Author Topic: The Index Fund of Charity?  (Read 6879 times)

economist

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The Index Fund of Charity?
« on: October 02, 2015, 07:56:29 PM »

I have just finished an excellent book called "Doing Good Better" by William MacAskill. It's about how we can apply evidence based methods to evaluate charities, and try to do the most good with the money that we donate. At one point he refers to one of his recommended charities as "The Index Fund of Giving." As soon as I saw that I thought "the Mustachians will love this!"

The whole approach is called "Effective Altruism." Basically we evaluate charities based on how much they improve people's lives, or how many lives they save, per dollar donated. The movement uses a metric called "Quality Adjusted Life Year" (QALY). They get an estimate of people's Quality Adjusted Life based on responses by people with certain diseases. For example, someone may rank life while blind as 70% as good as life while not blind. This gives a general idea on how much good we can do by treating diseases or making other improvements to people's lives. So performing a medical procedure that improves someone's life by 10% for the next ten years would be one QALY. Performing a procedure that extends the life of someone who, due to medical conditions, is only living a life 50% as good as normal for two years would also be one QALY.

Obviously this is going to be imprecise. However, MacAskill makes the case that the most effective charities are often 100+ times as effective as the typical charity. Therefore, even if our estimates are off by a factor of ten, the most effective charities can do far more good than the typical charities. Many will think that this approach is too cold and calculating. People will say that we should donate to all charities, not just the most effective ones. I agree that this would be ideal. But all of us have limited resources. Say you have $1,000 to donate this year. The charities recommended by MacAskill can treat or prevent malaria or worms in dozens of people, or significantly improve the economic well being of a family, for that amount. By contrast, a "typical" charity might provide thanksgiving dinner or a free summer camp to low income families in the US. These are worthy goals, but it should be clear that deworming a child will do more to improve their life than sending a child to a summer camp will.

I highly recommend that all charity-minded Mustachians check out the book and take a look at the website http://www.givewell.org/. We are always trying to get the highest expected ROI on our investments, so shouldn't we do the same for our giving?

Top Charities Recommended by givewell.org
Against Malaria Foundation: https://www.againstmalaria.com/ This charity provides insecticidal nets to prevent the spread of malaria.
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) Provides support for deworming programs in Sub Saharan Africa. This is an extremely cost effective way to massively improve people's health, which in turn can lead to increased productivity.
Deworm the World Initiative: http://www.evidenceaction.org/ The Deworm the World initiative is led by a group called Evidence Action, and runs school based deworming campaigns in India. Evidence Action also distributes safe water dispensers to chlorinate water in places like Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda.
GiveDirectly: www.givedirectly.org This is the charity MacAskill called the "Index Fund" of giving. They do direct cash transfers to low income households in Kenya and Uganda. This could be thought of as a good "default" charity because people generally are best able to plan for their own needs. Based on the data they have collected so far, it appears the majority of the funds are spent on livestock, improving homes, business expenses, health, education, and food. There was no increase in alcohol or tobacco spending.

Meowmalade

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2015, 08:05:53 PM »
This is such great information!  Thanks for sharing.

fallstoclimb

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2016, 01:46:16 PM »
Resurrecting this thread because I just finished this book.  I absolutely loved it.  I think a lot of mustachians are lying to themselves about charity (it's not important; it's not effective; giving time is just as valuable).  This book does such a great job of debunking all those notions and motivating one to really prioritize giving.

What I struggle with most is valuing domestic charities versus international ones.  I give the most internationally, and I'm on board with that, but I just can't keep myself from donating a little at home too even though it's much less cost effective.

I'm nowhere near 10% yet, but it's now a stretch goal.  I just jumped from 2% to 4% (of gross; this is a not insignificant increase) so I'm headed in the right direction!

arebelspy

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2016, 04:49:23 PM »
Thanks for bumping this.  I've been reading about effective altruism though online articles and such for years, but I think it's time to read the book.
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act0fgod

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2016, 08:06:26 PM »
people generally are best able to plan for their own needs.

