Day 45: Tithe Me Up!

Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.

Francis of Assisi

How much do you give to charity? Is it a little, a lot?

It has recently come out in the news that young people don’t give nearly as much, proportionately, as older people. What is the long-term impact of this on charities? Will they be sustainable?

To me, it seems that asking how much one gives to charity is akin to asking someone’s salary. In Britain, at least, still taboo.

Historically, religions have provided a guide as to how much to give. In Islam, zakat, the third pillar of Islam, requires an annual contribution of 2.5% of an individual’s wealth and assets. Tzedakah is the name for compulsory giving for Jews; Deuteronomy commands ten percent of earnings to be given away every three years.

Perhaps the decline in religious affiliation correlates to the fall in giving by younger generations.

So, when I’m in debt, and trying desperately to scramble out, what should I give? Nothing? A little?

When I started work, I signed up to Give As You Earn or Payroll Giving. It’s fantastic for charities, because their income is steady, and guaranteed. It’s also great for you, because deductions are made pre-tax, which means that (if you’re a basic rate tax payer) giving a tenner to charity effectively only costs you eight quid.

As a church-goer, how much I give to charity is based on a guideline from my church. Guidelines are useful; in schools there are rules to teach children how to behave, in society we have laws to keep order. In religion, alms-giving commandments are similar. If it’s a law, rather than a choice, there is no alternative. That’s not to say that we should feel forced into giving, just that it makes it the happy norm; it would be abnormal not to give.

Zakat, tzedakah, tithe. Do we need religions to impose rules on us, to behave charitably? In one American study*, religiosity and charitable giving were causally linked, and across the web many seem to think the same. Of course we don’t need these rules. Of course atheists, agnostics, and so on, give to charity, and do not need the threat of eternal damnation or an angry god to compel them to do so.

For me, it’s just useful having someone to tell me how much is a reasonable amount. At the start of the post, I asked you if you give a little or a lot. Who knows?

I like this quotation and I hope that, whether religiously inclined or not, you do too (non-believers can just ignore the last six words!):

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver

(2 Corinthians 9:7)

*Wolfgang Bielefeld, Gifts of Money and Time: the Role of Charity in America’s Communities, ed. Arthur C. Brooks (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).


Day 35: Perspective

“Like, oh-my-god, this whole, like “not shopping” thing is, like, so hard.”


While I go on struggling with my lamentable attempts to cut down on caffeine and consumables, the “Make a Difference” service at my church is a fantastic opportunity to get some perspective on things.

Last Sunday, Julian Page, from the Livingstone Tanzania Trust (LTT), came to talk. A legacy fund from Holy Trinity has been supporting the Trust, and Julian came to talk to us about what had been achieved over the past year with the money given.

I found the talk extremely moving; I’d been having a bad day, mulling over everything that was wrong in the world, and hearing about the work of the Trust both exacerbated and alleviated this. Oxymoronic, I know.


Well, it made me even more sad and angry, because the problems faced by those the LTT helps are still so basic. Consider, for a moment, that people in Britain have just spent days queuing for the latest iPhone. Then consider that in Tanzania nursery-aged children are being given substandard education in rooms such as this:

On the other hand, I was cheered by how much has been done to improve things. Julian was emphatic in the “hand up not hand out” philosophy of the Trust, and made it clear that they were not going over to Tanzania to impose our “better” way of life on the people there.

In any case, would you argue that the consumerist, western ways are “better”?

Just look at the smile on this child’s face (thanks to the LTT for this photo):




Julian’s presentation reminded me of my own visit to a country bordering Tanzania to the south, Malawi.

Although it was now quite a few years ago, I remember my trip to Malawi as one of the most privileged, eye-opening and rewarding times of my life.

During his talk, Julian mentioned how happy people are in Tanzania. (Happy, remember, without the iPhone 5. . .) I experienced the same thing in Malawi. I was humbled by how people could have such warm, bright smiles on their faces amidst such grinding, apparently unending, poverty.


Me at the Open Arms Orphanage in Blantyre, Malawi (before Madonna came along. . .)


It’s important, I feel, to keep putting things into perspective, especially while writing this blog.

I may come across as materialistic, possibly narcissistic, in my shallow existence. So it’s crucial to show the other side; to remind myself (and others) that struggling not to buy x, y or z, is just nothing. Nothing.

When you see the state of the classrooms that young children are being educated in (if they get schooling at all), how can you possibly dither over buying something else that you don’t even need?


Thanks for reading. xxx


With many thanks to Julian Page, Director of Operations and Trustee of the Livingstone Tanzania Trust

You can find out much more about the Trust’s work at their website:

If you’d like to donate to the Livingstone Tanzania Trust, please visit:

Day 8: Dream Destinations and… Desks

My housemate is returning home to Brazil at the end of the month, after ten years in the UK. “You must come and visit!” she tells me. Having promised to visit my family in Cambodia, and one of my best friends, who lives in America, I’m steadily clocking up those imaginary air miles. I’ve told her I’ll visit when I have enough money. That’s quite a flexible statement. What’s the definition of “enough”?

Unfortunately, my dream destinations fall pretty low on the priority list at the moment. The laptop I inherited from my (then) ten year-old sister is on its last legs. Two of the keys are missing, so I have attached a clunky old keyboard I inherited from my grandmother. Yesterday, booting up and opening the internet took twenty five minutes.

I tell you what, if my blog goes viral, and I get a six-figure contract with the Times, I’ll buy myself a laptop.

Part of the downsizing I mentioned in yesterday’s post was getting rid of my luxuriously large desk. I love being able to spread out when revising; laptop in one corner, study manual in another, paper to write on in another, and question bank in another. Fellow ACA students will know what I mean… Now, though, the desk has got to go. There’s no way it would fit in my new, scaled-down bedroom.

Within an hour of putting the desk up for sale on Gumtree, I’d had a response. Sold, and fifteen quid in my back pocket. That’s 3% of my loan taken care of!

Serendipitously, my grandparents were getting rid of an old sewing machine table, to make way for a bookcase. (The hoarding of books is a family trait; my great-grandfather was a librarian, see Day 2’s post at Voilà, one new (free) desk!

The local free entertainment on Sunday night started up again this week, after a four-week summer hiatus. It was lovely seeing my friends again at church; although I’m a somewhat esoteric atheist-Christian, I had been feeling spiritually bereft in August. Even if, intellectually, I’m a reluctant believer, I do get a great deal of pleasure, warmth and friendship from my Sunday-evening outing. Plus, to add to my savvy-saver credentials, it is a free night out…

After the service, three of us were discussing meeting at the pool for a swim before work. “Oh, you go to the posh gym” one of them noticed. Yes, I suppose I do. I go the gym that’s on my route to work and back, because it’s pretty much the only way to get myself in there. If I had to take a ten-minute detour to get to the pool, I’d be far too lazy to ever get to the door, let alone do an hour’s workout. It’s something to consider, though, isn’t it? The gym is one of my regular outgoings, and crossing that of the list of direct debits would certainly help the bank balance. I’m not saying I’ll cancel my membership, or switch gyms, just yet. But I’ll think about it…

Thanks for reading folks.