One question that inevitably comes up when creating a plan to pay off debt is: “should I continue to donate to charity &/or tithe to my church?”
As a practicing Mormon, I have paid a 10% tithe since I began my first job mowing lawns at age 11. Tithing is not unique to the LDS church, most churches believe in some form of tithing or offering. But it was instilled in me at a young age that tithing is something that is not only important, but essential. Since my early days of mowing lawns, I’ve gone from earning little (babysitting, my first “real” job as a sales clerk at JCPenneys, secretarial work) to now earning a solid & steady income (for the record, Joseph earnings are my earnings, too).
There were scarce times when our income was irregular & spotty. But through it all we paid a 10% tithe to our church & contributed a monthly fast offering. Was it difficult sometimes to write checks when knowing that our account balance afterward would be $0? Yes. But it’s just a non-negotiable part of our finances. We did it.
Sometimes I think about how now, an extra $450 a month would affect our debt snowball. It’s a tempting thought. But I know that paying tithing is crucial to us getting out of debt. That’s not why I pay it, but I believe and know that giving away some of your money, even when you don’t have a lot, teaches you a many things. Here are just a few that I think are significant.
1) That there are far more that are worse off than myself. Sure we have a ton of debt, but we can still afford to eat well, we have comfortable & safe housing, clean water to drink, clothes on our backs. A government, that though highly dysfunctional at times (ahem, government shutdown), but still affords me the right to vote & to live according to my beliefs & conscience. These are just a few of the tremendous blessings I enjoy, that many of my fellow human beings do not.
2) It teaches me to budget & watch spending even more closely. When I was in college, I was always more productive & did better in my classes when I had a job. Why? It didn’t make sense. I had less time than when I didn’t have a job. But it taught me greater discipline, focus, & an appreciation for the time I did have. I think giving away a portion of your money does the same thing.
3) I know that what you give always comes back to you and more. If you don’t give much, you will receive little in return. The more you give, the more you get back. I know this is truth. This is not to say I think that a person paying off debt should tithe 15% or 20%, but rather, a giving, open heart makes way to receive an abundance of blessings (not just temporal/physical, but spiritual & emotional as well). We have always had our needs met, & been given so many unexpected blessings along the way. We’ve been the recipients of so much generosity from friends, family & even strangers, I have no doubt this is tied to our commitment to giving away 10% of our income.
When we bought our first house, we were living in Utah & required to take a home ownership class. The lady teaching it, was not Mormon & had some fairly strong opinions about those folks who were & who paid tithing. She made a few subtle & not so subtle comments about how the reason foreclosure rates were so high in Utah (whose population is predominantly LDS–particularly where we lived) was because people were paying tithing first & not their mortgages. This was in 2005, before the housing bubble crashed, & though still quite young at the time, I knew enough to know that what she was saying was skewed. The reasons people get foreclosed on are many (not just one reason), & many times it’s a confluence of unfortunate events &/or poor choices. I wanted to say: “Lady, don’t blame it on the tithing.” Many times, it’s people living beyond their means, taking out mortgages they can’t afford & overextending themselves.
Whether or not you’re religious, I think tithing or donating 10% of your income to either your church or charities should be a priority for everyone, regardless of where you are in your debt snowball.
(For more on why I believe tithing is so important, David A. Bednar, a leader in the LDS church, offers a clear view on the Mormon perspective of tithing & prudent living in the latest LDS general conference. You can see it, here.)
What do you think? Have you had experience with paying off debt &/or giving away/tithing a portion of your income? I welcome all perspectives. Please share.