Sex-Positive Philanthropy


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Introduction

There are several worthy non-profits which may be considered allies of sex-positive culture, at least on some key issues. Examples include the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the ACLU Foundation, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, SIECUS, the Institute for 21st Century Relationships, the Center for Sex-Positive Culture, and the Leather Archives and Museum. This guide focuses on providing basic suggestions for building personal wealth (including saving money, reducing credit card debt, investing, and taking advantage of tax-sheltered retirement plans), in the hopes that you can build enough wealth during your lifetime to where philanthropy never has to feel like a burden to you or your children. Information presented on tax-sheltered retirement plans is specific to United States taxpayers.

Please note: I am not a financial professional. This article represents what I have chosen to do, and what many financial experts currently recommend, but you should do your own research and are responsible for your own decisions. This basics of this article were written in April 2001, and the specifics of United States tax law will change over time.

Note also: Of the examples given above, at the time this guide was written most were 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, two had a 501(c) status other than 501(c)3, and in one case the organization in question (although not itself holding 501(c)3 status) had founded a 501(c)3 sister organization for the sake of its educational efforts. If tax deductibility for your donation is your primary concern, then inquire about this when planning your donation.


Step 1: Reduce Your Spending Until You're Earning Significantly More Than You Spend

Getting off the consumer treadmill can reduce your level of anxiety and perhaps leave you with greater appreciation for the deeper joys in life. This is the step where personal growth, concern for the environment, and your foundations for prosperity can meet.

Here are some tips that various experts have recommended:

In general, as the book The Millionaire Next Door describes, it's a myth that millionaires spend money frivolously: the majority of real millionaires wear reasonably-priced clothing, drive reasonably-priced cars, and look for bargains when they shop. This is one of the reasons they were able to become millionaires in the first place.


Step 2: Eliminate All Credit Card Debt

No investment can consistently give you a higher rate of return than your credit card debt takes from you. In other words, it's pointless to begin any actual long-term investing until your credit card debt is eliminated, and (assuming you still keep at least something of an emergency fund in reserve) it generally makes sense to use existing savings to pay down this debt.

There are circumstances when it's necessary to pay for something using Visa or MasterCard. However, this does not mean you need a credit card; most banks now offer Visa debit cards, which pay for purchases out of your checking account balance but offer no credit.

In general, the only circumstances in which debt can be ``good'' are as a home mortgage or (under the assumption you cannot afford to purchase these things outright) as low-interest loans to attend college or start a small business.


Step 3: Open an Investment Account

Possibilities for Long-Term Investments

In the long run, (1) stock mutual funds and (2) personal home ownership have been the two investments available to everyday people which have tended to outperform all other available investments.

Although personal home ownership definitely has its advantages, it may not be an attractive option for you if:

On the other hand, stocks can be misused as well, typically by investors who take a gambling rather than an investing mentality to them, in the following ways:

One final point about stocks: many financial experts agree that, given the choice, you should select ``no-load'' index funds when you invest in the stock market. ``S&P 500'' funds and ``Total Market'' funds are two of the most popular types of index funds, and the book You Have More than You Think goes into more detail as to why load-free index funds can be such a wise choice.

In closing, in Step 1 I mentioned the confluence between healthy living and saving money. Now, I'd like to identify the confluences between stress-reduction and effective investing: when you invest in stock mutual funds for the long term you're free to disregard market fluctuations while still getting the best possible yield for your money, and when you buy a structurally sound home with an ordinary fixed-rate mortgage that you know you can afford you remove uncertainty from your home life as well.

Possibilities for Short-Term Investments

But what about the times when you do need to make short-term investments? In general, money market funds (e.g. where your money goes when simply left in the "Core Account" that you have when you open an investment account with Fidelity) are to short-term investing what stock funds are to long-term investing, and are also available in tax-exempt versions (though the tax-exempt versions would probably only make sense for someone in the highest tax bracket who is investing outside their retirement plan). For medium-term investing, it might make sense to talk to a financial advisor at your investment company about bonds.

What About ``Socially Responsible Investment'' Funds?

I don't believe SRI's are all they're cracked up to be.

To start with, on a fundamental level you can't invest in companies that have something other than self-interest as their basis: only for-profit corporations may issue public stock, and by definition a for-profit corporation is looking out for itself.

The best that SRI's can do is avoid certain companies, rather than actively encouraging positive change. Even so, you still can't completely avoid the ``bad'' companies, because almost any financial institution or company you may deal with might itself invest in such a way that includes them.

I talked to a financial advisor recently and confirmed that something else I suspected was true: the return on SRI funds is often terrible.

Personally, I believe a viable alternative is to select something like a no-load total market index fund (which invests in every company in the market, both ``good'' and ``bad'') and use what you earn to assist the efforts of non-profit organizations that are actively doing good.

Where Can I Open Investment Accounts?

