How I Give on Less than $30,000 a Year (Part 1)

How I Give on Less than $30,000 a Year (Part 1)

This is the first installment of a three-part series about finding ways to give no matter how much you earn.

When I got my first paycheck nearly four years ago, I was eager to contribute a portion of my earnings to a charity that would effectively use my donation to help the world’s neediest people. But as I started to research how I could best allocate a part of my earnings to help those less fortunate than myself, I began feeling overwhelmed—or rather underwhelmed—with how little I could contribute on my first post-college salary. Since I’ve graduated from college, my total earnings from teaching, research funding, and freelance editing projects have totaled just a bit over $27,000 pre-tax annually. I selected my current field of work knowing full well the typical pay scale for humanities research and teaching. What I didn’t know, however, was how hard it could sometimes be to find the motivation and financial resources to pledge a portion of my earnings to effective non-profits while living on less than $30,000 a year.

Is there a place in the effective altruistic movement for people like me? I am convinced that there is. Giving is something we all can do to help the world’s poorest people, no matter what our income. Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful for myself as I learned more about what it means to give while living on a salary of less than $30,000 a year.


Part I: Getting Started

Put your earnings in perspective. I motivate myself to give by reminding myself how much wealth I have relative to the average global income. My income of $27,000 is 16 times the average global income of $1680 (US) a year and places me in the world’s richest top 4.4 percent. This means that 95.6 percent of the world’s approximately 7 billion people have fewer financial resources than I do—that’s roughly 6.7 billion people who are financially worse off than I am! You can calculate where your income falls relative to global income using the online calculator at Giving What We Can.

How rich am I? An income of $30,000 (USD) puts you in the world's richest top 3.6%.

Set a giving goal. A quick internet search about effective altruism will turn up stories about high income earners who donate 10, 50 or even 100 percent of their income or inherited wealth to non-profit charities. But for most of us who live on salaries of less than $30,000 a year, it may not be feasible to donate this much of our annual earnings. So how much should you give? To get an idea of how much you could donate each year, visit The Life You Can Save’s interactive online resource to determine Peter Singer’s recommended standard of giving based on your post-tax income level.


How much? Take the pledge on $30,000 a year.

Work up to your goal. No one expects to be able to run a marathon overnight or to master the violin without practice. We all know that we have to train gradually in order to attain our goals. In my own journey toward effective giving, I’ve found that the same is true. Over the past four years, I’ve been incrementally able to work my way up to my current goal of giving 5 percent of my annual income. I started by giving 2 percent and increased my annual contributions by a percentage point each year. Could I have given more, and sooner? Absolutely, and I hope to be able to give more in the future. But I found a plan that has worked for me over the years, and one that will let me continue to give myself the time to make the lifestyle changes and personal finance decisions that will enable me to give more with each passing year. 

Calculate your own giving percentage below.

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About the author:

Rhema Hokama

Rhema Hokama is former Director of Communications for The Life You Can Save and holds a PhD from Harvard.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.