It is the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas time for me has nearly always been a time of joy and a time of celebration. A time to eat good food and a time be around the people you love. A time to be generous and a time to reflect. There are so many things about Christmas that I love but what makes me love it most is what is shared with the people you love, from sharing in reflection on the Christmas story, to sharing in laughs, and sharing gifts with one another.
Our culture puts a strong emphasis on giving during the holiday season. Most of the advertisements you hear during the season involve a sale to help you buy a present to give to someone you care about. At the same time, you hear organizations making their final push to meet their year-end budget goals and potentially attract new donors. It is rare to go the holiday season without being solicited to give a tax-deductible year end gift. This is all for good reason. Giving charitable contributions isn’t only a good thing to do, but qualified charitable contributions to qualified organizations are tax deductible in the year the contribution is made. Sometimes it is even wise to accelerate giving you intend on doing in the beginning of the next year into the end of the current year.
For example, if you plan on giving $2,000 in January and February of 2018 to your church, it may be worth considering advancing that giving to the end of December 2017. If you itemize deductions, this will allow you to increase your itemized deductions by $2,000 in 2017. This strategy is especially advantageous if your taxable income is close to entering a higher tax bracket. Using the example above, if your estimated taxable income for 2017 is $77,900 and you are married filing jointly, accelerating your $2,000 charitable contribution will lower your taxable income to $75,900. If the couple in this example does nothing, the $2,000 over $75,900 will be taxed at 25%, instead of the lower 15% that is taxed on income up to $75,900. By accelerating their charitable contribution in to the end of 2017, they will save $500 in taxes for the current year!
Because of the many different tax implications giving can have, it is wise to consult a tax professional prior to the end of the year. It is important to make sure you are doing what you can to decrease your tax bill, especially in years when your income is higher. Charitable contributions are a significant way to help reduce your tax bill while at the same time helping organizations you care about. But what if there is more to generosity than giving during the Christmas season or for end of year tax planning purposes?
With the year coming to a close, I have been reflecting on all that has happened in my life in a short year’s time. My wife and I have made some significant changes, from moving into a home, changing churches, changing jobs, and getting a rotten puppy. With the changes, I have also been reflecting on what I have given during the year. I have received much, but what have I given?
If I look at giving as only a monetary endeavor, I can make myself feel pretty good about how giving I have been over the course of the year. As a financial planner working for a financial services organization, it is very easy for me to think of giving only in the monetary sense. Giving consistently of your finances during the year is important, but is only a small part of what it truly means to be a giving and generous person. Looking back, it is easy for me to see that I am not consistently as giving and generous as what I should be towards others. I know I have a lot of room to grow in being generous with my time, energy, talents, and attitude towards those I interact with on a daily basis.
Sometimes it is the people you are around most who benefit the least from our generosity. For example: What about my wife and my family? How much do I give to them of my time, energy, and talents? What about my brothers and sisters in Christ? Am I a generous friend who is there to walk with others through trials? What about where I spend most of my time every day? Am I a good employee who works diligently and with perseverance to serve those I work with and the clients I do the work for? What about the people I may not know? Am I generous to those who are strangers that I walk by in the store? Or to those who cut me off on the road?
I have learned this year that generosity and giving are much greater than just monetary gifts. They are a way of life and a posture of the spirit. The primary ways that this generosity is shown is in the mundane things of life after all the Christmas lights and decorations are gone, after all the gifts have been exchanged, and after all the great food has been eaten. It is in a new year and in the day to day of regular life, that the spirit of generosity is tested and shaped.
If I am honest, I know that I need to be more generous with my heart, not necessarily with my wallet, to better reflect the generosity God has towards us. After all, isn’t this what the Christmas season is all about? It is the season of giving because God the Father displayed his generosity towards mankind in the giving of His son, Jesus. It is this generosity that I want to show to others not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year. God’s heart is a generous heart, a heart that he asks us to reflect and give to others each day that He blesses us with life. As Paul is speaking in Acts 20:35, he tells his audience to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” As we go into the joy that is Christmas and begin a new year, may we take time to remember the words of Christ and ask for his help in our day to day of showing that it is truly better to give than to receive.