Penny: On Being “Poor” And Receiving Help

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Dear Rich,

As you know, my family and I get food support. We’ve been getting it for about 8 years now, ever since my husband was in chiropractic school. We could have gotten it before then, when he was a Catholic elementary teacher making only $18,750 a year, but I hadn’t known it was available to us. I didn’t realize we were poor.

When we first started getting food support, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was kind of embarrassed by it. I felt like we were too good for it, like we were above it.

Now, I receive it with gratitude. I know that we are not any better or worse than anybody else getting it. I am no longer too proud. We are all just humans doing the best we can in this world, and I am happy and grateful for the help we get.

Could we get by without it? Yes.

Do we use what we save on food to help pay off our student loan debt? Yes.

Is that fair? I think so.

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The Squirrel Story: How Rich Plans To Increase His Giving (And Not Be An A-Hole)

Penny has a low income and gives 10% to charity. She NEEDS to give. Her cousin Rich has a high income and gives less than 5% to charity. So Penny asked Rich to explain why he doesn’t give more. He claims he’s not a materialistic hedonist, but is he a selfish asshole?

Here is Rich’s response, in the form of a parable.

It’s called The Squirrel Story.

Once upon a time, there were 5 squirrels. They were Gray, Red, Blue, Green, and Gold.

Gray Squirrel lived in an old, diseased tree that did not produce any acorns. He had a hard life. To feed his family, he depended on acorns from other squirrels, as well as acorns stored in Central Oak. This had been going on for generations, but there was not much he could do until his tree was healed. He dreamed of moving to a new tree, but it was not so easy. He was thankful for the acorns he received. He was a good squirrel.

Red Squirrel lived in a healthy, cozy tree, even though it was low on acorns. She had a simple life. She grew 10 acorns each year and did not waste any. She gave 1 acorn every year to Gray Squirrel, and it made her heart glad. However, she too needed acorns from Central Oak to feed her family. What’s more, she owed Central Oak many acorns, and it would take her years to pay them back. Probably she would not have many acorns left for her little squirrels as they searched for their own trees, but she knew they would be fine. She was happy in her cozy tree and thankful for what she had. She hoped her tree would keep producing just enough for her to live on. She was a good squirrel.

Blue Squirrel lived in a strong tree, with exciting branches to explore. His tree shared a common root with Red Squirrel’s tree, but produced many more acorns — 100 every year — because Blue Squirrel had learned how to grow them quickly. He gave 2 acorns each year to Gray Squirrel, and it made his heart glad. He gave 20 acorns each year to Central Oak, which did not make his heart glad, but greatly helped the forest. He did not borrow acorns from Central Oak, nor did he owe. With the rest, Blue Squirrel stored some for the winter, saved some for when he was old, and gave some to his little squirrels. In his squirrel mind, he hoped this would help Gray Squirrel, Central Oak (and, thus, Red Squirrel), and his own family’s trees for generations. Besides, he enjoyed growing acorns. He was a good squirrel.

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Penny NEEDS To Give To Charity … Why Doesn’t Rich Give More?

Dear Rich,

You’ve done a great job in telling me why I shouldn’t donate to charity (it’s a puzzle, my money would go further in paying down our student loan debt, etc.), but you didn’t really address why YOU don’t give more to charity. YOU don’t have debt. YOU’RE making plenty of money. You never really answered my question.

Sure, you say that you “could give more to charity as a line item,” and that you “pay tens of thousands in taxes, and some of that money goes to programs that help people in your situation”. But that kind of forced giving is not charity. It’s like the difference between forcing your kids to give you a hug and them giving you one of their own accord. It’s not the same thing.

Also, being generous with your friends and family (which you are), although wonderful and lovely, is not the same as being charitable. So, I still don’t quite understand what’s stopping YOU.

I want to explain a little bit more about why I choose to give:

1) It’s not so much about the charity’s need for my money, it’s about my need to give.

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