YOUR INVESTMENTS: Atonement by giving more charity

The super-zedaka formula for great charity.

A man counts New Israeli Shekels. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man counts New Israeli Shekels.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
So if you are like me, your phone has been ringing off the hook for the last few weeks from all kinds of organizations soliciting donations for the needy for the holiday season. In addition, through my volunteer work helping families get out of debt and back on their feet financially, I can tell you that there are plenty of families who need help and have nothing whatsoever to eat for the holidays.
A central aspect to both the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers is that we say teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka – repentance, prayer and charity – are the keys to ripping up the evil decree. I would like to focus on the charity aspect and try and provide a formula that will enable everyone to be able to give more tzedaka than they have given in the past.
Tzedaka is often translated as charity. But in Hebrew the root of the word comes from tzedek, or righteousness.
Moshe Freedman writes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained it similarly. He explains: “Lastly, the word charity in Hebrew is chessed, not tzedaka. Chessed implies that the recipient has no particular right to receive help and the giver is under no obligation to provide it. Tzedaka, however, means righteousness or justice. The implication is that the donor gives out of a sense of duty.”
So how can we have more money so that we can give more tzedaka? To readers of this column the answer is obvious. It centers on living with both financial discipline and within your means. The Mishna in tractate Rosh Hashana says the whole world is judged on Rosh Hashana, including how much money we will have in the upcoming year.
At the end of the laws of holidays, the Biur Halacha commentary says since we don’t know how much money we are allocated at the beginning of the year, it is incumbent on each individual to live within their means to not run out of money. We have a responsibility to not be frivolous with our money, since it comes to us by heavenly decree.
A consumer fast Yom Kippur is a time of reflection and self-examination.
Financially, start examining spending decisions and assess if you really need the product or whether you can do without it. Maybe it’s time that you institute a “financial fast.” You don’t need to buy everything. Every spending decision that is made can have a crucial effect on savings.
Think about it this way: You can probably do without another new pair of shoes or shirt. There are a lot of families you could give that money to instead, and it would allow them to be able to put food on the table for a week.
Prioritize expenses and buy only what is necessary.
Too often I see people make all kinds of unnecessary purchases, and they end up in debt. The goal is to increase your savings, not to increase your debt. Examine all spending decisions. This is the case whether deciding to buy a new TV or whether to pay NIS 25 for a six-minute cab ride when you could walk instead. Get in the habit of asking if each purchase is necessary.
When shopping, make a list of what you actually need before you go to prevent yourself from buying every great deal you see. Sticking to a specific shopping list prevents the purchase of superfluous, unnecessary luxuries.
I once counseled a family that set a goal of giving NIS 200 more each month to tzedaka. At first they thought it would be an impossible task, but after examining their spending and then prioritizing purchases by importance, they were able to easily find the NIS 200.
New Year Use the New Year to start fresh financially. Start a budget where you have two line items that get funded first.
First is your tzedaka, and next is long-term savings. Try and put 10% of your take-home income in each. If you are in debt, use the budget to create fiscal order and discipline to get debt-free and set up an emergency fund.
May we all merit a gmar chatima tova, a happy and healthy year, and may we make it a priority to live within our means so that we can increase our giving and create a better society.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., or its affiliates. Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts. He is the author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.