I liked the post but really wonder about this statement.  I know lots of people that think their wants are their needs.  When they end up spending on their wants, they complain about not having money for their needs.

fallstoclimb

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2016, 06:52:06 AM »
people generally are best able to plan for their own needs.

I liked the post but really wonder about this statement.  I know lots of people that think their wants are their needs.  When they end up spending on their wants, they complain about not having money for their needs.

I don't mean to be harsh, but this is an incredibly ignorant comment to make.

Give Directly isn't sending money to the poor in affluent countries.  Personally I'm a big proponent of welfare, etc and believe that affluent countries should have a well developed & non paternalistic safety net for all --- but that is not what we are talking about here.  The recipients of Give Directly funds live in homes with dirt floors and thatched roofs, under corrupt governments, with just about zero assets.   They are not confusing needs and wants. They live on $1 a day.  They have nothing.

When I finished Doing Good Better I scanned through old threads on here about charity and found lots of depressing comments.  So many people deny the importance of charity, or see their taxes as charity.  But if you get up close and personal with global poverty (which I haven't yet been, but I have well developed empathy skills), I think you realize how empty these complaints are.  These people are POOR, and doomed only by the circumstances of their birth.  Sending them $1,000 means that I may not max out my Roth IRA but they will have a completely life changing amount of money come into their lives.

Perhaps I misinterpreted your statement, and you are only talking about the poor in affluent countries.  I disagree with this, but I will walkback my facepunch.


Arebs -- I think you would also like the book "Strangers Drowning."  It's a bit adjacent to the field of effective altruism, more about people who sacrifice greatly to help others, but I've heard it's good.  It's on my list now.  And then of course anything by Peter Singer, but I've heard anecdotally that Doing Good Better is a more friendly intro to the effective altruism field.  I plan on doing more reading in it, now.

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2016, 07:09:19 AM »
people generally are best able to plan for their own needs.

I liked the post but really wonder about this statement.  I know lots of people that think their wants are their needs.  When they end up spending on their wants, they complain about not having money for their needs.

I think there's a bit of a disconnect between our experience in wealthy, western nations. A lot of poor people here spend money on stupid stuff because of our culture. Sub-saharan Africa is a completely difference place. It's like being on a different planet. People, generally, are way more practical and are able to do incredible stuff with nothing. Seeing some of the cars they keep running way past the point where even a mustachian would send it off to the scrap yard is incredible.

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2016, 11:15:16 AM »
What if I provided one QALY to Hitler...?

Snide comment aside, it's interesting stuff, but still seems pretty arbitrary. Will still depend on lots and lots of subjective, value-based decisions.

That said I do find charities like Child's Play rather silly (gives toy/games to children recovering in hospitals). Sure, it's valid I guess. But there are lots of people in the rich world that don't get any medical care at all, not to mention in poor countries! And I'd use my limited resources to ensure that kids who got some of the best medical care in the world aren't bored for a few days??! That's got to be a low QALY..

wallabyjoe

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2016, 01:30:37 PM »
I too read the MacAskill book and found it very interesting. My main critique of the movement is that of strategy rather than a particular issue they raise. If effective altruism (EA) is framed as the thoughtful effort to optimize our resources to do the most good, then I believe the EA community makes a notable error in the focus of their efforts. By continually critiquing inefficient charities or focusing on comparing relative merits/faults of these charities they are making the implicit argument that our primary goal must be to optimize the effectiveness of charitable donations. Optimizing the value of donations is undoubtedly a laudable goal; however, I would like to posit that the focus on charity verse charity necessarily ignores a very important factor in overall effectiveness - all the other wealth that never even becomes a donation. Donations do not exist in a zero-sum system. As a society, we do not have a set amount of donations to which we are restricted. By solely focusing on where best to put donated dollars we constrain ourselves to a very small portion of available resources and exclude from the conversation a significant amount of available funds.

Let's take a look at a highly detailed break down of an average upper middle class American's spending. Now in that very acute slice there are likely some grossly inefficient donations. Should we attempt to optimize those and direct them to the most efficient charities? Yes! Is this an important task? Of course! But does anyone see another piece of the pie we might consider looking at?



