It's Christmas. So this should be one of those "touchy-feely" columns, right?

I could go on about all the wonderful help the unfortunate have received from their fellow man. We could admire all the busy lawyers, helping people with lots of money give it away.

Instead, I'd like to share some sobering statistics with you.

They come from our dear friends at the Internal Revenue Service. They know all this stuff because they, and only they, can go through all our tax returns and figure out what we're doing with our income. They do this every year, compiling figures on how our income is distributed and what we take in deductions if we itemize. The most recent figures show what we did on our 2003 tax returns.

Here are some of my gleanings.

•  Households with adjusted gross incomes of $10,000 to $15,000 (that's income after deductions for things like qualified plan contributions) had an average income of $12,685. These households gave cash contributions to charity of $1,469. That's 11.6 percent of their income. In other words, some of the least affluent households in America do more than tithe.

•  Households with adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 to $55,000 had an average income of $52,503. They made average cash contributions of $2,094. That's 4.0 percent of their income.

•  Households with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 to $500,000--- a level everyone would consider affluent--- had an average income of $288,335. These households made average cash contributions of $7,182. That's 2.5 percent of their income. If you divide total contributions for the group by total income the charitable giving figure is slightly higher, 2.9 percent.

If those figures look a little funny it's probably because you don't expect people living near poverty to be able to give away over 10 percent of their income while people at the other end of the scale give only 2.5 percent. But if you go through the entire income table, as I did, that is exactly what you will find. Giving and income are inversely related.

People with higher incomes give less.

The dollar amount may be greater, but the very affluent are less charitable than those at the bottom end of the income scale. Indeed, once adjusted gross income reaches $100,000, charitable giving remains at 2.5 percent of income all the way up to the top--- incomes of $10 million or more.

Tax rates on the well-off are no longer punitive. Indeed, since many of the over-$100,000 households get to escape the payroll tax, their average total tax rate can be lower than families with lower incomes. Taxes on the very wealthiest households are lower than taxes on typical households because wealthy people have dividend and capital gains income that is larger than their labor income.

I could speculate on why this happens, but I won't.

What I would like to do is make a simple suggestion. One of the unsung benefits of charity is discipline. If you set a giving goal, you will need spending discipline to reach it. The higher the goal, the greater the required discipline.

That discipline adds meaning and value to everything we do with our money.

It's an opportunity America's affluent and wealthy are missing.