Thrift Week? It Makes Sense

Gerald P. Cuddy and David Lapp, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/17/2010

It's clear that when it comes to use of money and resources, we need a better set of guiding principles. But we don't have to invent these principles - we can draw inspiration from one of our own great, though largely forgotten, traditions: National Thrift Week... But the leaders of National Thrift Week didn't limit their vision to encouraging sound financial management. They had a higher purpose in mind. They invited Americans to cultivate thrift as a virtue. They believed that thrift, instilled early in life and practiced diligently, is an "affair of character," that helps build integrity, responsibility, stewardship of resources, and generosity to others.

Read the Article >>

Subject: Thrift

More by: Gerard Cuddy and David Lapp

As the economy pulls out of the recession, ask yourself this simple question: Should we revert back to a personal savings rate of below zero - back to the mindless consumerism and independence-killing indebtedness that helped start this recession?

It's clear that when it comes to use of money and resources, we need a better set of guiding principles. But we don't have to invent these principles - we can draw inspiration from one of our own great, though largely forgotten, traditions: National Thrift Week.

National Thrift Week began Jan. 17, 1916 - the anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, the "American Apostle of Thrift" - and soon spread to more than 300 cities and communities across the country. Scores of civic, religious, business, and youth-serving organizations sponsored the event.

Savings banks partnered with schools to help children open their own savings accounts. Businesses set up programs for employee savings. Communities held parades. Civic leaders gave speeches. Preachers gave sermons. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, U.S. presidents issued proclamations in praise of thrift. The movement was so popular that, in 1927, organizers reported "some hundred odd addresses" at Kiwanis and Rotary Club meetings across the country, and the "life and work of Benjamin Franklin were featured at many of these meetings."

National Thrift Week promoted practices that are as sound today as they were a century ago: Work hard, make a budget, stick to that budget, establish a savings account, carry life insurance, pay bills on time, and invest prudently.

But the leaders of National Thrift Week didn't limit their vision to encouraging sound financial management. They had a higher purpose in mind. They invited Americans to cultivate thrift as a virtue. They believed that thrift, instilled early in life and practiced diligently, is an "affair of character," that helps build integrity, responsibility, stewardship of resources, and generosity to others.

In this larger sense, thrift enables and drives generosity - which is why one day of National Thrift Week was "Share With Others Day." As one thrift leader explained, people are "under obligations to treat material resources as a sacred trust and to share a definite and liberal proportion of them with others by giving to the church and to worthy individuals and causes." Precisely because a person is thrifty - because he or she wants to use resources wisely for the sake of human flourishing - that person is also generous.

It's this broad, rich vision of thrift that all Americans - bankers and environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats, Wall Street executives and Main Street small-business owners - can rally around today.

A revival of National Thrift Week offers endless opportunities for civic and business engagement. Banks and credit unions could partner with local schools or youth organizations to establish savings clubs for young people and to teach about the "miracle of compound interest." Community groups could sponsor classes in budgeting and savings. Greening of America projects could build "thrift cadres" for local conservation and recycling efforts. Organizations from various sectors could work together.

For instance, Boys' Life magazine (official magazine of Boy Scouts of America), the Institute for American Values (a think tank), and the John Templeton Foundation are already teaming up to hold a thrift quiz, in which 10 young people will win a $500 savings bond. Businesses and foundations could similarly partner with schools and youth-serving organizations to educate young people about thrift.

What got us into the economic downturn is a corrosive culture of debt, waste, and arrogance. What will put us on the path toward sustainable, shared prosperity is a culture of thrift. Bringing back National Thrift Week would be a good start - and the home of America's Apostle of Thrift is the perfect city to lead the way.

This article originally appeared here.

Follow

Institute for American Values, 420 Lexington Avenue, Room 1706, New York, NY 10170

212.246.3942