co-authors of the book “God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School.”

“We don’t need to point fingers at those greedy people over there on Wall Street or wherever,” Cortines said. “Greed lurks in all of us. The question is: What are we going to do about it?”

A legacy of generosity

The good news, Cortines and Baumer said, is that while greed is a widespread human characteristic, so is generosity. Reflecting on their lifelong journey, they took a hard look at Biblical passages while at Harvard and became convinced that their own hearts were full of greed and needed to change.

“Take your pick of a worldview and it encourages sharing with others,” Baumer said. “Eastern faiths, Abrahamic faiths—it doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to this topic. Virtually all of humanity values generosity.”

Valuing generosity is one thing. Making it a significant part of your lifestyle is something else. Cortines and Baumer said mindsets about money can be broken down into three groups: spenders, who pursue the greatest amount of consumption right now without much thought of tomorrow; savers, who limit their consumption to accumulate wealth; and servants, who limit both consumption and wealth building, so they can give the most money possible to help others.

“That last group, unfortunately, is the rarest,” Cortines said.

Becoming more generous

Here are some steps people can take to become more generous.

• Make giving a priority. In any endeavor, how well you do depends on how much of a priority you make the goal. It’s tough to be generous if the amount you give is based on what’s left over after you’ve satisfied your own wants. Cortines and Baumer give right off the top, before setting the rest of their monthly budgets. (They give away 12-18 percent of their gross incomes.)

• Talk about your finances. In our culture we talk about almost everything, but are strangely silent about personal finances. Sharing your financial life with a trusted friend can help you gain perspective. Cortines and Baumer fully divulge their finances to close friends, soliciting advice and encouragement.

• Set financial finish lines. While it’s important to take care of yourself and your family, it helps to come up with a cutoff point where there is no further need for more spending or more wealth accumulation. Both authors have publicly committed to live a middle class life, regardless of their earnings. Getting more money should increase our standard of giving, not our standard of living, they said.

“You can always find ways to justify more spending and more accumulation of wealth,” Baumer said. “But at some point you should ask yourself, ‘How much is enough?’"