By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director
As one of the premier financial columnists in the US, Michelle Singletary could be satisfied with her lofty standing, writing pieces that millions of readers gobble up and speaking at conferences to adoring attendees. She could enjoy her life as a respected and trailblazing journalist, helping countless people with their finances. She could be satisfied with the money she’s made and the money she’s made other people.
But Singletary’s purpose is bigger than that. Yes, she helps people thanks to the words she puts into print. But one of her most inspiring viewpoints about money is not the advice she gives or how much she’s stashed away in her own portfolio. Instead, it’s what she gives away.
“What else is going to be my legacy? I don’t want my obituary to say, ‘She was a Washington Post syndicated columnist, and that’s kind of it,’” she said on The White Coat Investor podcast in December 2021. “That can’t be all. It shouldn’t be. . . . What are you going to leave to your children, your community, and the world from all you’ve been able to gain. To me, I want the headline to say that I volunteered in my community, that I sent my kids to college debt-free, that I embraced what they wanted to do, their calling.”
In other words, Singletary wants to be remembered for her service to others.
It’s a noble thing to believe, and Singletary certainly puts those words into action. But what about those people who, in theory, would love to give 10% or 15% to charity and just . . . haven’t done it yet? What if you have a giving plan but have procrastinated on putting it into action? What if you simply lack the immediate motivation to be philanthropic? What if you’ve got 8,000 other things going on in your life and the charity part keeps slipping further down the list?
After her keynote speech at WCICON22, I chatted with Singletary for about 20 minutes, and we hashed it out: how do you make yourself give to charity if giving doesn’t come naturally to you?
“One of the things you do is you build it into your budgets,” Singletary told me. “It’s either a percentage or an amount that you’re going to give every year. That helps us. For us, tithing is a huge amount, and we set it up with our church that we automatically give every week. You make it like a bill. You don’t have to think about it. The more you make it like a bill—but not a bill where it’s like ‘Ugh, we finally paid it,’ but more of where you get to give back—the better.”
At The White Coat Investor, Dr. Jim Dahle frequently mentions the five financial activities in his life:
- Spending, and
Still, plenty of people have found the time.
As noted by The Atlantic, donations in the US were at an all-time high in 2020 with more than $471 billion given away, and even though analysts predicted that charitable giving would return to more normal levels in 2021, a higher percentage of people donated to charitable causes in 2021 (81%) than they did in 2020 (73%).
So, yes, people have continued their charitable ways, even during a pandemic and rising inflation (we obviously don’t know how giving has been affected by 2022's market downturn, but it’s probably not great).
Need some ideas for how to donate? You can start a Donor Advised Fund. If you’re over the age of 70 1/2, you can participate in qualified charitable distributions. You can tithe. You can open a charitable trust. You can begin a private charitable foundation. You can just send money to a charity like the Ronald McDonald House or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Or you can donate to your neighbor’s fundraising walk-a-thon.
It doesn’t only have to be money that you give. You can also donate your time. Singletary has been philanthropic-minded since she was in her 20s. Back then, she participated in a pets-on-wheels program where she’d visit nursing homes weekly to comfort and entertain the residents, who Singletary said “were more receptive to the pets than the people” and where “half the time, they wouldn’t talk to me but they’d play with my dog.”
As Forbes reported, 56% of people volunteered their time in 2021, a decline from 58% in 2020 and 64% in 2017. Like budgeting your donations, Singletary said you need to do the same with your time.
“We treat that like a bill,” she said. “Every month, we teach classes to our ministry. Twice a year, we do a 10- or 12-week class on managing your money in marriage. You have to build it in your schedule. You build it in your budget as part of your giving.”
This kind of work is important to Singletary. She knows that she (and many WCI readers) are in a unique position where those who have done well for themselves can also make a great deal of difference to others. It can’t always be about experiencing the bigger house or the world trip or the Michelin-rated restaurant. It also has to be about giving back to those who are less fortunate, about those who can’t afford the studio apartment or gas to put in their car or even a Happy Meal for their kids.
Even if you haven’t gotten around to giving to charity—or you want to do so but are simply procrastinating—it’s never too late to start. It’s a little bit of effort that can make a huge difference.
“If you’re earning a good living, you know there’s a ton you should be giving back. But life gets in the way,” Singletary said. “You’re living your life; you’ve got kids and your friends. Your intentions are good. I’m all about building the structure to do the things you want to do that aren’t necessarily fun. As much as I can build that in, giving my money automatically or my time automatically, just as you would with savings or retirement. It’s stuff you know you have to do, but you’d much rather be doing other stuff. So, you sign up for the 401(k) at work and you automate your savings. It’s the same thing with giving to charity.”
