In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, one man shares why he gives 10% of his income to his church—and explains how it can be possible on any budget.
Some things in life just cannot be explained.
One of the mysteries in my wealth management practice is the glaring coincidence that a large majority of my wealthiest clients are some of the largest givers and tithers I have ever met. For those not familiar with tithing, it is simply the practice of giving a tenth of your income to your church or mission, or to charity. It’s a simple idea but not so easily accomplished; only an estimated 5% of Americans actually tithe.
Countless clients, friends and family members have asked me why I passionately believe in tithing. The story begins with a legacy of grandparents and parents who faithfully tithed and taught me at an early age to do the same. Even before owning my wealth management company, I remember interning at a financial firm at the age of 14 and observing that the families who seemed to enjoy the most blessed lives were those who were faithful and obedient. Not all of them were wealthy, but they had everything they needed.
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I discovered wealth comes in many forms other than financial. Money can buy you a house, but it won’t buy you a home. Money will you buy you a bed, but it won’t buy you a good night’s sleep. Money will fill the offering plate, but it won’t fulfill you or save you.
Those early experiences helped frame my world perspective on placing a priority on tithing.
The easy answer to “Why tithe?” is because it works and God tells us to do this in His word in Malachi 3:10. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," quotes the Bible. "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
When I First Began Tithing
When I first started tithing, I thought it was crazy. I worked so hard for every dollar, dealing with unruly customers and picking up spitballs under the table at a local Denny’s, only to give 10% of it away to the church.
Even today, everyone in my peer group knows me as the “cheap guy” (although, I prefer the term "frugal"!). I have been teased that I squeak when I walk. Yes, giving 10% was hard at first, but so is anything worthwhile in life.
Back then I was making $10 an hour. However, I chose to tithe because, in addition to be commanded to be obedient, I felt grateful to be able to give. Sure, I may have sacrificed things along the way—possibly a new wardrobe or a new car. Instead, I traded worldly things, which are temporary, for things I believe to be eternally lasting. Luckily, I didn’t succumb to those selfish luxuries because I had already learned a valuable lesson: Live without some things now and invest in things that will live forever.
Not Every Client Finds It Easy
Giving 10% of your income is a huge leap of faith for anyone. How do you start something great like tithing?
Zig Ziglar once said you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. Could you start tithing a full 10% of your income overnight? For many families, that’s not so easy. As a personal wealth manager, I have found myself helping my clients roll up their sleeves and get dirty with their cash flow and budgeting to squeeze out inefficiencies in their financial plan. The key is to start and draw a timeline of how and when you will be able to fully tithe.
Avoid getting caught in the web of excuses I find ensnaring many families. My favorite excuse is, “I’ll tithe when I finally make more money, or when I receive that promotion or raise.” Can I be frank with you? No, you won’t!
If you haven’t been able to give $400 out of the $4,000 you make every month, what makes you think anything will change if you make $6,000? More money doesn’t fix anything. Don’t take my word for it. Take it from one of the wealthiest men in our country’s history, John D Rockefeller, who said, “I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.”
One more excuse I will share with you is, in fact, one that I've used myself in the past. When I was a volunteer, I would say, “Well, I’m involved. Isn’t that enough”? Time is money, right?
My favorite excuse is, “I’ll tithe when I finally make more money, or when I receive that promotion or raise.”
No, time is time and money is money. When you give to a cause that you believe in, be it a charity or a church, you connect in a higher manner to the cause. There is a lot of truth to the idiom, ”Put your money where your mouth is.”
How to Fit Tithing Into Your Budget
Like me, you may have run out of excuses to not tithe a full 10% to your church or favorite charity. How do you find a way to do that and make it a long-term habit?
I’ve included a number of tips for accomplishing this in my book, “Tithe: A Living Testimony.” The most fundamental starts with that ugly old word: budgeting. (I prefer to call it "creating a spending plan.")
You can either build a plan that allocates a certain amount of your income to certain things, or you can create what I call "an artificial environment of scarcity." The latter is what works best for me and many families. With a budget, you can make a mistake and slip up. However, if you create an artificial environment of scarcity, you can learn to live life comfortably and never realize that you are tithing 10% and saving more than 20% of your income.
The gist of this involves allocating your income first to the most important items: 10% to tithing and 20% to savings, and condition yourself to live on 70%. Conditioning is just like exercising—you can’t run a marathon the first time you put running shoes on.
Teaching Your Family to Give
If you have children, what better legacy is there to leave to them? Teaching them these principles of giving back is a habit that works regardless of age. And the earlier they pick up this habit, the better.
How do you teach your kids the importance of tithing and giving? It can start with their allowance. When you give them $20 a week for their chores, where does it go? You might be saying, “Who cares? They’re just kids. What does it hurt if they blow it all?”
When would you like that to stop? When they are 65 and broke? Of course not!
Share these fundamentals with your kids and teach them to set up three labeled piggy banks: Church/Charity, Savings, and Everything Else. In the first piggy bank, place 10% for the charity and/or church. In the second, put 20% to savings, and put the rest in the last piggy bank.
This will be a tangible reminder that you first allocate money to the most important things. They will grow accustomed to living on 70% instead of living on 105%, like many families do today.
Andrew McNair is founder and C.E.O. of SWAN Capital, and author of “Tithe: A Living Testimony” and “Don’t Be Penny Wise & Dollar Foolish.” He specializes in Wealth Management and Retirement Income. After earning a degree in business administration/finance and with two books on his financial strategies already published, McNair launched SWAN. At 22, he was hosting a radio show, What Your Money Would Say, which provides financial guidance to retirees. McNair is also the founder and C.E.O. of the Veteran Benefit Project, which works with veterans and their families at no charge to ensure they receive all of the benefits to which they’re entitled.