Frugal Tuesdays: Should you continue to tithe/donate to charity when paying off debt?

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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. 


Comments


  1. Jack
    on January 7, 2016 at 10:50 pm said:

    The best part of Tithing is helps grow the kingdom. Think of it? Who has the largest private land holding in Florida? You got it, the Church. Who funded City Creek Mall? You go it, the Church. Your Tithing dollars help to pay for BYU, generous pension plans for retired Church employees and generous paid medical insurance for employees. When the poor members of the Church have nothing but a small SS check in their old age, they can least be proud to see what the Church has done. I have known many members who have never gotten ahead and live in poverty their whole entire lives. Meanwhile, GAs like Elder Rasband, live in a $1.7M condo at City Creek! Unbelievable!

  2. Emma (This Kind Choice)
    on October 13, 2013 at 12:14 am said:

    While I’m not religious, you’ve made me think about some important points here and I love your second point about how giving a portion of your money to something you believe in (whether this is religious or not) teaches you to budget more closely. I guess having less makes you aware of what you do have, and it’s potential to benefit others as well as yourself – something that applies to both time and money.
    Thanks for a wonderful, though-provoking post!

  3. Inkling
    on October 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm said:

    This is such a timely and encouraging post. Tithing and offerings are also taught in my faith background. My husband and I have struggled financially to make ends meet for seven years, in part because he sees his business as a ministry and not just a money-making venture, so he is often more than generous with his rates. Because of that, people in recovery, youth at risk, pastors, and others who would not normally be able to experience the back country get to have amazing adventures that contribute to their emotional and spiritual growth. Sometimes that makes me worried and gets me frustrated, because I know if we charged what typical adventure companies charge, we wouldn’t worry about our bank account. But I also know that the people he serves would not get to partake in what he offers. His generosity has always been amazing – when we first opened our wedding gifts, he wanted to give some away because he thought it was just too much. (We didn’t. I convinced him that the gifts would help us actually give more to others via hospitality, and they have.)

    Recently, a very wealthy older couple approached us with the offer to contribute some seed money to our outdoor education business/ministry. They had been offering to help us for years in one way or another, and we finally felt like the time might be right. But after allowing them to meet with us and opening up our finances to them, they pointedly told us that if we would stop tithing on everything that comes into our home and if we would stop catering to the demographic we strive to serve that they would consider helping us. But if we didn’t take their advice that we’d essentially be saying goodbye to their offer of help. They also felt my husband should work more than full-time and spend less time at home with our son. At the time, work was slow and we literally didn’t know how we were going to pay for groceries, and it was tempting. But instead, we chose to trust God and follow through with our beliefs. It was really hard to say goodbye to a “sure thing”, knowing that we really did need help. It has also been a constant discipline to forgive this couple for the way they treated us through the process.

    But as we look back on that season and even now as we continue to figure out what is wise and God-honoring in our business and finances, we know without a doubt that God is faithful to meet our needs and that He honors those who honor Him. We’d rather trust Him than a human with a big bank account, even though sometimes it is tempting to go with the big bank account. Whether it’s a check in the mail that we didn’t expect, someone buying a grocery item for me when they noticed I put it back, or friends who help us out with car repairs and free babysitting, we see that we really can’t outgive God and that He is faithful to provide.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm said:

      What a comment! First, your husband sounds like an incredible, incredible human being. What sort of adventure tours does he do?

      I LOVE that you declined the offer from the couple & instead followed through on your beliefs. There has to be sacrifice as a part of the demonstration of our faith, & if it was always easy, well then, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice, would it?

      “we see that we really can’t outgive God and that He is faithful to provide.”
      YES. I cannot really add to anything you’ve said, only to say, thank YOU for sharing. This little tid bit has really made my day. To know that there are good people out there like you & your husband. Please tell your husband that he is amazing.