The EA community loves to talk about the relative efficiency of a malaria verse a diarrhea charity, but what about the malaria charity vs a new quartz countertop? Number of lives saved with $1,200 spent on a ski trip to mammoth vs malaria charity? I think to really make this type of change scalable. we must expand the portion of the pie that we are optimizing. We cannot be satisfied with that sliver.

arebelspy

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2016, 01:37:50 PM »
The EA community loves to talk about the relative efficiency of a malaria verse a diarrhea charity, but what about the malaria charity vs a new quartz countertop? Number of lives saved with $1,200 spent on a ski trip to mammoth vs malaria charity? I think to really make this type of change scalable. we must expand the portion of the pie that we are optimizing. We cannot be satisfied with that sliver.

Hear, hear.

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act0fgod

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2016, 09:01:07 PM »
I don't mean to be harsh, but this is an incredibly ignorant comment to make.
...
Perhaps I misinterpreted your statement, and you are only talking about the poor in affluent countries.  I disagree with this, but I will walkback my facepunch.

I don't take it as harsh but don't believe it's an ignorant statement.  I'm comfortable with my experiences and my opinions.  Just like you're comfortable with your experiences and opinions.

I understand we're not talking about the poor in developed countries.  I have experience on medical missions in 3rd world countries.  It's personally rewarding but it also breaks my heart.  At the end I wonder what real long term improvement I made.  I know the people I treat are better off, at least in the short term but what happens as soon as we are gone.  Take the SCI programs.  They definitely reduce the incidence of worms but stop the treatments and the worms return.  Is it really helping or just masking some other more important problem?

What I have observed is human nature is universal.  There are savers and there are spenders.  There are villains and there are hero's.  There are optimists and there are pessimists.  There are stoics and there are romantics.  Some people fail and others succeed.  I understand circumstances dramatically impact that last dichotomy.

Providing monetary support to some people is be the best option as some people are able to accurately assess their needs.  In my opinion other people cannot assess their needs and giving them cash is a poor use of the money.

The EA community loves to talk about the relative efficiency of a malaria verse a diarrhea charity, but what about the malaria charity vs a new quartz countertop? Number of lives saved with $1,200 spent on a ski trip to mammoth vs malaria charity? I think to really make this type of change scalable. we must expand the portion of the pie that we are optimizing. We cannot be satisfied with that sliver.

While some might see buying the quartz countertop or the $1,200 ski trip as wasteful, both are providing income to people.  I'm sure a lot of people make an honest living in the countertop and ski business.  Determining a sum of utility (you use lives saved) for a given action isn't really possible (although economists try).

What portion of the pie is optimal?  There have been threads where individual charitable donations (often religious in nature) were really hurting people who were in debt and people bring out the face punches.  I have occasionally encountered a mother who neglects her own health stating she is concerned primarily with her child.  It sounds noble but when the mother is unhealthy she's not as effective taking care of her child (and her child observes/learns her bad habits).  I acknowledge there are times when a mother needs to put her child first.

Balance in life is tough.  The right solution will be different for each individual.  I'll say I'm happy with my income, expenses and charitable contributions.

tj

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2016, 06:34:20 PM »
What about the arts? What about food banks? What about homeless shelters? What about cancer research? The world is a big place with a lot of problems. Thankfully there's a lot of people who want to make a difference. I don't think it makes sense to ignore our own communities just because other places are worse off.

Almost any expense could be argued as wasteful with the opportunity to use that dollar to enrich the world, like internet fees to waste time on the forum (time which could be spent picking up an additional job to earn income to send to some charity...)...if life is supposed to be entirely about altruism, are we going to start suggesting than one should open up huge life insurance policies for the benefit of charities and then walk off a cliff because we have more altruistic value to the world as a dead person? Such a sad thought.

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2016, 07:50:10 PM »
I'm currently reading through Peter Singer's The Most Good You Can Do which as the title suggests, is about effective altruism. I thought I'd jump in with a response to the issue of "comparing" causes.

What about the arts? What about food banks? What about homeless shelters? What about cancer research? The world is a big place with a lot of problems. Thankfully there's a lot of people who want to make a difference. I don't think it makes sense to ignore our own communities just because other places are worse off.

