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Giving to Charity Debate?


Last week I talked about giving to charity. My husband and I had set a goal early last year to be more giving and we met our goal. I was surprised at how many readers commented on reasons NOT to give to charity while in debt. Most said they’d rather skip paying interest to the banks, making the banks richer, and reduce their own debt instead.


I disagree.

Looking at the numbers, taking nothing else into consideration, those readers are correct. Giving to charity delays debt payoffs and does mean you will be paying more in interest overall.

BUT, and it’s a big BUT, there will always be reasons to skip donating to charity.

I’m in debt. I need to pay off debt first.
I should pay off my mortgage. I could use that money headed to charity to reduce my mortgage and save interest.
I need to fully fund my emergency fund.
I need to save for my child’s college.
I need to save cash for my car.
I need to…

you get it.

If everyone believed in being debt free before donating to charity… only the rich would donate.

And, do you stick by those same beliefs for everything? Do you never go out to dinner? Do you never buy clothes unless absolutely necessary? Do you never waste a single dime while paying off debt?

I highly doubt it.

I don’t see giving to charity as an exercise solely for the charity. It’s an exercise for me. For my heart. For my obsessive frugality.

It keeps me from believing it’s always about ME.

If you still insist that giving money should never be done, then I encourage you to spend your time. Charities would love an extra set of hands… and it’s free.

So what is the consensus? Give money to charity while in debt? Or don’t?

Latest posts by Beks (see all)


  • Reply Another Reader |

    Give your time and skills, which are often more valuable anyway. Give small amounts of money, and sacrifice a dinner out or something similar to do so. If you have kids old enough to understand, explain that giving often entails giving up something you want to help someone else.

    Once you are in a stable situation, with all the credit card and car debt paid off and money going to savings, then gradually increase the money you give. Maybe do a specific side job and set aside those earnings for charity.

    In Dave Ramsey-speak, give like no one else later.

  • Reply Stacy |

    When I lost my job last year, I realized that I finally had time to help out at our local charities. I’ve been donating a few hours each week, and it’s incredibly satisfying – much more satisfying than a donation. I highly recommend this if you can find time in your schedule.

    Even in the best of times, we’ve never donated money but instead used our frugal skills to make the most of our donations. Our local food pantry gets 10 boxes of pasta bought on sale, baby drives get diapers bought on sale with coupons, etc. They’re happy, I’m happy.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    “Another Reader” says it well.

    If someone is giving, prospering and happy I generally don’t have much opinion on it. But I see way too many people illogically giving money AND who feel pressured into giving away money they really do not have to give. I strongly believe in building your own solid foundation before you can truly help others.

    BUT, from my perspective growing up, literally, everyone I knew who was poor was giving their money away and the richer folk I knew did not give *any* money to charity. So I realized I have a skewed reality, but then again there is something to it. (Oh, and then my dad was always giving money to his poor sisters who gave every spare dime to charity. :rolleyes: Which means he was funding the charity. But you see where I get my opinions from.)

    As an adult, I think we tend to be more giving than our parents ever were, BUT, I also think we had a more solid foundation at an earlier age, than they did. & even so we very rarely give away any cash. We give away hours and hours and hours of our time though. We tend to give windfalls to charity (cash). When our mortgage is paid off (or if my spouse ever finds work) we will be able to give more substantially while being more confident that we won’t end up on welfare doing so.

    For reference, I have seem some people do some crazy giving that they simply could not afford, because they felt some outside pressure and/or felt they were doing good. There is nothing worthwhile or *good* about literally going bankrupt with your giving. I had a client who was giving away like 1/2 her income to charity though she didn’t even have enough income to pay her bills. I have just seen this scenario play out way too much.

    You may be just about “out of debt” but I think you have a giant mortgage and some other financial things to clean up. Do you have a will now that you have a child? Life insurance? You might, but I will tell you that most people in your shoes do not. Please don’t take care of other people before your own family.

  • Reply Adam |

    We give generously. It’s our response to our belief that God has given freely to us. In other words, our faith compels us to give, even while we’re in debt. I actually figured today that it will cost us approximately 1 yr on a 7-8 yr debt payoff schedule to keep giving.

    I also understand those who forego giving during their debt paydown. But for us, it’s important.

  • Reply Walnut |

    I am in debt. I have a mortgage and student loan debt. I have paid a significant amount of money toward these debts. That said, I donate 8.5% of my net income and increase it every year. I also donate 3-5 hours per week to charity.

    Sometimes I need to realize that its not all about me. All things considered, I’ve been handed a really good deck of cards. I have a supportive family, a good job, strong work ethic, and a go get it attitude.

    Not everyone is as fortunate and I believe it is the responsibility of those of us who are to give a hand up. I hope that someone would be willing to offer it to me if I were down.

  • Reply Kate |

    Thank you for this courageous post! I agree that we should give money and time to charities even while we are paying off personal debt. We have a higher obligation– yes, we need to take care of our personal finances but we also need to take care of those around us in greater need. God sees our generosity through tough times and this is seen more favorably in his eyes. They widow gave everything she had… Mark 12:43-44. This is an extreme examples and we, as responsible adults and parents, should learn from her generous spirit.

