Thursday, October 4, 2012

thinking about thrift...

I was reading on yesterday and the writer offered a definition of thrift. I'll copy and paste it here:
"I think it includes:
  • earning and saving a portion of money and keeping it over time
  • establishing an emergency fund
  • thinking before buying
  • differentiating between needs and wants
  • evaluating the quality of what you buy and sometimes paying a little more
  • seeing if an item you now own can be repaired and deciding if it's worth it
  • paying with cash, not with a credit card
  • giving generously to worthy causes instead of being stingy
  • appreciating people who agree with the above"
I'm not sure I agree with her entirely.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (unabridged!) offers this definition of thrift: "Savings accumulated through frugality... careful management esp of financial affairs, good husbandry, wise frugality in expenditure," and provides the origin for the term, which came out of Old Norse via Middle English: well being, prosperity - and refers us to the Modern English word thrive.

Any of you who know me well know that I'm a total language geek, having studied Classical and medieval Latin, Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, and several modern languages. I think it's often very useful when seeking to understand a concept to dig into why the concept has the name it does. That's certainly true with thrift. I mean, seriously - thrive? "To improve steadily, prosper, flourish" - that all sounds good to me! (American Heritage Dictionary)

So - thrift. Ms. Blatzheim's discussion is largely about what thrifty actions might look like, with a dash of the sort of attitude behind such actions. Her article got me to wondering about wants and needs - and where the line crossing into greed is found. 

Back to Webster's - I need glasses just to see the entries! - greed: inordinate or all-consuming and usu. reprehensible acquisitiveness esp. for wealth or gain: extreme or voracious desire esp. for food or drink. It comes from Old English/Old High German for hunger, or 'to long for.' 

Christianity and Judaism both condemn greed, though I did not find a definition for what constitutes greed: Psalm 10:3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. Proverbs 29:4 By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down. (still timely!)  Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

I guess what's bothering me right now is where that line is. If I think I live thriftily, what am I using for my comparison? I think it's generally agreed that as a nation, Americans have more, and want more still, than any other People on earth. If I'm thrifty compared to other Americans, well, that's hardly a great accomplishment, is it? 

Oh well. I don't think I'm able - and certainly not willing, Lord forgive me - to live like a resident of a third-world country. It might come to that in a generation to two, but I'm not there yet. So, going back to Ms. Blatzheim's list - I think the most salient point there is about differentiating between needs and wants (though thinking before buying is certainly good advice). How much of what I think I need do I actually need? At what point is it morally wrong for me to have more than what I genuinely need, since my consumption has such wide-ranging effect on everyone else on the planet? (note: I disagree with the bit about not using credit cards... but I agree that cards MUST be used responsibly, for items you would purchase anyway, not for impulse buys, and they MUST be paid off in full EVERY month! Surrounding yourself with like-minded folks is nice, but not mandatory, especially if they're hard to find)

I don't think I'm going to try to reach a conclusion to this post. It's more about the thinking than the conclusion. I welcome thoughts from everyone, though - how do you define thrift? Is it purely economic, or is there a moral aspect to it? If you think about such things, what's your approach to having and not having?


  1. There is far more to this subject than be addressed in a blog response. Could we have a converstaion some time, face to face? Much of what you are struggling with is the topic of my book-in-process. I think this may be one of those subjects where the question matters more than the answer.

  2. Michelle, I agree with your assessment. I very much enjoy central heating and hot showers.

    1. Anne - I hear you! I'm at the point of feeling a bit guilty for the hot showers now, so I either make 'em short or have a quick rinse most days, and save the hot shower for when it really counts. Central heating is lower on my list - I just want to be warm where I am; I don't need it warm everywhere.

  3. makes me think again of giver's and takers...aka Ishmael.

    Yes.... creating instead of destroying. Thrift has so long been identified as to do with money that it has lost it's meaning in a modern world imho.

    Thrift takes people away from quality and focuses on amount or compared to... and as such is divisive.

    I agree on the pondering.