Even though you might never physically see a particular child in a third world country, perhaps you agree that his life is just as valuable as the life of someone who lives in your community. After all, neither can help where they were born.

Now if you had an extra hundred dollars to donate, perhaps you could donate it to a community arts program. Let's (generously) suppose your donation results in 1000 extra people to attend a concert, and they are each that much happier because of it. Or you could donate that $100 to an international charity, which results in exactly one third-world child being spared from a deadly disease. What should you do?

A "probabilistic" computation can help with the decision. Say you want to attend this concert, but you find out that everyone who goes will have a 1/1000 chance of contracting a deadly disease and dying. Would you still go? If the answer is no, then your gut is telling you that 1000 concert experiences isn't worth a single life lost to a disease. (This argument is not mine, but I was convinced by it after reading it in that book.)

There are now plenty of people doing rigorous research on charities. What I'm learning is that donations to causes abroad, where there are preventable diseases, extreme poverty, etc., can do many orders of magnitude more good, than donations to museums, universities, and even to the poor in first world countries. I personally like to know that my money is going as far as it can, whether I'm spending it on myself or giving it away. And what if everyone took this approach with charities? We might then have a problem with the arts being underfunded. But I don't think we are even close to the point where "too many" people are donating towards extreme poverty and too few are donating towards first-world causes.

fallstoclimb

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2016, 07:15:55 AM »
Even though you might never physically see a particular child in a third world country, perhaps you agree that his life is just as valuable as the life of someone who lives in your community. After all, neither can help where they were born.

Now if you had an extra hundred dollars to donate, perhaps you could donate it to a community arts program. Let's (generously) suppose your donation results in 1000 extra people to attend a concert, and they are each that much happier because of it. Or you could donate that $100 to an international charity, which results in exactly one third-world child being spared from a deadly disease. What should you do?

A "probabilistic" computation can help with the decision. Say you want to attend this concert, but you find out that everyone who goes will have a 1/1000 chance of contracting a deadly disease and dying. Would you still go? If the answer is no, then your gut is telling you that 1000 concert experiences isn't worth a single life lost to a disease. (This argument is not mine, but I was convinced by it after reading it in that book.)

There are now plenty of people doing rigorous research on charities. What I'm learning is that donations to causes abroad, where there are preventable diseases, extreme poverty, etc., can do many orders of magnitude more good, than donations to museums, universities, and even to the poor in first world countries.

Yes --- thank you for this.  This is a fantastic explanation of what EA is really about.

I understand the reaction of, "but where does it end?"  However, most of the EA proponents do respect & set boundaries.  Peter Singer's site The Life You Can Save includes a calculator that suggests charitable donations based on your income.  For mine, it's about 5% of our gross household salary.  I'm currently giving 4% but I welcome the challenge to stretch to 5%.  William MacAskill, the author of Doing Good Better, cofounded Giving What We Can, which encourages 10%. I'm not sure if I'll ever meet that goal.

I'm not expert enough in the EA world to know the ethical/theoretical argument behind setting limits to EA, but the leaders of the field aren't demanding us to all be Mother Teresa.

What portion of the pie is optimal?  There have been threads where individual charitable donations (often religious in nature) were really hurting people who were in debt and people bring out the face punches.  I have occasionally encountered a mother who neglects her own health stating she is concerned primarily with her child.  It sounds noble but when the mother is unhealthy she's not as effective taking care of her child (and her child observes/learns her bad habits).  I acknowledge there are times when a mother needs to put her child first.

Balance in life is tough.  The right solution will be different for each individual.  I'll say I'm happy with my income, expenses and charitable contributions.

Balance is tough. I'm not happy with my balance yet, which is why I'm posting/thinking about this so much right now.

I think some of the good EA is doing is moving charitable donations from the realm of religion to science.  Religious-based charities often are so ineffective or inefficient, depending on your values, I suppose.  EA requires rigorous reviews of what is doing the MOST good, as best as that is measurable. 

DK

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2016, 06:52:46 AM »
And, instead of retiring early, once you get your stash built up enough to cover yourself you should continue to work - contributing all of your earnings to charities too...

