I was recently working at our church's welcome desk on a Sunday morning. An elderly lady whom I would guess is well into her 70s or early 80s came up and handed me a $20 bill and asked that I please make sure it went toward our ministry to families with children with special needs (what we call "Luke's Kids," from Luke 14:13–14).
Her act of love and generosity moved me. She told me that she has a granddaughter with special needs and appreciates what we are doing to assist families like hers.
From her general appearance and manner, one might conclude that she's not particularly financially well-off (though looks can be deceiving). Still, she went out of her way to make this gift, so she's certainly "well-off" in terms of what really matters.
Her generosity got me thinking about giving in retirement. So, in this article, I'll pose some questions you can answer for yourself to help you make important decisions about giving based on your situation and convictions.
Do you want to continue giving in retirement?
Because I'm assuming most were giving in some way before retirement, this is the first question I suggest you answer.
You may be wondering why I would ask this question. Well, some may assume that since they are no longer working for a living, there is no longer any biblical warrant to tithe or give. As I discussed in a previous article, I don't think the Bible teaches that.
The Bible is full of verses that emphasize the importance of generosity and giving. According to the National Christian Foundation,
There are more than 2,300 verses in the Bible that reference the concept of giving, money, and possessions. That's more than twice as many as any other subject. Clearly, from a biblical perspective, the way we approach these topics plays a central role in our faith.
These verses apply to all Christians, regardless of which stage of life they're in. Therefore, retirement doesn't fundamentally change anything.
It may be a little presumptive to assume that most retirees want to continue some form of charitable giving in retirement and, perhaps, even increase it for as long as they're able. If that's not your aim, I'm not going to tell you what to do. But I will appeal to you from scripture:
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Cor. 9:6–8).
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 2:15–16)
If you do want to continue to "sow bountifully" in retirement, there are some practical questions to consider if you want a plan to do it.
Should you just go with a straight tithe?
In all likelihood, you're already decided one way or another about tithing. But if you've not thought much about it, or about tithing in retirement, here are two different perspectives about tithing in general from The Gospel Coalition (TGC):
Many people regularly tithe to their local church. If that's your conviction, and you want to continue doing so in retirement, I lay out some ways to think about and do it in the article mentioned previously. I discuss the mechanics of tithing (or giving from) your fixed income sources such as pensions and Social Security and income from your retirement account distributions (money you have to pay taxes on unless it's from a Roth account).
How you tithe your retirement income may be similar to how you decided on an amount and paid it before you retired. Perhaps you have "tithed" (in this case, I mean faithfully given a certain percentage) 5% in the past and have always aspired to give more. If so, according to a 2019 study by the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, you're giving 3.7% more than the median household.
As Joe Carter points out in a TGC article on the study:
Since only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who give to their local church do so through regular tithing, we can assume it's not popular. . . If every Christian household gave as much of its income today as the average American did during the Great Depression (3.3 percent), the median giving would be $2,073—an increase of 107 percent. If Christians gave half a tithe (5 percent of their income), the median giving would be $3,142, increasing 204 percent.
I think the tithe is a good starting point for regular giving, even as a biblical principle and not as a command. But the generous, proportional, and sacrificial giving that the New Testament talks about seems to go beyond that (1 John 3:16–18; Acts 20:35; Heb. 13:16; etc.).
I believe that you should tithe (or give) based on personal conviction and do so cheerfully and with a clear conscience (2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Tim. 3:9). I can't say what an appropriate giving level is for anyone other than my wife and me.
What I do know is that biblical, Christ-centered giving flows out of a heart of thankfulness and gratitude toward God and a love for neighbor, the need to bring all areas of our lives—finances included—under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and a desire to see the Kingdom of God expanded on the earth using the resources of time, talents, and treasure that God has entrusted to us.
What if you've been giving as the Lord leads and were able?
If you haven't been tithing a fixed percentage before retirement and instead have been regularly giving as you felt led by the Lord and were able, it seems reasonable to continue to give that way in retirement.
Of course, you will have to decide whether you can continue to give at the same level; you may decide to increase or decrease it.
Many people will have less income in retirement than before—that's just a fact of life. Therefore, they will need to reduce their living expenses, which may necessitate giving less, at least for a while.
But here's where things get tricky.
Although we may have less income (because of systematic withdrawals from savings to supplement other fixed income), you may be sitting on a reasonably large retirement savings account balance. God may lead you to give generously from that stockpile of savings, perhaps at a greater level than you did when you were working.
Yes, we should hold those savings loosely, knowing that they do not belong to us, and we should be ready to be generous with them whenever the Lord leads. In our hearts, we should always be willing to voluntarily and cheerfully give (2 Cor. 9:7).
Yet, the Bible also instructs us to provide for our families. Therefore, if we give away all our retirement savings, we may not have enough money to live on. We may then become a burden to others unnecessarily.
