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Airplane Mode: Help Yourself First

Before any commercial airliner takes off, passengers are treated to some pre-flight safety instructions.

“Buckle up.  No cell phones.  No smoking in the lavatory. In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else (even your kids).

Help Yourself First

Help Yourself First

If I were on a plane with my family and the oxygen masks deployed, my instinct would be to help my kids get their masks on before I put on my own.  But there is a reason we’re told to help ourselves first. It’s because we’re no good to anyone if we’re dead or unconscious.

Airplane Mode

I think the same concept holds true with our personal finances.  We should all go into Airplane Mode and take care of ourselves before focusing too much on helping others.

I’m not advocating selfishness.  I personally don’t know anybody who doesn’t want to be a good person and help out where they can. But our desire to be helpful could hinder our good intentions if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

Once we’re on stable financial ground we can do far more good in the long run, while reducing the likelihood that we’ll need to ask for help ourselves at some point in the future.

It's okay to get yourself on solid financial ground before you try and help others. In fact, when you help yourself first, you can do more long term good.

Chime In!

Is Airplane Mode selfish? A good idea?

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

23 replies on “Airplane Mode: Help Yourself First”

I totally agree! I wrote a post on giving a while back and said something about putting your oxygen mask on first, too. That being said, there are plenty of people who wait far too long or simply don’t do enough. In a lot of ways, that’s the problem with FIRE. If we are always putting our hopes, dreams, and even our charitable giving 5, 10, or 15 years away, there’s the possibility that we may not all ever get there.

I agree with this. I think we need to find a balance between making sure we are financially stable and making sure that we are not waiting too long to start giving. Especially in the FIRE community it is easy to overestimate what stability requires.

I would advocate small giving to start building the habit, even if it is only $5 or $10 a month. That $5 is not going to undermine your stable financial ground, but it will start building an abundance mindset that will help you give more when you have more to give.

Giving small when that’s all you can afford is fantastic! Charity, just like buying a car, should be limited to what you can afford – totally agree w/ you, Matt. Thanks for stopping by!

Well said Ty.

I think folks should focus on the long game when it comes to charity. Just as with retirement savings, compounding works wonders for amounts that will eventually be donations.

A small amount if given away early, a much larger amount of allowed to grow before being donated.

Of course that delays the ego/feel good factor associated with giving, even if financially that makes the most sense both for the individual and the charity over the long term.

Playing the long game might delay the ego factor a bit, but it allows the anticipation to build and sometimes waiting/anticipating something can be just as gratifying!

Absolutely! I agree with this 100%.
I gave little bits along the way when I was struggling, but now I’m debt-free and well on the way to FIRE I’m free to give as much as I wish. My favourite donation is to give $600/year to the Hamlin fistula hospital in Ethiopia. It pays for one operation, so a woman can get her life back. No way I could have donated this amount of money, back in the day, without causing my own family some sacrifices. Delayed gratification works in this area, as well as in more ‘spendy’ things. 🙂

The dollar amount is great, but the fact that you can change someone’s life is HUGE. Good on you, Frogdancer! Love the idea of delayed gratification here (see my comment to Slow Dad below).

Happy New Year, Ty!

I agree too. Giving money and other support when it’s to your detriment can lead to financial and emotional burnout, resulting in you being no good to anyone. But I do like the idea of giving a little when you can, even if it’s sporadic, or just once. Those giving muscles sometimes require training.

Happy New Year, Mrs. G! Jealous of that homestead you’re building in my ancestral land (my relatives all came from NC several generations ago). Giving money away can be hard and definitely becomes easier w/ practice.

I’m 100% in agreement with this. I tell my wife all the time, we have to make sure we’re happy, healthy, and stable first. Our ability to help others will be greatly hindered if we’re struggling with depression, shame, and laziness. Our goal: Get ourselves healthy and strong first, and then help others become healthy and strong.

Agreed. As Dave Ramsey says, “Only the strong can help the weak.” When you’re young and starting out, your primary charity should be yourself. If you are compelled to give, as many young people are, do so by giving your time. There will be plenty of time to give money when your financial position is more sturdy.

Love this format Ty, nuggets of pf wisdom, something to ponder for the day. I don’t think people should put off any good habit, like giving, or saving, but as you say, do what you can afford. Every little bit counts. One other thing, people can help others in a tangible way without spending $$$. For example, if they can’t afford to give dollars to a charity they support, perhaps they could focus on volunteering their time instead. Or if you want to help out a friend or family member, giving of your time help them save money can be just as valuable. For example, volunteering to watch their children, making meals for the sick etc.
Thanks for the inspiring read!

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