Giving Gets Personal (And Why I Don’t Pay Taxes)

I don’t pay taxes. For two reasons:

  1. I’m not obliged to pay taxes in my home country (Ireland) if I’m not living there for more than six months out of the year. Same deal with the other countries I’m passing through on my travels. I’m never in any one place long enough to be considered a resident, so I’m always off the tax-paying hook.
  2. I’d rather decide for myself where all my money goes, and I’ve never been overly impressed with how governments spend tax payers’ money.

The good thing about taxes though is that you don’t really have a choice. You either pay or you’re in trouble. Nothing like a deadline and the threat of jail time to get your ass in gear and contributing to society.

When you opt out of paying taxes, it requires a lot more personal responsibility to make that contribution. In my case, it would be very easy to just keep every penny for myself. I doubt anyone would give me a hard time about it. The world would keep on spinning, and I’d have some extra cash to play with.

Except I do want to contribute. I totally get what Raam Dev is saying

Our planetary social responsibility is a responsibility to protect our home (Earth) and our family (all of life). It’s a responsibility to ensure that our actions, as both individuals and groups, support the continued welfare of this home and family.


Last year, just a shade over 1% of my total expenditure went towards gifts and donations1. Granted, it was a year of transition for me as I went from cubicle to coffee shop on the work front, but I’m still quite disappointed in myself that I didn’t contribute more.

So this year I’ve set a goal to give away at least 10% of everything I earn.

Giving gets personal

Having decided on that 10% figure, the next issue is figuring out who I should donate to. I allow myself to make several donations a month on a whim, like whenever I come across a blogger on an inspiring mission, or see that a friend is pushing his physical limits to raise money for a good cause. Sometimes I’ll even give up a little cash to a beggar on the street2.

Beyond that, I like to make occasional donations to world-improving organizations run by people I respect a great deal. The smaller the org, the better. I’m not much for donating to big faceless organizations as it’s hard to know where the money really goes, and I imagine a lot of it is wasted as it makes its way through the hierarchy.

I prefer to know something about the real people behind the organizations. If their story and personality resonates with me, I trust that they’ll put my money to good use.

With that in mind, here are two organizations I’ve decided to make $50 donations to this month…

One Girl

I first heard of One Girl when I met co-founder Chantelle Baxter at the World Domination Summit last year. Among all the legendary people I met there, Chantelle still managed to stand out as someone who radiated authenticity and goodness.

One Girl works to educate young girls in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world. I’m a big believer in girls’ education as a solution to many of the world’s greatest issues. As Tom Yellin notes in this TEDx talk

Educated girls…marry later, they have fewer children. They earn more money. They’re far less vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. They immunize their children and educate the next generation and that starts a ripple effect that transforms families, communities and entire countries.

Check out the One Girl website, connect with Chantelle on Twitter, and consider making a donation yourself.

Kopila Valley Children’s Home

Maggie Doyne was a 19-year-old from New Jersey who decided to spend a year traveling the world before college. Except she ended up falling in love with the homeless and uneducated children of Nepal and decided to do something about their struggles. Fast forward a few years and Maggie has managed to build a home in Nepal for 40 children and a school for 250. An inspiring example of the difference one person can make in the world.

You can read more about Maggie’s story and Kopila Valley here. If you’ve got 25 minutes to spare, I highly recommend you check out the first video at that link.

Giving and you

What’s the deal with you and giving? Do you aim to donate a certain percentage of your income? Which organizations do you typically give money to, and why? Or if you prefer not to make donations at all, what’s your reasoning there?

There are no right or wrong answers. My aim here is simply to get you thinking a bit deeper about your contribution to the world.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. In case you missed it, I shared everything I earned and spent in 2011 in this post.
  2. I usually refuse to give money to people on the street, as advised by a friend who spent a lifetime working with the homeless. She told me that panhandlers in New Orleans can often make upwards of $100 a day, but it’s mostly a waste since they obviously don’t put that money to good use. I still give to beggars on the street occasionally, when it feels right, but I try not to give out of guilt.
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    1. I like this!

      I don’t plan to travel excessively so I will have to pay taxes but I still think it’s a good idea to invest a certain percentage of money into contributing to the world.
      I mean – what’s more important? That I have a lot of money sitting around or that the world changes in a positive direction?

    2. damn you for not having to pay taxes!! i haven’t paid taxes for at least two years because i haven’t made enough (made $0 in 2010 on career sabbatical.. all with less than $6,000 in the bank) and made about hmm.. $4,000 last year? 😀

      still, i’m kind of paranoid that the American government is going to ‘find’ me and i’ll be in trouble somehow and end up being a ‘criminal’. i don’t agree with taxes and how its being spent either and i totally get you when you say not having to pay means more conscious awareness of how you give!! i’m also somewhat dreading when I get insanely successful (ha!) and will have to pay because I have no clue about taxes for small businesses.

