4 Reasons to Give While Paying Off Debt

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As I was responding to a reader question on a previous blog post, I realized that the response would probably be beneficial to highlight for all of us, not just to bury it in a comment on an older post.

I’ll catch you up on the dialogue.

A reader was asking about my thoughts on having a mortgage.  She lived very frugally and sacrificed in order to pay off her mortgage early.  Now she said that she’s in a position to give.  She admits to not giving during the time she was trying to pay off the house.

I responded by saying:

Having a mortgage is better than having many other kinds of debt, but having a mortgage is not better than having a paid off home.
We decided to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible, but we were also committed to giving throughout that process. Personally, I’d suggest that a person prayerfully consider doing both (giving and making extra payments) instead of only choosing one or the other.

A second reader followed up asking:
The last comment had me thinking about something…one course of action my wife and I have considered recently, though have yet to implement, is to cut our giving in order to double our debt payments. The intent being that we could more than halve the time spent paying to debt, and more quickly increase our giving, to higher levels.
It seems as though you disagree with this approach, and I was hoping you might be able to elaborate.
Note: As I respond, please understand that I’m addressing these topics and situations, but not addressing either of these specific readers.
This question is actually very similar to the question should I give while paying off debt?  However, it’s a question I’m often asked, so let’s give it some more attention.

4 Reasons to Give While Paying Off Debt

1.  God is not a mathematician. 

God wants our hearts more than he wants our money.  Giving is a healthy Christian habit (yes, habits can be good) where we turn our hearts to him. I could probably give 50% more over my lifetime if I invested everything I could be giving now and then gave it all when I died. The problem is that I’d miss out on the heart transformation that should be happening every time I give.  Sure, God’s Kingdom might have more dollars, but my heart missed out on valuable learning opportunities.  More hearts are a greater resource to the Kingdom than are more dollars.

2.  Cutting giving is often just the low hanging fruit. 

I say this out of the deepest love.  When you’re considering cutting your giving, are you really saying that there is absolutely nothing else to cut?  Look, I’m not a person to insist that God desires to burden you with a legal 10% requirement.  However, I’d never suggest a person to cut their giving unless it was an absolute last option.

Here are the questions I’d ask:

  • Have I cut my grocery budget to its absolute limit?  If I told another family how much I spend on groceries, would they say, “No way.  That’s impossible.”  If not, you probably have more to cut.
  • Have I declared a complete avoidance of all unnecessary purchases?  This means no more buying magazines, clothes, household decorations, and such until the debt it gone.
  • Have I downsized everything that can be downsized? The car? The house? The electronics?
  • Have I reduced my dining out budget to an absolute minimum?
  • Have I changed the habits that have caused my debt problem?

God has shown concern when his people live in luxury but don’t have anything to offer him (Haggai 1:3-4).

It’s easy to say, “Let’s cut our giving.”  It’s hard to say, “Let’s be sure we’ve cut everything else.”

Look, I’m going to be pretty staunch on this.  I’m going to take the 1 Tim. 6:8 stand. If we have food and clothing, we should be content with that.  If you have food and clothing, then there should be something else to cut other than our giving.  However, if we are struggling with our food and clothing needs, then I believe you can consider cutting your giving.

Think about it this way.  What if the government increased taxes by 10% next year?  What would you do?  Would you find a way to make it work, or would you be homeless and desolate?  If you can find a way to make it work, then do that – find a way to make it work.

3.  Giving transforms our attitudes.

Giving draws our focus to our blessings.  Each time I give, I’m reminded of how much I’ve been blessed.  When we cut our giving, we switch gears.  We perceive ourselves as people in need instead of people in a position of blessing others.  Now, there are people in true and deep need.  The danger is if we categorize ourselves as such without having ensured that we’ve cut every unnecessary expense first.  Often times, our life situations are more about how we perceive our situation than the actual situation itself.

4.  Giving transforms our relationships with people.

We like to be around generous people.  Givers are selfless people who help when there are needs.  They may help with their wisdom, with their time, or with their money.  Those who give are more likely to be blessed (even in terms of secular research) because we build positive business and personal relationships with people who are givers.

Conclusion:

Those are some of the reasons why I wouldn’t, if at all possible, cut my giving in order to get out of debt.  To be more clear, my wife and I have always given at least 10% of our income ever since we’ve been married.  In fact, I think I’ve always given at least 10% of every paycheck I’ve ever received.

During my senior year of college, my wife and I were just married.  I didn’t have legal working status in the States for about 9 months after we were married.  Those first nine months were hard.  We were both full time students.  Our only income was from work study programs offered through  the school. (Legally that was the only way I could work.)  We lived in an apartment that cost $275 per month.  We couldn’t even control our own heat.  Sometimes it would be blistering cold, and at other times, it was sweltering hot.  We’d make homemade pizza (a tradition we’ve now had for almost 13 years).  However, back in those days, we’d put corn on our pizza because we couldn’t afford any meat.  One day on a walk we found a piece of furniture someone put out for the dump. We took it home. We had food and clothing, so we were content with that.  We always found a way to give.

I’m grateful and thankful that we did, and if I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t change that.  It put us in a place where God was able to surprise us with his provision. God always provides.

If you haven’t explored other ways to pay off your debtor faster, I wouldn’t risk giving up all the blessings of giving just to get out of debt more quickly.

Thoughts?

Comments

    • says

      I agree – Personally, I’d suggest that a person prayerfully consider doing both (giving and making extra payments) instead of only choosing one or the other.

  1. Terry Willett says

    Craig,

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. It’s not one or the other. It comes down to a matter of trust. Do we trust God to take care of us? It’s the only time in the whole Bible where God says to test Him. I hate debt, but I’d rather be in debt a bit longer than steal from God.