TheAnonOne

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2016, 10:25:18 AM »
And, instead of retiring early, once you get your stash built up enough to cover yourself you should continue to work - contributing all of your earnings to charities too...

There are "seemingly" a few people on forums doing that. . . Getting a stash to fund 50k living expenses, and then building it up to fund 60k, giving away the 10k/y for life.

I say "seemingly" because everything is simply 'face-value' on the forums. I might have another account with over 1,000 posts, who is a super-star here. I don't... but I might.

DK

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2016, 11:24:24 AM »
And, instead of retiring early, once you get your stash built up enough to cover yourself you should continue to work - contributing all of your earnings to charities too...

There are "seemingly" a few people on forums doing that. . . Getting a stash to fund 50k living expenses, and then building it up to fund 60k, giving away the 10k/y for life.

I say "seemingly" because everything is simply 'face-value' on the forums. I might have another account with over 1,000 posts, who is a super-star here. I don't... but I might.

I see what you did there. And is probably close to what my plan would be. But I was meaning a more extreme way in my comment due to people talking about the "balance" of what to give. Say you have an 100K job that allows you to stash enough to fund your 50K lifestyle. Once you get there, you live off your stash with your 50K lifestyle, give all 100K from your job to charity and don't retire - if you would "really" care...

economist

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #17 on: March 05, 2016, 06:13:03 AM »
Wow, I'm glad this post has gotten so much attention the last few days!

My intention with this post was to encourage Mustachians to look into re-directing some of their charitable giving to the most effective charities. People have brought up "What about X charity," and I'm not saying stop donating to charities that are personally important to you. But for those looking for the best way to maximize their impact, EA offers a good framework. We know there are colleges, for example, that have multi-billion dollar endowments, and probably don't need additional funds as badly as say, the Against Malaria Foundation.


Say you have an 100K job that allows you to stash enough to fund your 50K lifestyle. Once you get there, you live off your stash with your 50K lifestyle, give all 100K from your job to charity and don't retire - if you would "really" care...

I think after FI, a painless way for Mustachians using the 4% rule to donate would be to simply give away some of the surplus earned by their profitable hobbies and investments. We know the majority of portfolios using the 4% rule will multiply many times in value over a decades-long retirement, and many Mustachians already have side hustles or hobbies that generate extra money and aren't an imposition. Many of us will be multi-millionaires and will be able to easily make 5 figure annual donations without compromising our lifestyle or retirement security.

I have not yet reached the "Giving What We Can" pledge of 10% of my income, but I am increasing my contributions as my income increases (with the goal of being able to still max out a 401k, HSA, and ROTH). Once I hit FI I will donate some of the "surplus" when I happen to make money from a hobby or a large bull market.

stashgrower

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2016, 12:33:22 AM »
Thanks for the references. Followed up on The Life You Can Save. My % was nearly spot on with what I budgeted for this year, but I hadn't picked my charities yet.

A Mustachian question: give my % each and every year, or "stash" some in an index fund to give more (invested and compounded) later?

arebelspy

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2016, 05:08:35 AM »
People have their own beliefs/thoughts about that.

I decided giving now was the better route for me personally.
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Marus

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #20 on: March 07, 2016, 12:26:52 PM »
Thanks for the references. Followed up on The Life You Can Save. My % was nearly spot on with what I budgeted for this year, but I hadn't picked my charities yet.

A Mustachian question: give my % each and every year, or "stash" some in an index fund to give more (invested and compounded) later?

I think it's a question of temperament and values as much as optimization.  To put it really harshly, if you decide to stash that money, you're effectively sentencing a certain number of people to death on the basis of a vague promise that one day you'll use your compounded money to save even more people. 

I say vague because even if you have great intentions now, what if we suddenly hit an extended spell where market returns are abysmal?  What if in the next few years you become more risk averse and less willing to use your money to help others?

On a side note, I have a couple qualms with the utilitarian philanthropy movement (overall I think it's great though).  For one thing, it doesn't seem to value non-human life at all, which I think is a big oversight (though to be fair I have no idea how you'd objectively evaluate this).  For example, I find the mission statements of organizations like the Sierra Club or the humane society to be very compelling, even if they do a horribly inefficient job of saving or improving human lives.