      I’m really loving how you write your posts and how you’ve found ways to highlight people! Great job.

      I also aim to donate 10% of every project I close. It’s not something I really advertise/market publically (maybe I should.. sometime after Feb?). But I will email my clients to ask if they have any preferred/favorite organization that I can give donation to..

    3. The people who process and set up the system to get visas. The people who regulate the planes, trains and all modes of transportation. The people who create some social barriers for all to prevent chaos. These (and many more) are the services that are paid for via taxes.

      Am I saying governments don’t blow lots of money? Definitely not.

      However, without taxes, I have a strong feeling your journey wouldn’t be as smooth as it is.

      Love your mission and voyage. Just like to remind people that not all government taxes are wasted/stolen/swindled. A lot of taxes goes towards making worldwide ventures a reality.

      Cheers –

      David Damron

    4. Niall, I am curious about one thing. If you aren’t a permanent resident are you able to still keep a drivers license and such? Can you keep a bank account, and a postal address? I know you a citizen of Ireland, just curious.
      I enjoyed this post. I enjoy them all, however I will tell you I usually can’t watch them, I just listen..your camera movement gives me motion

      • Hey Vicky. I carry an Irish driver’s license with me. That’s valid for another couple of years, even without living in the country (not 100% sure on that though).

        As for bank accounts, I’m walking a fine line there, as I’m supposed to have a local address to go with each account. Unfortunately no bank is quite on board with the concept of location independence.

        So before I left Ireland I switched my bank account to my parents mailing address to make sure I don’t miss anything.

        And apologies for the shaky camera action! I’ve been thinking lately that I’ll try rope in a volunteer to record each video, should be much steadier 🙂

    5. I’m not thrilled with how much of my taxes have gone towards buying bombs these past 11 years. Much rather the funds go towards roads or infrastructure or “heducation” as Ali G called it.

    6. Great Post, Niall!

      Unfortunately, I have to pay taxes, but all the donations I do go towards deductions , so its all good.

      I currently regularly donate to One Girl and also sponsor a child through the Miracle Foundation. Also, I take FULL advantage of my employer’s donation matching and last year I got every penny matched (only effort I need is to ensure I have a good contact at the non profit who will respond when my employer contacts them to verify and do it within 30 days of donation)! In addition, I try to participate in 5/8Ks and get the money matched and also donated for a friend who biked 50K for the ADA.
      The only sad part is that I cannot get the donation for One Girl matched since its an Aussie non-profit.

      Me and Sonali hope to (someday) start an NGO or non-profit to work with and for children, since they really are our future. If we do not care for our future, we are surely doomed. And I also hope very soon we will be in a position to donate significant part of our time.

      Great thing you are doing, keep it up !


    7. I totally vibe with giving 10% of my income to charity. As soon as I start making money again I’ll be donating most of my money to Vipassana (as I mentioned in your financial report).

      The organization is all run by volunteers who have benefitted from this technique and wish to spread it to the world. As far as charities go, one that’s mission is to help people end their suffering and misery is on the top of my list. And I’ve experienced the benefits of the technique myself.

      One of the cool things about Vipassana is that they won’t even accept donations from people who haven’t completed a 10 day course. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

      Good luck with your travels!

      • trever, I’ve taken a vipassana course in the philippines and it’s indeed a great technique!! so hardcore. i love that they have used it in prisons too to rehabilitate people. they should do more of this!

        i do have to say though that i’m a bit disappointed by the organization here in the philippines. one of the people who helps run it actually suggested people should be forced to pay, instead of it being a donation, so it’s not essentially free.. why not just put a price point? it completely loses the vibe of giving/donation.. glad that idea didn’t fly but still. ugh. for those who may not be able to afford a big (or any) monetary donation, they can still do so by giving their time or promoting vipassana and turning on others to the retreats..

      • Hey Trevor, I was actually looking through your Vipassana post yesterday, think I have a tweet scheduled to share it. I really like the sound of it and hope to give it a go myself at some point. I didn’t realize it was all donation based. Pretty cool.

    8. Very interesting post Niall!

      And I’m really digging the whole No-Self-Promo posts! Its really great that trough you those charitable organizations might have a better fighting chance, so your project is very inspiring to say the least.

      Also, reminded me that I’ve always wanted to do something like that, giving to help others.
      I have the same concerns towards the dilution of the money on procedures that most likely happens on big organizations, which is why I tend to focus on specific people.
      During my travels I’ve had the chance to meet extraordinary people, lacking opportunities. I like to focus on them, one at a time.
      I’ve paid for month’s worth of school payments, paid for rooms for students that had to travel from their towns to study, made small loans to start small businesses, and other small stuff… Was very little, but was a start 🙂

      We (My wife and I) had the chance to help a very close relative become independent and continue school a few months ago. She had our support for a few months and she’s now back on her feet by herself, so no longer needs us. It’s a very close relative so this little action left us with a huge sense of accomplishment :).

