How I Give on Less Than $30,000 a Year

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. More than a billion men, women, and children live on less than $1.25 a day, the World Bank's benchmark for measuring extreme poverty. And around 22,000 children die each day from preventable illnesses associated with poverty--these are diseases that have been long eliminated in the developed world. In other words, that's almost 1,000 children who die needlessly every hour.

The thing is, I'm no big earner--I'm a PhD student in a humanities degree program. So 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.

Yet I'm convinced that 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.

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 $1,680 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 this Global Wealth Calculator.

Set a giving goal

A quick internet search about effective philanthropy turns up stories about those 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, plug your post-tax income into this Giving Calculator. The more you make, the easier it is to give more.

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 6 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.

Remind yourself that even small amounts have big impact

A donation of 6 percent of a $27,000 yearly income is $1,620 each year. That may not be much, but it's important to remember that even small sums have tremendous buying power in the developing world. So what can you buy for the global poor with $1,620? That amount could buy school lunches for 46 children for a whole year, or buy enough bednets to protect 975 people from malaria-carrying mosquitos. A $1,620 donation could cover the costs of transporting 54 women to the hospital for postnatal care, or provide three free surgeries for women suffering from debilitating childbirth injuries. You can see how far your donation could go using this Impact Calculator.

There's good news about global poverty: its problems are often well-understood and the solutions are cost-effective. That means that each of us can do our part to help save a life--no matter what our income!

A version of this post originally appeared on The Life You Can Save Blog. For more, read Part 2 and Part 3 of the series "How I Give on Less than $30,000 a Year."