Should I Tithe or Should I Build Wealth?

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

The other day my oldest little philosopher came up to me and asked what I was working on after she woke up from a nap. I told her I was working on a post for my website. “What’s the post about, daddy?” The post I was working on was about practical investing advice. To my less than ten year old, I simply said, “It’s about money.” We then discussed how we buy things, how we earn money, the purpose of a bank, and a lot of other essential money topics including how and why we tithe and give to charity.

She came away with the idea that money was a pretty important tool that we all need so that we can do what we want in life. However, I didn’t want her to come away with the idea that money is our idol or the end all be all.

As a self-professing Christian, this conversation made me consider our family’s tithing, which we have yet to discuss on The Physician Philosopher.

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Even if you are not religious, I think that this concept is still important. Giving money comes in many different forms. It includes giving money to charitable causes outside the church. If you are religious and feel called to tithe, maybe this post will help you revisit the topic or start the conversation if you’ve never tithed regularly.

Why Should I Tithe or Give to Charity?

First, it needs to be mentioned that money is not the only gift you can give. You can provide your services and your time as well.

My second comment needs to be that just because you give your time and your services does not mean that you have an excuse to avoid giving money to those in need or to charitable organizations that serve them.

To whom much is given, much will be required.

How’s that for a controversial start to this post?

There are a bunch of important reasons to give to charity. I am going to highlight the ones that jump out at me:

First, giving to your church or to a charity prevents money from becoming an idol. For the religious, this is done to recognize where your gifts came from in the first place. For those who aren’t, money can grasp you just the same. Hoarding money isn’t good for anyone and letting it go – in a way that isn’t being spent on you – can be helpful to you no matter your convictions.

Second, the government encourages us to to give to charity. Though this is likely going to be less of a deduction than it used to be now that the standard deductions are huge ($12,000 single; $24,000 married), the government will still give you a break if you give enough away. Some people give double one year and nothing the next to take advantage of the large standard deductions.

Third, and most importantly, there are people in this world that are in more need than you and me. Many of them ended up there because of circumstances outside of their control. If my family or I ever end up in need, I hope that generous people will come to our aid.

Finally, those who give tend to be happier! There is science behind this, too. Giving to others truly does make us happier.

You Can Still Accomplish Your Financial Goals

Many people are afraid to give money to charity because it will delay their ability to build wealth. While hoarding money may get you there faster, what’s the cost? Have you given as much thought to the fees you are paying in trading, funds, or to an advisor?

If not, physician on fire has your back when he looked at the cost of a 1% fee versus tithing 10%. The end result? Fees are killers. Many of you know this, but for those that don’t; giving 10% of your paycheck to a charitable cause will hurt you less financially than a 1% fee. This is another reason to use one of the flat, fee-only financial advisors recommended on this site.

In the end, you can still give to charity and accomplish your financial goals. They are not mutually exclusive.

If an example would be helpful, I’ll give you my own.

My wife and I give 10% of our monthly paycheck to our church. Admittedly, this was originally given post-tax (update: we now is given pre-tax).

Despite giving 10% of our income to our church and other charitable causes, we paid off $200,000 in student loans in 19 months. Our net worth also skyrocketed from negative $208,000 and to more than $250,000 in two years.

That’s an improvement of over $450,000 in net worth despite giving 10% of our pre-tax income to charitable giving.

The point is that these do not need to be mutually exclusive goals. You can do both, if they are a priority to you and your family.

And, let’s get real for a moment – if you want to know what you love in this life, then follow your money. That tends to be a reflection of what we actually care about.

A Note About Behavioral finance

The most common excuse that I hear when people don’t save money is the same excuse I am given when people talk about not giving to charitable causes. “When I make more money – I’ll get around to that – because it’ll be easier then.

This, of course, is hog wash. It is one of the classic money myths. If you don’t save or give money with little, you probably will not start when you make a lot.

The truth is that if saving – or charitable giving – are not important enough for you to carve out now, they likely never will be. Both of these endeavors take discipline.

If you have previously fallen to this line of logic, stop making excuses. Simply tell the truth and say it’s not a priority, or start doing what your heart is telling you to do. That goes the same for saving for retirement during residency.

Ways to Give to Charity

There are a lot of ways to give to charitable causes.

Cutting a check or submitting it electronically exists at most charitable organizations these days. You can also perform an internet search on local organizations where you can give of your time, your money, and/or your services.

If you want to get fancy, you can also consider starting a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). POF has written prolifically on the topic.

If you’d like to know more about the pros and cons of a DAF, I’ll point you over to a debate between Physician on FIRE and the White Coat Investor on the topic of using a DAF (or not).

Take Home on Tithing

Remember, giving to charitable causes prevents money from becoming an idol, makes you happier as a human being, and you get a tax break if done properly.