      Now, my wife is starting a homeschooling group on our community, so she can help other people with the same situation than us.
      We find this way of giving very rewarding, because we find cold hard cash less appealing than the actual work.
      Of course this may not be possible for everyone, which is why everyone should find their own way to help, right?
      And we don’t plan a specific amount of our income, but rather as much work and/or money the project needs and we can give… Within limits of course 😉

      As for taxes… Damn it, its a very delicate subject… Being a Mexican, I KNOW a huge part of our taxes goes to politician’s bank accounts (In the cayman islands of course).
      We’re a oil producing country, and that accounts for a really big chunk of the country’s income, which doesn’t reflect on government services. So, as far as Mexico, I say FUCK TAXES!.

      Keep doing good man!


      • Inspiring stuff, Jorge. I love having kind-hearted, world-changing readers like you dropping comments 🙂

        Agreed that everyone should find their own way. Having a fixed percentage will work better for some folks than others. 10% may be ridiculously low for some, ridiculously high for others. But everyone can give something.

        Sucks about Mexican taxes. Not cool at all.

    9. I don’t donate money. I give away my time (and it’s said that time is gold, right?) At the moment I do what I possibly can, I pay taxes and that’s the only “donation” I am willing to do. However I am happy to give my time to any cause, person or thing that might require. My money is only mine for the moment (and even a 10% of my annual income would be so insignificant…) but my time is all yours! 🙂

    10. I don’t give much. I try to do renumerated work and I also prefer to invest my money rather than give it away.

      Investing, by far, benefits society more than simply giving away capital. However, that’s not why I invest. I invest to earn a profit.

      If we’re talking about the material standard of living of people, diverting additional capital to the factors of production (tools) is what allows us to have more wealth. The reason why Americans have more wealth than Ethiopians is because they produce more wealth, because someone invested in giving them the capital equipment that makes them more productive per hour of work.

      I have more wealth today than that of a European 250 years ago because all the people around me who produce stuff produce it at a greatly accelerated rate per unit of labour time invested thanks to the capital equipment they utilize in the productive process. Instead of using a Spinny Jenny to weave one shirt an hour, a single person in a factory line with automatized machinery can produce 50x the shirts. Thus there are 50x more goods to go around.

      Sloshing around already existing capital doesn’t really do much. But investing in the factors of production to multiply our rate of productivity can help alleviate poverty.

      • I’m not sure I’m with you here, Bryan, though that may just be my sleepiness talking.

        “Investing, by far, benefits society more than simply giving away capital.”

        I would view giving away capital as a type of investment. A donation to a non-profit like One Girl is an investment in the future of a child who might otherwise live a life devoid of opportunity. I’d rather invest my money that way than in the stock market or something similar.

        Also, I don’t believe a society’s ability to produce goods correlates with the wealth of that society. Lots of folks are working for peanuts in miserable conditions in Asia (seen this?).

    11. As I’m in the same situation like you (RTW trip for the last 3 years & never stayed in one place for more than 6 months in one place), I checked the option of not paying taxes as well. However, from what I understood, you also need to have a major interests in another country (e.g cayman island for example). Check this out:

      • Thanks for the link, Tal. Interesting stuff. I didn’t know about the 90 day rule. I may also look into setting up an IBC at some stage, though it seems my business is too small potatoes right now to go to that trouble.

        Have you had any experience with this?

    12. Hmmmmm…well, not to call you out on it here, but come on Naill, seriously? It’s EASY to give 10% when you don’t pay ANY taxes. Man I would be happy to GIVE 15% to the charities and causes of MY choice IF I didn’t have Uncle Sam robbing me of 25%.

      I mean, it’s awesome that you are aiming for 10%, but when you pay ZERO, it not that hard.

      • Well you did call me out, but that’s okay 🙂

        You’re right, it is easier to give 10% when not paying any taxes, at least just from a numbers standpoint (I still maintain that it’s difficult to hold yourself accountable and actually make that contribution).

        I’d like to be giving a much higher percentage eventually, but I’m not going to aim too high, too soon. 1% last year, 10% this year, hopefully 20% next year. After that, we’ll see.

    13. Hi Niall,

      I think paying taxes is good. I think I should even pay more taxes. Seriously I live really well considering the rest of the world. And I think it’s great to give to charitiy too… but just on the taxes
      Every now and then I’m stopped by some greenpeace or redcross or whatever and they tell me. “you know you can deduct your donation from your taxes so that you don’t pay the government but give money to charity”… And I’m strongly against that. As far as I know I always lived in democratic countries. The governement represents me and the people. We decide what the priorities of the country are. So I should not be worried that it does not reflect my opinion. And if it is the case, the problem does not come from the taxes but from me for not raising my voice or vote.
      So yeah you can say all politicians are corrupted etc… but what are we doing about this. I know so many people who complain about taxes but never vote that it makes me angry.
      I understand your case and since you are travelling your situation is different but I do hope nobody misunderstand that by thinking it’s legitimate to do anything to evade the taxes

      • Great points, Manu. I appreciate your take on this.