  2. Gabe says

    Fantastic article, Craig!
    Thank you for putting it so eloquently and so well organized. You are right, and having that sort of attitude is far more pleasing to God, I believe, than getting out of debt faster or giving more money later.

    • says

      Gabe,
      I guess the challenging question is how can I get out of debt the fasted and keep giving at my current level? May God bless all of us with the needed creativity to answer that question.

  3. Mark Whitmire says

    I also have given at least 10% from the time I was a teenager and had my first job, and I firmly believe the Lord has blessed me because of this. There is one other point I would like to make about giving now vs. giving later (after paying off debt). We can never know who might be affected by delaying our giving. There might be someone in great need now, and we will have missed the opportunity to help them. The person who can’t pay their rent and is facing eviction, the one who can’t feed their family, etc. Think of the impact you can have on their lives now, as opposed to what the impact might be if you do not give, or give as much.

    • says

      Mark,
      Thanks for such a great comment. I’m glad that you highlighted we might not know who might be affected by delaying our giving. This is so true. Perhaps we’ve been blessed with resources ‘for such a time as this’. I think you helped put a face and a call to action for the immediacy of our giving.

  4. Keri Burton says

    I agree as well! By only paying off debt I would be trying to control my situation. God asks me to trust Him to control my situation. Besides, I’d be missing all the blessings of giving. The blessings that only come from God when we give. My husband and I have seen time and time and time again how we CAN NOT out give God! We just can’t! Last year as my husband left his full-time corporate job for ministry we saw our income drop over 50%, yet we actually gave MORE dollar wise and especially % of our income last year than the year before. Yet we were in the black last year with our expenses! How do you explain it??? Our income drops 50% and we give MORE and still have all we need??? You can’t explain it….it’s God! :) Love it!

  5. Wes Smith says

    Thank you for delivering this message so well. When I was in college I rationalized that I should not give. I worked part-time and depended on my parents for part of my expenses. During this time I missed a great opportunity to give. When I graduated I had to re-learn giving. I wish someone had given me this advice when I was younger (maybe they did and I didn’t listen) :).

  6. Phoenix says

    Great article. I totally agree that we should do all we can to not compromise on our giving. It can be extremely difficult & there may be nobody to appreciate your effort, but remember that our God sees everything. Your labor will not be in vain. A few years ago, I had a large debt that that needed to be repaid. The temptation was very stong to cut on giving to pay the debt off. By Gods grace, for a few months I ate at subway. $5 footlongs went a long way for me. 6 inch for lunch & 6 inch for dinner. This worked for me till the debt was paid off. I do not cook, so was used to eating out a lot prior to this. This worked for me. What I would advise is that each of us prayerfully make a decision as to what would work in our individual situation. God will honor the sacrifice that is made. As was said before, he desires our heart, not our money.

  7. Roger says

    Giving is a habit that requires sacrifice, getting back into that routine will become more difficult once your circumstances improve, you will always find something to spend your money on. Yes I agree with Craig on this one.

  8. says

    I love reason #1 “God is not a mathematician.” And I will add, sometimes God’s math is mysterious. The last few years have been difficult for my family, and for me, personally, especially in the area of finances. My relationship with God has been strengthened through this time despite a broken marriage; I moved to my new home last September.

    Through this time I continued to give at least 10% of my income; God has been faithful to me in providing and I will remain faithful to Him. In January, I had a little extra money and called the bank to see what the payoff amount for a personal loan (to self-publish a book a few years ago) was. I expected it to be around $1800, based on the number of months I had left to pay. I was absolutely astounded when the lady told me the amount was…$247.51. I made her repeat the amount several times and even asked her to recheck it…and the answer remained the same. I immediately took the payoff amount down to the bank, asking them to check that the amount was correct and call me if it was not.

    A few days later I got the paperwork for the original loan, saying it was “paid in full.” I still cannot imagine how the amount got down to that minimal amount…but I fully claim it as “God’s Math” and a huge, unexpected blessing to me.

  9. Kathy says

    I appreciate your blog and this post, although as we have no debt (PTL), I am thinking of someone whom I try to help manage her finances. She is disabled, elderly and lives alone on her SSI income. Unfortunately, she has a lot of credit card debt from some bad choices, no emergency savings and from never having lived on a budget. She is already giving over 10% to some legitimate charities and a health, wealth and prosperity TV operation (familiar to all), as most of her Christian teaching comes from watching that channel. At one time, I copied info from Larry Burkett on giving above the tithe and gave it to her, but can’t find it anymore (and neither can she).
    I know she has a generous heart, but my frustration is knowing some of the money she gives is not going to the best causes. Also, I think part of her motivation for giving is still to earn favor with God or to get his financial blessings in return, while my husband and I feel that giving is done from a heart of gratitude, with nothing expected in return, and in proportion to how one is prospered (although we do give more than 10% and hope to keep increasing the amount). Does God want her to keep giving above the tithe when it seems that she is borrowing from financial companies in order to give, and may never be able to repay all her debts? Your ideas of how to accomplish giving when in debt are good. I have suggested selling some items, but she doesn’t seem to want to do that; neither has she changed the spending habits that led to the debt problem.

    • says

      Kathy,
      It sounds like the woman you mentioned is in a very difficult situation.
      I’d help her to recognize that we can only give what we’ve first received from God. In the Parable of the Talents God’s expectations differed based on what the individual received. In the case of ‘borrowing’ to give a person is actually trying to give to God what he as not first given to them. I think this comes from an unhealthy manipulative theology that some people teach about giving. Giving is supposed to be a blessing, but if we enslave ourselves to giving we remove the blessing. If the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath then we can realize that man was made to be blessed by giving not burdened by giving.
      I hope this information helps as you try and lovingly guide this lady through her situation.

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