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More About the “Cheap in America” 20/20 Special


The 20/20 show last night, Cheap in America, started off with discussing what city is stingier…San Francisco, California or Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This unscientific study involved placing a Salvation Army bellringer out for two days and they tallied how much money was donated. In San Francisco they were in front of Macy’s. In Sioux Falls they were in front of Walmart.

What they discovered was that even though Sioux Falls was not as busy of a location and in general the folks living there make half as much as those in San Francisco…they gave twice as much money.

I can only speculate, but some of my ideas involve the way that smaller communities interact. I think people are more likely to give to an organization that has affected them or someone that they know. Being a smaller community, more people probably personally know someone who has been helped by the Salvation Army. And since the community makes less as a whole, perhaps some people feel that at some point they might need help from the Salvation Army so they donate what they can now.

The next area of discussion was about who gives more…liberals or conservatives? What they found was that conservative-head households gave 30% more than liberal-head households. Conservatives were also 18% more likely to give blood. Since I’m not really a political person, I can’t really comment here. Any readers out there have ideas?

Next was an interesting segment about the rich. By far, the rich give a smaller percentage of their income and John Stossel was trying to find out why billionaires gave so little. It came down to four reasons:

1.) I can’t get at the money – Most of their money is made up of pieces of paper and it isn’t very accessible.

2.) I can’t find enough good charities – I suppose if you have billions to donate, it would be a rough task to find great charities that will use the money well.

3.) I’d like to give away more but I’m too poor – Some have a lavish lifestyle and some worry about having enough money to use until they pass away.

4.) I need to make more – This one I liked. One of the billionaires discussed how they would like to manage the money and do things with it now and perhaps give later. One statistic given was that a billionaire creates over 10,000 jobs. That, of course is a way of giving back. If the billionaires keep the money now and do not donate it, they can use it and expand their businesses and perhaps create more jobs for others. When I thought about it in depth, I’d want billionaires to keep doing what they are doing and creating more jobs. They got to be billionaires with a lot of talent and hard work. Let them keep on bulding.

Next, the show discussed the most giving group by far…people that are religious. They not only give to their church they give to other organizations as well. Being religious was an important factor on whether a person was giving or not. This does not surprise me, again with the sense of community involved.

The next segment was about rich kids. There’s a lot to be said there and that’s a post in itself LOL.

Lastly, the segment talked about how much your mood can improve by giving money or giving time. I would agree 100% with that. Last year, I gave a lot of my time to my son’s school and I was very happy. I no longer do that, and while I’m somewhat happy with my life, it’s not the same happiness that I felt last year. Researchers call that the “Helper’s High” and I would say that is an accurate description. It feels good to give.

There was one thing that I would have liked to have the show investigate….why do the middle class give such a small percent of their income in relation to lower and upper classes? Just thinking about my life, we gave much more in terms of monetary donations and volunteer time when we made less money. Now that we make more, I haven’t given much at all. I guess now that we have extra money that can go towards debt, that’s been my focus. I wonder if the debt level of the middle class has anything to do with it?

I’m glad I watched the show. I haven’t been giving as much as I would like to this year, and lately I’ve been doing a few things to make up for lost time. I’ll talk about that later.


  • Reply MOMM |

    Thanks for that recap.

    It probably does have to do with the debt that middle class families have. We are also focused on paying off debt and haven’t given as much as we have in the past.

    I agree with the community feeling too.

  • Reply D |

    I know nothing…just one to get that out first.

    Here is what I “think”.

    1. Comparing SF to another city outside of California is not apples to apples. The cost of living is way to high for the west coasters, example property. Then to couple that with a Macy vrs Walmart, utterly uncomparable. I would have been more impressed if they at least utilized similar stores and clientele. SF’ers are using up the majority of their disposable income for the necessities, even before debt service. At least that is my opinion.

    2. Middle class is not all it is believed to be. People are caught in the middle and just barely a step above poverty and the poor. Most middle class people would easily slide back with a couple of missed checks. The term is just to make people feel some sort of accomplishment.

    I agree totally with the Helpers High. It is even better when you don’t have money to help and you give of yourself for another or a cause. It isn’t something you can brag about or even share, it just “is” inside you. Kind of like a peace. Even for the little things like helping the elderly lady at Walmart get a needed item off the top shelf, she doesn’t ask for help, but you know she needs some and it is the right thing to do. After retrieving what her sights are on her smile says it all as you walk away.

    Lastly, I don’t believe money should be the only measure to charitable giving and not just because I can give so little. I don’t think it should be the only measure because giving is a series of multiple and different acts that one does strictly for someone else, without regard for self. And most times the act is worth more than money.

  • Reply dimes |

    I wanted to catch that special but I was at work. Thanks for the recap.
    I’ve often thought that the poor and lower middle class give more because they probably were raised poor and know the feeling of going to bed hungry or wondering if they’re going to be able to pay for the plumber. The middle middle and upper middle classes are caught in the debt and affluenza cycle and spend a lot of money servicing their debts. Of course I don’t know for sure, but that’s just my impression. My husband and I give money, time (me) and blood (him). I vastly prefer local and faith based charities because I can see them at work, and avoid larger charities unless I know how their dealings work (service Emergency Reliefs and ARC). There are too many groups out there to toss money at everyone who asks you.

  • Reply T |

    A lot of of the SF thing has to do with the fact that it’s the Salvation Army. This is not a very religious area and some people go out of their way to avoid religious charities. I think they should have put a gay rights charity in front of each store to see which city was more generous! 🙂 A lot of the response has to do with what the charity represents, which has different implications in different parts of the country. Personally, I even find the name “Salvation Army” creepy.

So, what do you think ?