Financial giving is a lesson that’ll last for life, but it's not traditionally taught in school. New research highlights what makes it so impactful.

By Dan Nosowitz

Schools are required to teach reading, writing, math, and social studies, but financial literacy—something that’ll pop up again and again throughout a person’s life—is left entirely to parents. Some of that financial education is obvious: save money, don’t get into debt, think about the future home you'd like to buy. But there’s one major element that doesn’t get talked about enough in this setting: giving. 

Giving-related studies show that giving can provide a greater lift in mood and self-esteem than spending the same amount on one’s self; that giving can actually reduce mortality rates; and even, in a nice confirmation of what your parents told you, that what goes around comes around. Really—one study found that generous people actually earn more money than their selfish peers.

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Ashley LeBaron, a researcher at the University of Arizona, conducted interviews to learn more about the topic of financial giving, which is comparatively understudied due to the unstructured nature of financial education. “All 115 participants were asked ‘What did your parents teach you about money?’ and ‘How did they teach you those things?’” she says. “Parent and grandparent participants were also asked ‘What did you teach your children about money’ and ‘How did you teach them those things?’” Those questions didn't include specific queries about giving, yet 95 of the 115 respondents mentioned giving as part of the financial education they received. 

LeBaron's study went a bit further, asking specifically what kind of giving was part of their financial education. She separated the responses into three categories: charitable donations, acts of kindness (like giving to the homeless), and investments in family (like a parent sacrificing to pay for a child’s to join the soccer team or take up a piano lessons).

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“I did not expect giving to emerge as one of the main facets of financial socialization,” writes LeBaron. “When most of us think about the basic principles of finance, we think about things like budgeting, saving, etc.—not giving.” But there are important reasons to teach giving as a vital part of a financial life. In addition to the basic morality of, you know, this is objectively a good thing to do, research has indicated that giving can be beneficial both physically and psychologically. So teach your kids to give! Partly because nobody else will, but mostly because it’s the right thing to do.

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