In the United States, people between 34 and 49 years old spend more on taxes than anything else.  It’s not even close.  So where can we do better than average, to free up money to save and to give?  Let’s start with the elephant in the room.

Everybody knows that if you itemize deductions and you document your charitable giving, you can deduct your gifts for the purposes of income taxes.  Not everybody knows how to make the most of these deductions.  Here are three basic techniques to help you make the most of Uncle Sam’s subsidy for your altruism.

Optical Illusions and Ethical Illusions

Optical illusions can be great fun.  I’m sure you’ve seen the one with the arrows above.  Which line segment is longer?  

Optical illusions are not the only place where our intuition fails us.  Just like optical illusions, experts can construct ethical illusions that might leave you scratching your head. 

If you let people know that you volunteer time and/or money to charity, and it won’t take long for you to run into the viewpoint that everything we do in life is selfish, including altruism!  As the argument goes, people contribute to charities because it makes them feel better.  People respond less to rational arguments about how much good they can do, and more to emotional appeals that put our primitive brain’s reward centers in the crosshairs.  Except for the 1% or so of humanity with psychopathic tendencies, we do feel good about putting a smile on people’s face, no doubt about it.

It’s tempting to say that it doesn’t matter why people help others, as long as they do in fact help.  However, this attitude masks a real danger.

Economists get the short end of the stick.  In politics and the press they get blamed for every recession, which makes about as much sense as blaming theoretical physicists for gravity.  People who follow their passions in college might major in writing, art, music, maybe even political science, but rarely economics.  Studying economics is how you get a job, not a joyous undertaking for most people.  So what is this nerd on the internet talking about, “spreading joy with economics”?

It turns out that economics helps people get jobs because it is actually quite useful.  While a basic knowledge of economics won’t give you the stock market returns of Warren Buffett, it will help you think clearly about how people use money, and it turns out that “people using money” encompasses a broad range of very important things.

One thing that people like you do with money is give it away!  Economics is not great at explaining why you would do such a thing, but it can help you understand how to do it better.

This blog is about making your life matter. 

Well, in fairness, your life already matters.  Odds are that you have friends and family who care about you, and you have accomplished a thing or two in your life.  So this blog is about making your life matter more.

If you live in a rich country and you have a good head on your shoulders, you have a historic opportunity to become a superhero – the kind of superhero who saves innocent lives, fights evil, and still keeps his secret identity as boring old Clark Kent from IT.  But, instead of going about our lives as modern superheroes, most people act more like ostriches.  

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