        If I was living back in Ireland full-time, I would be paying taxes. I wouldn’t be entirely thrilled with how those taxes are spent (and often wasted) by the government, but as you say, there is a better way to express such dissatisfaction.

    14. I give away about £30 a month to charity which is 10% of my disposable income but not my total income.

      I would like to give more to charity though. I would probably give it to local charity in my area. One where I could accentually see the people I was helping. One of my goals this year is to straighten out to last of my finances and start giving more to charity.

      I believe that local people running charities in their own communities do more good in those areas than any politician.

    15. I really need to proof read my posts more carefully before pressing submit. I am sure you get the main idea of the message 🙂

    16. Hey Niall,

      thanks for the history refresher 🙂

      This post seems to have struck a note – the comments share a great variety of opinions and best of all, they all make sense in one way or another. Think you said it yourself, there’s no “just wrong” and “just right”, there’s always a bit of both, the question is which one does the individual / system lean towards and by how much.

      There’s one element of life around us that I didn’t find in the comments – when someone says “charity”, most people automatically think of charities supporting humans. I prefer to support charities supporting animals. They don’t have a voice, and however they appeal to us, we don’t listen, as the general opinion is that they are lesser beings, here to serve us. Funny thing that it’s us who decided that – not exactly an objective decision right?

      And secondary reason is that most of the problems that humans face and need charities for, are self inflicted. (wars, food shortages, climate change, overpopulation).

      For these reasons, I only support animal charities – either by giving my time (volunteering) or through donations, but same as you, I prefer the local ones, not the big corporations. And in about 4 months time, I’ll be working for one in Ecuador for two months and hopefully continue in that direction to help balance the scales 🙂

      And before someone points it out – I was generalizing in my comments slightly – talking about majorities. There are minorities that do need help or can’t speak for themselves, and human charities that help these people, that are worth contributing to.

      So whatever you do, support the ones you think that do the right job, human or animal, rather than not supporting any.

      on a different note – no motion sickness from your videos here, but you could do with a microphone cover of some sort…I have no idea what the second charity you mentioned is about 🙂

      Enjoy the snow!

    17. I have been studying the tax code and finding ways to legally reduce my tax bill. My goal is to NOT pay any federal taxes.

      • All the best with that, Chia.

        You know, you reminded me of something else that bugs me about taxes: The super-rich can afford to hire tax professionals to find all the loopholes and reduce how much they pay, while the poorer working class folks don’t really have that option. I know there are tax brackets to try ensure the rich pay more, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

    18. Hey Niall,

      First time at your blog, but I really like the magnanimous feel and understanding that we’re all part of something bigger here.

      One idea for you – if money is tighter than you might expect (only sending positive energy your way though!) maybe you can decide how much you’re “worth” per hour, and then dedicate the amount of money you wanted to donate and just equate it to volunteer hours somewhere, and maybe just a few extra to make good with Karma 🙂

      Best of luck!

      • Hey Jeremy. Not a bad idea. I’d like to have a few volunteer experiences on my travels. Besides the benefits you mentioned, I find I meet the best kind of people while volunteering.

        Thanks for the comment.

    19. Hi Niall,

      I do pay tax which is fair enough since I am paid myself by the taxpayer (I’m a teacher 🙂
      I do support PLAN INTERNATIONAL. I’m in touch with a girl from Guinea but the money doesn’t just support her and her family but the entire community she’s living in.
      On the other hand I volunteer at a little shop that exclusively sells fair trade products. All of us working there work for free. Why am I doing this? Well, I do believe that fair trade is a good answer to our present day social, environmental, and economic problems. We should rather consume less and pay a little more to make sure that everyone earns a living he/she can live on.
      All the best and … STAY WARM!

    20. How about social security, what if you get major surgery along your path, or did you took a private hospital plan for your travel or just gambled that nothing would happen

    21. If you want to give away some of your money, fine. I have nothing against it and I do it too.

      But nobody here should kid themselves. Relatively speaking, charity does not raise people out of poverty. Profitable, successful business does.

      For instance, China is not going from millions starving on the fields to the largest middle class in human history due to charity.

      If you wanna help humanity, MAKE MONEY. Charity is a sideshow. It sounds strange, but it’s true.

      So, 10% fine, sounds good to me. Dedicate the other 90% of your time and efforts to REALLY HELPING HUMANITY 😀