Secondly, a lot of the reasons that people are dying from preventable causes goes back to systemic political failure, not a failure of wealthy Westerners to be generous enough with their money.  That's obviously a thorny and complicated historical topic, but I think everyone can agree that in the long run the impoverished of the world need to develop or be given the tools to improve their own lives.  I'm not saying they have to bootstrap their way out of their problems.  That would be heartless, and completely unrealistic.  But we can't lose sight of the fact that in an ideal world they wouldn't need us to come in and save their lives.  They'd be able to do it for themselves.  So it's great if we can go in there and save lives, but it would be better if we could help them help themselves.

Anyways, it's awesome that so many people are helping others out!  My goal is to give 10% of my paycheck this year :)


stashgrower

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #21 on: March 12, 2016, 04:59:54 AM »

Marus, thanks, your harsh reality did occur to me and led to me feel I should give some, if not all, now.

I've had that same funny feeling about systematic political failure and a desire for local groups to (be able to) solve their own problems. It's a tricky topic. Who are we to know all the solutions anyway? And yet appropriate aid can be helpful.

I take my hat off to your 10% goal!

Marus

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #22 on: March 13, 2016, 10:41:17 AM »

Marus, thanks, your harsh reality did occur to me and led to me feel I should give some, if not all, now.

I've had that same funny feeling about systematic political failure and a desire for local groups to (be able to) solve their own problems. It's a tricky topic. Who are we to know all the solutions anyway? And yet appropriate aid can be helpful.

I take my hat off to your 10% goal!

Aw, thanks :)

For what it's worth, my plan is to accrue the money in a savings account, then make one big donation towards the end of the year.  I want to help, but I also want to be strategic with my money!  If I make a big donation, I can dip my toes into the exciting world of travel hacking.

fallstoclimb

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #23 on: March 14, 2016, 06:23:20 AM »

Marus, thanks, your harsh reality did occur to me and led to me feel I should give some, if not all, now.

I've had that same funny feeling about systematic political failure and a desire for local groups to (be able to) solve their own problems. It's a tricky topic. Who are we to know all the solutions anyway? And yet appropriate aid can be helpful.

I take my hat off to your 10% goal!

Aw, thanks :)

For what it's worth, my plan is to accrue the money in a savings account, then make one big donation towards the end of the year.  I want to help, but I also want to be strategic with my money!  If I make a big donation, I can dip my toes into the exciting world of travel hacking.

Tell me more about your plans here!  Because, really, why not kill two birds with one stone? 

Is this helping you meet a minimum spend on a credit card to secure bonus points?  Or something bigger?  My monthly spending fortunately/unfortunately has never made meeting those minimums an issue....

Marus

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Re: The Index Fund of Charity?
« Reply #24 on: March 14, 2016, 07:57:09 PM »

Marus, thanks, your harsh reality did occur to me and led to me feel I should give some, if not all, now.

I've had that same funny feeling about systematic political failure and a desire for local groups to (be able to) solve their own problems. It's a tricky topic. Who are we to know all the solutions anyway? And yet appropriate aid can be helpful.

I take my hat off to your 10% goal!

Aw, thanks :)

For what it's worth, my plan is to accrue the money in a savings account, then make one big donation towards the end of the year.  I want to help, but I also want to be strategic with my money!  If I make a big donation, I can dip my toes into the exciting world of travel hacking.

Tell me more about your plans here!  Because, really, why not kill two birds with one stone? 

Is this helping you meet a minimum spend on a credit card to secure bonus points?  Or something bigger?  My monthly spending fortunately/unfortunately has never made meeting those minimums an issue....

Yup, doing it for the minimum spending!  It looks like the Chase Sapphire preferred card will work well, since I have to meet a 4k minimum in a three month period.  My average monthly spending on  credit cards is less than 1k, so this will be just what I need to push me over the top.  If I'm understanding the rewards correctly, the Chase Sapphire card should get me a free flight to Central America or Hawaii.

I'll consider doing something bigger next year though :)  I'm generally pretty cautious so going all in on credit card tricks doesn't really work for me.