Can You Be Generous and Still Pay the Bills?

One couple does the math on giving and receiving.

I understand how unappealing it can be to financially give.

Most days, the anxiety-free lifestyle that a healthy savings account provides can be far more enticing than writing a check for a child’s education in Myanmar. However, could there be other benefits to generosity, besides the satisfaction of imagining a kid on the other side of the world going to school every day?

I spent 2012 putting this question to the test.

The biblical adage about how it is “better to give than receive” has proven to be very literally true in my life.


For the first six months of the year, my wife and I only gave away a small percentage of our income. A need would arise, so we would give, but it was always unintentional. For the last six months of 2012, we intentionally put 8-15 percent of our paychecks into a special bank account. The money in this account was then, over time, given to needs, causes, churches or an occasional act of kindness throughout the month.

With the help of a personal-finance-tracking app, I was able to monitor the amount of money we gave away in proportion to the unexpected income we received over the 12-month-period of time. Unexpected income was considered to be anything beyond my base income (which stayed fairly consistent), including special projects, random gifts or work bonuses.

The results built a jaw-dropping case for generosity.

1. It is six times better to give than to receive.

I had to compute and recompute the math several times before I believed the numbers. But, when Analee and I intentionally gave over the last six months of the year, our return on investment (for lack of a better phrase) was 610 percent. This means for every $1 we gave away in a six month period of time, an average of $6.10 of unexpected income came back to us.

Please understand, I’m not building a case for some sort of prosperity gospel. God isn’t obligated to pay me back for the times I give. I am only telling you what I personally experienced and informing you that the biblical adage about how it is “better to give than receive” has proven to be very literally true in my life. The numbers my wife and I calculated draw a perplexing, but beautiful conclusion about giving.

2. We didn’t starve when we didn’t financially give.

While it’s true that we saw a lot of benefits to generosity, another intriguing discovery to me during this experiment was that when we didn’t financially give, we didn’t suffer.

Over the first 6 months of 2012, we unintentionally gave away a little over 2 percent of our base income. And even then, for every $1 we gave, we received $3.40 of random and unexpected income.

I guess somewhere in me, there’s still this antiquated-fear-infused perspective that God punishes those who don’t hand over 10 percent every Sunday morning. Yet, it’s Jesus’ words that seem to more adequately explain the results of my little experiment. With His typical diversion, He takes all weight out of the Jewish law of 10 percent tithe and reframes it with no fear attached.

“It is better to give than to receive.”

3. We don’t always reap in the same way we sow.

Yes, my experiment depicts that when we financially sowed in 2012, we financially reaped. However, I don’t believe it has to look this way for us to arrive at the same beautiful conclusion.

In the end, there is no magic formula to reaping and sowing. Most likely, it is more about the heart of the giver than anything else.


During the first six months of 2012, I wasn’t intentional in giving away our finances. However, what I was intentional with was giving my time to building friends’ businesses, consulting nonprofits and random needs as they came. In return, I didn’t see people working for me for free. Yet, I did see additional work projects and random gifts produce $3.40 of extra income for every $1 we gave away.

In the end, there is no magic formula to reaping and sowing. Most likely, it is more about the heart of the giver than anything else. However, in my experience, generosity is not just beneficial to its recipients, but can be incredibly rewarding to its giver. So much so, that the old tension I used to feel between the false security of a healthy savings account and intentionally giving doesn’t feel like much of a competition anymore.

8 Comments

Brenda P

8

Brenda P commented…

I have experienced time and again intangible provision. What I mean by that is that sometimes as I sit down and budget out my expenses (including my giving), I come up short. And yet when I go to pay my bills and buy food and gas, I have enough. I can't really explain it other than I know it's God's provision. And as a more concrete example, I don't typically manage to save much out of my paycheck, but believe it's better to give than have a big safety net. So when my computer died a few months ago, all I could do was pray. God provided a brand new computer (the exact model I wanted), and it was totally free.

Shar Grant

2

Shar Grant commented…

Thanks for doing this experiment. I've had an erroneous and strict view of tithing and I had to (like lots of my legalistic entanglements), let it go. In view of Jesus pushing us past our limits, I like this. We are blessed either way and it's neat to see numbers back it up.

Jon Mitchell

3

Jon Mitchell commented…

Great article and quite timely. The Holy Spirit has been teaching me in an incredible way over the past month or so about giving and living a generous life. Giving is outlined in the Bible as being a spiritual gift. Once we look at money as stewards instead of owners then it's not so hard to give generously. After all, we don't own any of what we have, we're simply entrusted with it for a short time. The test is what we do with what we are given to manage. I for sure want to pass the test.

Michelle Lamara

1

Michelle Lamara commented…

Ever since I was in high school, the LORD has asked me to give more than 10%. I'm 26 now, and I have seen miracle after miracle. I currently am a grad student and work in a grocery store...so one would think giving extravagantly is out of the question. However, a few months ago, the LORD asked me to use my whole paycheck to pay for someone's rent. I did so, and two weeks later, I got a raise at work, a check in the mail for a speaking engagement I did, and the biggest tax refund I have ever received. It truly is better to give than to receive!

Nate Brown

2

Nate Brown commented…

I would have to say I have experienced this first hand. I used to give ten percent and often more regularly. But since I asked my fiance to marry me, I have put every dime I gain into savings to build a life with her. And honestly, while I have not looked at the numbers, money has felt so much tighter since I have not been giving.

I am glad for this article to have solidified the suspicion I had that things were not quite right in my heart.

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