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[Updated December 2021]
Should you tithe while you’re in debt?
How can you even justify tithing when you can’t pay your bills, and in our case massive amounts of debt?
When I was in the trenches paying off debt like crazy, everything I did led to getting out of debt as fast as possible. I felt like Frodo and Sam trying to destroy the Ring. It was the only thing that mattered in my finances.
But in the midst of paying off debt, I tithed every month. While paying off debt was our main focus, tithing was the most important part of our budget, and still is to this day.
At the time it seemed crazy to give money to my church when I had so much debt.
If I didn’t send every dollar to my student loan payments, it seemed like I was only delaying getting out of debt.
But I knew that I could pay off debt and tithe. And learning how to tithe when in debt only helped us get out of debt faster. It sounds counterintuitive, but I believe it’s true.
But before I get to that, let’s talk about tithing for a few minutes and how you can tithe when in debt.
What is Tithing and Why Should I Give Money Away?
The first time I heard the word tithe I was twenty four years old. I was just out of college and was at a business convention in Dallas.
On Sunday morning I attended a church service, led by several speakers at the conference and I knew none of them had a background in ministry or theology. I was skeptical of pretty much everything they had to say.
Even so, several speakers mentioned that it was each of our duties, as followers of Jesus, to give 10% of our income, or tithe, to the church.
It didn’t take much research to learn that everything those wealthy convention speakers said about tithing is true.
I went straight to the dictionary. I learned a tithe is one tenth of annual produce or earnings, given to the church or clergy.
Since most of us don’t have a bunch of annual produce sitting around, let’s talk about tithes and offers in terms of earnings and income. Tithing specifically refers to giving 10% of your money back to God, or the church.
Out of every dollar you earn, ten cents should go back to the church. If you make $40,000, you’re supposed to give $4,000 to the church every year. That’s $333 every month.
How Often Should I Pay Tithes?
There’s honestly no hard or fast rule on how often to tithe. My best advice is to find a system that works for you.
Here are a three options to consider for how often to tithe:
- Once a month after you calculate your total monthly earnings (this is what we do)
- Every time you get paid. Write a check for 10% of your earnings and send it to your local church
- You can tithe weekly. If you get paid biweekly, divide each paycheck by two and send a check every week.
I update our budget twice a month and we have a little flexible income that fluctuates every month. So I wait until the end of the month so I know exactly how to calculate our tithe.
If you have a very consistent paycheck with little flexible income, you can probably schedule a recurring payment directly to your local church as many times a month as you like.
Can’t I Tithe with My Time Instead of Tithing Money?
Unfortunately no. A true tithe refers to money, not time.
That being said, serving and volunteering at church is an amazing act of service and most churches wouldn’t be able to function without the kind, servant hearted volunteers that work behind the scenes.
Plus serving is a great way to get connected to other people in your community. You can partner with them in what God is doing in the lives of the people in your community.
Couldn’t I Get Out of Debt Faster if I didn’t Tithe?
That seems like a fair and logical question.
I started my teaching career as a paraprofessional. I wasn’t thrilled to part with any of my $20,000 salary and would’ve much rather done any of these with my tithe money.
- Pay off my car sooner
- Pay more to my student loans
- Buy a couple new dress shirts and ties
- Go on a road trip or a vacation
- Buy all of the fancy Dungeons and Dragons dice and adventure books I want
Logically it makes more sense to not tithe and pay off your debt. I mean, tithing just takes money away from paying off debt, right?
Tithing feels so counterintuitive, I wondered if people actually do this, and if so, why?
It turns out that people actually DO tithe, so I talked to a bunch of people to figure out WHY!
Why Did We Choose to Tithe When in Debt?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you why we tithe. There are so many biblical money principles that are helpful for your finances even if you don’t follow Jesus. Tithing is one of them.
For me, it’s about trusting Jesus and saying “yes” to what he asks me to do.
God has given me so much in life, like everything, so I trust that he’ll continue to take care of me. The life I have now, including my beautiful wife and daughter, are gifts from him.
Plus, since He created everything in the world, it all belongs to Him anyway. Every. Single. Thing. Even money. God gives us money to buy food, clothes, shelter, to give to others, and yes to enjoy!
God wants us to enjoy the money He gives us. But He also asks us to give 10% back to him. In the grand scheme of things, 10% isn’t that much when I think of all God’s given me. I can handle giving back a small fraction.
Plus, there are so many benefits of tithing. Number one is, I’m being obedient to God. I’m saying that He is good, and worthy, and faithful. I’m choosing to trust Him, even when it might not make sense.
My wife and I have been budgeting since 2013, making a plan for each dollar God gives us each month. Our budget brought us to tears so many times over the years. But in the end, a budget and a tithe are both things God called us to do. And good things happen when we say “yes” to Him.