If you missed Michelle Singletary’s fantastic keynote speech at WCICON22, you can find it (and every one of the other 55 sessions) in our latest course, Continuing Financial Education 2022.
What I’m Reading This Week
A Knock on Wood
Cathie Wood and her ARK Innovation ETF have made plenty of noise and news in the last couple of years, and last week, New York Magazine profiled her and the decision to put so much emphasis on hot-turned-not companies like Robinhood and Tesla.
As noted in the piece, ARK had $40 billion worth of assets in March. Now, it’s closer to $16 billion, and ARK is down 55% for the year (the author of the piece writes investors actually would have lost less money if they had bought Bitcoin instead of ARK).
So, is Wood still a stock market rock star, or will she be relegated to the pile of portfolio managers who burn so bright for a few minutes before fading away into obscurity? Who knows. But there is this to ponder. From NY Mag:
“Wood’s fund is now exactly where it was in March 2020, meaning pandemic investors who bet on her have now round-tripped all the way up and all the way back down. Adjusting for inflation, they have lost money.”
More Private Equity Pains
We know private equity firms have been targeting medical practices (and apartment complexes), and this week, Medical Xpress wrote about gastroenterologists specifically because apparently it’s the “golden age of colonoscopies.”
Here’s the problem for somebody who has Crohn’s Disease and lives in San Antonio.
“Preventive colonoscopies are covered without patient cost sharing under the Affordable Care Act, but colonoscopies for patients with existing conditions, like Mariel, are not. A 2019 study found patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease, incur about $23,000 in healthcare costs a year. Medication treatments alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars annually.
But shopping around proved frustrating. Although San Antonio has plenty of gastroenterology offices, more than two dozen of them are controlled by the same private equity-backed group.”
Federal law prohibits “surprise billing,” but costs are rising, and with more people needing gastro care, the trend of private equity firms investing in medicine continues to be a problem for patients.
Crypto for Your Kids
Now that Fidelity is allowing customers to hold cryptocurrency in their 401(k) plans, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that people can now
gamble with invest in digital currency in their children’s accounts.
As noted by USA Today, UNest will allow parents to invest in cryptocurrency inside their children’s custodial accounts. As of now, there are more than 200,000 people on the company’s waitlist who plan to dip into those kinds of high-volatile investments.
“Last year, we did a survey and asked customers of our app what additional products they wanted to see,” Ksenia Yudina, UNest's founder and chief executive, said, via the newspaper. “We asked parents what stocks they wanted to buy right now for the next 10-18 years. Most of them said, ‘We don’t want to buy stocks. We want crypto because we see the asset class has the greatest potential for appreciation over a long-term horizon.’”
As always when it comes to crypto, proceed with extreme caution.
Money Song of the Week
A few weeks ago, the national Broadway tour of the Donna Summer musical came through my city, and while I don’t necessarily love the idea of jukebox musicals, I felt like including the Disco Queen in the Money Song of the Week was a no-brainer.
“She Works Hard for the Money” reached Number 1 on the charts for a few weeks in 1983, and it tells the tale of Onetta Johnson, a real life woman who was encountered by Summer in the bathroom of a fancy LA restaurant.
As Summer told the Boston Globe in 1983, via Retro Pop Magazine, “We heard a television in the bathroom and I felt, ‘Wow, what a ritzy restaurant to have TV in the ladies room.’ I looked around a corner and saw this little Black woman sitting, fast asleep, in a chair in front of the droning television set. So I said to Susan, ‘She works hard for the money.’ Then, it dawned on me that this was a great song title.”
Summer said she felt love and compassion for Johnson, and she began to think about blue-collar women who worked as waitresses or nurses. It turns out Johnson had multiple jobs, and when Summer walked in on her, she was already at the end of a four-hour shift at the restaurant after already working all day at a local hospital.
“I was exhausted because it was after 2:30 am,” Johnson told the Daily News. “I was saying to myself, ‘Why don’t these people go home?’ I had to take a nursing exam the next day.”
When Summer sings the following, I assume she’s talking about Onetta (although it is hard to imagine a bathroom attendant being happy about getting paid in praise).
“Twenty-eight years have come and gone.
And she's seen a lot of tears
Of the ones who come in.
They really seem to need her there.
It's a sacrifice working day to day.
For little money just tips for pay.
But it's worth it all just to hear them say that they care.”
Here's Summer performing her tune at the Grammy Awards. Make sure to rejoice in Summer’s talent while basking in the 1980s cheesiness.
Tweet of the Week
Here's an example of the old-school version of the 10,000 Hour Rule.
— Barry Ritholtz (@ritholtz) June 8, 2017
Have you ever lacked the motivation to give your time or money? How did you eventually find it? Do you have any experience with ARK? How delightfully corny was that Donna Summer video? Comment below!