Should You Tithe or Build Your Own Wealth?

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not tithe to our church. Yes, we give, but it’s nowhere near 10% of our income. My personal feeling is that the government has taken on many of the roles and responsibilities that fell on the church in biblical times, and we do pay far more than 10% in taxes annually.

This post talks about more than just tithing, though. When you expand from simply tithing to a religious organization to charitable giving in general, I think it becomes a better conversation to have. Remove religion and most of the politics, and you’ve got fewer emotions affecting your thought process.

We’re not donating 10% of our income to charities in general, either; the actual percentage is much higher than that. Now that my only job is this blogging business, and we’re donating half of our profits, I’ll be donating about half of my income. Figuring out how to do that in the most tax-efficient way while abiding by the IRS’ rules will be a challenge for us in 2020.

I wasn’t always this generous, though. Only after we reached financial independence did we start to give away tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Dr. James Turner is a generous man early in his financial independence journey, and he shares his thoughts on whether or not one should be giving along the way. This post was originally published at The Physician Philosopher.

 

Should You Tithe or Build Your Own Wealth?

 

The other day my oldest little philosopher came up to me and asked what I was working on after she woke up from a nap.  I told her I was working on a post for my website.  “What’s the post about, daddy?”  The post I was working on was about practical investing advice.

To my less than ten year old, I simply said, “It’s about money.”  We then discussed how we buy things, how we earn money, the purpose of a bank, and a lot of other essential money topics including how and why we tithe and give to charity.

She came away with the idea that money was a pretty important tool that we all need so that we can do what we want in life.  However, I didn’t want her to come away with the idea that money is our idol or the end all be all.

As a self-professing Christian, this conversation made me consider our family’s tithing, which we have yet to discuss on The Physician Philosopher.

Even if you are not religious, I think that this concept is still important.  Giving money  comes in many different forms.  It includes giving money to charitable causes outside the church.  If you are religious and feel called to tithe, maybe this post will help you revisit the topic or start the conversation if you’ve never tithed regularly.

 

Why Should I Tithe or Give to Charity?

 

First, it needs to be mentioned that money is not the only gift you can give.  You can provide your services and your time as well.

My second comment needs to be that just because you give your time and your services does not mean that you have an excuse to avoid giving money to those in need or to charitable organizations that serve them.

 

To whom much is given, much will be required.

 

How’s that for a controversial start to this post?

There are a bunch of important reasons to give to charity.  I am going to highlight the ones that jump out at me:

First, giving to your church or to a charity prevents money from becoming an idol. For the religious, this is done to recognize where your gifts came from in the first place. For those who aren’t, money can grasp you just the same.  Hoarding money isn’t good for anyone and letting it go – in a way that isn’t being spent on you – can be helpful to you no matter your convictions.

Second, the government encourages us to give to charity.  Though this is likely going to be less of a deduction than it used to be now that the standard deductions are huge ($12,200 single; $24,400 married filing jointly in 2019), the government will still give you a break if you give enough away.  Some people give double one year and nothing the next to to accomodate the large standard deductions.

Third, and most importantly, there are people in this world that are in more need than you and me.  Many of them ended up there because of circumstances outside of their control.  If my family or I ever end up in need, I hope that generous people will come to our aid.

Finally, those who give tend to be happier!  There is science behind this, too. Giving to others truly does make us happier.

 

Are you getting the most out of the business credit card in your wallet? Check out the top business credit card offers today.The Best Business Credit Cards

You Can Still Accomplish Your Financial Goals

 

Many people are afraid to give money to charity because it will delay their ability to build wealth.  While hoarding money may get you there faster, what’s the cost?  Have you given as much thought to the fees you are paying in trading, funds, or to an advisor?

If not, physician on fire has your back when he looked at the cost of a 1% fee versus tithing 10%.  The end result?  Fees are killers.  Many of you know this, but for those that don’t; giving 10% of your paycheck to a charitable cause will hurt you less financially than a 1% fee.  This is another reason to use one of the flat, fee-only financial advisors I recommend.

In the end, you can still give to charity and accomplish your financial goals. They are not mutually exclusive.

 

should you tithe

 

If an example would be helpful, I’ll give you my own.

My wife and I give 10% of our monthly paycheck to our church.  Admittedly, this was originally given post-tax (update: we now give pre-tax).

Despite giving around $25,000 to our church and other charitable causes, we paid off $200,000 in student loans in 19 months.  Our net worth also skyrocketed from negative $208,000 and to more than $250,000 in two years.

 

Related: Refinancing rates at 2% or less in the Student Loan Resource Page

 

 

That’s an improvement of over $450,000 in net worth despite giving 10% of our pre-tax income to charitable giving.

The point is that these do not need to be mutually exclusive goals. You can do both if they are a priority to you and your family.

And, let’s get real for a moment – if you want to know what you love in this life, then follow your money.  That tends to be a reflection of what we actually care about.

 

How much interest are you earning in your checking and savings accounts? Explore accounts offering 20x what many banks are offering. High Interest Savings Accounts

A Note About Behavioral Finance

 

The most common excuse that I hear when people don’t save money is the same excuse I am given when people talk about not giving to charitable causes.  “When I make more money – I’ll get around to that – because it’ll be easier then.

