For many Americans identifying as Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, tithing is an important part of their faith.
Given that many Americans are barely getting by, struggling to pay their bills, and living paycheck-to-paycheck, some may wonder what happens when you can’t afford to tithe, at least not on a regular basis, with 10 percent of your income?
For those unfamiliar with tithing, a tithe is a portion of your income given as a financial contribution to your place of worship or other ministry or charitable organizations. Tithe in Hebrew means tenth, which is fitting given that tithing generally requires 10 percent of your income to be donated. Any amount given above the 10 percent tithe is considered an offering.
When it comes to tithing, there is no hard rule that requires you to donate 10 percent of your gross pay vs. take-home or net pay, the general idea is that you’re giving 10 percent of your income and making it a priority in your budget.
For those for whom tithing is an important part of their financial and spiritual life, tithing is as important as rent, utilities, and daycare. And is made a priority in the family’s budget even before food, entertainment, or other common budget expenses.
Tithing on a Budget
First things first, you’re not a bad person if you can’t afford to or don’t tithe.
If you can’t afford to tithe due to a tight budget, you can always volunteer your time and talents, says Deborah L. Meyer, CPA/PFS, CFP®, and the author of Redefining Family Wealth: A Parent’s Guide to Purposeful Living. “Giving both your money and your time are forms of tithing,” Meyer explained.
“If you have zero money coming in and you’re just drawing off of savings, I personally don’t consider that a necessity to tithe,” Meyer explained on the Talk Wealth To Me podcast.
Timberley Gray of Living Our Priorities, a faith-based financial blog, agrees to tithe one must acknowledge what their current financial situation looks like but says that, ultimately, tithing is simple. “Give what you have,” Gray says.
Meyer acknowledged that some families may encounter temporary financial challenges such as job loss or illness that may require them to cut back, at least at the moment, on tithing. While other families may question if they can afford to tithe even though they have the means to continue tithing by becoming more disciplined in their spending and how they allocate the money in their budget.
“As long as you’re taking steps to be more generous with what you have, you’re on the right track,” according to Ramsay Solutions.
When it comes to tithing, both Meyer and Gray agree that you have to take an honest assessment of your budget, look at your spending habits, and identify what is a legitimate need and what in your budget is actually a want if you’re finding your budget is stretched thin.
“The hardest part is going to be making the appropriate adjustments. When things aren’t adding up, it’s time to start subtracting,” Gray said. “If you can’t afford to tithe but somehow have the money to purchase your wants, you can’t expect God to supernaturally provide when you’re spending what belongs to Him.”
“You might be thinking to yourself, listen, lady; I don’t have anything. I seriously can’t give. I’m in the negative every month,” Gray said. “Then I challenge you to give God a dime. Yes, you heard me, give God $0.10 cents.”
However, Meyer acknowledged that it’s hard to come up with black-and-white rules surrounding tithing because it is so personal and such an important part of some people’s faith.
Meyer shared how she had one client who was retired and didn’t have enough income coming in to pay her bills, but she still insisted on tithing to her church. “In her specific case, I encouraged her to go back to work so she could earn an income and pay those bills.”
In addition to making tithing a financial priority, some faithful Americans are concerned that building wealth is harmful to their relationship with a higher power, Meyer said, which is why working with a faith-based financial advisor can be a good option.
“There’s definitely a lot of people in Christian communities that wonder, can I still be a good Christian if I’m making a lot of money,” Meyer explained. “I think the answer’s yes,” she said, noting that those who make more money are often able to financially tithe more than 10 percent of their income and are even able to create companies and organizations that benefit their greater community.
“I don’t think money has to be evil in and of itself. I think it’s what you do with the money,” Meyer said.
6 Tips on How to Tithe on a Tight Budget
For Liz Davidson, CEO of financial wellness organization Financial Finesse, to tithe or not is not as black-and-white as others might make it seem.
“I won’t get into whether or not you should tithe — to me that’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves, and I’m not trying to make any religious statements here,” Davidson said. “But for those who decide that it is an important priority, there are ways to do it while also keeping your finances in order.”
If you have not tithed in the past but want to begin, it’s recommended you work closely with your budget for a few months and see how much you can give, even if it requires less spending on groceries or want items like take-out, entertainment, or clothing. Faith-based financial advisors agree it’s ok to adjust your tithing donation while you’re getting used to these expenses for the first few months.
Davidson has six steps she recommends on how to make tithing a priority in your budget.
1. Commit to Tithing Fully
If tithing is a priority for you, be specific with how much you plan to give and how often you plan to give.
2. Include Tithing in Your Budget
Once you know how much you are going to tithe and how frequently, subtract that amount from your monthly income and create a budget based on the money that is remaining. This way, tithing remains a budget priority before you determine how much you can spend on groceries or a new car payment.
“You don’t have to feel guilty about tithing instead of paying off debt or saving,” Davidson said. “You just have to find a way to make it all work. If it’s important to you, add tithing as a line item in your budget and make your financial decisions based off what is remaining.”
3. Spending Cuts
In order to afford to tithe, you may need to find areas of your budget where you make some spending cuts in order to ensure you can afford to tithe and pay your bills.
4. Increase Your Income
Of course, there’s only so much we can cut from our budget. If you find that you are struggling to afford to pay your bills but still want to be able to tithe regularly, it may be worth exploring opportunities to earn additional cash to help you. Especially if you are on a debt payoff journey and want to regularly tithe, a side hustle or second job may be key in helping you pay down your debt and continue to tithe.
5. Avoid Tithing on Credit
It can be tempting to put your tithe on a credit card, but unless you can afford to pay off your credit card in full every month, tithing on credit just increases your debt load. This is why step two, finding room in your budget to afford to tithe, is so crucial.
6. Take Advantage of Tax Deductions
If you itemize your taxes, you may be able to claim a deduction for the amount (or a portion thereof) of the tithe you give. Meyer noted some Christians are hesitant to claim what they tithed on their tax deductions but noted that if doing so allows you to be able to afford to tithe and pay your bills, it’s a positive way to manage your money.