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Money to the Cause 21 June 2018

We as Americans have a difficult time talking about money. For instance, the question "How much do you make?" is tacitly understood to be forbidden in many offices. And yet, transparency and information allows us to have open, frank discussions. Problems like pay inequality will never be addressed if vital information is taboo.

I think that is starting to slowly change. Fog Creek recently started an open salary policy. Many job hunting sites now have a salary calculator to help you find the salary range for a job in your area. And sites that review companies, like Glassdoor, will request your position and salary to help users understand where a company falls on the compensation spectrum. When I look for a job, if the compensation range is not clearly stated, I find myself significantly less interested in the position. It gives me less confidence in their ability to understand the job market and what potential employees are interested in. Saying you have snacks and a foosball table is far less pertinent to a job hunter than knowing the company is offering fair compensation. 

Anyhoo. Transparency is important. Money is important in our lives (no matter how much that may frustrate us). If there was more transparency, maybe, just maybe, we would be slightly better at solving our problems both personally and collectively.

So. I make a decent amount of money. Having been working in technology since my sophomore year of college, I have a solid 20 years of experience designing and building websites and applications—as well as maintaining and deploying them. For my current gig as a contractor, I charge $90/hour and my billable hours typically range between 25-35 hours a week. As a contractor, I do not get paid time off or any benefits, so health care and retirement are all on me. Also, since the company is not paying taxes on the money they pay me, I also pay a self-employment tax on my earnings. I am estimating that with time off, I will make around $115,000 this year.  Roughly equivalent to someone making $100K with benefits. Could make significantly more—and have done so in the past as a CTO—but my current work-life balance is phenomenal and I am not keen to lose it.

As a strong proponent of Kant's Categorical Imperative—if perhaps not always the best implementor of it—I believe we have a duty to help others when we are fortunate. Financially, that is always a tricky rule to formulate as there are opposing needs—and even wants—that we hope will propagate into more fortune, allowing us to give more help.

My particular strategy has been to give monthly to multiple organizations whenever I am fully employed. Nonprofits, organizations, and even individuals benefit from regular, stable financial support and by becoming a member I am both kept informed and my name is added to their rolls. The sum total of those monthly amounts is always less than I wish to give, allowing me the flexibility to give one-time donations. One-time donations are dependent on both my bank account balance and what has captured my attention in daily life. The beginning of this year was light in one-time donations thanks to a splurge of giving at the end of 2017, fully funding my Roth IRA, and a rather expensive dental visit. The past 30 days had three one-time donations totaling $1350 as the Trump Administration's approach to immigration had become more heartless and draconian than I thought possible, and I was compelled to act.

As of June 2018, this is my current giving:

Monthly

$5/month   - Jeff Merkley
$5/month   - Mother Jones
$10/month  - EFF
$10/month  - OPB
$20/month  - ACLU
$20/month  - Access Fund
$25/month  - Everytown for Gun Safety
$25/month  - Environmental Defense Fund 
$25/month  - National Park Conservation Association
$25/month  - National Immigration Law Center
$25/month  - Southern Poverty Law Center
$50/month  - Planned Parenthood
$100/month - NRDC

Total Monthly Giving: $345/month

One-Time Donations for 2018

$20   - Wayfinding Academy
$50   - Friends of Cedar Mesa
$100  - Reed Annual Fund
$100  - NWAC
$1000 - National Immigration Law Center
$100  - Columbia Slough Watershed Council Inc
$250  - The Florence Project 

If I keep up this level of giving for all of 2018, then by the end of the year I will have donated roughly $7400. If I continue my habit of using the GiveGuide to spur me to give more at the end of the year, I suspect that it will be closer to $9000 or $10,000.

Am I pleased with those numbers? I suppose. That is no small amount of money. There are comparisons that could be made, such as how much I put into retirement or a percentage of my income after taxes. But, if I am honest, I do this more by feel. A couple times a month I load up Mint.com and look at my finances. I have other goals (retirement, down payment, outdoor trips) that I wish to fund with my paycheck. And there are more personal gifts that I give to those close to me, such as taking friends out to dinner. I examine all of that and take a look at what is going on in the world and ask myself, "Am I giving enough?"

Maybe that day I was on Twitter and saw another story on immigration or that more federal land was being opened up to drilling. Those concern me. Days like that are when I give $1000 to the National Immigration Law Center or double my monthly donation to the NRDC. Given the current Administration, I expect more days like that in the future. Many more. And on those days, I will give more.