It’s time to get more strategic about our personal budgets. Unemployment is high and we’re in a recession as a result of COVID-19. While every dollar is extremely precious right now, we’re also asking ourselves: How can we make sure to contribute as much as possible to end police brutality?
Educating yourself and joining the protests, if you can, is important — but so is funding Black Lives Matter and other organizations dedicated to dismantling racism. Building a more equitable society requires a restructuring of where our money goes, both on an individual level and in terms of how our local governments spend tax dollars. “Decide if this is something that you want to do one time or a few times, or if it's something that you just want to instill in your day to day budget,” suggests Aditi Shekar, a personal finance expert and the founder of a finance app for couples called Zeta.
If you already know which organizations you want to donate to, you should consider whether they’d benefit more from a lump sum or a smaller amount every month. Some bail funds might have a more immediate need for money, whereas organizations fighting for bail reform can still benefit from a steady stream of long-term donations.
Create a budget, or reassess your budget if it’s been a while since you created it. Chances are, your spending and needs have changed over the past few months. The exact makeup of a budget can vary widely, but one common rule of thumb is the 50/30/20 breakdown, where you try to spend about 50% of your take-home pay on essentials, 30% on things you want, and 20% on savings. “Doing what's right for you is really important, rather than trying to benchmark yourself against folks around you,” says Shekar. “So if you're somebody in a situation where you're able to contribute $20 a month, that's completely reasonable, whereas somebody else may choose to contribute $100 a month.”
Ways to cut back so you can donate more
First, write out all of your expenses. How much is your rent? Do you have student loans? Remember that federal student loans are currently in forbearance with 0% interest until the end of September. If you’ve been paying, you have the option to request a refund for payments made on or after March 13th.
If you want to maximize recurring donations, you can try negotiating some of your other bills, like utilities, phone, or internet. You can also see if your ISP is offering a cheaper promotion rate, or look for a less costly phone plan. If your energy bill tends to be high in the summer, maybe invest in installing better insulation.
After figuring out what your fixed bills are, take a look at other monthly expenditures. Maybe you have an exercise app that has a monthly subscription. How often have you been using it? Now that the weather is warm, can you replace it with a free, socially-distanced outdoor exercise? How many streaming services are you currently subscribed to? Are there any companies you no longer want to support? “If you want to think about this as a long-term thing, instilling this practice in your week-to-week and month-to-month, then you want to sit back and look at things that you're like, ‘I really appreciate this small luxury I might have, or this small expense that I might have, but it's something that I'm willing to forgo,” says Shekar. “If it's something that allows me to contribute back to the world, I get to benefit from [it].”
Groceries are an essential expense, but there are opportunities to cut back here too. Maybe you won’t miss cutting back on your seltzer habit. Look at whether you’ve been ordering more takeout lately because you’re tired of cooking all the time, and calculate how much you’d save in service fees, delivery fees, and tips if you reduced the frequency of ordering food. “Eating out is actually typically most people's largest spend,” says Shekar. “But given that I'm not eating out as much and I'm saving X dollars per month on that, maybe that's the amount of money that I choose [to donate.]”
You could also look into side hustles or selling items you no longer use to come up with more money. And if you happen to have a racist family member, you could use the money you’d spend on their birthday gift for an extra donation to an organization supporting Black communities.
Just the act of tracking your spending can help you maximize donations. Budgeting and tracking your money trains you to be more aware of where your dollars go. Some budgeting apps let you portion out your paycheck to different spending categories so you can see how much is left in each one throughout the month, not just how much you’ve spent. Another common money-saving tip is using cash when you can, as having a finite amount of money in your wallet helps you curb spending.
A lot of organizations allow you to set up recurring payments, but if you’re not sure where you want to be giving yet or you expect that it could vary a bit every month, consider setting up a separate savings account just for your donations. “I think bucketing your money is incredibly powerful, because it creates this fake divide of your money and it helps you understand where things are allocated,” says Shekar. “I would make sure that it's something you're contributing to regularly if you're not doing the one-time model. And I would also encourage you to actually check in — create some sort of cadence on how you spend that money. Maybe every two weeks you give to somebody, or once a month you sit down and figure out how to allocate those resources.”
Ask your job to help you
Some big companies like General Electric and Microsoft offer employer matching on donations. Your company might already have a system like that in place — or now is a good time to ask if that’s possible. It’s a great way of multiplying the effect of your donation.
If that’s not an option, you can see if there are expenses your company is willing to pay for that you haven’t taken advantage of yet. This will help you cut back on your own expenses and free up more money for funding an important cause. Some companies pay for employee lunches, phone bills, gym memberships, tech and office equipment necessary for work. Some companies even pay for their remote employee’s internet.
Where can you give your money?
You can donate regularly to your local BLM chapter or various bail funds across the nation, but take some time to research what kind of community organizing exists in your neighborhood, too. Meaningful change involves not just defunding the police and bail reform — it also means donating to local mutual aid funds or copwatch organizations that stand vigilant against day-to-day police harassment in Black neighborhoods. Whenever possible, you should also buy items and use services from local Black-owned businesses instead of big chains.
Other causes to look for:
Groups working to end qualified immunity
Groups working to end Stop-and-Frisk
Prison reform and abolition
Affordable housing unions
Black voter suppression
LGBTQ+ groups for young Black people
Grassroots or publicly funded media organizations amplifying Black voices
Donate your time
If you can’t afford to contribute monetarily, you can donate your time. Join an organized protest near you or help those protesting by gathering supplies, providing rides to and from protests, helping people find protest buddies, or even offering your home as a refuge if you’re along the route of a march.
Beyond the protests, you can call your local council member and write emails demanding that they stop funding the police and reallocate your city’s budget to services and agencies that uplift Black communities. You can fundraise online or over the phone for organizations you’d like to help. If you know a language other than English, you can help translate their educational or informational materials or provide non-English phone support. You can offer to help with their social media outreach. You don’t have to be rich to fight for Black lives. It won’t be over in a week, or a year. It’s a cause we can support with our wallets and our actions every day.