This, of course, is hogwash.  It is one of the classic money myths. If you don’t save or give money with little, you probably will not start when you make a lot.

The truth is that if saving – or charitable giving – are not important enough for you to carve out now, they likely never will be.  Both of these endeavors take discipline.

If you have previously fallen to this line of logic, stop making excuses.  Simply tell the truth and say it’s not a priority, or start doing what your heart is telling you to do.  That goes the same for saving for retirement during residency.

Ways to Give to Charity

There are a lot of ways to give to charitable causes.

Cutting a check or submitting it electronically exists at most charitable organizations these days.  You can also perform an internet search on local organizations where you can give of your time, your money, and/or your services.

If you want to get fancy, you can also consider starting a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). PoF has written prolifically on the topic.

If you’d like to know more about the pros and cons of a DAF, I’ll point you over to  a debate between Physician on FIRE and the White Coat Investor on the topic of using a DAF (or not).

Take Home on Tithing

 

Remember, giving to charitable causes prevents money from becoming an idol, makes you happier as a human being, and you get a tax break if done properly.

If giving to charity is important to you, then your finances should reflect that value.  When you sit down to make your backwards budget or track your spending, make sure you leave room for at least having this conversation.

 

Subscribe to The Physician Philosopher Blog

What do you think about this topic?  Do you tithe or give to charitable causes?  If not, why not?  If you do, why and how?  Leave a comment below.

17 comments

  • Nebraska Walker

    Well said. I have tithed all my life. From poor student to professional life. There has always been enough. Additionally, it fosters discipline with spending and saving because a person becomes accustomed to not considering their whole paycheck theirs to spend. (Hebrews 12:11)

    • Tom Strong

      Ditto! My wife & I chose to follow Christ in our mid 20s – we’ve given 10-12% of our gross income along the way since (now mid 50s). We’ve watched how we’ve made ends meet thru lean times (3 debt-free masters degrees between us) & even now being FI. I would add that our giving is independent of taxes as God provides despite the tax policies of the time (Matthew 22.21).

      • We ended moving this direction, too, but I’d be lying if I said we have always tithed pre-tax. We started doing that in the last six months when our student loans were finally gone.

        Now we are working on being as diligent and disciplined in other areas (we haven’t always tithed from our bonus money).

        This is obviously a matter of the heart. We have never been perfect givers, but we try to be better each year.

        TPP

  • Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  • May

    Excellent article especially the points on the psychology of why tithing is important even if you are not religious. As a Christian, I try to follow the practice of tithing 10% since it is part of my spiritual life. For those who are non- religious or don’t use the Bible as the reference point for their lives, then I think the 10% number is arbitrary. They should follow their heart when led, to donate to organizations/ people/ causes that mean something to them personally. Ultimately it shouldn’t be about the “ tax relief” but the principal.

    I’ll admit that we have “ fallen off track” at times in our lives with our giving. Other years we have given far more. We have always used net income, I guess because that is what we “ see in our hands” at the end of the month that has been given to us. It might be technically wrong, but I have never gotten hung up about it.

  • We don’t give a fixed tithe, but we do make giving part of our financial habit.

    Like, POF, we do give plenty beyond “our share” via our taxes. That is good for building many social supports into our society. Giving to our church also does that, but is directed by the church. We give to our church, but after that and taxes, we also want to make concious decisions about what we support by voluntarily donating directly rather than simply giving to a “governing body” that decides for us. It is a fixed pie of disposable income, but the slices can vary.

    Doing this, not only illustrates how we use money as a tool, but also models that for our kids. They participate and are part of us making deliberate financial decisions and giving regularly. Both are important financial habits and I 100% agree that it is habits that win out over future intentions.
    -LD

  • Mel

    As a self-professing Christian I have tithe 10% gross as far back as I can recall. In the last 14 years added a DAF in addition to tithing.

    God has always provided thru good times and leaner times. By the grace of God Still was able to reach FI and RE. It is honoring God. It also puts balance in this “money” thing.

  • Not too long ago I read a post on the ChooseFI fb page in which someone shared an experience of seeing someone clearly struggling to pay for groceries with a couple of small children. She said she wanted to help, but didn’t because “it’s not the FI thing to do” – I couldn’t have disagreed more and at that moment was disappointed in the FI movement if that is what is being/has been, communicated! If money is the end-all-be-all of life how miserable is life! If the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself, then giving, helping, showing generosity and hospitality on the spur of the moment is one of the greatest things we can do. We are not FI yet, but close. (also non-physicians, PTs!) I definitely believe that giving along the journey to FI helps keep our perspective of money in the correct priority. It helps us be more frugal because we have less to blow on ourselves. It’s also a constant reminder that many people don’t have what we’ve been blessed with. It’s also humbling because we’re able to give out of our abundance. I certainly agree with giving, whether to church/charity/your neighbor in need or whomever AS you pursue FI! Great post, glad this topic is getting into the FI realm. I’ve only seen a couple similar posts.