Vanguard (see http://www.vanguard.com), established in 1975, is currently one of the largest providers of no-load stock funds; they also offer bond funds, money market accounts, and retirement plans. Fidelity (see http://www.fidelity.com) is another popular choice, though many of their funds aren't no-load funds.


Step 4: Maximize Your Retirement Plans

Introduction

Money in ``retirement plans'' can grow and compound tax-free until you reach retirement. In most cases you can also deduct from your taxable income the amount you contribute to them.

Mentioning the word ``retirement'' brings up, for many people, the question of whether they're sacrificing enjoyment in their youth for a future in which they might be less able to enjoy themselves. To that, I would say:

  1. It doesn't take that much money every month to make a huge difference in your future, and the fact that you can typically deduct these contributions on your taxes means that you get a big percentage of this money ``back'' at tax time. Furthermore, if you reduced your spending even a little through Step 1, then in combination with your tax deduction you may find that making these contributions does not require any sacrifice at all.
  2. It's entirely possible that you'll find a charity during your lifetime which you consider worthwhile. Naming a 501(c)(3) charity as the beneficiary of your retirement plans, life insurance policy, or estate (via your will) can be a fantastic way to leave the world a better place. [To do this, at a minimum you need the charity's full name, legal address, and EIN number (which I'm sure they would be happy to provide); if you're changing the beneficiary to them from someone else, then you might also ask whether you need a ``spousal waiver,'' or whether this action might affect ``minimum distributions.'']

If you start at age 20 and contribute $1000 each year into a retirement plan (which comes out to just $83 per month), choosing an investment with a 10% rate of return (i.e. slightly below the historical return for the stock market), then in 40 years you'll have about $681,000 from these contributions alone. Contributing $122 per month rather than $83 per month would make you a millionaire.

This is a tremendously easy way to generate a staggering amount of wealth, for your good or the good of a worthy cause.

Types of Retirement Plans

There are four basic types of retirement plans. You may contribute to as many of them as you qualify for.

Employer-sponsored plans [401(k) or 403(b)]

We all need to do what we love, both for the sake of personal happiness as well as for the long-term viability of our chosen careers. However, particularly if you cannot contribute to a retirement plan through your spouse's employer, I would encourage you to look long and hard within your favorite profession for an employer who (at a minimum) offers health insurance along with a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan.

If your employer matches your contributions, then you should definitely max out their plan before looking at any of the other retirement plan options that follow.

Your contributions to this sort of plan are tax-deductible.

Self-employment plans [SEP-IRA, SIMPLE, or Koegh]

These are the equivalent of 401(k)'s for people who are self-employed. Your contributions are tax-deductible, and you can typically sock more money annually into these plans than you could into a 401(k) or a Traditional/Roth IRA.

You can set up SEP-IRA and SIMPLE plans through Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.

Individual plans [Traditional IRA or Roth IRA]

For 2005, you could contribute up to $4000 a year to one of these plans (slightly higher if you'll reach age 50 by the end of the year), and from there it's likely the allowed amount will only continue to go up. They're available to individuals with employment or self-employment income, to non-working spouses of individuals with employment or self-employment income, or to individuals receiving alimony. You have complete control over what investment to select within your IRA.

Although your money typically grows and compounds tax-free within your IRA, whether you can deduct your contribution depends on how much you earn, whether you're married / filing jointly, whether you're covered by any employer-sponsored retirement plan, and whether you're contributing to a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. See IRS Publication 590 for full details.

You can set up Traditional and Roth IRA's through Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.

Annuities

If you don't qualify for any of the above plans (perhaps because you don't earn money through either an employer or formal self-employment, and you aren't the spouse of someone who does), or if you've maxed out all the plans you're qualified for and still want to contribute more to your retirement, or if you've only just realized that your child is about to go to college and you want to dump a bunch of non-retirement money into a retirement plan in the hopes of not looking too wealthy for your child to receive financial aid, then you might consider an ``annuity.''

You don't get to deduct your contributions to annuities, but at the time this document was written the money you put in them would still grow and compound tax-free (like all of the other retirement plans described above). Their advantage is that you can contribute as much money to them as you like, whenever you like, essentially regardless of where your income comes from.

Experts say that annuities should be a last resort: you don't get to deduct the money you put in them, and because they involve higher fees it takes longer for their returns to outstrip non-retirement investments.

But what about my kids' education?

Some parents believe that rather than contributing to their retirement plans they should put their money into a non-retirement account to save for their children's higher education. Often, this strategy can backfire: since (as of 2000) the money in your retirement plans is typically excluded from consideration when you apply for financial aid (particularly for state universities), by continuing to max out your retirement plans throughout your life your child might qualify for financial aid that he or she might not otherwise qualify for. Then, because your own retirement remains secure, you'll also never have to worry about feeling like a burden to your children later on in life.


Conclusion

It saddens me that money is such a common source of strife between partners, and that so much potential for positive change is wasted through ignorance about the power of effective investing and the power of compound interest. I hope this guide has shed light on the basic steps by which most experts believe anyone can create personal prosperity.

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