Little is more

Oct 18, 2015, 06:07 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

How does a couple in Boston live on 6% of their income, donating $1,00,000 to charity? Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman could just be your guides to saving, in times of inflation

In the same week that pop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z hit headlines for spending over $30 million on holidays in 2015 (and we are not judging them), another Americ an couple became news for donating half their earnings — $100,000 (Rs 64.9 lakhs at current exchange rates) — in 2014 to charity. Taking taxes and savings into account, that means this Boston couple lives on just six per cent of their combined income.

Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufam
Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufam

While Julia Wise, 30, is a social worker earning $50,000 a year, Jeff Kaufam, 29, is a software engineer who earns $1,39,000 a year, not including bonus or stock compensations. “I am also a mandolin player and part of a dance band,” he laughs, when we interview the pair over Skype. Wise, who studied sociology at the University of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, said that giving had been important to her since childhood. “I felt lucky to have the things I did,” she says, adding that while a student at the University of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, Kaufman was studying linguistics and computers. “He ended up pursuing a career in software engineering because it would help him earn more and thus, give more,” says Wise. There are other decisions that the couple has taken to pursue their goal of giving.

Sharing living space
Earlier this year, they bought a three-room kitchen unit, which they share with another couple. Isn’t that cramped?
“Now that Julia and I have a daughter (one-a-half year-old Lily, who has just woken up), it’s nice being around adults and having adult conversations,” says Kaufman. Wise adds, “Also, we have known them since college. There are pros and cons, of course. Also, we share the cooking responsibilities.” The two families split the utilities and grocery bills.

Spending on night outs
When the couple wants to spend time with friends, they head for potluck dinners and boardgame nights at someone’s place instead of spending cash at a bar.

Planning expenses
“Initially, I wanted to give more than 50 per cent of our earnings and Jeff wanted to save more,” says Wise. The couple says money is a discussion they had early on in the relationship. What worked is that both came to the same conclusion on how they wanted to spend it — by donating it to charities. As per Kaufman’s blog page, the two have been donating since 2003, when they started with $168. In 2008, the amount went up to $10,760 which amounted to 27.7 per cent of their income.

Planning expenditures
“We knew children would be expensive. We knew buying a house would be expensive. So, we accounted for it in our expenses,” says Wise, adding that at the start of each year they budget their expenses down to what they want to spend on, how much they want to donate and save, and how much they will be left with to spend each week.

Extreme altruism?
The couple was featured in a book titled Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar, where she talks of cases of “extreme virtue”. “We don’t think our lifestyle is extreme. Even after giving away half our income, we have more than the average American family, and our life is a comfortable one.”

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