My mother and I have a Friday lunchtime tradition. Each week, one person picks a restaurant, and the other person picks up the tab. (However, being that I’m dining with my mother, she tends to pay more often than I do, regardless of who picks the venue.) Last week, we went to our favorite Asian restaurant; we both chose the Pad Thai, and happily gobbled down our after-meal fortune cookies. And when I cracked open my cookie, I got a little bit of financial wisdom along with my fortune:

“The more you give to others, the more you’ll get.”

I’ve always been a bit of an Ebeneezer Scrooge when it comes to my charitable giving. In theory, I really like the idea of giving back to non-profits and charitable organizations, whether they’re my child’s preschool, my church, or an organization that does a lot of good in my community. But when the time comes to cut a hefty check, I tend to balk, and end up writing down a dollar amount that’s significantly less than my lofty intentions.

But over the past year – as my family’s financial situation has improved – I’ve consciously made a decision to give back more often (and in larger quantities) to various charities. And the results, like the Chinese fortune cookie predicted, have benefited me in more ways than I could have imagined.

From a purely financial point of view, my charitable giving has helped my tax situation. All in all, we gave about $2,500 to various charities – including our church – in 2013; that helped cut down our tax bill (yes, we owed this year – I blame freelance work and multiple moves) in a big way. But the benefits of our donations have helped us beyond just the financial figures.

My husband and I chose to volunteer with a few local organizations, hoping to give back in terms of our time as well as our “treasure” (aka, our financial contributions). We put in probably 3-5 hours a week, not expecting to see any benefit to our family’s bottom line.

In this case, we were wrong.

Our volunteer work – primarily with teenagers – has had tangible financial benefits. We’ve been able to go to concerts, ski trips, retreats, galas for free, as we were acting as chaperons. These activities would have cost us several hundred dollars, but we didn’t pay a dime.

But I’ve found that the financial wisdom imparted by that fortune cookie has been especially true when it comes to the gift of our time. The more I “spend” time with the teens in our group, the more I realize how greatly they’re affecting my life in a positive way. This was never more true than on my birthday, when a group of four high school girls with whom I work appeared on my doorstep with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a heartfelt card. I hadn’t expected the overt display of affection (or flowers!), and told them as much. Their reply? This was their opportunity to thank me for all I’ve done for them.

All I’ve done forĀ them???

I’ve really the one who has benefited from my volunteer work – and I’m not talking financially. My work with these teens has helped me give back to our community, making a real difference in their lives and “investing” – quite literally – in the future. And in this case, the return on investment has been absolutely priceless.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke