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Whether you grew up putting dollar bills into the collection plate at church every Sunday or the word tithing has got you scratching your head, it’s always a good idea to check your attitude toward giving. And that’s basically what tithing is—giving!
But that brings up a ton of questions: What exactly is tithing? How much should you give? Can you give while you’re in debt? If you’ve got questions around tithes and offerings, you’re not the only one. Let’s dig in so you can experience the joy of giving no matter your financial situation.
What Is a Tithe?
A tithe is 10% of your income given specifically to your local church. (Fun fact: The word tithe literally means tenth in Hebrew.) Because the custom of tithing is biblical, many Christians and Jews practice it as part of their faith. And while it’s important to give your time and your talents by doing things like serving at a local food bank or knitting a blanket for a homebound neighbor, the word tithing refers to giving money.
According to Leviticus 27:30 (TLB), “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy.” And Proverbs 3:9 (NIV) says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” The gardening metaphors may have thrown you off, but these verses are essentially saying to give a portion, specifically a tenth, of whatever you make (aka your income) back to God. And firstfruits is just a biblical way of saying that you should give first—before you do anything else with your money.
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So, Scripture explains that 1) tithing is an important part of faith for those who follow God and 2) your tithe should be money you set aside first. This is why “giving” is the first category in the EveryDollar budget—because when you tithe before making a plan with the rest of your money, you’re making it a priority rather than an afterthought.
What’s the Difference Between Tithes and Offerings?
Like llamas and alpacas, tithes and offerings are often grouped together, but they’re definitely not the same thing. A tithe is a specific amount (10% of your income) that you give first, and an offering is anything extra that you give beyond that.
After you’ve tithed and paid all your bills and necessary expenses for the month, you can then use any extra money in your budget to give even more! This can include giving a cash offering to your church above and beyond your normal tithe, giving money to a charity you support, giving to a friend in need, or giving your time and skills by volunteering.
The Bible tells us that tithing is a way to show that we trust God with our lives and our finances. But the tithe wasn’t put in place for God’s benefit—He already owns everything. He doesn’t need our money. Instead, tithing is meant for our benefit because sacrificing a portion of our income helps us look outside our selfishness and makes us more aware of the needs of others.
In fact, one of the main purposes of tithing is to support the needs of pastors and the work of the local church. Tithes help pay the pastor’s salary, keep the church’s lights on, and meet the needs of the community.
Tithing is an act of faith that helps us keep our priorities straight. It reminds us that we don’t own anything in this life. God is in control, and we’re only managers of what He’s given us.
Ever notice how unselfish people tend to make better spouses, friends, relatives, employees and employers? Yeah, they usually have better finances too! That’s the beauty of tithing. We don’t give to get, but God often blesses us with more if we’re good managers of what we already have. Tithing recognizes that God is our provider and that we will prosper with more than just money if we rely on Him.
Other Common Questions About Tithing
1. Do I have to tithe?
As we mentioned before, people who tithe are usually those who believe in the Bible. And tithing 10% specifically is biblical, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a Christian to tithe. It also doesn’t mean you’re a bad Christian if you don’t tithe.
God loves us when we give and when we don’t give. Tithing isn’t a way to earn God’s love—because we already have it. In fact, in Matthew 23:23, Jesus warns against focusing too much on the rules of tithing without paying attention to the more important things like justice, mercy and faithfulness.
You should be giving in some way. But when it comes to tithing, it’s more of a spiritual discussion than a financial discussion. Because tithing isn’t about the money—it’s about the heart. It's living with the attitude that we’re blessed to be a blessing.
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV) says, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Tithing means you’re being obedient to God, so you should give without expecting anything in return. Giving encourages a grateful and generous spirit and can help steer us away from being greedy or loving money too much. Plus, being outrageously generous is so much more fun!
2. If I’m not affiliated with a church, should I still donate 10% of my income?
If we’re getting technical, giving 10% of your income to anything other than the local church isn’t a tithe—it’s just giving. But that’s never a bad thing! Even if you’re not a part of a local church, there are plenty of ministries and organizations that are doing great work and could benefit from some of your income.
Think of charities with causes that tug on your heartstrings the most and find ways to support them financially. Whether it’s a local homeless shelter or a group dedicated to ending hunger, just make sure they fall in line with your beliefs. Take some time to do a little research so you know they run their organization with integrity.
