Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I use the word "alms" here in a broader sense than is usual, not only for small handouts given to suppliants or in response to church collections, but also for gifts to assorted "good causes." From early childhood, I was trained to put some of my modest pocket money in the collection at church, and I have always felt that I should donate some funds to charity. My wife & I share that belief, I'm happy to say. We live in a Community Property state, and in over 40 years of marriage I have never had any qualms about sharing my earnings with Barbara. We do each have relatively modest amounts of Separate Property, which gives us flexibility when one of us has a favorite cause, not shared by the other. Over the years we have increased the number of causes we support. A few years ago, I suggested that we eliminate one charity for every new charity we supported. The problem is that generous Barbara suggests all the new causes, mainly environmental funds, and her suggestions for discontinuance tend to be church-related charities that appeal to me. We use Donor-advised funds held by the San Francisco Foundation. There's a modest fee for this, which we do not begrudge. The two advantages of this arrangement are that we receive an immediate tax deduction in the years in which we add to these funds, and that we don't need to keep additional records for tax purposes of each individual "grant" we request. The one disadvantage is that the minimum grant is $250, so that we still need to keep records for smaller gifts of (say) $50 or $100. One of our favorite alternative ways of giving away money has been to purchase deferred Gift Annuities. When I was in business, still earning, this allowed us to take an immediate tax deduction, and add to our retirement income. Barbara's pension from her teaching is modest, as is her Social Security income. My Social Security is greater, but I have no pension. Those annuities and some dividend income enable us to be "comfortably off", and continue to give "alms". If I sound smug about this, I apologize. We do believe in sharing our worldly goods, but please don't call us "wealthy" or describe us as "philanthropists". We are certainly not in the "1%". Our way of life is determinedly "Middle Class".

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