Sunday, February 4, 2024

Putting My Money Where My Keyboard Is


There’s an old saying that you should “put your money where your mouth is.” It means you should take action to support your stated opinions. In past writings (not just on this blog), I have expressed concern over the gross economic inequality in our society and have promoted ideas such as worker ownership of businesses and a more progressive tax code to help increase economic equality in our society. But those are just words. What about my own actions?

I hope you understand that what follows is not intended as boasting. My purpose is twofold. First, I feel obligated to show that I do put my money where my mouth (or in this case, keyboard) is. And second, I hope what I write will encourage others who can afford to do so to support some of the charitable organizations I will specifically mention or other equally deserving charities.

Let me start by saying that if you work for the Church, as I have for the past 25 years (and for 13 more years in a previous life), you’re not going to get richunless you are the head football coach at BYU. Even the prophet and the apostles do not get rich from their living allowance, which is quite modest. That said, I have no complaints. The Church has paid me well for my work and will also provide a good pension when I retire this spring.

My wife and I live fairly frugally. We don’t need a big house or all the expensive toys many families want. My wife does not enjoy shopping, but we do shop sales and take advantage of gasoline discounts at Smith’s (the local Kroger affiliate), often in creative ways. I just bought a two-year-old truck to replace the 24-year-old truck I had driven for 21 years. We owned two different minivans for 14 years each. Because our kids are now grown, we replaced the second minivan with an SUV. We haven’t had a mortgage or a car payment for many years (until the dealer made me finance the new truck, but I’ll pay that off in a month or two). Because of our chosen lifestyle, our monthly budget is quite a bit lower than our income.

We do have a son living with us who suffers from a severe mental illness and who may never be able to work again. So we are trying to make sure there is enough money to take care of him after we are gone. We are also putting a little away for our grandkids’ missions or college educations.

Still, after all this, we are comfortable and do not spend as much as we earn. So, last year we made a decision to increase our charitable giving. There are so many needs. We have always paid a full tithing and have given generously to fast offerings. We pitch in a little more each month for the Church’s humanitarian efforts and help support a missionary whose family struggles financially. Through payroll deductions, I also donate monthly to the BYU scholarship fund and United Way. But we felt we could afford to do more. So we did some research on where we thought our donations could make the most difference, and we set up automatic monthly payments to the following charities:

1. International Rescue Committee

2. Habitat for Humanity

3. World Central Kitchen

4. Community Action and Food Bank (Utah County)

5. Lifting Hands Arizona

6. The Road Home (a Salt Lake homeless shelter)

7. Huntsman Cancer Institute

8. Tabitha’s Way (a local food pantry)

9. Women for Women

10. Salt Lake Rescue Mission

11. American Red Cross

12. RIP Medical Debt

We also donate to KUER, Utah’s public radio station and NPR affiliate. That is not technically a charity, but it performs a vital public service, which we support.

I’d like to say something more about three of the charities listed above. I wanted to donate to Tabitha’s Way primarily because I learned it was cofounded by Al Switzler, one of my professors long ago in BYU’s MBA program. I was impressed by his motivation in helping the needy. And RIP Medical Debt is an amazing organization that uses donations to buy medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then retire it. The United States is probably the only country on earth where hundreds of thousands of people declare bankruptcy each year because of medical debt (some estimates are as high as 650,000 bankruptcies, affecting 2 million family members).1 RIP pays off the debt and sends people letters informing them that their medical debt has been eliminated. The responses from the benefactors are priceless. I feel privileged to be able to play a small role in this beautiful program.

We became aware of the International Rescue Committee’s work through the IRC’s president, David Milibrand, who was the commencement speaker at our oldest son’s graduation from a master’s program at Columbia University. Milibrand is British and is the son of refugees who fled continental Europe during World War II. He has served the United Kingdom as both Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State for the Environment. The IRC assists and helps resettle people who have been uprooted by conflict, war, and disaster.

