Should You Give While Paying Off Debt?

October 18, 2016

Should You Give While Paying Off Debt?

A reader recently asked about giving while paying off debt. Specifically, they asked about tithing while paying off debt, and even more specifically, they wanted to know if I tithed while I was paying off my debt.

Tithing, if you’re not familiar with the term, represents a biblical concept of giving 10% (or a tenth) of your income to your church. This practice dates back to Old Testament times. While there is a difference in opinion on whether or not the concept of tithing is relevant in modern times, many Christians choose to give a tenth of their income to their local church as a way of acknowledging true ownership of what they have.

Still with me? Okay, good. Regardless of religious beliefs, the question of giving often comes up when people have made the unconventional decision to pay off debt.

Why We Question Giving While Paying Off Debt

It’s natural and understandable to question giving while paying off debt. We know in order to dump our debt we need to focus all our efforts and resources on paying it off. We go about bringing in more income by way of second jobs or “side hustles,” and we pursue cutting all unnecessary spending to maximize our efforts.

So, naturally, we turn to giving. If we are already giving, we question whether we should cut back or eliminate our giving until the debt is gone. If we’re not giving, we may feel we should start, or perhaps we decide paying off the debt is confirmation of our choice not to give. Whatever our exact thoughts are, giving while paying off debt seems to conflict us.

There are a couple of common reasons for this questioning.

1. We are afraid that if we give there won’t be enough for us.

We think that giving will leave us with nothing. Normally, though, actual scarcity isn’t the concern. We’re just afraid that giving means less for us.

2. We feel we should give.

Religious beliefs aside, most of us feel the propensity to be generous. But sometimes it goes a little beyond that. We feel obligated to give, and if we choose not to, then the feelings of obligation turn to feelings of guilt.

So, Should We Give or Not?

Whenever I’m asked by a coaching client if they should tithe or give while paying off debt, I already know that my answer will not satisfy them. And that is because giving is an individual choice. The reader who questioned me about tithing while paying off debt wanted to know what I did personally. I gave her my answer: I did not tithe while I was paying off my debt.

But here’s something else I shared with her — I actually wasn’t tithing before I started paying off the debt. My husband and I gave to our local church at the time, but we weren’t necessarily faithful or consistent in that giving, and it certainly did not represent 10% of our income.

When we started our debt-free journey, though, we addressed the topic of giving. We felt that we should be doing more than what we had been doing, and we settled on an amount to give while paying off our debt. It wasn’t 10% of our income, but it was significantly more than what we were giving before, and it was a sacrifice. We committed to giving that amount consistently while paying off the debt.

The amount was sizeable — enough that we could have chipped away at our debt faster had we not given that amount. However, we did not allow ourselves to see it that way. Sure, in looking only at the numbers, maybe we could have paid the debt off faster. But, then again, maybe not.

When we look back on our journey, being able to pay off $74,000 in two years still doesn’t make complete sense for our situation, especially considering that we were $2000 in the hole every month before beginning. The math kind of doesn’t add up. There’s no guarantee that keeping all of our income to ourselves would have produced better results. I believe we saw the results we did because of how we approached our journey.

Giving is a Personal Choice

After consistently giving the amount we committed to, for the two years it took to pay off our debt, my husband and I immediately started giving 10% of our income once we became debt-free. We felt — and continue to feel — grateful to be in a position to do that.

That is one of the results of our debt-free journey that excites me the most. We not only dumped the debt, but we went from being sporadic givers, to consistent givers. I know that part of our journey is not over. I desire to be more generous than I am now and to give above and beyond the 10%.

I share what I did personally to reiterate this: giving is personal. We didn’t tithe, but not because we chose to stop tithing so we could pay off the debt. We didn’t tithe because it wasn’t something we were already doing. It wasn’t on our hearts to tithe at the time, but now it is. There was a progression in our giving. Our journey was as much about us becoming more generous as it was about us becoming debt-free.

I believe we arrive at our giving decisions individually. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If it is on your heart to give, then give. If you are questioning whether to give, that means it is on your heart. Find a way to give that makes sense for your situation. That said, giving should never be done out of compulsion, obligation, or guilt, but rather out of a natural desire to be generous and out of a recognition of the abundance in your life.

Ways to Give While Paying Off Debt

If you legitimately don’t have enough to take care of yourself and you are struggling to cover the basics, then I believe you need to focus on getting yourself financially healthy before you give monetarily. Unfortunately, some people feel an intense sense of obligation in this area and give money while their light bill goes unpaid. That does not help anybody.

You have options for giving outside of just giving money.


Volunteering, using your time to assist someone in need, etc.


Providing a service, offering up your expertise, or using a hobby as a way to give, etc.

We all have resources beyond the financial kind. Whether or not you decide to give monetarily, consider also being generous with your other resources.

Reading: 3 Things NOT To Sacrifice When Paying Off Debt

If you are unsettled about whether or not to give, I encourage you to ask yourself why you may be uncertain. Is giving a priority in your life or do you feel it is an obligation? Again, generosity is not meant to come from a sense of duty or requirement but rather from choice, desire, and joy.

Where does giving fit into your life? Is it a priority? Do you struggle with whether or not to give while paying off debt?


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