      Again, thank you for opening up & sharing. This may be one of my favorite reader comments of all time 🙂

      • Inkling
        on October 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm said:

        Thanks, Janae! Your reply made my day and encouraged my heart. =) It’s so encouraging to know that there are other people who follow similar beliefs, even at a cost of personal sacrifice. It’s like we all spur each other on to finish the race well, you know?

        My husband runs a company called Wilderness Adventure Outreach, and he takes people into the back country to do things like climbing, backpacking, kayaking, caving, snowshoeing, etc. I see the fruits in the lives of the people he serves, and it’s so neat to watch how God meets them in the outdoors and teaches them more about Himself through His creation. Some of the most profound lessons I’ve learned have been either in a kayak on the ocean or on a rock face with my husband keeping me safe as my belayer. He was totally made for doing what he does, and I love that God has given him that gift.

  4. lfwfv
    on October 10, 2013 at 9:52 am said:

    Agreed Janae. A minimal tithe of 10% has been a part of our lives our entire married life. My husband and I both grew up with that mentality, and i think it is important to prioritize giving to God above all else. After all, everything we have is on loan to us in the first place. Beyond that, there have been times when unexpected money has come into our lives at the same time a significant financial need was announced from somebody close to us (ie. friends losing medical insurance, missionaries transitioning to their assignment etc. just as I received an unexpected $300 for donating breastmilk (pump reimbursement) or we received a lump sum for some extra consultation work). A those times, we have often felt called to give. I like those “tithes” the most because it feels like it is a blessing from God when we are used as the “middle man” (after all, He could just give it to the needy people in the first place, but He allows us to be blessed by giving from our excess).

    • Janae Wise
      on October 10, 2013 at 12:19 pm said:

      “After all, everything we have is on loan to us in the first place.”

      Completely agree. One perk of being in the place that you guys are in, is that since you’re in a good financial place, you can, as you have, help more people in need. I feel this the most enticing aspect of getting out of debt & getting a strong financial foothold–I want to be in a place that I can give much more than I can now. Not just financially, but with time as well. When you’re not worrying about money all the time because you don’t have debt, you have more emotional reserves to help others.

      “we have often felt called to give.”
      And that’s awesome that you’ve answered the call. You & your husband are such a great example of what you can do when you make yourselves available to be a tool for good. Way to go.

  5. Penni
    on October 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm said:

    Tithing is off interest not income. Its very clear in the d&c. Big difference…

  6. Hannah
    on October 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm said:

    My husband really taught me the importance of tithing when we first got married. I had never really had a job so I hadn’t ever paid tithing and I didn’t understand it’s importance at the time. I was always tempted to “forget” our tithing so we could pay other bills or do other things. But my husband insisted that we pay it first. 5 years later I am grateful that we did and still do pay tithing. We have been blessed immensely over the last five years and we are now in a position to help not only a single mom of 5 sons in our ward (with 3 currently serving full time missions) but to help some close family members. We pay tithing, live within our means and keep our feet grounded in the Gospel so we can in turn help others. It’s a wonderful thing.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm said:

      What an awesome thing that you’re now in the position to help others. That’s what I aspire to–right now we pay tithing, but once we’re debt free I hope to be able to be in a position to be even more generous with your money. Thank you for sharing Hannah.

  7. Joya
    on October 9, 2013 at 7:48 am said:

    I completely agree, Janae. It is a faith issue. If we believe all our blessings come from God, what we are giving back is already His. And I won’t lie, in the past, it’s been hard sometimes but then I remember what He says about it in the Bible:

    “Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw
    open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you
    will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10)

    WOW!! How can I argue with that? :0)

    • Janae Wise
      on October 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm said:

      I love that scripture. Thanks for sharing Joya. So true.

  8. Kristi
    on October 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm said:

    I agree Janae. Even though finances are tight with me being a stay at home mom, I write the check to our church every week and also pledged a few extra dollars each week to repave the parking lot – it was a disaster!
    I also give my time by cooking once/month dinner for the under-served in our community and am signed up to become a Stephen Minister. Our church just got certified last week. So excited!
    God gave me every blessing I have, including a second chance at life after a cancer diagnosis at 28. Now at 41 I feel like I am truly on the right path, and giving back to The Lord is non-negotiable.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm said:

      Wow Kristi! I didn’t know you were a cancer survivor (maybe I did, but forgot, I apologize). What is a Stephen minister? That sounds exciting–like you will be able to do a lot of good. It’s funny how when we sacrifice a little, taking that step to give even when it’s not convenient or easy, we are always blessed in a variety of ways. I love your attitude–giving is non-negotiable. You’re awesome.

      • Kristi
        on October 8, 2013 at 7:21 pm said:

        Janae,
        The website says it better than I can:

        Stephen Ministry is the one-to-one lay caring ministry that takes place in congregations that use the Stephen Series system.

        Stephen Ministry congregations equip and empower lay caregivers—called Stephen Ministers—to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.

        www.stephenministries.org

        I’m really excited about it because I have always truly cared what other people think and feel. At my former job, I would get teased that my nameplate should read Dear Abby instead of my name. People would always tell me their troubles. I “get” how people hurt. I am excited about the Stephen ministry being Christ centered, and for me to get some actual training without having to go back to college. 🙂

  9. Lois
    on October 8, 2013 at 5:33 pm said:

    In our church (Anabaptist-affiliated) we had a message on giving recently, and although strict tithing is not necessary, giving is. It has been very difficult for my family to agree on sacrificial giving even in hard financial times, but out of what I make doing part-time jobs, I do try to give regularly. A tenth when I can, but because my husband does not agree, I do not offer what he makes although you are right, it is my income too. I am resolved to give something even when I have no income, because I know it is better to give than to receive, God wants us to share what we have and I know He blesses others through US and He will bless us too in the best way for us! He has done SO much for us! How can we not show His love to others through our finances, time and talent?

    • Janae Wise
      on October 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm said:

      Lois, you are so right–we’ve been given so much, how can we not give back? I had a twitter follower comment that giving of time is important too. I think volunteer work in whatever capacity you’re able is also very important. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Jess
    on October 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm said:

    Even though I am not religious, my husband is, and tithing or giving in some way has always been a part of our finances as well.
    I have also thought, man, that extra cash could be helpful paying down school loans, but we still give for the same reasons you do.

    I truly believe in giving!

    • Janae Wise
      on October 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm said:

      That’s awesome. It’s not always easy to give, but I think so essential for creating the sort of world we all want to live in. It all comes back to you in some way anyway 😉

  11. Stephanie Draper
    on October 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm said:

    Great thoughts and I totally agree. 🙂 To me tithing has always been something I have just known at my core and never had to question. And with knowing what the church does with those funds and how much thought and prayer they put into it all, it definitely helps you to feel good about where its going.

    • Janae Wise
      on October 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm said:

      Definitely. I especially love all the humanitarian work they do around the world. And of course temples.

  12. Stephanie Draper
    on October 8, 2013 at 9:23 am said:

    I recently was on a babycenter.com forum where someone was asking the question you posed on Facebook – should we pay tithing when trying to get out of debt. Both are righteous goals after all. In my own experience I have seen huge blessings in paying tithing, so I would never excuse that. But to each their own, eh? Great perspectives on ways paying tithes/charities helps un in life and financially. 🙂

    • Janae Wise
      on October 8, 2013 at 9:33 am said:

      As part of our faith though, I think it goes beyond just donating money to charity. There’s a higher law that we believe in, & that belief takes it from a “good idea” or a “noble” principle (which it is) to something sacred & divine, which is a consecration of our earnings, which as we believe, are not really *our* earnings to begin with, but God’s. So yes, we have debt, but our first debt is always to God, at least from a Christian perspective.

      But for someone who is not religious, I think contributing to a charity of choice reaps many of the same blessings & should be a priority, despite debt. When you give back, you get so much in return, even when it doesn’t always make logical sense. There is something to the karma thing, ya know?

      • Stephanie Draper
        on October 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm said:

        Oops. I replied in the wrong spot again. My bad.