If God commands you to give all (or most) of it away, and you pray and seek wise counsel and are confident that's what God is leading you to do, and you also have his assurance that you can trust him for your provision if you do, you are free to do so. At the very least, that should be our heart-posture: to be willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the gospel.
Another approach would be to monitor your savings closely. If you have established a systematic withdrawal strategy that will meet your income needs for life, but your savings grow more than expected (or you need to withdraw less), then you might view that as a surplus that you can use for generosity.
If your financial resources are more limited in retirement, you could cut back on spending to free up more for giving, especially if you have a lot of discretionary spending on things like travel, leisure, and entertainment in your retirement budget.
That's not to say we can't ever enjoy any of those things. We can because they are God's good gifts to us to be used with joy and thanksgiving. But living in retirement in a way that is others- and ministry-oriented instead of entirely self-centered will naturally lead to a reprioritization of the use of our God-given resources, including our financial assets.
There may be times of economic upheaval when your savings decline dramatically in value or when you incur a significant or even catastrophic unexpected expense that significantly depletes your savings. These things will necessitate a reevaluation of your entire financial situation, including your giving.
But even then, you want to factor generosity into your plans, even if you need to give less than what you could before retirement. Remember, the Lord looks upon the heart, not the amount on the check.
Should you spend and give it all or try to leave a legacy if you can?
Which is a greater priority: spending and giving or leaving an inheritance? The biggest challenge with this question is that the Bible seems to encourage all these things. Not only that, but they can all bring us joy (though some would say that giving is the most joyous).
While generosity is discussed in both the Old and New Testaments and leaving a (material) inheritance is addressed in the Old, neither is "commanded" under the New Covenant.
In the Old Testament, inheritance was the primary means of ongoing support and survival of an extended family (which was the norm for the day). It's discussed in places like Gen. 15:2, Deut. 21:15–17, Num. 27:8–11, and was therefore assumed in the culture, but the Bible only speaks of it as a particular virtue in Prov. 13:22:
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous (Prov. 13:22).
The New Testament, on the other hand, speaks mainly about generosity and leaving a spiritual inheritance. In fact, in Luke 12:13–21, Jesus seems to minimize the importance of leaving a material inheritance.
Believers are not bound to the Old Testament Law, and that would include its teaching on inheritance. Instead, we are to follow the "law of love" for God and others. How this love is expressed by leaving a legacy will vary from one family to the next.
It may or may not involve land or possessions, or even money for that matter. It may mean leaving a spiritual legacy, the impartation of character, an education, or a skill. But, for most, the idea of "inheritance" broadly connotes leaving money and possessions.
Although the Bible supports the idea of parents leaving material wealth to children, we should not feel we are under any biblical command to that effect and certainly should not sacrifice essential needs in this life so that our children can enjoy luxuries after we are gone.
Leaving an inheritance is a final act of love and appreciation to our children. Still, it should not come at the expense of meeting your essential needs in retirement (or even enjoying the occasional indulgence yourself).
When considering leaving an inheritance, there are two essential considerations: 1) how much and to whom and 2) through what legal mechanism.
Decisions about how much to give and to whom must be done thoughtfully and prayerfully. The stewardship principle implies that any inheritance comes with the expectation that your beneficiaries will use the money wisely and in ways that honor and glorify God and further his Kingdom on the earth (Deut. 6:6–7; Eph. 6:4).
It would be unbiblical and unwise to leave money to an irresponsible person unless it is held in trust and dispersed only under certain conditions.
Another principle that we see in scripture is proportionality. Generally, you would split the inheritance equally among your heirs, but that's not a hard and fast rule. There may be justification for a "double portion" under some circumstances and none under others. Such decisions are deeply personal and family-specific and should be made with much prayer and wise counsel.
The mechanism whereby the inheritance is conveyed is typically via a written will or non-revocable trust. Due to the many considerations and complexities involved, I will tackle the will versus trust question in a separate article.
Retirees may find the giving question challenging to answer given their new financial situation (i.e., not bringing home a regular paycheck). Plus, retirees are bombarded with all kinds of financial risks and uncertainties: health care costs, market volatility, inflation, long-term care costs, etc.
The wise steward will save and invest responsibly before retirement and spend responsibly in retirement. Yet, we must not allow our need to plan and manage our resources well to supplant the centrality of the gospel as it causes us to live faithfully and generously with our time, talents, and treasure.
Although the Bible gives us ample teaching and guidance in this area, our giving decisions are deeply personal. (I shared my approach in an article I have already mentioned.) And as with so many other things, our heart attitude is what matters most to God (1 Sam. 16:7). If you have the heart to honor and serve God with all your resources, including your retirement savings and income and trust him to guide your steps in this area (Prov. 3:5–6), you'll wholeheartedly live a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, and mission-focused life in retirement.