There are two topics that I have purposefully avoided writing about over the last 5 years due to the volatile responses that I know that I will receive: 1) planning a wedding without being stupid with money 2) should you give 10% of your income to your church. Today I will tackle the easier of the two, #2. Am I overstepping my bounds as a personal finance expert by blogging about tithing? Probably. But if all you ever wanted was stale financial perspective, then you probably wouldn’t waste your time on my blog. I want you to struggle with this as much as I am.
Tithing, the concept of giving 10% of your income to the Christian church, is one of the most hotly debated topics in the financial world. Except the debate is rarely via spoken word. Yes, one of the most controversial topics in all of money is simply debated within one’s own mind. Yet, it is a painful, embarrassing, and humbling argument that cripples even the most pious individual. While I certainly can’t help relieve your conscience from the spiritual torture involved in this debate, I can shed some practical financial light on the topic.
Here are the questions that I want to address: Is tithing realistic in a modern economy with modern expenses? Can the average person really tithe? If you want to tithe and aren’t, how should you start?
It only seems appropriate that I set some MAJOR ground rules before we go much further.
- You need not be a Christian to benefit from this blog post.
- I am a Christian, but I don’t feel that it really matters for the sake of this post. Just as I would ask you not to hold my faith against me, I also ask that you don’t credit me for simply having the set of beliefs that I do.
- I currently don’t tithe, in the popularly accepted traditional sense (give 10% of my income directly to the church).
- You aren’t going to get any classic Pete the Planner mild cursing in this post. It would just be weird.
- I have as much biblical acumen as a wet stone. I won’t be quoting scripture or any religious material. You get plenty of that at church. This isn’t church. This is the best money blog on the planet (is confidence one of the deadly sins?).
- I’m really uncomfortable writing this post. But I’m doing it because I think many people are very uncomfortable with this topic too. Hopefully this helps you make a decision.
And here we go.
First things first. What makes tithing hard?
- God doesn’t have a bank account– As it goes with most practices of faith, seeing would be too easy. I think that if God knocked on anyone’s door and asked for 10% of what they have, then He would most likely be the greatest collection agency of all time. Because He would collect every dime that He asked for in person. Here’s what usually goes through the mind of a person that is questioning the prudence of handing 10% of their income over to someone that ISN’T God: there sure are a lot of plasma screen TVs in the lobby, the minister sure drives a nice Acura, and/or I can’t believe we advertise in the local paper. Relying on the judgement of other mortals to decide how to spend 10% of my income honestly doesn’t sit that well with me. This is primarily why most of my giving is directly given to charitable organizations, not through the church.
- Your own poor financial decision making– Don’t blame God if you spend 47% of your income on your mortgage payment. Don’t blame God if you spend 23% of your income on dining out. If you can barely “live” on the income that you make, then 90% of that income doesn’t seem that appealing. Are you justified in feeling this way? I don’t know, but no one forced you to buy that house, that car, that pony, and/or that Flobee. There’s not much more that I can say about this particular aspect of giving apprehension. You alone are the one that determine what you can afford.
- Your other charitable giving- This happens to be one of my biggest challenges. Mrs. Planner and I are very active givers to several charitable organizations. Many of these organizations also receive financial support from several local churches. So aren’t I just cutting out “the middle man” by donating directly to the charity? Again, I don’t know. If God “directs the congregation” to give money to ABC charity from the church coffers, then aren’t I doing the same thing by giving money directly to that charity? I’m not trying to play semantics with God here. I just can’t see the difference. If I give 10% of my income to others in need, then how is that a bad thing? I like using my money to put together care packages and Christmas gifts for those in need. I like donating to organizations that research a cure for cancer. I truly enjoy thinking of and providing for others. I appreciate the personal nature of assisting others personally.
There are two major financial principles that are applicable in this conversation:
- Scarcity- You can survive and thrive on much less money than you currently operate on. So if you do decide to pull the trigger and tithe, then just know that you can most likely “absorb” a portion of your new financial commitment. Call this faith. Call this “God will provide.” Call it whatever you want. I’m just telling you that after studying thousands of financial situations over the last decade, you can afford anything you want if you decide it is important enough. I have never seen anyone go deep into debt by tithing. However, I have seen people dine out less, go on fewer vacations, live in a lesser home, and drive an older car all in the name of honoring the tithe.
- All or nothing rarely makes sense- Where does it say in the bible “either give 10% or give 0%”? It doesn’t. If you “can’t” or aren’t currently tithing, then you may want to consider going at it 1% at a time. Let’s say that you have a household income of $60,000 and you currently aren’t tithing. Immediately foregoing $6000 could be a bad thing. However, foregoing $600 would be much more manage at the start. Why not start with 1%, adjust your budget, and then add another 1% every few months? That just seems like it makes sense to me. This same logic works for just about any financial goal. Can’t save 10% of your income? Then start with 1%, and then increase it from there.
The bottom line is simple: of course tithing is financially realistic. I find that people try to look for financial reasons as to why they shouldn’t tithe. I don’t really think that makes any sense. You really can afford anything that you make a priority. Not getting religious here, but you aren’t really going to “trick God” by thinking you can’t afford it. If you believe in God, then you believe that He knows what you are thinking. What am I saying is pretty simple: Refuse to tithe because you don’t want to. Refuse to tithe because you don’t interpret the bible that way. Refuse to tithe because you don’t think it’s a priority. But don’t refuse to tithe because you don’t think you can afford it. You can afford it.
I welcome you to offer your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below. I have received nearly 100 messages about this topic since I announced I was writing about it a few weeks back. That means that I fully expect several hundred comments on this particular post. Share your thoughts, no matter how insignificant you might think they are.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.