3. Should I be tithing while trying to pay off debt?
Even if you’re in debt or walking through a rough financial season, tithing should still be a priority. While it’s tempting to throw that money at your debt, the discipline (and faith) that tithing brings is so worth it. Even while you’re paying down debt, you can still have an attitude of giving—and be generous!
If you think it’ll take a miracle to get through the month with 10% less in your wallet, you might need to do a lifestyle check. Take a look at your budget and find ways to cut back on spending. Now, that might mean reducing some of your fun money, packing your lunch instead of eating out every day, or buying generic products—but it is possible!
You should hold off on offerings while you’re paying off debt, though. Tithes come off the top of your income, but offerings come out of anything left over. And if you’re in debt, you should put all your extra money toward your debt snowball. Once you’re out of debt, then you’ll be free to give as generously as you want!
4. Do I give 10% of my income before or after taxes? And do I factor in income from side hustles?
Honestly, whether you tithe from your gross pay or your take-home pay is entirely up to you. The point here is that you’re giving 10% of your income. Dave Ramsey gives off the top of his taxable income, but he’ll be the first to tell you: "Just give and be a giver. It’s about changing your spirit anyway."
As for your side hustle, the 10% you give should come from your entire income. So, if you have a part-time job on the weekends that brings in $300 extra each month, add that amount to your total monthly income and tithe $30 of it.
5. Is it right to count my church tithe on my tax returns?
Even though tithing to your church is a matter of the heart, taking a tax deduction doesn’t shrink the value of your generous gift. The Bible tells us to be good managers of our money, so if taking the deduction helps you manage the other 90% of your money better, then by all means, do it.
And later, if you get an income tax refund, remember that’s money you’ve already tithed on—although you’re certainly welcome to devote some or all of it back to the Lord as additional thanks for His blessings! (But since tax refunds are just interest-free loans to the government, your goal should be to avoid them by claiming the right number of exemptions and not overpaying throughout the year.)
6. Should I tithe on gifts?
There’s no Scripture that specifically says you have to tithe on money you receive as a gift, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t. So, make that decision between you and God.
7. How should I increase my giving when I start making more money?
When things are going well and you find yourself with more income than you need, it can be easy to spend all that extra cash on yourself. But think of it as a great opportunity to give above and beyond your tithe. That’s why it’s so important to budget what you’ll do with the extra money—so you can make sure you’re giving some of it too.
Once you’ve calculated your tithe (plus any saving and spending you’re doing), see what you have left over at the end of the month. Depending on what Baby Step you’re on, that extra money can go toward paying off debt, giving more in offerings, upping your investments, or spending some fun money. Then look around you—ask friends if they know of anyone in need and watch for opportunities to give that money away. If you’re intentional about looking for ways to be generous, you’re going to find them!
And remember, whether you’re giving a tithe, offering or some other special contribution, it should be because you want to, not because you have to. Giving is an important part of any financial plan, and it’s really the most fun you can have with your money!
“Live like no one else, so later you can live and give like no one else.” — Dave Ramsey
How to Make Tithing a Priority
Like we said, tithing is more of a heart issue than a financial one. If you’re struggling with the idea of tithing or giving, spend some time asking God to give you wisdom around the topic and show you ways that you can help others—or even just be more generous. Even if giving doesn’t come naturally, prayer can help soften our hearts and refocus our intentions.
A monthly budget forces you to really pay attention to your money. So before the month begins, create your own zero-based budget (where your income minus expenses equals zero) by giving every dollar a place to go (rent, groceries, saving, etc.). This is also the perfect time to make giving a priority for the month ahead. By immediately putting aside 10% of your income for tithing, you can plan better. This also might be a good time to create a “random giving” category for those moments you want to help someone at the spur of the moment.
Many churches have gotten on board with more convenient ways to tithe. Your church may have a way to give online or on your phone. It may even have an app that allows you to set up automatic withdrawals each month or give even when you can’t find your checkbook. But these tech options definitely aren’t the only ways to give. Maybe you prefer writing a check or giving cash each month because it’s a physical reminder of the money you’re taking out of your wallet and giving away. As long as you’re giving, there’s really no wrong way to do it!
If you’re struggling to fit tithing into your budget or just wish you had more money to give, Financial Peace University (FPU) is a great place to start. With lessons on budgeting, saving, investing and more, FPU will teach you how to destroy debt and define a clear path for your finances—so you can build wealth and give like no one else!