How To Keep That Caring Spirit When You Are Broke – Part I

(This article is part of a weekly guest column by Claire Moylan*)

Americans are typically big-hearted givers, but today’s chronically stingy economy can make a time miser out of anybody. It seems that if we want to make money, we don’t have the time to do the things that speak to our hearts. Fred Block, a teacher of economic sociology at UC Davis, talks about the two disparaging economies in his article entitled "The ‘Thing’ Economy and the ‘Care’ Economy." He makes a viable case that the strategies that support the economies into separate spheres are no longer working, and they are now competing against each other, and yet the two economies are important for a balanced society.

The Thing Economy Versus The Care Economy

The “Thing Economy” is all about productivity and the world of business. It is about producing goods and services that help society to run. Obviously, this is where companies and factories make most of their money. However, there is a whole another economy that is either completely unpaid or non-profit. This is the “Care Economy” and Block suggests it is all about when people care for each other or their natural environment. Block suggests that the two economies actually are competing for time and the care economy is getting the short shrift. While he offers no monetary comparisons or time being spent doing work within either of these economies, the idea may have some basis.

I am having that same battle with a service placement I am doing currently. Service is the opportunity to give back to our community the same way it gives to us. So, basically it is volunteering. I love the work, it is being offered for a non-profit that really can use the help, but there is no money in it. However, the volunteer placement is required by a Master’s program that requires 120 hours of community service in my field. So, I have to ask myself: Is it really worth it to me to give 120 hours worth of work for free to anyone when you are trying to get your own bills paid?

Determining The Costs Of Volunteering

Unfortunately, the way that we have been programmed to see our time is by the billable hour. So, if you take your hourly wage and multiply it by the number of hours you intend to volunteer (don’t forget travel time, meals, and gas expenses), you begin to really wonder what the point of volunteering is anymore. It certainly doesn’t help to pay the bills in the present and actually costs me to volunteer free time. It’s not really free time because I’m paying for it and that is the core of the conflict within the Thing versus the Caring economies. How can I care when I don’t even have the basic things I need to allow me to provide my services for free?

I’m sure I’m not the only one with this dilemma and that’s why most of us would prefer to give a few dollars here and there than to actually have to spend time helping someone else. It costs far more to actually have to go somewhere and help someone else. Then we begin to feel volunteering or caretaker burn-out and resentment can set in. Is this really a product of too much giving, or is it due more to the comparison that automatically happens when we give? We start to think about how much it is really costing us in a dollar sense. Is there a way to do this volunteering business such that we take care of ourselves also while attempting to help another? Wouldn’t that be the ideal?

Learn How To Pay Yourself First

You’ve heard it before in financing: pay yourself first. If you want to save, you have to pay yourself first, otherwise the emergencies and day-to-day hassles of life suck you dry. Could it be though that this financial principle is really more of a philosophical principle that could help us learn how to properly implement a caring society? Is the point of a caring society to deplete the resources of those who care or is it to learn to give wisely to those in need? I think we should use this principle in many areas of our lives, even in volunteering.

So, don’t fall into the trap that volunteering is all about giving, otherwise, you’ll never give enough back to yourself. You have to be able to receive too, otherwise, what you are agreeing to is just another form of slavery. It may make you feel good to volunteer, but if you have financial obligations that aren’t being met because of your volunteer activities, find some way for that volunteerism to benefit you financially in the future. Volunteering can still work in a thing economy, if we learn to pay ourselves first. That is a basic exercise in all good accounting systems. If you don’t pay yourself first, you will be left without later on when you need it.

Tomorrow, I will talk about the step-by-step instructions on how to learn to pay yourself first when you choose to volunteer.

About the author: Claire Moylan is a freelance writer specializing in ebooks and custom-tailored articles for niche websites. You can view her portfolio online or check out her constant content page for more information about her writing assignments.

*Image Credit: Community Service Program @ Milton Academy

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