In All The Money In The World (yes, that link goes to a placeholder website for the book!) I talk about how best to give money away. Some research has found that spending money on other people — either in the form of gifts or charity — is one of the easiest ways to buy happiness. While this doesn't make intuitive sense (why would buying a DVD for someone else make you happier than buying it for yourself?) the reality is that humans are social creatures. We derive a big chunk of our pleasure in life from our social ties, and social ties are strengthened by doing things for other people.
Of course, not all pro-social spending buys happiness equally. The smartest way to give is to do so in a way that consciously creates and nurtures social ties. This is why, intuitively, we give generously to our children's school fundraisers, our neighborhood associations, civic organizations we also volunteer with and, for many people, their place of worship. We actually care what these people think of us!
That last category is where this all gets interesting, because certain religions prescribe exactly how much you are supposed to give. The Bible calls for a tithe of 10%. For many people, this would be quite a stretch from their current giving levels, and so I talked with various people about the theories behind it, and the controversies. Over at DailyWorth a while ago, for instance, a reader named Beth was tithing and also going into debt to pay for an expensive international adoption. Financial expert Liz Pulliam Weston suggested she think of adoption as a form of giving to God, and cut back on the tithing for a while.
So I asked Greg Rohlinger, pastor at the Palm Valley Community Church in Goodyear, Arizona, what he thought of that. Rohlinger's church actually has a money-back guarantee on tithing. If you tithe for 3 months and don't feel like your life has been blessed by more than you paid out, you get your money back! He told me that I was framing the issue the wrong way. This was a situation where “the church has to be the church," he said. "In our small groups, when there is a financial need, we encourage people to meet it.” In other words, an expensive adoption doesn’t mean you stop tithing. It means you ask your fellow church members to tap their networks to help you pay for the adoption.
It's the whole pro-social concept again. By concentrating your giving on your local church — and hence being deeply invested in it — you help create a community that will support you. Even through tough financial times. In theory, it's kind of like kicking in payments to a co-op rather than actually bidding it adieu.
It's an interesting idea. I have not necessarily been convinced by it (we've never been tithers — and indeed, can't even settle on a church) but it's something to ponder.
Do you tithe? Has it been a stretch for you? Do you feel like it's created strong social ties?
In other news:
(Photo courtesy flickr user MoneyBlogNewz)