Why and How Be Thrifty?
THEY are an elderly couple, in their seventies, who live in a lovely, modest five-room house not far from Boston. Their home has a spacious basement and is situated on a large corner lot ornamented with trees and shrubs. They live comfortably and enjoy life as two retired citizens in the community.
What enables them to live this way? Do they get Social Security? Yes, but it does not reach far enough to cover all their expenses, as the taxes on their home alone come to more than $1,000 a year. Do they benefit from a pension? No. The reason they are getting by these days is that during the fifty years that he worked as a hotel chef they made a habit of saving; they lived economically; they were thrifty.
Being thrifty is not as highly regarded today as it once was. There was a time when parents admonished their children, “Waste not, want not.” The poet idealized the one of whom he could say, “Never idle a moment, but thrifty and thoughtful of others.” But one hears very little in praise of thrift these days and sees still less in practice.
Today everything seems to encourage wastefulness rather than thrift. Pride and the desire to “keep up with the Joneses” motivate so many people. Not only do advertisements make luxuries seem indispensable, but unwary buyers are lured with easy credit plans. The convenience of the credit card also plays its role in cultivating spending.
Of course, it must be admitted that there is such a thing as going to an extreme in this matter of being thrifty, as when a person becomes closefisted, miserly, stingy, mean. Wise and happy is the man who avoids both extremes, who is neither miserly nor wasteful.
Being Thrifty Is Wisdom
The Bible tells us that “money gives protection.” (Eccl. 7:12, Jerusalem Bible) And that it does.* Practicing thrift in money and in other material matters does give one a measure of protection and security. Thus when emergencies, such as sickness, accident or unemployment, arise, one is not faced with the embarrassing procedure of filing for personal bankruptcy, the way some 200,000 Americans did in 1972.
Another reason for being thrifty is that you get more for your money. When you save and then buy, you save the carrying or credit charges. Interest on unpaid bills usually is 1 1⁄2 percent a month or 18 percent a year! And should you need to borrow from a small-loan company, you may be paying even higher interest rates. So by saving your money and then buying, you not only avoid paying interest but your money earns interest until you spend it.
Good news for all such thrift-minded persons was the winning of a law suit that was brought by the Consumers Union against the American Express Company, one of the foremost issuers of credit cards. Some six million people world wide carry its card, and in the United States alone 87,000 business establishments accept its cards. The person carrying the card pays $15 annually for the convenience, and the establishment that honors these cards pays from 3 to 6 percent of the amounts purchased by credit-card users. Up till now business establishments could not offer discounts for cash if they wanted to keep the credit-card business of the American Express Company. But now they can. No longer is the cash-paying customer paying for the credit convenience extended to the credit-card user. A week later the press told of a like suit instituted against another major credit-card company.
The aviation industry advertises, “Fly now, pay later.” But better advice, once seen in Vancouver, British Columbia, is, “Save now, fly later.” Why? Because by getting the habit of thrift you will find that you can afford to get or do many more things, and that without any misgivings about being able to pay for them.
Thrift in Care of Home and Auto
That thrift is rewarding is also to be seen in such possessions as one’s home or auto. The home that is neglected soon becomes so dilapidated that it is not fit to live in. In certain sections of the big cities one sees abandoned apartment houses that now harbor squatters and/or rats instead of paying tenants. Why? In part, it is because the onetime tenants were so careless in their upkeep that the owners simply abandoned the buildings. In fact, this lack of care for the property of others on the part of certain classes of people is one of the main reasons why homeowners in well-kept sections of a city often try to keep certain ones from buying into their neighborhoods, not because of any racial prejudice, but because of concern for the value of their property.
A leading American monthly once told of how homes and neighborhoods suffered because of such lack of thrift: “Garbage, broken bottles and old bedsprings accumulate in many a back yard . . . a loose porch board goes unfixed for weeks, though all it needs is one nail and two licks with a hammer . . . broken windowpanes get stuffed with rags. Moreover, the same families that can’t find money for a bucket of paint or a pane of glass somehow manage, surprisingly often, to drive fancy cars and buy a fifth of whiskey every weekend.” To cite a specific instance: One man, with his family, was living in an abandoned building that lacked light, heat and water, and yet he bought a Cadillac to ride around in! But only for a few weeks, until it was stolen.
Thrift in the use of an automobile is also rewarding. Many a shrewd buyer is proud to tell you of the bargain he got in a good used car. Why? Because it had been owned by a thrifty person who took good care of it, took no chances with it, and got into no serious accidents with it. He did not abuse the motor and kept his car clean inside and out; also, he had it simonized from time to time. Both seller and buyer profited from such thrift.
There is also the matter of thrift in driving a car. Having tires inflated just a little higher than recommended will save on gasoline as well as rubber. Drive so as to use the brakes as little as possible. Every time that you use the brakes you are wasting gasoline; so slow down when a stop is coming up.
