10 Reasons to Give Away 10 Percent of Your Income

I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe in “tithing”–a religious requirement to give away 10% of your income. However, I think it’s a darn good idea for a host of non-religious reasons.

1. Ten percent is enough to make a difference. I’m sorry, but tossing a couple bucks in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas isn’t going to change anyone’s life. Neither is the random $20 tip. Ten percent of your income can’t save the world, but it can truly inflate the lifestyle of someone who needs it. For example, 10 percent of a median $50000 salary is $5000—enough to sponsor about 14 impoverished children for one year. Or fund 50 micro-loans to help end the poverty cycle in one family.  Multiply those effects over years of giving and you’ve made a significant impact.

2. Giving ten percent motivates financial responsibility. Learning to practice giving has helped us figure out both the how and why of managing our money well. It’s led us to practical steps like getting financially educated, annual budgeting, and living like college students while we paid of our school loans. It’s also motivated us to make responsible choices, because “having something to share” (Ephesians 4:28) is one of the most convincing reasons to say no to yourself.

3. Giving ten percent can make you cheerful. A famous Bible verse says “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Interestingly, secular research shows giving can actually help make you cheerful. The Paradox of Generosity, based on the most comprehensive study of American giving habits ever done, reports generosity causes—not just correlates—with happiness. The study found lower depression rates among Americans who donate more than ten percent of their income, along with many other positive outcomes. It pointed out that those who experienced happiness practiced generosity consistently over time.

4. Giving ten percent is not irresponsible. A concern is that people will give to the point of financial irresponsibility. To be honest, I don’t think most of us are in danger of this. But ten percent is a very reasonable guideline that will not endanger you financially. After all, it’s in proportion with your income. If you can live on $50,000, you can almost certainly make it on $45,000–though perhaps not without some sacrifice.

5. Giving away ten percent teaches you how to live on less than you make. Ten percent is enough to inflate your lifestyle, too. Giving away a tenth means you’ll choose a slightly simpler life with lower expenses. This can come in handy in lots of scenarios, like if your income decreases due to a job layoff, career change, retirement, or one parent staying at home with kids.

6. Giving ten percent helps you spend on what you value. We talk a lot about values-based spending, and then go to Target and buy diapers and Lysol. It hardly feels like values-driven budgeting. I guess I value containing bodily fluids and slaying germs. But if I care about the homeless, the hungry, and the hurting, I will spend money on them, too.

7. Giving ten percent acknowledges God’s provision. Even if you don’t believe in God, it’s healthy to recognize that certain circumstances outside your control, such as your intelligence, personality traits, or opportunities, contributed to your current income. Of course that doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard, hone skills, or grow your career. Both are true.

If you can believe God or the universe has smiled on you at least a little, giving acknowledges that. “What do you have, that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). If we believe we’ve been given to, we are so much more likely to give to others. And giving ten percent is a tipping point where you’re parting with a substantial portion of your pay. You’re actively agreeing that 1. God gave me this and 2. He will continue to meet my needs. I don’t need to hoard it all for myself if God is a good provide

8. Giving ten percent helps protect against greed. It’s easy to say, I’ll give when I make more, or when I reach financial independence, or when I have XYZ in place. There are seasons where more or less giving is appropriate, to be sure. But the only way of being fairly certain that you really will give when X, Y, and Z happen is to give all along the way. Greed is not reserved for those with an affinity for nice, new things. It can also corrupt those like me who love to save. Generosity guards your heart by keeping you compassionate toward others

9. Giving ten percent allows charitable organizations to plan for consistent impact. Giving consistently over time makes you a dream donor–even if you aren’t giving away millions. We split our giving between several destinations, but deciding ahead of time how much to give, and making the commitment over several years allows the organizations you support to keep their efforts afloat.

10. You will feel it if you give away ten percent. Generosity has an opportunity cost. It’s helpful to realize the trade off and affirm how worthwhile it is. Choosing to forego a few wants in favor of supporting important causes is a beautiful way to practice mindful, sacrificial philanthropy.

Lest anyone to feel guilty, judged, or pressured about their giving habits, I leave you with this gracious verse:

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9).

What benefits have you experienced from practicing generosity? What causes do you value?

21 Responses to “10 Reasons to Give Away 10 Percent of Your Income”

  1. Tonya says :

    I do think it’s important to give away something of yourself and what you earned, but I don’t always necessarily agree that it has to be money. If you can, I always think it’s a great idea, although I hesitate to say the word “should.” If money is a struggle for you, then I’ll settle for you just being a kind person to your friends, neighbor, and community. Everything adds up in some way.

    • Kalie says :

      I believe giving both time and money are important. However, I don’t think they are interchangeable. I guess that’s a topic for another day, though! I agree there are times when you need to get your own financial act in order, and the goal of being able to share in the future could be a motivating factor, but giving away too much money in that situation would be unwise.

