Where should charity begin?

UNHOLY DEBT: Make sure you can support your family and put a roof over their heads before you commit to tithing.
UNHOLY DEBT: Make sure you can support your family and put a roof over their heads before you commit to tithing.

Almost every time I walk the length of Auckland's infamous Karangahape Rd, I'm harassed by muggers.

These aren't menacing thugs, though. They're usually wearing colourful uniforms or even cute animal costumes, and shaking buckets full of change.

But the charity muggers never get a penny from me - I simply avert my eyes and walk a bit faster.

Before you write me off as a selfish skinflint, hear me out.

I'm still a long way from financial independence and I have my own money issues to manage.

If I keep giving all my spare cash away, it'll push me further and further away from meeting my goals and reaching a position where I can help out in a much grander fashion.

Besides the awkwardness of dodging the rattling tins, there's no pressure on me to donate.

But that's far from the case for the people who are compelled to give to charity each and every week.

For some churchgoers, tithing 10 per cent of their income is standard. There's huge cultural pressure to donate and support your church and local community.

Under Old Testament law, failing to give 10 per cent essentially means you're robbing God.

That's fine for those who can afford it, but it's tough for those who are struggling to put food on their own dinner table.

If you're on minimum wage, 10 per cent of gross income is roughly $3000.

Now let's say you also have a credit card debt of $3000 that you're trying to get rid of.

At the minimum repayment level, it'll take you a staggering eight years to get rid of, and cost an extra $2500 in interest.

Alternatively, you could wipe out the whole thing in just over one year by using the tithed money.

A refreshing modern attitude to tithing comes from a sermon by Peter Minson, the vicar of Taupo Anglican's parish:

"For some Christians, a tithe is appropriate. I've found it to be so. For others, it's much too much," he says. "You'd be robbing your families."

There's a line of thinking in some faiths that if you're in financial trouble, you should give even more generously, and the big man upstairs will take care of you.

Relying on divine intervention to cure your debt problems is a recipe for financial disaster, no better than buying a Lotto ticket.

Debt breeds more debt. If you're in the red already, you need to divert every spare cent into digging yourself out of the hole.

Don't forget it's also said that God helps those who help themselves.

Only once you can support yourself and your family comfortably, should you think about tithing.

For those who have grown up with this practice as part of a normal life, it's a sensitive topic to address.

You could try talking to your minister or church leader about your situation, and maybe cut back on the tithe if you don't feel comfortable dropping it altogether.

This week's topic isn't really about saving money. It's about improving your family's long-term finances, so that you're better equipped to help everyone else out.

As the good vicar says: "It's about the heart, not the income.

"If your day-to-day life is a financial struggle, then find some other way to contribute to the life of your church, and that'll be a blessing, too."

Sunday News