If giving to charity is important to you, then your finances should reflect that value. When you sit down to make your backwards budget or track your spending, make sure you leave room for at least having this conversation.

What do you think about this topic? Do you tithe or give to charitable causes? If not, why not? If you do, why and how? Leave a comment below.



  1. Accidental FIRE

    I give to organizations, but not as much as I probably should. I really want to step up my efforts, thanks for the article!

  2. FullTimeFinance

    We always prioritize charitable giving. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also pretty easy to do with minimal impact to yourself. Used clothes, donate (especially with little ones wearing out of clothes quick6. Few hours extra time, volunteer. Few extra dollars, put it up in the donation jar. I don’t officially tithe as I’m not catholic, but donations are a priority.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Absolutely agree on the time, money, and clothes! We try and do the same.

      Also, not Catholic (protestant, actually), but tithe none the less.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Doc G

    I have thought about this often. For people at FI it is one thing. For those drowning in debt it is another. I tend to agree, giving should be a habit in good times and bad.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Yeah, there is definitely a balance to be struck. It’s an important conversation to have regardless of where you end up

  4. Physician on FIRE

    As you know, I fully believe you can do both simultaneously, as you are demonstrating so well.

    I don’t tithe, but am a strong believer in charitable giving.


    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Anything that shows other people are important to you is good with me. It’s all about the bigger picture.

      Thanks for being a great example!

  5. Half Life Theory

    This is awesome! I do need to look into the POF post with the 1% fees vs 10% charitable giving. I have a feeling that has much to do with the tax deductions.

    But either way i do think we all need to find a way to make giving a habit. It’ll only make the world a better place.

    Congrats on getting to net worth positive. It’s only going to the moon from here. Cheers!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks for the visit, HLT! Giving definitely needs to be a habit. It doesn’t happen by accident.

      And thanks for the props on the positive net worth. We are stoked.

  6. Steveark

    We always tithed, and out of curiosity I ran what the present value of everything we have tithed and given to charitable ends would be and it would have significantly increased our retirement assets had we invested it instead. However I do not believe the math is that simple. Learning to give an amount that is too large not to feel helps you grow to be a generous and kinder person. People like that become trusted and valued employees and I believe they succeed in business more than less giving people. Growing the favorable parts of your character through giving tends to bring higher wages and more job security in my opinion. Certainly my career did very well and far outside the median for my degree, some of which I attribute to our giving as a family.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I agree. It is definitely much more than numbers. If I looked at the 25k we will give away every year for the foreseeable future and multiplied that by 8% I might not give at all 🙂

      This is why you should give first for the right reasons. And recognize that there are some down stream positive effects outside of the numbers.

  7. Mom MD

    We tithe. I remember asking my dad about it as a teen and being told “ We can’t afford not to tithe.” For me, it helps me focus on the right things. It would be too easy for me to get focused too much on money or possessions. I hope to be an example for my sons that we also can’t afford not to give. I don’t think the tithe has to be in dollars though that works well for us. When the kids were little, we tried to teach that we spent a part of our time giving back as well. That lead to Saturday afternoons at the animal shelter playing with dogs, creek cleanups to “Help the fish have happy lives” ( my boys are fishing obsessed) and time at the soup kitchen where they discovered that little children could do big important jobs to help other people feel better. My son still remembers when an older man was so touched when my boy played Go Fish with him. Tithing has brought our family an abundance of joy.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      “we can’t afford not to tithe.”

      That’s a great way to look at it. I might steal that from your dad for my own kids 🙂

      We need to be better about taking opportunities to help others as a family the way that you guys are (soup kitchens, etc). Thanks for the idea!

  8. John B Robertson

    I find it helpful to have a separate checking account into which I deposit 10% of my take-home pay. I call it my God account. Half that money then gets transferred to my church and the other half is contributed to various charities. My bookkeeping becomes much easier and I don’t delude myself that I’m giving more than I actually am.
    It took me awhile to get to 10%. I started with a fixed percentage and increased it regularly.
    I have found it to be a discipline of sacrifice that makes me a much better person. Similar to exercise which I happen to find difficult to prioritize, the benefits of charitable giving to my life have been amazing!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a good way to do it! Thanks for the idea.

      It certainly should come out first, anyway. And it’s a great way to be disciplined.

  9. JB

    The Great Recession made us glad that we had tithed, so much so that we increased our giving! As we watched our budding portfolio linger in red territory (we never formally calculated the drop; others have mentioned -30% to -50%, and that seems about right), I thought about how each of those dollars, then worth 50 cents, could have been spent doing good in the world. Particularly thought about it as we wrote an incremental check to support relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Never regretted giving money to a thoroughly vetted charitable organization who, we knew, would ensure the money made a difference.

