Finances & Money

Handed over $850. Received a grumpy look.

A short while ago, we decided to donate our tax stimulus check, rather than go on a spending spree, invest it or stick it in savings. Stacie and I had budgeted about a grand to pay her dad for the work he did to install our new flooring (pictures forthcoming), but when it came time to pay him, he wanted no payment whatsoever.

This weekend was our chance to fork over the $850 we promised to give his church, but it was the first time he heard of the plan. So while we were at their home in Pennsylvania, I whipped out the checkbook. He was sitting on the couch next to me, but couldn’t see what I was writing, so when I handed the check over and said it was $850 for his church, he blurted out a quick “why would you do that?” and “I said I didn’t want any money“. I had the response ready and stated “you wouldn’t take our money so we wanted to help you and the community in a different way”. He glared at me.

Anyway, he took the check and I assume it made its way to the church. The church doesn’t have a main office, so I trusted my father-in-law with giving the funds to the treasurer. I’ll find out when it’s cashed.

Sure, we could have not accepted his gift of time (and money since he spent some for materials), but my father-in-law is 60 and not getting any younger. He is just a charitable giver by nature, but I don’t want him to shortchange himself if, God forbid, he becomes too disabled to work. If he gets into the habit of just giving his time, he might also get into the habit of not collecting money owed for regular jobs. He’s already slacking off on his collections, and those materials are often sitting on his credit card until he gets the cash to pay it off from his clients. Luckily he has no debt (not even a mortgage), but they don’t have much in savings and they’re not old enough for social security.

Also, we could have used that budgeted money to pay off our remaining $30,000+ in non-mortgage debt, or just saved/invested it, but honestly that money was already budgeted for paying my father-in-law. So instead of rewarding ourselves with a lucky break on our debt or going out and buying a TV, we committed that money back to the community, specifically to the church that my FIL spends so much of his time helping.

And the reason I’m writing this justification of our actions is because we’ve already heard a few questioning remarks about what we did and why we didn’t keep it for ourselves. We’re selfish everywhere else in our lives, so it just feels good to give back, even if it’s a community hundreds of miles away. I also want these words to perhaps provoke others to consider their giving patterns and rethink their consumerism sometimes.

That “economic stimulus” money will make its way back into the economy, just not directly via Best Buy. Instead, it will be used for groceries and events for the local community.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • That was a great thing to do CleverDude. It’s always good to help someone else when you can. With that being said, I need to go make that donation to the Red Cross that I keep forgetting to do.

  • Nice work CleverDude. I think that says a lot that you are willing to donate in the times that we are currently facing. With the economy and portfolios as bad as they are this year, I know the thought of giving is not the first thing on people’s minds. God bless!!

  • I am a little conflicted on your methods here. I think it’s great that you donated the money instead of keeping it, but I think your disregard of your FIL’s feelings was petty and short-sighted. Isn’t it possible that your FIL took great pride in his ability to provide a valuable, long-lasting gift to his daughter? He may feel that, while he can’t buy a lot of stuff, he can give the gift of his time and creativity in a way that will enrich the life of the recipient. I know my grandfather doesn’t have the words to say it, but payment for something he considers a gift truly diminishes (in his eyes) the incalculable value of his time and creativity by making it an emotionless “transaction.”

    You may say, “Well, we didn’t give the money to HIM, we gave it to the CHURCH,” but the clear message you communicated to him was “The value of the work you did was not emotional, it was precisely $850. You’ve left us no choice but to pay the church instead of you.” He told you over and over and over that it was a gift. Why do you feel proud of “whipping out the checkbook” and forcing the money on him? Couldn’t you just as easily have given the money anonymously to his church? That way you and your wife would have felt that you had matched his generosity, and he could have continued to feel proud of the gift he had give you, and the grace with which you received it. Given that the church could have received the money either way, I feel really uncomfortable with your insistence on valuing your self-image (“Look at us! We pay for things! We give to the community! We’re not mindless consumers!”) over his sense of pride and generosity.

    I’m sorry if this comes off as harsh, but I really think a huge part of successful frugality is focusing on what is truly of value, and I’m sure you deeply value your relationship with your FIL. And in this case, though the money ended up in the right place, the method by which it got there was truly hurtful to someone you love. Next time, prioritize his sense of pride over your own.

  • I agree with the above commenter. I think the payment was designed to *appear* noble. But the execution was severely lacking.

    He asked not to be paid; if you wanted to give the money away, you should have done it discretely, and never told him about it.

  • I’m with Erin too. If I had children I knew were going through hard times, and I tried to give them a gift and they diverted that gift to charity, I’d feel pretty bad that they hadn’t let me help them.

  • I commend you for giving, it is always good to give back. Since my wife and I have started giving more regularly it is amazing what a positive effect on us it has had. When you give you’re not only giving, but receiving.

  • It’s really admirable what you did. I would like to say my wife and I would have done something similar. My father helps me out around the house when I need repairs done, but he won’t take money. I usually pick up the tab at dinner and help him out with any computer problems he has. What you did gives me an idea though. Good work!

  • I do believe it was good to give the money to the church, however, I’m also with those that think you could have given it anonymously to his church or even yours.

    I don’t believe you were looking for kudos, but, giving in the manner that you did may give that impression.

    Anyway, good job for not keeping it to yourself. I’m sure 99.9% of America did. We used ours to pay down debt.

  • From your post:

    “it just feels good to give back.”

    Did your actions – thou well-intentioned – deprive your father in law of this feeling? Just something to consider, I think.

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