  • Mrs Thompson

    I was really glad to see this topic brought up. You did a fine job of presenting the idea(s) behind tithing~thank you!

  • Don Anon

    Three notes on this post:

    1. Charitable giving is when money goes from a donor to a charity. If it’s dumped into a DAF to create an in-year tax deduction – no charitable giving has taken place (yet). With this definition, what % of your profits (or income) goes to charity? The goal of charitable giving isn’t (or shouldn’t be) to create a giant DAF balance – it should be to further charitable pursuits.
    2. With a claim of 50% of income to charity, a tithe should be only 20% of your overall charitable giving (10% / 50%). That doesn’t seem to be a stretch. Why do you not do that if you are a Christian?
    3. Tithing has already accounted for taxes (Mark 12:17), pay your taxes and then give joyously to the church. Or don’t – your choice – but it’s not open to interpretation because tax rates have gone up or down.

    • You’re confusing the author of the intro with the author of the post.

      We each do what we feel is appropriate without telling others what we expect of them. If we inspire others to give more generously, great! If not, who am I to judge?

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Happy were we are

    Charitable giving is not a priority in our lives.

    I feel very comfortable in that I donate a decent amount of my time treating patients who don’t pay and I have no expectation of them reimbursing me. I also feel very comfortable that a large chunk off my taxes are going to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I figure that is plenty of giving on our part. Over the years a charitable cause has cropped up in front of us and we have given generously to support it though far less than 10% of our income.

    We are happy with our choices and have no interest in doing anything different today.

  • Stephen

    Great post. We’re already giving more than 10%. Even when I try to do less I fail. Might be the best having I have. Over time we’ve transitioned to giving less, or little, to churches, and mostly to issues of equity.
    As you said I started with $10 a month in college to a missionary, and we just kept on going.
    Of course as a physician I can’t say it was a sacrifice. We just always did it. I still retired at 52. I can’t say I kept living like a resident, but I’ve never lived like a doctor.
    A related topic that would be interesting is sharing your thoughts about inheritance. Does it all go to your children?
    I’m leaning towards sharing now (help with retirement savings, house down payment, grandchildren college savings) and less with lump sums when they are in their 60’s.

  • TPP, HUGE thanks for actually writing about this subject. As a non-physician and reader from outside the US, it makes for very interesting reading.

    Here in the UK, the FI Community is somewhat too afraid to talk about Faith and Finances.

    The biggest point that I took away from this post was the one about “giving to your church or to a charity prevents money from becoming an idol”. This is such a hugely fundamental point to make.

    For many years, I personally struggled with letting money go and did not tithe consistently. With 2 kids and aiming for FI (plus supporting family members), it was easy to put tithing to the side and prioritise other things.

    The one thing that helped us get better at this was a commitment to giving more consistently, even though it wasn’t always anywhere near 10%. This was necessary for keeping our hearts in the right place.

    What I’ve noticed though, now that we are FI is that becoming FI is enabling much more giving to happen. For example, we are supporting more foundations (something we haven’t even talked about on the blog yet. So it’s encouraging to see you Americans take a very different and more open approach).

    Our current goal is to commit to writing bigger cheques for specific causes, which interestingly, is a huge motivation to make what we’re doing with the blog sustainable financially. It is actually forcing us to be more creative and giving us more purpose in our relationship with money.

    Thanks again for this post. I’ll check out your actual blog.

    POF: Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • I did a look back on our pretax tithing and we’d theoretically have an extra two million in our portfolio had we invested it in or own accounts instead. Plus we give also to secular charities and to individuals in need. But I think it was a good investment, we are wealthy now beyond anything we ever dreamed. I also have donated thousands of hours to nonprofits in addition to ministries of our church. In retirement I’m donating much more time to a college and several charities. I honestly think the money and time given away returns a higher ROI than any stock or bond.

  • Cassandra

    Great article. As a Christian I give to my church and other organizations whatever amount I can do with a cheerful heart. All church’s are not created equal and “church” should not be confused with Christianity. Unfortunately I’ve been at churches where I have not agreed with how things were run or how funds were used so giving stressed me out. I eventually moved on but while there I was bitter. I agree with PoF many of the things that the church did in the Old Testament such as providing for the poor, orphaned, widows etc is done by the government however funds are still needed for ministry. For myself I have a close relationship with God and give generously but do not use the 10% mandate, it’s between me and God. Giving cheerfully is more important.

  • David Murrell

    Since this is a theological topic, perhaps a bit of theology should be applied.

    I cringe when I hear Christians speaking of tithing. It should be noted for Christians that there is no New Testament mandate to “tithe” i.e. donate 10% of income. Tithing was an Old Testament requirement to support the Hebrew theocracy. In fact, requiring a tithe or feeling you must give a set amount is actually counter to scripture.

    That is not to say that the New Testament does not speak of the practical guidelines for giving. It does. It says give generously, what is in your heart to give, but not out of compulsion. And Jesus teaches that those who have been given much, much is expected. But this is not the tithe.

    • I’m no theologian, but I’m happy to hear from one who seems to support what I’m choosing to do. Give a little to the church and much more to other organizations.

      Thank you for the insight.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *