Julia Wise is a social worker and her husband, Jeff Kaufman, is a software engineer. In 2013, their combined income was just under $245,000, putting them in the top 10% of US households. And yet, excluding taxes and savings, they lived on just $15,280, or 6.25% of their income.
That’s 40% of their pre-tax earnings, and it’s not a one-off: They’ve donated a comparable percentage every year since 2008.
Jeff and Julia are one of the main stories in Larissa MacFarquhar’s new book Strangers Drowning, in which she presents cases of “extreme virtue.” On hearing about their actions, you might assume that they must be pretty miserable; you may even think that they sound like a cautionary example of extreme self-denial. In truth, nothing could be further from the truth. For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to count Jeff and Julia as my friends, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more stable, happy and, well, perfectly normal couple. They prove that you can have a perfectly normal, enjoyable and well-rounded life while making altruism a core part of your identity.