Donating while in temporary debt (i.e. as a student)

by ancientcampus 1 min read5th Feb 201336 comments

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Topic: I will be in debt for several years, but will eventually have a disposable income. Should I donate now or later?

Here's my situation: I am a student, with student loans and no income. I can take out more loans than I need. Grad PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate of 7.9% - higher than, say, a mortgage rate, or expected stock returns. Some day, I will have those loans paid off, and will have money that I intend to give to charity.

My objectives: to live on less than my means, and give a significant fraction of my income to charity.

Question: When, if ever, should I give to charity before paying off those loans?

My initial reaction is to keep a record of how much I feel like I should be giving now, then give it later, adjusted for interest (at some rate equal to or less than 7.9%) - this would result in a bigger donation, but the same impact on my finances.

The only times I think I should give now, and not later:
1)If I don't believe I will make good on my commitment later on. (I'll presumably have a family and bills, etc, and while I am perfectly happy to live on little myself, I know I will want my kids to have nice things. This is somewhat illogical, but I'm imperfect.)
2)If the most worthwhile charity I find see has a higher interest rate than 7.9%.
3)If I find an opportunity to use my money charitably in which I can do more good than others, or where no one else can or will donate. (Mainly, random acts of kindness to strangers or friends - or, someone is matching my donation)

I doubt I will ever see 2) happen (or if it does, I should raise awareness)
3) doesn't happen very often, but when it does I think it is an acceptable use of funds
1) is the main scenario that concerns me. I've heard that "giving charitably is a habit" (that's why my parents had me tithe as a kid). I think that's true, though I haven't read any research on that. Either way, though, as I have no meaningful income (and my loan "allowance" is way more than I care to borrow), how much should I donate to help form the habit?

What do you think? Also, are there any other reasons to donate sooner and not later?

Edit: Givewell has an article on giving now vs later. Not all of it is relevant to my situation, but one point:
>"Economic growth, increased giving, and smarter giving may mean that giving opportunities are worse in the far future."

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