dollar signI’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately and I also know that I can be frugal to a fault. So what do these 2 things have to do with each other?

It started with a decision about whether to tip a guy in Chicago who I thought was a cab driver but who I learned was just signaling an oncoming cab to stop for me. I could have done that! He expected a tip and got nasty when I got in the cab and didn’t tip him. The actual cab driver then dropped me off about a block away from my destination. I always give a 15 % tip at restaurants and to the person who cuts my hair. I leave a tip for the hotel maid. I avoid using bell hops because I use a rolling suitcase and have no trouble finding my own room in a hotel. I don’t like tipping for service that I planned to do myself. All this has got me thinking about whether I am too much of a tightwad, or am I just being self-sufficient.

I pride myself on living and traveling simply and have enough income to meet my basic needs. But I’ve been trying to remember that often people who are customarily tipped are working at minimum wage jobs, if that. Perhaps I have to let go of some of my pride and change my thinking to see my “tip” as a way to do my share to decrease the income gap. (Of course a more permanent solution would be to work for the political change that would respect all human labor as worthy of a living wage and decrease the discrepancy between the rich and the poor.) But then there was the situation last week when I was getting some medical shots and the credit card receipt had a blank for a tip for the nurse. I wasn’t sure what to do?

This brings me to the sidewalk in front of our house. My city government has recently repaired all of the sidewalks in my part of town. The construction company has done a great job – and it’s FREE. I’m impressed. But then I remember that I actually did pay for this service when I paid my city taxes. Few people like to pay taxes but I’ve been trying to train myself to pay them readily and happily because it’s a way to provide for the common good. Everybody pays according to their income for things like police and fire protection, road repair, health care, national security, etc. This is good, EXCEPT, I just got an unexpected bill from my city saying that I needed to buy a $50 license because I was an independent contractor and had made money this past year while working out of my home. I then needed to pay tax on the income I made. Hmmm. I already paid federal and state tax on this income. I didn’t know I needed a city license. Now I also have to pay a license fee and city tax on the income too. I paid it, but I’m not happy.

Knowing that I can be overly frugal (our kids call it being a Scrooge or a tightwad) a long time ago Jim and I decided that we would make sure we donated 10% of our income to charity each year (church, charitable and political causes, and the like). This relieved me of making decisions about how much was enough to give away. I could feel like I was doing my fair share. BUT, what about the beggar on the street or those incessant phone calls from different causes asking for donations? I seldom give, Jim often does. I’m not proud of my lack of generosity. Sure, it can be defended by:

  • The beggar may just use the money for alcohol or drugs
  • I already give to (and volunteer at) agencies who help needy persons
  • My 10% tithe is already committed

But, I wonder if I’m hiding behind a rule and not willing to go the extra mile. I’ve always appreciated when friends donate to causes that I solicit for. What would Jesus do?

These are tiny, and sometimes big, moral dilemmas for me. I’ve developed a few rules of thumb but I don’t have a perfect system and I’m not sure I’m being generous enough. Here are my current criteria.

  1. Tip people who are doing a service for me, and be especially generous to people in jobs that I know are low paying.
  2. Don’t be so adamant about doing something myself, just to avoid the need to tip.
  3. When possible, employ people who come to our door asking to do odd jobs.
  4. Pay taxes with gratitude that I have an income to tax.
  5. Tithe at least 10% to worthy causes but look upon it not as charity but as justice, a way of giving back.
  6. Give to any neighborhood kid who is selling something, especially Girl Scout cookies.

What are your criteria or thinking on this?