No Strings Attached: Giving Wholeheartedly

Alice Tang
inspiring, compelling, energetic financial advising expert

The ringing of the bells, Santas outside the mall entries, coat drives for local shelters, toys for underprivileged children, this time of year shines a light on the human spirit and our ability to support one another. Many commonly donate to local charities, give their time to support organizations in need, or give a helping hand to our loved ones.

As we approach the holiday season, you will undoubtedly receive multiple invitations to support worthy causes with your time, money, or resources. I advocate for supporting charities and have a few I hold dear. Yet, I’ve also learned that I can’t say yes to every request. I encourage you to take a moment and consider your motivations and priorities before you say yes to the request so that you can give wholeheartedly this holiday season.

Your Motivation

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a remarkable client, whom I’ll refer to as Selena. Selena’s generosity left a profound impression on me. Instead of contributing to well-known organizations like the Portland Rescue Mission or the Red Cross, she gave $20,000 directly to a family member who was in need. What struck me was not only the size of her gift but also the selflessness behind her decision.

Selena’s actions made me pause and inquire into the motivations behind such giving. She shared that her upbringing instilled in her the belief that she was fortunate, and this belief, paradoxically, led her to feel that she needed to share her wealth with the less fortunate. In response, she gave generously, knowing that it might slow her progress toward financial independence because she could have added this amount to build her retirement nest eggs. Has her giving, while well-intentioned, been partially driven by the thought that she needed to “earn love, validation, and appreciation?”  

 This situation is not uncommon. Many individuals, like Selena, often find themselves in a situation where they strongly desire to support others despite the potential financial consequences. I once had a client, let’s call her Mandy, who continuously provided financial assistance to their adult son, going to the extent of opening a Home Equity Line of Credit. Mandy’s motivation stemmed from a heartfelt concern about the well-being of their family and a desire to maintain strong family bonds. “I wanted them to love me because I was there for them each time. I am a loving mother. He will bring my grandkids to Thanksgiving dinner.” I could not help but ask Mandy, “Are you worthy of love even when you do not help them financially?” which led to a longer conversation and a shift in how she perceived her gifts in the future.

The challenge with giving out of obligation or at the expense of one’s self can often lead to remorse and resentfulness. Giving with “strings attached” is not truly a gift; it’s a hidden transaction that commonly causes resentment over time for both parties. Check these feelings.  

  • Do you expect the other to act a certain way after giving the gift?  
  • Would you feel hurt if they don’t?

If you answered yes, it’s time to revisit your motivation, and I encourage you to say no or remove your expectations so that you can gift without strings attached. And, if you feel you still need to support them, be sure to set a boundary that also supports you. Here’s a tactic my mom used as a savvy saver while supporting extended family. 

Time, Talent, or Treasure?

This turn of phrase has become more common as a way to help individuals and organizations support one another through the means that best suit their situation. However, it’s not a choice of equal parts. You see, when we are young, we commonly feel that we have “all the time in the world” and can support organizations with our time as we build our talents. Yet, as we mature, we prioritize our “treasure” and continue to assume that supporting organizations with our time is less expensive. The challenge is that thinking can’t be further from the truth. Time is the one thing you can’t get back and is our most valuable asset. With time, you can build more talent or increase your financial standing; without, you just can’t.

As the saying goes, “When we watch how someone uses money and time, we learn their values.” My work focuses on helping women establish a healthy relationship with money while they build financial freedom for themselves and their loved ones. One principle I often share is: “Protect your time. Be generous with your money,” but ONLY after you’ve fulfilled your promises to yourself and your family.

 This Thanksgiving season, I’ve made a choice. Instead of physically volunteering to pack food or serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need, I’ve decided to support organizations that do this work. Money has provided me more opportunities, and I now leverage it to make a more meaningful impact on the individuals and organizations I choose to support.

Align Your Priorities

As we navigate requests for our time, talent, and treasure, we must reassess our situation and priorities to give wholeheartedly. So before you say yes to that request, consider these steps:

  1. Don’t answer immediately: ask the requestor for time to consider the request and your current obligations and ask for clarification about the commitment or responsibilities before taking on a new role.
  2. Evaluate what’s important to you: Does the request align with your priorities and intention? How did your body feel as you heard the request, elated or heavy? Your intuition/gut can point you in the right direction if you take the time to listen.
  3. Assess what’s on your plate: Do you have other financial or time obligations that will put you at risk if you say yes to the request? If you’re interested but can’t swing some of the requests, negotiate. Provide a counteroffer that better aligns with your situation and season in life, and if you can’t answer with a wholehearted “yes,” then it should be a no. 
  4. Say yes without reservation: When we give, it not only supports others but also fills our cups. Give freely when it aligns with your priorities and doesn’t jeopardize your future so that you can fully enjoy the benefits of your contribution to the world.

 In this season of giving, let us remember that our acts of generosity, whether with our time or our financial resources, can profoundly impact those in need. However, it’s equally essential to protect our time and financial stability. By balancing giving to others and safeguarding ourselves and our future, we can find harmony with both time and money, ensuring that we are well-positioned to make a lasting impact in the world.

If you’re interested in learning how to support others while ensuring healthy boundaries, look at my article “I can lend you up to $1500.”


About Alice Tang

Alice Tang, ChFC® is a Financial Advisor, Speaker and Educator. As an immigrant to the United States, Alice faced the reality of starting a career from scratch, forcing herself to become self-reliant. Self- discovery became her life-calling, and she has since made a name for herself as Financial Advisor, Speaker and Mentor, led to inspiring others, especially women, to be courageous, confident and successful.

“Step into your power courageously. Your deepened relationship = Your Wealth.” – Alice Tang

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