    We continued our disciplined, mechanical investing as well, and we’ve enjoyed the ride up the recovery. It is made all the sweeter by having a “Yes Fund,” as in “Yes – we can help with that need!” The gift of the Great Recession was showing us how money (and even the dream of freedom FI offers) can indeed become an idol and cause us to miss the One who gives the gifts.

    The Yes Fund has given great joy – some of the donations are tax-deductible (those come from the DAF). Some are simply the right thing to do and don’t go through a 501c3 organization. It’s great to have an amount set aside, just waiting, so that we don’t have to hesitate or disrupt the regular budget.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a great name for the fund, the “Yes fund.” And it definitely does provide some recession “proofing” against money that would have declined in value.

      I really enjoy being able to help people, too. Very few things in life are as fulfilling as helping those in need. My wife and I through the years have also had to learn how to ask for help. That’s been a tougher skill for us to learn.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Dr. Cory S Fawcett

    Many years ago we began tithing. I was an intern, my first full time job. I was broke. As we slowly kept increasing the amount we gave, we never saw a change in what we had. Giving more to others did not show up as us having less. The more we gave, the more we seemed to have. Learn to be generous with others.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      We started tithing as soon as we made a paycheck as well. I’ve never questioned it, but looked at it something we should simply do in faith.

      We’ve kept the 10% ever since then, though that will likely increase once our debt is gone.

      Thanks for stopping by, Cory.


  11. Toby

    We tithe on a pre-tax basis, based on the idea of “first fruits.” Either way, you are right that we should give to charity when we have a lot or just a little. When we can trust enough to tithe through the tough times with a little money (the widow and the two mites) it becomes even easier and more joyful when we have plenty. As you say, it’s not ours anyway.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I hear you. There is definitely a little tug in my heart to give via pre-tax money. I mean, I give the government money pre-tax.

      Either way, the perspective is the important thing, in my opinion. And I also think – though it’s admittedly controversial to say this – that people should give til it hurts. Otherwise, money is probably an idol in life. With our tithing, we could have paid off our loans 4-5 months sooner than we are right now. That hurts, but its the right thing to do.

  12. MyWifeBringsHomeTheBacon

    Saw your post from the Rockstar forum. So glad to see people pushing for being charitable especially in the high-income group.

    I think those on the “FIRE” track can get very narrow minded about being frugal or budgeting and saving (or hoarding) up cash to stop working. Glad to see the reminder about being charitable and giving to others. A+.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks for the support! I agree that giving money away is an oft forgotten part of the FIRE movement. What’s the point of getting to financial independence if you don’t help anyone else along the way?

  13. Nomads With a Vision

    Great post! This topic has been on my heart for a while. Giving has allowed our family to participate in so many blessings. It’s one of my favorite things about having a high income. I love the fact that it allows us to help meet so many needs.

    I never tithed until I met my wife. Fortunately, I met her early in my adult life and we have consistently tithed throughout our marriage. We even tithed our loan “income” when I was in medical school and she was in graduate school. We’ve always tithed on pretax income, but that’s our personal conviction.

    About mid residency, we started taking about how great it would be to give more when I became a fancy attending. After a lot of talking and praying, we decided that we were already incredibly wealthy compared to most of the world and committed to double our tithe while our family still lived on my resident’s salary. We never really felt deprived and made it just five. I think that really increased our trust in God and made us less worried about our finances.

    We’ve pretty much kept up the save giving rate since then and still manged to pay off all of our loans and reach near-FI after 6.5 years of practice.

    I can’t say I’ve never wondered where we would be if we hadn’t given so much away, but I’m grateful that it’s kept money from having a bigger hold on me than it already does…

    Oh, really enjoyed meeting you at FinCon.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s incredible, man! A lot of discipline and trust there.

      We tithe on our post tax money, but have given it some thought and will probably move to tithing on pre-tax income when our debt is gone. I feel that little nagging “oh, ye of little faith” tugging at my heart. But, alas, I am human.

      It was great meeting you, too, brother. Really enjoyed talking with you.

  14. Atinuke

    I tithe to honor God and give thanks for all he has done for me. I also donate to charitable organizations such as food for the poor and local food banks. I always think there but for the Grace of God.

    The tithing and charitable donations have all been done on post-tax income. How do you do this on pre-tax income and thanks for sharing as I had never known that could be done.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Hey Atinuke, your giving is always “pre-tax” in a way. It is a deduction from your AGI if you deduct more than the standard deduction. As I discussed in the podcast episode from Wednesday, you can also alternate taking the standard deduction every other year and give what you’d normally give double what you’d normally give every other.

      This allows you to take advantage of the standard deduction and still give the same amount.

      The pre-tax versus post-tax question is more about how do you determine where the 10% baseline comes from? Say you make $300,000 gross, but only bring home $180,000. Do you tithe $30,000 or $18,000?

      Either way, it is a pre-tax deduction from your AGI, as mentioned above.


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