The Investment Scientist

How to Do Good and Reduce Taxes at the Same Time

Posted on: April 3, 2011

Today, my friend Jiefei Yuan of passed on to me a message asking for help. The message was from Nasrine, who runs an inspiring women’s organization in Afghanistan called Kabultec that is the training ground for women’s rights, studies and education. The message starts like this

As many of you know, every year my non-profit organization, Kabultec, assists ten needy schools and three orphanages in Afghanistan.  We gather goods (mainly used) here in the US, ship them to Afghanistan, and distribute them to schools and orphanages across the country. The goods are raised through donations like the drive some of you helped with last year.

Before I go on, I’d like to explain why it makes money sense to donate used items to causes you care about, using myself as an example.

When I got married 4 years ago, I moved in with my wife. We have many duplicate household items. I donated all of them: used furniture, used TV, kitchen wares, bedding, etc. If my more sensible wife did not put a stop to it, I would have donated my used toothbrush as well. All told, we donated about $12,000 worth of household items. We were in high tax bracket, our combined federal, state and local income taxes add up to north of 40%. The taxes we saved because of our donation approached $5000. That paid for our honeymoon in Argentina.

Here are three easy steps you can take to accomplish the tax saving:

  1. Go through your household items and separate out those who don’t use anymore.
  2. Donate them to causes (non-profit organizations) I you care about.
  3. Keep all receipts in one place, so you can report them in tax time.

It’s that simple! Isn’t it great to know that items useless to you are helping people in need? The tax saving is just icing on the cake.

Below is a list of items Kabultec is looking for. The collection period is between today and April 10, 2011. They ask you to drop off the goods at their Falls Church home, or arrange a pick-up.  To schedule a pick-up/drop-off, please email Nasrine at or call her at 703-536-6471.

Technological: Small solar calculators, wind-up clocks or digital clocks that do not require batteries (solar powered or chip driven), microscopes, pipettes, hand lenses, scissors, thermometers, tweezers, stopwatches, cameras that do not require electricity to charge, still film camera with non-rechargeable batteries, digital camera that takes videos with non-rechargeable batteries, very small am/fm radios with rechargeable batteries or solar power, wrist watches.

Dictionaries: Small paperbacks (English) for English language classes.

Materials for classroom: Maps of anywhere in the world (not road), good notebooks for teachers, long-lasting pens, compasses, measuring tape, picture books, how-to books, picture dictionaries. set of animal pictures, rubber bands, glue sticks that don’t dry, different color Post-It packs, color folders, needle threader, round things to keep embroidery taut, board erasers, crayons.

Educational posters, such as:  English alphabet, periodic table of elements, anatomy including body systems, multiplication tables, planets, physics, biology (including charts of mammals), world history, art history, Americana, 2011/2012 calendars, geology (layers of earth from crust to core), set of human X-Rays, team work and self-esteem.

For orphanages: Used clothes for orphans ages 7 to grown up, male and female, games, picture books, pants, shirts, blouses, jackets, dresses, socks, shoes, sandals, toothbrushes, wash cloths, sports clothes, sports materials (balls, jump ropes), Legos, small stuffed animals, small dolls, small jigsaw puzzles, play dough, kids’ movies (For employees/teachers: men and women’s professional clothing, the baggier the better, and costume jewelry for women.)

In lieu of these donations, you may also write a tax-deductible check to Kabultec with “orphanage” on the memo line. Kabultec will use this money to defray costs of sorting, dividing, and transporting to various schools and orphanages in Afghanistan.

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Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.


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