Better Reasons for Thrift
Not that the reasons for practicing thrift are all of a material nature. The person who is thrifty grows in appreciation of the value of things and so has more joy and satisfaction in the things he acquires and possesses. Then, too, should hard times come and banks fail and stocks and bonds depreciate in value, the person who has practiced thrift is more likely to be able to take such adversities in his stride. Such hard times will not fall nearly so hard upon the one who has been thrifty as upon the one who has been extravagant or wasteful.
Another reason for practicing thrift relates to our relationship to the Creator, Jehovah God. Actually, all of us are recipients of His goodness. He made the earth and man upon it, and provided all the things needful for sustaining and enjoying life, even as his Word repeatedly shows. (Ps. 104:14, 15; Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:15-17) So, at best, we are merely stewards of His goodness, and it is required of stewards that they be faithful and prudent. (1 Cor. 4:1, 2) Jesus made this point in two of his parables. In each of these there was a servant who brought no increase to his master and was rebuked for it. The money his master had entrusted to him he could at least have deposited in a bank so that the master would have received back the principal with interest added.—Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-23.
And what about having means so as to be able to help others? The thrifty person is in position to help those who happen to be in need. In this regard the counsel of the apostle Paul to the one who had been a thief comes to mind: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28) This counsel might well be adapted to the one lacking in thrift: ‘Let the wasteful spendthrift be no longer wasteful, but let him practice thrift so that he will have something saved up for a rainy day and so that he will be able to do a good turn to someone in need.’
And give not only to those in need but also to those known to be deserving, such as those who spend their full time telling others about Jehovah’s kingdom. The Philippians gave generously to the apostle Paul although he said that he was able to manage whether he had little or much. (Phil. 4:10-13) More than that, there are also worthy causes to which one can contribute—the most worthy of all being that which furthers the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom. (Matt. 24:14) Undoubtedly, those who practice thrift put themselves in a position where they can be “rich in fine works” and so experience ‘the greater happiness that comes from giving.’—1 Tim. 6:18; Acts 20:35.
Gasoline Crisis Teaches Thrift
The gasoline shortage with its long waiting lines and resultant higher prices caused many to adopt more thrifty habits. Some of the thrift habits that people adopted because of this shortage were reported in the press. For example, one man who daily drove his car to work learned to ride a motorcycle. In three months thereafter he and his wife drove their family car only 200 miles. A Florida couple who used to drive from 200 to 300 miles every weekend for pleasure and relaxation found that they could enjoy their weekends at home just as much. “You might say that the gasoline shortage has domesticated us,” is the way the wife put it.
A commuter living in a Philadelphia suburb organized a bus pool and so forty-six commuters, each of whom used to drive his auto to work, could regularly commute by means of this bus. Not only did they find this very economical but they also found it more relaxing and enjoyable, as they did not need to worry about the traffic but could enjoy reading the daily paper or visiting with one another.
Thrifty? Yes, as one newspaper said: “Reports from 14 cities across the country indicate that many Americans are continuing to stay home on weekends, walk to work or to the store, pursue more efficient shopping habits, ride bicycles, buses and trains, buy small cars and think about moving from the suburbs back to the city.” Undoubtedly life for millions may never be the same again.
Because of this trend toward practicing thrift a newsweekly featured a cover story entitled “Detroit Thinks Small.” It told of plans to cope with problems resulting in some 100,000 men being permanently laid off and as many as 66,000 being temporarily without work. It is also reported that in the spring of 1974 the middle-class real estate business on the outskirts of Miami was “very bad.” On the other hand, the business of selling homes in the center of New Orleans was described as “still hot—hot as firecrackers.” Truly, the shortage of gasoline and its increase in price caused many persons to change their life-style.
Other Aspects of Thrift
It may well be that most lack of thrift is simply due to thoughtlessness or following the lines of least resistance. Being thrifty means being thoughtful as regards little things as well as big ones. It means turning off the lights and TV when these are not being used. It means not wasting water, whether hot or cold. It means keeping household possessions clean, painted and in repair.
Food often takes the largest bite from the family budget. Thrift, therefore, means being careful in the first place when it comes to buying food; then in preparing it and then in what you do with the leftovers. Regarding the use of leftovers, you can take a lesson from Jesus Christ. After miraculously feeding five thousand men he gave instructions: “Gather together the fragments that remain over, so that nothing is wasted.” (John 6:12) And thrift would also indicate buying plain, wholesome, unrefined foods that contain their natural quota of vitamins and minerals.
The thrifty person will also give thought to saving money when it comes to clothes. The more radical the design, patterns and colors, the sooner one tires of them. As a rule, it is wise to pay a little more for quality—if one expects to wear the garment for any length of time. Keeping clothes neat, clean, pressed and mended will make them last longer. The same is true of your shoes. If you keep them shined, and replace soles and heels before these get worn down too far, you can double or triple the wear you get out of them.
Many indeed are the reasons for practicing thrift. Because we are sensible, logical creatures, practicing thrift brings a certain degree of satisfaction and pleasure. And since it requires both thought and self-discipline, it is truly a virtue; especially since we are in fact stewards, accountable to God for the way we use the gifts he has bestowed upon humankind.
Not, of course, that money gives the best protection, for Solomon, the writer of the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, goes on to say that it is knowledge (of God) that does that.