    Thank you for your posts and your courage!

  • Reply Jean |

    I’m with you, Beks. You can always find a reason not to give. If it’s important to you, you make it work.

  • Reply Alice |

    It totally depends on the reason why you give. Simply donating to charity is one thing, but as a Christian, I have an obligation. It is still voluntary, but like you said, if I don’t give my tithes and/or offerings simply because I’m in debt, then I’ll always have an easy out.

    I feel better about who I am when I can back up my words with my checkbook. God didn’t ask us to give as long as it’s convenient for us. Giving sometimes means sacrifice. Giving isn’t always convenient, even when it’s ‘only’ giving our time.

  • Reply jolie |

    I give, and always wish I were able to give more. It’s just not realistic though. There are so many organizations out there, good ones, but there is only so much money to go around. I have to choose carefully, supporting those that have meaning to my family or my community…church, the MS Society of Canada, community groups. I try to give my time whenever I can. Volunteers are always in short supplies and I love how it feels to help that way.

  • Reply Marianne |

    I completely agree with you. There will always be a reason not to give. And, as you said, if you can’t give money maybe you can give your time. We don’t feel like we have a lot of extra time right now but we do try to give money. I put our giving on autopilot (sponsored child) because otherwise I found it was too easy to find an excuse not to give one month or just completely forget.

  • Reply Olivia Fenion |

    I strongly feel that if you are in debt you should give time instead of money to charity. I am a strong supporter of my local Church and last year (November 2011) I took the time to organise a sponsored Fire Walk (yes, walking on hot coals!) which 17 of our Church members participated in. Everyone had an amazing experience, they did something that they would not normally have done, and together we raised £6,000 (approx. $9,500). I would never have been able to donate that all by myself, but by giving my time and encouraging others, we made a fantastic contribution that the Church would not otherwise have received. 🙂

  • Reply Susan |

    You are right, there will aways be personal needs, unless we are rich. However, I believe that those who have the least are often the most generous. I give because that is what the Bible teaches. I’m not rich in dollars and cents, but very rich in what matters.

  • Reply Kristine Maitland |

    I would recommend going one step further when it comes to charities – do your homework before contributing anything to a charity, be it money, time or in kind donations.

    Those clothes you donate using those bins near the supermarket may be shipped to West Africa or India and in doing so, screw up the textile industry there.

    The glossy materials with the cute children on them cost money.

    So don’t be random in your donations

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |


    I totally agree with you. And while giving of your time is important as well, I think those that think it is a good substitute for money are deluding themselves. If everyone did that, how would charities function? In the end, giving is good for yourself because you get the benefits of having a generous spirit.

    PS totally agree about doing the homework when picking organizations to give to

  • Reply Anette |

    I give – often anonymously. Sometimes those “wealthy” people who you perceive as never giving are doing it anonymously. We do it that way so no one feels awkward about accepting it. I give because it is the right thing to do and because as Beks pointed out while paying off debt I did not always delay my gratification either.

    I believe what I give of time and money makes a difference for others and me and I could never not do at least some.

  • Reply Starr@ The Kiefer Cottage |

    We give even though we still have debt. Christmas this year was almost all cash gifts to charity. It felt good knowing the money would go toward those who need it rather than toward a thing someone would probably throw in the closet and forget about.

    But we also gave outside the holiday season. Our finances are ultra tight, tighter than many, but we have more to give than others. Seems weird to me to prioritize my debts before those in need.

  • Reply Lisa Clark |

    I am with you to Beks!
    When I started to pay off my debit I made a promise to myself that I would continue to give to my charities. It is good to get into a habit when it comes to giving and I never once went short because of it. “Give and it will be given unto you”. For me this is real.
    I have slowly been able to increase what I give and only wish I could give more. Unfortunately am not able to give my time so for me give is vital.

  • Reply Janeen |

    We don’t have a lot of debt, but have thought a bit about how much we should give to charity when that money can be used to pay down our mortgage or save for retirement.

    We choose to give about 5% of our take-home pay, plus time to our church and a couple of other organizations.

    I think giving reminds us of our own good fortune (financial and otherwise) and provides reassurance to us that we are helping to maintain a social safety net that would be there if we were to ever need it.

    And, I believe there is a spiritual nature to money. I have never had to go without because I have given to others.

  • Reply glass tiles |

    I totally agree with you. And while giving of your time is important as well, I think those that think it is a good substitute for money are deluding themselves.I have slowly been able to increase what I give and only wish I could give more. Unfortunately am not able to give my time so for me give is vital.

  • Reply JJ |

    No matter what your financial position, it’s so easy to forget that what you give is what you get!

  • Reply Nick |

    This is something I’ve struggled with, but today I decided to begin giving more to charity. What I have been giving amounted to very little. My goal is to get to 10% of my take home. Unfortunately I can’t give my time. Full time job, half time student, full time homeowner, full time husband…

  • Reply Veronica |

    I believe in giving. There are times when you have to ask for help too. It is not easy to ask for most people including me. When my life was in better shape I gave and I still give. It wil not be money at this time but whatever I have and can give. At present I am in need and would like someone to help me.

So, what do you think ?