I passionately believe in tithing -- 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 percent of Americans actually tithe.
My 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.
Wealth comes in many forms. 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 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 percent of it 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 percent 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.
Giving 10 percent 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 percent 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: "I'll tithe when I finally make more money, or when I receive that promotion or raise." 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. As John D. Rockefeller 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 is one that I've used in the past. When I was a volunteer, I would say, "Well, I'm involved. Isn't that enough"? Time is money, right? 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
I've included a number of tips 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.")
The gist of this involves allocating your income first to the most important items: 10 percent to tithing and 20 percent to savings, and condition yourself to live on 70 percent. Conditioning is just like exercising -- you can't run a marathon the first time you put running shoes on.
If you have children, what better legacy is there to leave than teaching these principles of giving back? And the earlier they pick up this habit, the better. 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?
Share these fundamentals with your kids and teach them to label three piggy banks: church/charity, savings and everything else. In the first, place 10 percent for the charity and/or church. In the second, put 20 percent 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 percent instead of living on 105 percent, like many families do today.
Andrew McNair, founder and CEO of Swan Capital, is the 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. He is also the founder and CEO 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.