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Tess Vigeland: Like the holidays themselves, religion is really about spirituality. Morality. The soul. Not generally cash money. But it's not sacreligious, I hope, to acknowledge that finance and faith do sometimes end up mixing. In fact for some, it happens all year long.
This year, reporter Cash Peters decided to explore the practice of tithing -- and he found it might not be a bad investment.
Cash Peters: So OK, it sounds crazy, but I've decided to give away 10 percent of my income as a tithe. When you tithe, you're making a secret spiritual deal, apparently. It's a sort of "special offer" from the Universe -- you know, like when you buy a box of detergent and get one free?
Ken Craft: There are laws that are just natural laws that we live by. There's a law of sowing and reaping. You sow an apple seed, you're going to reap more apples than the one seed you sow. And it's the same with finances -- you know, when you give, it's given back to you.
See? I'm totally hooked.
Ken runs the San Fernando Valley Mission, a homeless shelter in L.A. Unfortunately for him, though, tithing is not about giving to charity. Not according to Paul Kaye of the website tithing.org, anyway.
Paul Kaye: Tithing, as we look at it, is giving back to the source of your spiritual teachings. You're not giving to a person, you're not giving to an organization, you are giving to God.
And for most people, I guess, that means they tithe to their place of worship. By the way, that's tax-deductible. But it could be to anyone, really, who makes your life better.
Here's the first problem, though: If I give 10 percent of my income away, won't -- and stay with me here -- won't I then be 10 percent poorer?
Kaye: I would look at it as, actually, I'm richer than before I gave.
Peters: How are you richer, though?
Kaye: You're richer inwardly. In terms of, you're saying to yourself, "I have enough to give." You're richer because you're giving.
"Richer inwardly." Don't know if I like the sound of that. So rather than leap straight in, I decided to consult my friend, Len Richmond.
Len Richmond: What are you going to get out of this? You've already got what you wanted, so . . .
Peters: You're rewarded tenfold.
Richmond: Are you really? OK.
I have some very mercenary friends. The part of the tithing idea Len objected to was . . . all of it, basically.
But that's because he's never met Nick Siegal. Nowadays, Nick's a successful real-estate guy in Brentwood, California, but years ago, he and his wife were almost insolvent.
Nick Siegal: We had a disposable income of about $100. And my wife and I agreed, we're going to give this $100, and we're gonna say, "All right, we're at the bottom, so here we go, what have you got for us?"
Peters: But then you've got nothing, though.
Siegal: We've got nothing. That's right. But between $100 and nothing, you know? You're scraping the bottom. You can taste the paint on the bottom. What does it matter at that point, right?
Right. But that was 12 years ago. Now, I have no idea how rich he is, but he's rich. And it's all, he believes, because he tithed.
Siegal: Things started to shift. Suddenly there was a deal where there wasn't a deal. And suddenly I had a new client. And I was able to start to manifest money.
Kaye: What you'll find when you speak to people who genuinely do that, they go, "I don't know how it happened, I thought I was going to be poor, but in fact after I gave my 10 percent I had all the money I needed to pay my expenses." This is a common, common experience among people who tithe.
Richmond: It's a con job. How are they gonna confirm you're gonna be rewarded for something? There's no way you can confirm it, so they're conning you by giving you something that you can never verify.
Oh dear. Well, I know it's a little too mystical for most people, and doesn't make strict practical sense, but if only to feel "richer inwardly," I decided to give it a go anyway.
Richmond: How can you be so dumb?
Be quiet. I tithed three separate times in 10 days. I gave the money cheerfully -- that's important: You mustn't resent the giving, even if you secretly do -- I gave away 10 percent of any financial increase I received, not just my income.
Kaye: I actually tithe on the gifts. Someone fortunately gave me a little Nano iPod the other day -- complete surprise -- uh, so . . .
Peters: You gave away the earphones?
Kaye: Yes, that's my giving. So I looked it up and I said, "How much is this? This is $200," so I'm tithing $20 on it.
Good! And last of all, I gave the money to my local church. That's it. Then I sat back and waited for the money to roll in.
Kaye: There oftentimes is a monetary reward, but there oftentimes isn't. But there is always a reward, and you have to look around and find out what that reward is.
And you know what? He's right -- I didn't receive money. There were rewards, though. For a start, over the next week, friends kept buying me free meals. It was so strange. Plus my dentist dispensed with an expensive treatment, saving me five grand. And I was about to buy a $2,000 sauna for the house when, out of the blue, somebody else paid for it, as a gift. All within six days. Coincidence? Pfft, who cares? All I know is I'm addicted to tithing now.
Will you stop saying that? I'm going to keep doing it 'til I'm as rich as Nick Siegal, or until I, too, live at the San Fernando Valley Homeless Shelter.
On Easy Street -- for now -- I'm Cash Peters for Marketplace Money.
Vigeland: Eh, keep it up, Cash. If you wanna hear more about how to give, next week we're devoting the entire show to the more generous side of personal finance: Philanthropy.