So we still tithe no matter what.
Why Do Other People Tithe?
I’m so thankful to everyone who responded to my email and messages I sent out. This was fun for me to hear from others about giving money back to God and hearing the reasons why you tithe.
Here’s what YOU had to say about tithing. (If you want to add your own reason why you tithe, hit me up in the comments)
“Read Malachi 3. It’s the only time in the Bible God issues a challenge to test him, and it’s about tithing. Tithing while in debt isn’t conventional, but God isn’t conventional.
It’s about trusting God. Tithing is the key to the heart. If you can tithe, it unlocks so much more.” ~Anonymous
“We don’t really attend church anymore but we gave because we thought it right to help our community, through the church.” ~Molly
“We tithe because we know that it helps to better our church family and community. Even the Christian community world wide! We don’t tithe to please God as people tithed in the Old Testament but we tithe to strengthen Christian communities.” ~Melissa
“Yes we tithe and have done a true tithe for almost three years now. We took FPU class at our church. Made us look at money a whole new way. We feel when we are obedient and trusting of God that he will provide what we need. It also made us reevaluate our wants and needs.
Trusting and obeying God has blessed us in so many ways allowing us to give in other ways. Now we’re trying to teach our boys about tithing from their the money they earn.
We tithe our first 10% because that’s what God asks us to do. We have found that trusting and being obedient has changed our lives. Also did a hard look at wants and needs and there is always enough to pay everything after tithing.” ~Stacie
“Tithe comes first no matter what. God says “test me in this.” We always have enough to pay above and beyond our minimum student loan payment. Our financial advisor “advised” against tithing until our debt is fully paid but we’ve remained faithful and have never come up short!
We tithe because we believe that none of our possessions belong to us in the first place. Everything belongs to God and he lends his gifts to us. We enter the world with nothing and leave with nothing.
So while we’re here, all God asks of us is to pay him back 10% so we can all contribute to the expansion of his kingdom. Seems like a wise decision to me ?” ~Skylar
“Samantha and I tithe on a monthly basis, even though we are still in significant debt with student loans. We set our goal for when we wanted to be done paying them off by (paying well over our monthly payment each month) and still find room to tithe. If we follow our budget, which is aligned with our goal, it is still quite easy to glorify God for what he has given us through our funds!
It comes down to glorifying the Lord with our Money. He gives us everything that we have in our life and is so good. Tithing is a great tool to give up control of what seems to have the biggest grip on our lives, our finances. We trust that God will take care of us, even if we are stretching our funds to both aggressively pay off debt while tithing.” ~Josh and Samantha
“Love the tithe question. Here is what i have to say. Yes I tithe. What is kind of funny is my student loan payments are more than my tithe. However I feel like God wants me to give to my friends in Christian missions and so my total giving is about equal to my student loans. Plus I have some credit card consolidated debt i am paying on.
I struggled with giving for a long time and gave less than the 10% while in seminary. I however firmly believe that in God’s economy giving according to what He is saying to you personally is more important than putting every extra dollar toward paying off debt.
As my pastor says every Sunday out of obedience to God’s Word. The tithe is a test of trust in God and recognition that everything we have comes from Him in the first place.” ~Diana
“Well my first thought is “my parents raised me to do so”, but I give so that the place I gain so much from can flourish. I know that I am able to praise Jesus anywhere, but to be able to come together with my church family each week is a very important component in my life. They need our tithing to function daily and also to help those in need.” ~Angela
“Here are my reasons/motivations for tithing;
It’s an act of surrender = it’s an act of worship. These two things fade into each other, and clear delineation is not needed. But as one happens it becomes the other. God invites me to surrender all parts of my life and a huge part of my life is how I interact with money – actively surrendering my money to him allows him to imprint his priority list on my heart and mind.
It’s a prayer/hope/cry for his blessing on my finances in the future. As I’m faithful to give back to God what he’s given me, my hope is to experience his blessing on all aspects of my finances.” ~Asa
We Chose to Tithe Even When in Massive Debt.
Like a lot of the testimonials, tithing has become a non-negotiable in our budget. Our budget is based on our priorities and values, so we tithe. No matter how close we were to just scraping by, and believe me, when we started, we were just scraping by, we still made it priority to tithe.
Our zero based budgeting template really helped us prioritize our spending, and as I’ve mentioned, tithing has always been a priority and non-negotiable in our budget.
It would have been easy to move our tithe money someplace else to pay off bills, save for vacation, or invest. I mean we did have $90,000 of student loan debt just sitting around.
We needed every dollar we could get our hands on. Teachers don’t make a lot of money so we needed to be smart with our spending. No tithe would’ve meant our debt would disappear faster, at least in theory.
