The Singer Effect

The Singer Effect

In December 2006, a provocative headline on the New York Times website caught my eye: “What Should a Billionaire Give-and What Should You?” The article was by Professor Peter Singer, and it made me start thinking critically about my own giving.

I had been giving to charities for most of my life, usually token amounts and without much thought. I gave to organizations that worked on issues I cared about, but I did so more out of a sense of duty than anything else. I wasn't excited about my giving.

Professor Singer's article showed me that I could take things to a new level and have a real impact on real people’s lives. In fact, I learned, I could even save lives. The article inspired me to nearly double my annual giving.

In 2009, Professor Singer published his book, The Life You Can Save. I found his arguments so compelling and convincing that I decided to make giving a much higher priority in my life, and to focus on giving more effectively. I doubled my annual giving again, and started giving to charities recommended in The Life You Can Save. By 2011 I was giving 10 times more than I gave when I read Professor Singer's New York Times article in 2006.

But I was faced with the competing financial goals of paying down our mortgage and saving for retirement. I balanced them as best I could, but I didn't have a very disciplined approach. What can I say: I'm human. My giving declined in 2012. Frustrated by missing my goals, I decided to set up a budget. I learned about the “You Need a Budget” method, whose first rule is to “Give every dollar a job.” I worried that living under a budget would be restricting and stressful, but instead found it liberating and empowering. My budget also revealed a lot of opportunities to reduce costs, and the next year I managed to make my giving soar to more than 10% of my gross income, while still meeting my retirement and mortgage payoff goals. And we didn't suffer.

The dollars I devote to giving are doing some of the most valuable jobs dollars can do: improving the lives of people in need. I sometimes joke to friends that A Life You Can Save is a dangerous book to read if you want to hang on to your money. But even if I have a bit less money available for me now, I'm richer by far in the knowledge that somewhere, someone has a future thanks in part to me-and to the Singer Effect.

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About the author:

Brad Hurley

Brad Hurley is a writer, editor, and project manager working in the areas of climate change communication and children’s environmental health. A former science journalist, he now works as a contractor and consultant to government and international agencies.

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