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Can Tithing Make You Rich? Why Some of the World’s Wealthiest Give Away 10 Percent of Their Money

Proponents of tithing–the act of giving 10 percent of your income to church or charity–say the practice leads to a healthier financial life, even to greater abundance. Here, why there may be truth in the centuries-old promise: “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer.”


Why Tithe? How giving away 10% can make you rich.When we talk about money, the subject of giving is often a distant afterthought. That’s unfortunate, because tithing—that is, the practice of giving 10 percent of your income to charity (typically a church or religious community)— has been espoused for centuries, both by those in and outside religion.

True, the idea of setting aside a tenth of one’s income might press your buttons, and for a good reason.

While the Bible and other religious texts make a case for tithing as a “gateway to abundance”, quantifying the return on investment isn’t nearly so easy as, say, connecting the dots between a stock purchase and its yearly dividend.

Yet if there’s nothing to tithing—and if the idea that it manifests wealth is purely imaginary—that what are we to make of this observation from mutual-fund pioneer Sir John Templeton? Keep in mind that Templeton was one of the greatest investors of the 20th Century, so he knew a thing or two about money and business.

Here’s what he said:

I have observed 100,000 families over my years of investment counseling. I always saw greater prosperity and happiness among those families who tithed than among those who didn’t.

That quote is contained in a short book about the practice called “Tithe: A Living Testimony.”  It’s by Andrew McNair, who is not a minister but the owner of SWAN Capital, a wealth management firm based in Pensacola, Fla. Written from a Christian perspective, the slender, 61-page volume explains in a straightforward manner why tithing is more than just a good idea—and how it’s possible for even for people on limited budgets.

Although much we hear about tithing comes from an evangelical Christian perspective, keep in mind that the practice of gratitude and the idea of reaping what you sow are not exclusively religious concepts.

McNair espouses a principle called “backward based budgeting,” which is the financial equivalent of leadership guru Stephen Covey’s habit “begin with the end in mind.” While most people calculate their budgets simply by adding up the numbers (and not always with a sense of priorities), McNair provides easy-to-understand charts and diagrams that show how income gets divided ideally. There are mandatory expenses (i.e., food, electricity); long-term expenses (retirement, mortgage); and discretionary income.

McNair’s suggested approach is to include tithing as a mandatory expense, and to work backwards in terms of what’s necessary in a budget versus what’s optional. While that’s nothing revolutionary—we’ve all heard suggestions about taking Starbucks out of the budget countless times—his insistence that we look at tithing as a mandatory expense, rather than a discretionary one, requires a subtle shift in thinking. You don’t tithe with the scraps you have left over, but rather off the top (where the cream is). This is inline with the idea of paying yourself first–making your savings a mandatory expense that comes first rather than something you do with what’s left over.

Again: There’s no empirical proof that tithing “works” per se as a financial strategy, nor will there ever be. Nor is my task in this column to sell you on tithing as something you must do. In fact, McNair makes that case stridently in his book, often to the point of finger wagging. It would be refreshing to see him show a bit more Christian sympathy and compassion for those who struggle financially. I wished he would’ve made his case for tithing out of its sheer transformational power, as opposed to using guilt-provoking phrases such as “If we are not tithing 10 percent of our gross incomes, we are disobedient.”

It’s entirely possible that a person who doesn’t tithe is something else entirely: desperate, scared and disorganized are just three apt, alternative descriptions that come to mind. Others of us want to explore how tithing works and what it means, but we don’t have the tools at our fingertips to make a fairly significant financial transformation.

The math is easy: If you make $100,000, you should tithe $10,000, or $833 a month. It’s the leap of faith, if you will, that’s difficult for so many of us.

If we give up that much of our income to tithe, will there be enough left over when the bills roll in? Will we ever be able to afford that winter vacation of the things we dream of having?

One point McNair makes that I side with comes back to the central issue of how blessed we are. When I take a look at my own life, I realize how much God has showered me with material possessions and friendships I could not have dreamt of a decade ago. Tithing is a logical response to such an accounting: the outward manifestation, if you will, of an attitude of gratitude.

It also helps to have at least one more money maven who’s a big fan of tithing to make the case for it. Sean Hyman, a Texas-based pastor turned financial advisor, has been a regular guest on CNBC and Fox Business. And here’s what he told me about tithing:

“People grapple with that concept, but I’ve found it to be correct,” he says. “The average American lives too high on the hog, as we’d say in Arkansas, which is where I’m from. Really people should live off of no more than 70 percent of their income. You need that extra padding in case something comes up—and almost every year, something will come up, whether you need a new roof on your house or your car engine blows up.”

Hyman concludes: “A lot of scriptural principle doesn’t make sense to our minds—including giving away 10 percent—but it works. All it takes an inkling of faith. I would tithe if I had to hold down three jobs.”

Or if you prefer your wisdom straight from a billionaire, here’s what John D. Rockefeller Sr. had to say on the subject, courtesy of McNair:

“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.”

What about you? Do you tithe, or otherwise give a significant portion of your income to charity? Why or why not?

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About Lou Carlozo

Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL's WalletPop.com. Contact him with story ideas for Money Under 30 at feedbacker@aol.com, or follow him via LinkedIn and Twitter (@LouCarlozo63).

Comments

  1. Shawn Mayberry says:

    Tithing has been a big issue for me, while I 150% believe in God and that I am blessed because of him. I just feel like giving the 10% when I haven’t taken care of my financial obligations is/would cause more disorder in my life which is the opposite direction I believe God calls us to be. Hmmm, but thanks for sharing.

    I will definitely take this into account moving forward.

    • I would say this in regards to taken care of financial obligations first. I have a family of five and I have always said I would love to be able to give a lot of money away to those in need (church, family fill the blank). However, It was always preceded with, “One Day” when my career takes off, or the house is paid off etc. I have realized in my own life that flipping my budget “upside down” by putting giving at the top actually is possible. I have lived on that flipped budget for six months now paying the tithe to myself (Just in case)….and It works. Because of this change I was forced (along with my wife) to sit down and face the facts of where every dollar was going. I realized that I don’t “have” to have a $400 car payment. So I sold my car paid of the remainder of the loan and bought a $6,000 car with 40,000 miles for cash. We can really can eat off $850/mo if we plan meals. I don’t “have” to pay hundreds of dollars in interest a month if I save $20 every 2 weeks intentionally for upcoming purchases like clothing for my kids rather than throwing it on a card. By the way we took our $1,000 tax return and established an emergency so now were are not throwing more money away by financing emergencies!! My point is this: There is money leaking everywhere, and tithing made me honestly look my entire way of living. Our household income is 65k just for reference. We have never had more financial peace, and I don’t make a dollar more that I used too. By challenging myself to give more now, I consequently started running my household finances like a business….efficient.

  2. Tithing serves the same purpose as taxes. You give up what is deemed a reasonable portion of your income to a central organizing authority (church, government) which then uses all of the funds it receives to provide services and organization for that society. Here in Massachusetts, go to any small town, and you’ll see a prominent, white clapboard church at the top of the town square – a couple hundred years ago, these churches actually collected the town taxes!

    Giving money through tithing and taxing is an expression of belonging to something bigger than yourself. I am married to minister, and yes we give to charity, but I consider what I pay in taxes to be my “tithe”. By paying taxes I’m contributing to the stability of society, roads, help for the destitute, and on and on.