It’s a Big Issue, All Right.

October 24, 2007 at 5:51 am (Uncategorized)

I’m trying to get up to date today with all my charitable donations. They’ve started to back up because I’ve been worrying about money, and for some reason my instinct is to suspend philanthropic gestures first. I realise this reflex doesn’t say altogether wonderful things about my levels of selflessness, but I can honestly tell you it’s hard work keeping up with all the worthy causes, particularly when one’s own income is horribly precarious. This is not to say I am struggling – clearly no one in the world would argue that case on my behalf. I have a very nice life. But we’re also, you know, in massive, migraine-inducing amounts of debt thanks to our mortgage and our credit card. We also have an endless stream of expenses.

I’m much likelier to forego donating to a charity than I am to turn up at a dinner party empty-handed. I’ll delete emails from charities requesting cash but won’t forget to buy a present to take to a baby-shower. I’ll recycle mail requests from the Heart Foundation in a…well, in a heartbeat, but I’ll agonise over what to buy for a friend’s birthday. And yes, damn it, I might not type in my credit card details to every worthy cause, but I’ve just recently signed the slip that makes me the proud owner of my new favourite bracelet.

I am avoiding my local Big Issue vendor like the plague.

I dart past him – Peter’s his name – whenever I turn up at the wharf and see him standing there patiently selling his magazines. I get this tightening in my chest whenever he’s there. I feel like he’s watching me expectantly as I cross at the lights, and the thought is enough to make me wheel around and go off in another direction. The guilt is astonishing. The easiest thing would be, of course, to buy a copy of the mag each week. I started to do this a while ago, and then after another period of budgeting, magazines were among the first things to go. No more, we said. My Vanity Fair subscription lapsed, Llew’s periodical subscription lapsed, we cut back to one weekend paper rather than three, and I stopped buying the Big Issue and started fleeing from Peter the vendor like my life depended on it.

But then certain mags have crept their way back into my possession, and so my guilt about Peter is back to haunt me. Did I really need to buy that birthday edition of Vogue Living to show Llew a window I’d like for our sunroom? And whilst we’re on it, do we really need a new window? We can’t actually afford to do it, either, so what’s the point of buying the magazine to show Llew the picture of the window we can’t have and don’t even really need? I could have bought the Big Issue instead, and a big part of me feels bad that I didn’t.

Llew came home a couple of Fridays ago and told me he’d donated a substantial amount of money to his old and ailing Rugby Club, Eastwood. The club is apparently facing closure, and Llew feels very strongly about supporting them in their hour of need. I confess I blanched when he told me how much he’d given, and then I went further and railed a bit about all of my loyalties and the fact that I’ve been starving them of cash because I know we can’t really afford it. I was upset he’d made that kind of donation autonomously when I’d put off my much more modest contributions. It was quite stressful, and actually for me at least it remains so. I can’t think about that sizable donation without feeling a bit sick, and yet I considered buying Llew a birthday present that was only marginally less.

What is my economy of scale? I guess that’s what I’m asking. Why is one more acceptable to me than the other? I didn’t, in the end, rack up my credit card to get Llew the really expensive gift, but part of me really wanted to, and had to be talked down by another, more sensible part. But the fact remains I was half prepared to do it, whereas Llew’s financial commitment to Eastwood Rugby seemed less important to me than the material thing I considered buying him.

So today I’ve been trying to make amends, donating to several friends involved in various charitable projects and also to my old school, Pearson College, whose board uses statistics on alumni giving to seek corporate sponsors. It’s apparently easier to convince corporations the college is a worthwhile enterprise if they can demonstrate alumni believe in it so much they’re prepared to support its fundraising activities. And because I believe so completely in the college and its mission, I do want to give. I’d like to give more than I have today, and I hope one day I’ll be in a position to feel I can. There’s a wild philanthropist within me – I just need the bank balance to match the inclination. And yes, what I’m also saying is I need to look at how I spend what money we do have, and why, and ask myself whether it might be better spent doing something to try to improve the world instead of just my outfit.

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