Monday, February 8, 2016

How to tithe: give more, or earn less

I've spent a lot of my life trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to tithe:  that is, how to give 10% of my income to charity.  Even aside from the obviously practical difficulty of taking money away from one set of laudable purposes (say, mortgage, or food, or retirement) and redirecting it toward purposes outside of our own household, there are always a host of other questions.
  1. Is the 10% level of "tithe" somehow magical, or sacred, or holy, or is that number just superstition? Or what?
  2. 10% (or X%) of what? Wages? Adjusted gross income?  Take-home pay?
  3. Does it "count" that we've adopted a bunch of kids -- for example, that last year we spent about a kilo-buck adopting a 23-year-old, or that we have a pair of ravenously hungry teenage boys in the home who are legally and emotionally -- but not biologically -- ours?  
  4. Does it "count" if we pay money for services rendered to an organization that's a designated charity?  That is, does our tuition to the Quaker Local School displace all or part of my felt obligation to donate money to charity?  (oooh -- does it even count double because we pay our tuition bills to a charity AND because the tuition is for our adopted sons?)
  5. How does the idea of "tithe" encompass space (we've given Y a room in our house for a few years, as she studies her MCATs and prepares for med school)?
  6. How does the idea of "tithe" encompass time (my mornings serving breakfast at the rescue mission, my husband's work with the Brady Campaign or with our church's ESL program for refugees, my sons' occasional help in the church toddler room)?
If there are answers to the questions above, I'm not smart/pious enough to know what those are.  I just figure that I'm insanely rich compared to some of those ancient, historical tithe-givers.  (Solomon was one wealthy dude, but he didn't have indoor plumbing, internet, automobiles, antibiotics, or canning jars.  Clearly, I've got it made).

This past July, our income took two big hits.  Hit #1: my husband retired.  Hit #2: I started my sabbatical, trading money for time (I get 3/4 pay).    The net effect is that our 2015 income, as measured on our recently completed taxes, is just about half of what we made in 2014.  That's "half" as in 52% . . . just wanted to put that percentage out there because it seems so stark.

We front-loaded our retirement savings to the first half of this year, when we were both fully employed, and then stopped all retirement savings after August, so the transition from June to July didn't quite drop our monthly take-home pay über-drastically.  But still, the past six months or so have seen a lot less flexibility in our finances, and as a result, we did contribute less to charity than last year.   In fact, our charitable giving was only 93% of what it was in the previous year.

So, we gave less to the needs outside our family than we have in the past.  But in one of those odd quirks that comes with percentages . . . the fact that our income was 52% of the previous year, whereas our giving was 93% of the previous year, means that for the first time in my life, I've actually tithed, even according to the most stringent and picky criterion you might apply to tithing:  our charitable contributions (as measured by IRS standards) was more than 13% of our pre-tax income.

I'm not sure what to make of this, really.  "I gave less money, but I tithed, so Yay Me"??  I'm pretty sure that self-congratulation is one of those Woe-Unto-Them sins that I ought to steer clear of.

Having said that, that 13% really makes me smile.  Here, surrounded by W2s and 1099s and INT forms, I'm doing my own little happy dance that, for the first time ever, there's a '1' in front of that number that ends in percentage sign.  So maybe not "Yay Me", but at least, "Yay".


  1. No doubt God knows what you do and why you do it. Sounds like you've been amply blessed in return for giving up a little! Keep it up.

    1. Hah! Well, whether that first sentence is true, we'll find out someday, I guess.

      I've been thinking about you; I just checked into a hotel that is across a canal -- literally, a stone's throw away -- from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints Motion Picture Studio. I didn't even know such a place existed!