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Make Charity a Budget Item

"Every month when I sit down to pay bills, I write my tithe check first, and everything else just falls into place," said John McCreight, president and chief executive of Christian Financial Advisors based in Rome, Ohio.

If you tithe after everyone and their mama is paid, there usually isn't enough left over to give.

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Now I'm not suggesting you let your mortgage or monthly car payment go unpaid. You shouldn't shirk your other financial obligations because you're tithing. Those debts should be honored and paid as agreed.

However, to do it all you have to become dogmatic about watching your expenses. That may mean making some different life choices. If your mortgage is too heavy, you may need to get a roommate. You may need to buy a used car instead of a new one.

You may need to learn to put away your credit cards.

To get started on your budget, try Crown Financial Ministries' online budget guide at www.crown.org. Click on the link for "tools."

According to Crown, there are three primary categories in every person's budget: housing, food and auto. If these three combined categories exceed 70 percent of your income (after tithes and taxes), then it will be difficult for you to have a balanced budget.

For example, Crown's online budget guide says you shouldn't be spending more than 38 percent of your net income on housing or 13 percent for your car payment.

Tithing forces you (or it should) to look at your entire financial picture. It helps you become a better steward of your money. There's no question that tithing can be tough. But with careful budgeting you can develop a habit of giving that will enrich your life.

Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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