If money talks, what does your cash donation tell your children?

It's that time of year, when a Salvation Army volunteers stand outside the mall, freezing their butts off, ringing that crazy bell, hoping you'll toss a buck into their bucket. But when you do that thinggive a charitable donationand your kids see you do it, what does that tell them about YOU and your beliefs?

You work hard for your money, so when your kids see you giving it away, they might wonder if you've left your senses.

Giving doesn't make sense. It's not logical; it's emotional. All of our decisions, including decisions about money, are born from our emotions. They rise up through our nervous systems, gaining credence as feelings, forming thoughts, and then words which we use to rationalize the action we took as a result of the emotion, which we call beliefs.

What emotion lies behind this odd behavior of giving? Professor Robert Plutchik boils emotions down to the eight basic states you see below. Maybe you can identify the emotion behind your charitable gift, then use logic to help your children understand what you believe and why you give:

  • Surprise: Have you ever found something so amazing, so unbelievably good, that you just had to tell everyone about it? In fact, it's so shockingly great, you believe your money can make it go further or become even better? While you're writing your donation check, let your kids in on the secret too.
  • Fear: What seems dangerous, out of control, or likely to bring harm? Do you believe you can help put a stop to it? It might be a good time to warn your kids about it, and let them know you're putting your money to work to prevent it from happening.
  • Trust: Do you have faith in a higher power? Do you know thatno matter whateverything's going to be alright? You might tell your kids that giving money away is easy because you trust that you'll have more in the future, even though you can't prove it.
  • Disgust: Does something in this world just turn your stomach? If you believe there are some things that have no place in this world, you can tell your kids you believe your money can help fight whatever that thing might be.
  • Anger: Do you have a strong distaste for a particular happenstance out there? What really makes you mad? Maybe you believe your money can help overpower the situation and put it in its place, so tell your kids that you're mailing a check because you just can't take it anymore.
  • Anticipation: Does "pay it forward" mean something to you? Do you find yourself thinking about reciprocity, or giving to get? You might tell your kids that giving is what you do in order to make room for good things to come into your life.
  • Sadness: Have you lost a loved one? Was there a time in your life when you felt desperate? You might tell your kids about that time in your life, and let them know you believe in honoring those memories by donating.
  • Joy: Are you happy with your life or your circumstances? Do you feel positively overflowing? Maybe you can tell your children you believe you have more than enough money, so much in fact that you can afford to give some away.

When you can tap into the emotion behind your giving, and explain your actions so that even a child can understand, then you will be ready to explore the emotions and the "why" behind all your other financial decisions, from sharing to saving to spending.

So tell me, what charity did you support this year? What was the emotion behind your gift? What do you believe about your gift? What did you tell your kids?