  2. Joel says :

    This is a great post. I would emphasize that you are not writing about tithing. You never said “to your church” (although if you have a local fellowship it is biblical to start there with the bulk of your giving). Unfortunately most people think 10% is a tithe, which may have negative connotations because in the OT it was “required.” But what you are saying is that 10% giving has great benefits, and that it is a reasonable choice you can make. Like deciding to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day or exercise 45 minutes three times each week–if giving at least 10% is really good for you, the wise person will learn to do it!

    • Kalie says :

      Well said, Joel. Yes, I don’t believe Christians are required by Old Testament law to give away a tenth of the income. However, ten percent is a helpful starting part and a healthy habit from a practical point of view. People talk all the time about what percent to put toward retirement, savings, housing, etc. So why not proactively decide a goal for giving?

  3. Ms. Montana says :

    When we got married, we started with 10%. Over the years, it’s ranged from that 10% to 50%. I’ve seen all the benefits you mentioned, and would add one more: It’s made me a more caring person. I’m more aware of the needs around me and more sensitive to them. I have more compassion and am less self absorbed than I use to be. I lean into people’s stories, knowing that I have the power to help bring change. It’s empowering and humbling.

    • Kalie says :

      Beautiful point, Ms. Montana! I have found that giving keeps my heart soft and compassionate toward others. It does take some focus off of one’s self. That’s wonderful that you’ve given so generously over the years–I can’t imagine the impact that’s had on people’s lives!

  4. Brian says :

    I agree with Tonya. I find great benefit in donating my time as well. Volunteering often give you the ability to see first handle results/impact. It’s a great way to give back when you don’t have your own finances in order. Monetary donates certainly are need too, and make an impact, I like the balance of both.

    • Kalie says :

      I believe volunteering is a great companion to financial donations, though not interchangeable in my view. I have found incredible in valuing in volunteering with the organizations we donate to, or beginning to donate money after participating in effective volunteer work. They can go hand-in-hand and reinforce each other. And volunteering with a group can give you confidence about how your money would be managed, when you see what they do and the inner workings of an organization.

  5. Hannah Iovine says :

    LOVE this! Thanks for sharing. I’ve never read such a concise and convincing list – that’s really cool! I can totally relate to anyone who feels like they just don’t have enough $ to give, as I’ve been through seasons of working minimum wage, going to college/paying off loans, and will be for probably a few more years. But I appreciate that you said 10% is 10%, so it’s nearly always possible to give. I don’t have to wait until I have a completely comfortable income to start taking small steps. I can also attest to the fact that giving brings joy and excitement, even thought that can sound paradoxical, especially when $ is tight. It is SO COOL to actually SEE places like Sariki and others change and grow as a direct result of giving. Anyway, thanks again for sharing!

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, Hannah. I found that starting out giving ten percent even in high school and college made it just seem normal and natural–not a difficult sacrifice to adjust to. Thanks for sharing your experience of the joy and excitement giving can bring. And yes–seeing the impact is really motivating and beautiful!

  6. Cindy says :

    You make some excellent points! There are many good reasons to give generously and consistently. I dream about someday having enough to be able to give in very big and meaningful ways… But giving along the way is so important too!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I think giving along the way is what ensures that you’ll give in “big” ways when you are wealthier. And relatively “small” gifts can go a long way if they are consistent.

  7. Barnaby says :

    I think it’s a great practice even if you aren’t a Christian, for many of the reasons you specify. Now I need to work on the cheerful part, and not feeling guilty when I’m not fully there.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, please don’t feel guilty! I’ve found that once it becomes a habit, it’s easier to feel cheerful about. And also when you see (or sometimes you have to imagine) the impact it’s having. If it’s bringing someone else joy, that brings joy to me, too.

  8. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    Beautiful post! I fall short here, but I’m feeling strangely encouraged from your post despite that fact. “If we believe we’ve been given to, we are so much more likely to give to others.” So true.

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, Ruth. I am so glad to hear you feel encouraged–that was definitely the tone I was hoping to take. Gratitude is such a superior motivator compared to guilt.

  9. DC YAM says :

    This gets a little technical, but I always have thought – how should you truly calculate the 10%? Should it be 10% of your pre-tax salary? After-tax? Or 10% of your “net income?” Or should you first look to pay your debt and then take a % of what’s left?

    It becomes really easy to get too technical, but ultimately I think it’s better to give SOMETHING than nothing. It will always be easy to rationalize not giving anything due to the need to save, pay down debt, etc.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, there is a debate over those points. Our personal conviction has been to calculate from our gross income. Again, not that we feel that is required or a hard and fast rule, but the original OT tithe was this way and we figure–why shouldn’t we be at least that generous under grace? I’ve heard more extreme positions suggesting one gives 10% of the value of all benefits as well. That seems a bit hard to calculate in today’s health insurance situation! Anyway, I think the principles of giving cheerfully, being generous, supporting the ministry of your local church, and caring for those in need are more important.

  10. Harleen says :

    I have been working in an investing company where one person came to us. He wanted to invest with us on a child orphanage.Even the management of the company encouraged him and helped him to do this.Finally it became a successful story.This impressed us a lot and I say among all other investors these type of people should be given priority.

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