Your responses to “what to do with one million dollars”

Thanks to everyone who responded to my first question on this blog, either here or on my Facebook page.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised at how generous the instincts of most of my guest posters were. After all, most of you, at this point, are friends, and being a friend to me requires a substantial act of generosity to begin with. But seriously, I wasn’t fishing for testimonials for philanthropy.

dollarsStill, anonymous benefactors who are reading this blog, be advised: give your next eight million dollars to key readers of mine, and somewhere around three and a half million dollars of it will be given away to medical research, animal welfare, world hunger, youth mentoring, and faith-based ministries.

Saving for retirement, paying off debt, and paying for college for children and grandchildren will take up most of the rest of these windfalls. A fair amount will be spent on world travel, but no one who responded is buying new homes. I have one friend young enough to be considering starting a new for-profit business. And fortunately for me, I have at least one friend who will have a new sailboat upon which to entertain me.

I can’t argue with the retirement savings angle. Because so many of my friends are (ahem) middle-aged, a few hundred thousand dollars can look, for many of us, like the final piece of funding a retirement that may be less than ten years away. It might be the difference between achieving what we’ve always hoped for, and settling for less. And this is America, where individual financial independence is expected, even if few attain it. Not wanting to be a burden to our children is a fairly peculiar and recent vanity in human history.

But that’s why I wanted to involve my twenty-something children in this exercise. They are young enough, but savvy enough, to realize that even a million dollars, even without accounting for taxes, isn’t enough to retire on and pursue a life of leisure. I was pleased to hear both of them say that they would first retire all their own debt, and that of their other family members.

Both of them right now are making decent livings in restaurants while pursuing their passions in art and music on the side. Interestingly, neither one said they would use the influx of cash to walk away from their day jobs, the social aspects of which they enjoy. Both would simply work LESS for a paycheck, so they could spend MORE time writing and painting.

I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit that it didn’t immediately occur to me that, in my own fantasy, this would be the perfect opportunity to put into practice some good spiritual principles to which right now I only aspire — literally tithing a full ten percent of my income, and doing so on the basis of giving back the “first fruits” of whatever money comes my way, from any source (including the interest off of “my own” savings) from now on.

But yes, with my million dollars, I can do that first. I can do that even BEFORE paying the taxes that I might owe. And I can retire all my debt and that of my adult children, and set aside the money so that our last child doesn’t have to borrow money as part of funding his college education. And mostly, my wife and I can start thinking about spending a retirement consisting of volunteering, travel, and working when we want to, sooner rather than later (or never).

But that’s because I’m a finite, mortal human being that can’t keep working forever.

Churches, and most other non-profits, don’t have that reality of impending mortality to deal with (or embrace). So, what would your church, or your non-profit, do with an unexpected and unbudgeted extra million dollars? That’s the next question.

About J. Ronald Newlin

Non-profit consultant, museum developer, historian, Episcopalian, blues/punk bassist
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