But you know what happens when you are obedient? God shows up.
The creator of the universe and the lover of your soul shows up in your life in very real ways. My wife and I are still amazed to see God’s impact in our finances month after month.
Trusting Jesus taught us how to tithe when in debt and honor God and our priorities in life.
Trusting God is Always a Good Choice
I remember one month looking at our budget. I puzzled over the numbers for hours one afternoon because they didn’t add up.
According to our budget, we should’ve been losing money and going into debt. It was devastating. I couldn’t believe we let this happen!
But at the end of the month, we didn’t lose money. It turned out that we had a surplus of over $200.
$200!? How? Where did the money come from?
As I added it up time and time again, the numbers didn’t lie. Our income hadn’t changed, our expenses hadn’t changed, but we were making more money than we were supposed to. I even checked our bank accounts to confirm we had this mysterious extra money. We did.
In the end, we had to attribute the extra money to Jesus. He tangibly showed up in our budget and blessed us.
For God, 1+1 doesn’t always equal 2. God create math, so 1+1 equals whatever he wants it to equal. And that’s what we have seen with our budget.
I’m convinced that our debt free journey wouldn’t have been as fast, fun, and successful if we didn’t tithe. Plus, giving has changed our hearts so much to be more reflective of God’s character and his vision for our lives.
3 Questions to Ask About How to Tithe When in Debt
How Much Are You Supposed to Tithe?
I can’t really answer this for you. I know that’s not helpful at all, but I’ll tell you what we’ve done and how it’s impacted our lives.
A true tithe is 10% of your income. My favorite way to calculate this is on a month by month basis. Figure out how much money you make (net income) and calculate 10% of that and write a check. You can likely set up recurring payments to your local church and automate your tithing process.
I believe in giving a full tithe no matter what, even if your finances look bleak. It’s an act of trusting God that he’ll provide even if the math doesn’t make sense.
Like so many others said, God is faithful and good things happen when you trust him. He shows up and provides.
God is Faithful and Good, It’s Okay to Trust Him
One Sunday our pastor was telling a story about tithing. It went something like this.
A friend was asking him about tithing and his friend didn’t make a lot of money. Our pastor tried to encourage him by saying to just give what he can, even if it’s not a full 10%.
Then over time, as you can afford more, increase to a full tithe. Giving something is better than nothing.
His friend said, but wouldn’t I rather have all of God’s blessing, instead of just part of it?
I’m not sure if this is that way it works, but it’s stuck with me ever since.
Tithing when you can’t afford it is kind of like walking when you can’t see where you’re going. There could be all kinds of traps or dangers lurking out of sight. You have to trust God to show you the way and protect you.
I know we’ve been blessed over and over again by tithing, even when we can’t afford it.
Should You be Tithing When You Can’t Pay Your Bills?
This is a really tough one and I think about it a lot when I encourage people to tithe and get out of debt at the same time.
Conventional wisdom tells us that if you don’t have money to pay all of your bills, then it doesn’t make sense to give money away. But God isn’t conventional.
Tithing is about trusting God that he is who he says he is. He is the creator of the universe and loves you more than anything. A love that deep is a promise that he’ll provide for you.
God’s formula is to tithe first, then save, and live off the rest. When you put your trust in God, he shows up. After you tithe, use your budget to figure out how to live off the rest of your income.
Yes, you might have to trim your budget and cut out some expenses, but tithing is worth it.
That might sound like tough love or impossible, but instead of justifying why you can’t tithe, trust God and see what he can do in your life. God can do more with 90% of your income than you could ever hope to do with 100% of it.
Tithing is the only time in the Bible that God says to test him. This is from Malachi 3 that was mentioned a couple times in testimonials.
“10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. 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 there will not be room enough to store it.”
If trust is hard, start with a debt snowball spreadsheet to help organize your debt and a zero based budget to help organize and prioritize your spending. These two tools helped us focus on our biggest priorities and always find a way to tithe. Download your free debt snowball spreadsheet here.
Which is more Important, Tithing and Being Obedient to God or Getting Out of Debt
To me, this one is simple. Being obedient to God and a good steward of his money is a higher priority than getting out of debt.
That means tithing.
If you trust God and are obedient to him, God will become your financial planner and help you get out of debt faster than you thought possible. Like he says in Malachi, “test me in this.”
You Can Still Tithe When in Debt
In the end, tithing has completely changed our lives, our budget, and our mission to be debt free. If tithing is a new idea to you, I urge you to start and see the positive impact on your life. You can’t go wrong obeying God in your finances.
If you want more about what the bible says about tithing and money, go read more about biblical money principles and start your debt snowball spreadsheet so you can make a plan to help you tithe when in debt.
Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.
As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.