Optimizing Looks Weird

June 25th, 2014
ea
Five years ago, when Julia convinced me to start earning to give, we were just striking out on our own. We got married, moved into our first apartment, and were working at our first "grown up" jobs. Our household income put us at around the 65th percentile for the US: comfortable, but relatable. When we said "this is how we spend our money, saving here and there so we can donate more," we were an example of how a couple with no kids could give a lot while still having a pretty nice normal life.

Since then we've tried to keep increasing how much we can give. Julia went back to school and got her master's degree. I switched from an academic-style research job to a more commercial one, and from there to Google. We moved in with another couple in a cheaper neighborhood, and from there to living with my family.

Maximizing donations wasn't the only reason behind these choices: Google is a great place to work, a professional degree lets Julia do more interesting jobs, and it's really nice to spend so much time with my family (espcially now that we have a baby). What these changes have done, however, is make our experience less relatable and less "normal." When we give numbers on income they're now high enough that I worry about people saying "well, sure, earning that much you can afford to be generous." When we give numbers on expenses I worry that people will read "we're living with my parents" as "we're freeloading," even though we pay them market rent. These changes let us donate more last year than we even were earning in 2009 [1], but at the expense of making our experience much less transferable. Sometimes I wonder whether sticking with more conventional choices might actually have been a better long term strategy, showing that normal people can give a lot and backing it up with years of practice, but the idea that doing as much good as possible might entail trying to earn more is also important. Conflicted.


[1] Even adjusting for inflation, which has totalled 8.6% over these past five years.

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