Should You Pay Yourself First?

     As I read most articles and blogs about personal finance and getting them in order, I notice that they all tend to have a common element: pay yourself first.  The premise is that the first thing you should do is take out a certain percentage of your paycheck each time you receive one and automatically deposit that money into a savings account.  The idea is that if you take it out first and then pay your bills you will get yourself into the habit of saving and investing.  While I understand the reasoning behind this idea, I tend to disagree with it in practice.  In the following paragraphs I will lay out where my money goes first, and why.

Should You Pay Others First?

     ​I follow a “pay others first” protocol.  In other words, I make my first payments to my church and to other charitable entities, and then I invest, and then I pay my bills.  As I said in a previous article, this is what I have found works for me. I believe it will work for you too, but this is a decision you must make yourself.  In the following paragraphs I’ll explain the reasoning behind my strategy.

Why I Tithe

     As a Christian, I believe it is not just my duty, but also a privilege to tithe.  The bible specifically lays out the guidelines for tithing.

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Malachi 3:8

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
I Corinthians 16:1-2

But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.  Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
II Corinthians 9:6-7

I have heard many financial counselors berate the idea of tithing.  They theorize that if you are  in debt and cannot afford to pay your bills, then you should stop giving money to a church and use that extra money to get out of debt.  While I can understand their reasoning from a human point of view, I cannot agree based on personal experience.  On a couple of occasions I have made the mistake of paying my bills before I paid my tithe.  In each instance I have had difficulties financially.  Whenever I pay my tithes first and regularly, I have never had any problems paying my bills.  In addition, I have found I always feel better when I have given because I know what my church uses the tithe money for (helping out those in need, using it to pay the expenses of visiting those in hospitals and nursing homes, and giving to other churches who also pass it on to those who are in need).  When I am feeling good about helping others, then all areas of my life tend to level out and run smoothly.

Not Everyone Goes to Church

     I am fully aware that everyone does not attend church.  This can pose a couple different problems: one, a person who does not have a home church may not know which one to give to, or two, they may not want to give to any church at all.  These are conundrums I understand.  If a person is unable or unwilling to give money to a church, then my suggestion would be to give to some other charitable organization.  You will be benefiting those in need, and you will feel good about having done something worthwhile with your money.  Here is a link to the Forbes list of the 100 largest charities in the U.S.  Please note, I am not recommending or endorsing any of these charities.  This list is simply for reference only.  I would encourage you to do your own research before donating any money to any charitable organization.

What if it is a Scam?

     Many times I have heard people say they do not give to churches, charitable organizations, or poor people in general because they have experienced, or at least heard of a scam involving a specific, or even multiple organizations.  I am all too aware of money scams involving those who are supposedly in need, or with organizations who are using the money for their own financial gain as opposed to taking care of those who truly need it.  I will share a couple stories where I have had personal experience with financial scams or irresponsible behavior when dealing with the finances of an individual or a charitable organization.  Then I will explain what I do.

In My Own Experience

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     A few years ago while visiting Germany, a friend and I were enjoying a morning coffee at McDonald’s.  As we set at an outside table enjoying the fresh air and our java (do people still say that?) a little girl in raggedy clothes and with dirt covering most of her person came up to our table.  She held out her hands and with a tear in her eye she asked me, “Eine Mark für Milch?” (One German mark for some milk?)  Feeling sorry for her, I reached into my pocket and handed her one German mark.  Expecting her to bounce into Mcdonald’s, D-Mark in hand, to purchase her little box of milk, I was quite surprised to see her instead turn and begin to trot down the street in the opposite direction.  I was somewhat taken aback.  I concluded that maybe she was going to go to a small store nearby where she could perhaps get some milk at a cheaper price.  As I watched her, though, she also bypassed that store and continued on down the street.  Curiosity got the better of me, so I followed her down the road.  When she got to the end of the street, she turned the corner to where a certain religious group (some might call it a cult) was dancing, singing and collecting donations.  The child made her way over to a woman; I assume it was her mother as the resemblance was quite striking, and dropped the coin into her hand.  The woman patted her on the head, and sent her on her way.  The little girl once again trotted down the street to an unsuspecting tourist and begged, “Eine Mark für Milch?”  Needless to say, I gave no more “Marks for milk” that day.
     Growing up in a small rural town in Southwest Texas, I never experienced the sight of beggars or homeless people asking for alms on the street.  My first experience was with the little German girl sometime in my early twenties.  Since then, I have traveled extensively-visiting 14 countries on four continents, in all four hemispheres.  In my travels I have encountered numerous people on the streets begging for money.  Often it is just someone sitting on the side of the road hoping for passersby to drop a coin into their hat, at other times people have come up to me, even following me down the road begging for some money.  A few years ago, while visiting Beijing, I had a little girl who actually wrapped her arms and legs around mine and would not let go, even though I continued walking down the street.  I had probably walked about 10-12 yards down the sidewalk before her mother finally called her back.

