Those who give are in better financial health


I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing something that I’ve noted anecdotally many times in my career:

Those who give regularly and enthusiastically are happier and, ultimately, financially healthier.

Now, bear with me for a minute here, because I know what some of you might say next. “You’re a financial adviser Jon, you’re talking to wealthy people. If those people are giving regularly it must be because they're rich and they can afford to. They have extra money to give. If you’re telling me that those people are happier & healthier, that’s probably also because they’re rich and they don’t have to worry about the same things I do”.

Ok, I hear you. And yes, this is a situation where we could have correlation and not causation, but I don’t believe that’s what we’re dealing with.

There is sound research to back this up as well as some common sense. Now, much of this research focuses on Christians who tithe (give 10% or more of their income to the church), but I believe and have seen that it can be applied to people of all backgrounds and faiths.

There is an annual study called “State of the Plate” which is co-sponsored by several prominent Christian organizations. The report surveys more than 4,000 “tithers” across all fifty states. As part of that study, they evaluate the financial health of the congregants who tithe, and they’ve discovered the following:

80% of “tithers” have no unpaid credit card bills

74% have no car payments

48% own their home mortgage-free

28% are completely debt-free

Now, before you come back again and tell me that those just happen to be the wealthy people, here’s what the study had to say about the final net worth of those tithers:

42% under $250,000

23% between $250,000-$500.000

35% more than $500,000

So, 65% of those tithers leave an estate valued at less than $500,000 to their heirs. We are not dealing with the ultra-wealthy here; this is not the wine and cheese crowd. Yet, we do see that the folks who commit to giving regularly are in substantially better shape (as a group) than the general population.

How do we explain this?

Now, we attempt the leap from correlation to causation. We want to understand if giving is a cause of better financial health or rather if giving is an outcome of better financial health. Here’s where we have to move away from the hard data and speculate a bit, but I hope by the end you’ll agree that much of this is common sense.

It’s my belief that those who give regularly are living a more grateful and abundant life. It has to do with what is inside those people; with what is driving & motivating them. People who live a more grateful and abundant life tend to be financially (and physically) healthier. Let’s dive into each one of those traits a little more:

Gratitude

I’m not referring to a religious or Christian sense of being grateful, but rather a general feeling of thanksgiving for what we each have and have been given in our lives. Gratitude is an important mindset for success financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Now, you’re not reading this blog because I’m your spiritual Sherpa or your Tony Horton, but there are very smart people who are researching this:

“The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” says Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude.

He adds, “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”

From an article in Psychology Today:

One study by a couple of American researchers assigned young adults to keep a daily journal of things they were grateful for (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). They assigned other groups to journal about things that annoyed them, or reasons why they were better off than others. The young adults assigned to keep gratitude journals showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to the other groups. While that shows a clear benefit of gratitude, it also makes a clear distinction. Realizing that other people are worse off than you is not gratitude. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your situation. It is not a comparison. Sometimes noticing what other people don’t have may help you see what you can be grateful for, but you have to take that next step. You actually have to show appreciation for what you have, for it to have an effect.

People who “practice” gratitude are less stressed, are physically healthier and financially more successful. Giving is just a natural outflow of practicing gratitude. Its our way of saying “I have and have been given much, and I am going to give back to those who don’t have that same fortune”.

The act of (enthusiastic) giving automatically enforces a grateful mindset and the act of regular giving keeps us there. Unlike the short-term dopamine “highs” we get from buying something new and shiny, the mindset of gratitude can have staying power. It's a muscle, though. You have to work at it.

Abundance

This is another mindset item. Studies show that those who practice an “abundance” mentality versus a “scarcity” mentality are also less stressed, physically healthier and more successful in their careers and in their finances. There is “abundant” evidence to back this up:

Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People writes: "Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else."

John Maxwell, noted Christian pastor, author and speaker puts it this way: “The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth or security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in the sharing of prestige, recognition, profits and decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives and creativity.”

For you Christians out there, you might be aware that the Bible speaks more often about money than it does any other subject. Check out what the author of Proverbs has to tell us about giving:

“The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

Proverbs 11:25 NLT

I believe that people who live out the abundance mindset are living with a higher purpose in mind, whether that flows from faith, family, goals or something else. Holding up a higher purpose helps those people avoid the comparison game, the keeping up with the Joneses, the desire for immediate gratification, etc. For these people, it’s not always “me, me, me”. As we know in the financial planning world, all of those traits lead to better financial health.

How to Begin

If you are not currently a regular giver, I would like to challenge you to try this out for three months.

Christian or not, I believe the “tithing” model is good starting point for most; 10% of your income is enough that you’ll feel it but not so much that it will bury you. Now, just like some of you might not be able to jump off the couch and attempt even a mile at this point - some of you may not be in financial shape to immediately cut checks for 10% of your income; if you need to ramp up gradually then please do so, but craft a plan for this and stick to it. Stretch before you run. Like most worthwhile endeavors, this will be painful at first and rewarding later on.

Find a charity, a church, or a cause you believe in and give this a go. It will feel hard at first, but I’m willing to bet that - at the end of those three months - you’ll feel a deeper level of gratitude for that which you already have, a more “abundant” state of mind and less overall stress about your finances. I’m even willing to bet that many of you will enjoy better actual results (blessings) in your own financial lives.

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