You’ll also notice in the list at least a couple of organizations that assist the homeless. I have had a soft spot in my heart for the homeless ever since the Liahona sent me to Montreal in 1999 to interview Pierre Anthian, a Parisian dental technician who moved to Montreal to get married. When the engagement fell apart, he stayed and started volunteering at a local food kitchen. But he was not satisfied with just giving handouts to the homeless. That didn’t solve the underlying problem. So he considered what more he could do. Because Pierre had been trained in choral music at the conservatories of Paris, Pau, and Cannes, he decided he would start a choir of homeless men. They began by singing in the subway stations, collecting donations in a hat they placed on the floor in front of them. As they became more well-known, they received invitations to perform at schools, businesses, and even sing the national anthem at a National Hockey League game. They divided up the money they earned in the subway station but donated the revenues from their other performances to the food kitchen where Pierre volunteered.2

Through Pierre’s efforts, he was able to get 17 men off the street. My wife and I spent an unforgettable weekend with the Montreal homeless choir. Some of the choir members are former criminals. “Let’s just say thievery and attempted murder are not the worst offenses on the list,” Pierre once told a reporter. “And they are my friends.” Some people on the street, he is quick to explain, have drug or alcohol problems. Some run afoul of the law. But often these difficulties are the result, and not the cause, of their sad situations. In many cases these individuals “have simply been unluckier than you or me.”

Needless to say, Pierre Anthian is one of the most Christlike human beings I have ever met. It is because of his example that I later met a homeless man named Don. While working in the Church Office Building, every now and then I would go buy lunch at the food court of the old ZCMI Center just south of the Church campus. Most days I would see a homeless man sitting on a planter box near the crosswalk with a cup beside him for any loose change pedestrians felt inclined to give him. I gave him money now and then, but one day I decided I needed to do more. So, I sat down and talked with him. Over several weeks, I got to know him quite well.

Don looked very weathered. That is because he was sleeping under a tarp somewhere up on Ensign Peak and spending his days out in whatever weather prevailed that day. He was one of those unlucky people Pierre talked about. He had been co-owner of a restaurant. His partner took all the money and left him high and dry. One thing led to another, and he ended up homeless.

I learned a lot from Don about life on the street. He also told me which of the panhandlers in the area were truly homeless and which of them were simply begging as a job. One particularly visible amputee often panhandled with a dog. On days when he had the dog with him, Don told me, he could bring in $200 in handouts. Not bad for the early 2000s. This man had a house of his own and simply preyed on people’s charity. This is why I rarely give cash to panhandlers and prefer to donate generously to reputable organizations that help the truly needy.

To make a long story short, I eventually talked to my bishop, who was vice president at a Salt Lake County business. His company checked out Don’s background and offered him a part-time job. The last time I saw Don was when I met him and my bishop for lunch a few months later. The change was incredible. If I had passed Don on the street, I would not have recognized him.

I don’t know what Don is doing now. I did find out, before I changed jobs, that my bishop’s company had had to let Don go because he had come to work drunk one day, but I hope he landed on his feet somewhere else.

Homelessness is a difficult problem with no easy solutions, but I appreciate and support those organizations that are working to alleviate its effects. There are so many problems in today’s world that are hard to solve. None of us can hope to end these problems, but each of us can do something, even if it is nothing more than financially supporting those charities that are bearing the burden of this difficult work.

I should also add that I do not complain about paying taxes, as so many do. I consider it a privilege that comes with living in a democratic republic. I do not like everything the government does, and I know government is often inefficient. But I feel blessed to live in a democracy rather than an authoritarian regime where the people have no voice at all. I have argued at times that we Americans are quite undertaxed.3 I and many who are better off than I am can certainly afford to pay more in taxes so that we stop building up the massive debt we have accumulated since Reagan ushered in supply-side economics and Republicans embraced the lie that tax cuts pay for themselves (they never do). So, when tax season rolls around (and it is here again), I do my own taxes. I majored in accounting for a couple of years, long ago, and I took a couple of tax classes, so I’m somewhat comfortable wading through the IRS’s sometimes impenetrable form 1040 instructions. I don’t have complicated investments, so my tax return is fairly straightforward. And I don’t look for creative ways to avoid paying my fair share of the nation’s or state’s tax burden. If I miss a deduction I could have claimed, I just consider it another charitable donation. And I know I am blessed to be able to even say this.



1. See, for instance, and

2. You can read about Pierre and his choir at

3. For comparisons with other OECD countries’ tax revenues as a percentage of GDP, see