​     Something else that I have noticed as I travel, is that regardless of the country I am in, all the homeless people seem to have a couple things in common.  As they lay on the sidewalk on a piece of cardboard or old rags, cap or box laid out in front of them to collect money from the generous, they all have the same two things in possession: a smart phone in one hand (usually one more expensive than the one I carry), and a cigarette in the other.  My first reaction, of course, is to think that if they can afford a smart phone and cigarettes, then they can afford food.  They do not need my help.

​     Do to these and other experiences, I stopped giving money to people on the streets.  I had come across so many who were obviously not in need, that I had become calloused to the sight of the poor.  Why, I asked myself, should I give my hard-earned money to people who, as it can readily be seen, do not need it.  I felt like it was my money, and I should be able to do what I want with it.  Giving it to people who are simply too lazy to get a job is not what I desire to do with my money.  Then I read something that changed my mind.  Now I have started giving again.  In the following paragraphs I will explain the reason for my change of heart.

A Change of Heart

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     A few years ago I decided to start reading one chapter of Proverbs each day.  By doing this one can read through the whole book 12 times in one year.  I have since read the whole book of Proverbs 77 times.  What I have noticed as I have been doing this on a daily basis is that things that I have already read, even many times, seem to become fresh and new each time I read them.  Things that never stood out before, now seem to jump out from the pages and hit me in the face.  One thing that really began to chastise me were all the verses in Proverbs dealing with the poor, and how I as a Christian should treat them.  Verse after verse encourages and even demands that we give to the poor, and condemns those who do not.

He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
Proverbs 14:31

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
Proverbs 19:17

He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
Proverbs 28:27

One of my biggest stumbling blocks in giving to those who were asking for money on the streets was my doubts as to whether or not they were really in need.  I had heard stories of several “beggars” who were in fact neither homeless nor poor.  They would sit on the street corner begging for money, then at the end of the day they would go to a public restroom, change into their regular clothes, and then get into an expensive car and drive home to a very nice house.  Examples can be seen here.  I had heard other stories where people who were perfectly capable of working, but were simply too lazy, would sit on a street corner duping good-willed people into funding their slothfulness.  I soon became disallusioned to the idea of helping people.  Why waste my money on people who were abusing my generosity?  Then another bible verse came to mind.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Matthew 7:1-2

​     I realize that these verses have been used and abused over the years.  People take them out of context, or use only one part in order to get it to say what they want it to say.  Since this is not a discourse on the meaning of these verses, I’ll simply make two statements regarding them, and then move on to applying them to a particular area of my life.  When someone does something wrong, and you state that what they are doing is wrong, that is not judging, that is simply stating a fact.  Judging is when you determine someone’s guilt when you do not have all the facts.  This is what I was doing when I stopped giving to the poor.  By no longer giving to them, I was stating that they were not truly in need.  They were people, who for whatever reason, were in the market of stealing from me and others by their deceptive lifestyle.  The problem was, I usually had only seen them that one specific time.  I knew nothing about them.  I was making a conjecture based simply on the situation that I was focusing on at the time.  I was judging them based on what I could readily see at the moment.  In truth, I really knew nothing about them.  I did not know their background, I knew nothing about the situation that put them where they are, and I certainly had no idea what they were doing themselves at the moment to get out of their current situation.

The verses in Matthew forced me to realize that what I needed to do was focus on myself and what I was doing, not on what others are doing.  Are some of them lying and scamming themselves to riches?  Maybe, but that is none of my business.  My only business is to make sure I am doing what I should be doing, and not worrying about others.

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?  Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?  Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is thatto thee? follow thou me.
John 21:20-22

The way I should look at is this: if they are truly poor, and I give to them, then God will bless me, and help them; if they are not truly poor, but I give to them anyway, then God will bless me and judge them.  Judging them is God’s prerogative; not mine.  If they are really destitute and I refuse to help them, then God will judge me, and bless them.  My responsibility is to make sure I am doing what I am required to do and not worry about others.  And that is why I have had a change of heart.  Other articles by this author can be read at CashCourse.


​© 2018 Stephen Moore
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