A Spending Quandary: School for Orphans or Sunshade for Family Brunch

Our oldest son’s kindergarten class recently decided to raise funds to send a girl in the Congo to school. This was part of a larger local effort to help the Peniel Orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Every $200 they raise sends one student to school for a year.

Sam plays cello outside the grocery store to raise money to send a young girl to school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sam plays cello outside the grocery store to raise money to send a young girl to school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Our son was moved by this story, and he decided to put his cello to work busking outside the local grocery store. Two afternoon sessions later, and he’d raised $70 for this orphanage from generous customers of the store who tossed coins and bills into his cello case.

Around the same time, my wife and I had been talking about buying a sunshade umbrella for our picnic table outside. We love eating outside, but in the heat of summer the sun can be scorching during a lazy Sunday brunch. After some research, we found an umbrella for $120. It should last us many brunches, and many years.

Spending $120 felt like a bargain as I unwrapped our new umbrella. Then I started to think: how much is $120?

The real value of our dollars

There are so many ways to spend $120. We frequent our local coffee shop, and $120 would buy at least 20 lattes and a few scones. We could put it towards the home updates we hope to undertake. We could buy this wonderful umbrella, or we could send an orphan to school.

What is the right answer? I have an analytical mind, and I can talk myself into any of these with a nice five bullet list, but this quandary does reveal a few truths.

We are what we spend. If we want to change ourselves, or change the world, we need look no further than how we spend our money. If that umbrella supports some wonderful brunches with friends and family, breaking bread together, then we’ll look back at that as money well spent.

The case for giving to help an orphan is incontestable. Beyond the Congo, there are ten million Syrians who have been displaced from their home in a sobering humanitarian crisis unfolding as I type this. It makes my heart ache. There countless kids who need help these days. How generous can we be?

I am not taking a vow of poverty today, though I have deep respect for those who do. It’s important to me to take care of myself and my family, and I like nice things that cost money. Our family also wants to express our compassion for needs near and far. Balancing these is a very personal matter that needs to be rooted in our family values.

I don’t have any regret about the sunshade, and honestly I don’t think about it much anymore. It was a good purchase for us. At the same time, I think a lot about the orphans. How can we do more? What does it mean for our family to reach in and help causes that matter to us?

Understanding where we spend

The best answer starts with knowing where we’re spending our time and money. Once we know where our time and money go, will we hold ourselves accountable? Are we truly living our lives in a manner that aligns with the values and ideals we hold dear? This alignment starts with asking the question, “Are we spending our time and money in accordance with our values?” Then asking it again. Each week. Each year, and someday, hopefully far away, asking ourselves at the end of our lives.

It’s a tall challenge with no right answer. I know our family has work to do here, but it’s a challenge that inspires us. I truly believe in the bright side of humanity. We all have an incredible capacity for love, generosity, and compassion. If we’re even somewhat deliberate with our precious hours and dollars, I know the world will be a better place.

-Peter P.
Tiller Founder