Avoid Budget Busters Part 1: Thrift, an Old-Time Virtue Making a Comeback

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Slack Palm“Thrifty” isn’t a virtue we hear about very often these days. In fact, the only association I used to make with the word is at the end of the Scout Law I had to memorize when I was a boy: “thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

The Boy Scouts of America Handbook states, “A Scout is thrifty. A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.” Sounds like good advice for us all.

No matter how rich or poor you are, thrift is an integral part of your budget. If you are struggling, you need to stretch every dollar as far as you can. And if you are well off and in a higher tax bracket, every dollar you spend could cost you as much as two dollars in earnings. Recessions naturally bring out the quality of thrift in families but, more often than not, it’s due to necessity, not virtue. But being thrifty is a godly and biblical virtue.

Bruce Waltke, an authority on the Bible, wrote the two-volume “The Book of Proverbs (New International Commentary on the Old Testament).” His commentary offers wisdom about life’s important decisions on such issues as wealth, women and wine.

Biblical values provide an older and more holistic approach to life that runs counter to our materialism-trumps-all approach to happiness. If the book of Proverbs is part of your religious canon, the message will be particularly important. And even if you think the biblical message is too bound in its own time and culture, you can still consider it an alternative to being unwittingly manipulated by today’s relentless advertising messages.

It seems strange that thrift needs both defining and defending these days. Back when “The Boxcar Children” was a popular series of stories about the virtues of depression thrift, the mantra was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Today some of us may find that adage stingy and heartless. But our grandparents were wise in ways that are especially valuable in these times.

Waltke explains that in the first few verses of Chapter 10 of Proverbs, Solomon first lays out the ethical and theological and then the commonsense foundations of wealth. The practical sayings “teach that industry, contentment, thrift and forethought will produce wealth and protect against poverty.”

He translates the first half of Proverbs 10:4, “A poor person is made with a slack palm.” “Slack” connotes careless and negligence. He explains, “Chaos ever threatens to undo the created order, and, if unchecked by diligence, destroys hard-earned wealth.” Many families trying to live within their means fall to impulsive coveting only to suffer from buyer’s regret after the fact.

Marital fidelity is only as good as your worst affair. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And thrift is only as valuable as your worst budget blunder. To be financially successful, families must learn how to avoid these budgetary pitfalls. You cannot go into debt with time. Every day you are given another 24 hours. But it is possible to go deeply into financial debt. The consequences can be dire, and digging your way out is extremely difficult.

Waltke describes the admonition of Proverbs this way: “The diligent are thoughtful, not hasty, accumulate wealth, and attain power and dominion.” This isn’t a health and wealth gospel. God doesn’t want you to be rich. God wants you to be thoughtful, industrious, content and thrifty. He is more interested in your character than your accumulated capital. To whatever extent God has given you control, it’s your obligation to steward those resources well.

If thrift still makes you feel too much like a penny-pinching miser, consider that frugality is making a comeback as the eco-friendly green way to live. Today’s planned obsolescence is taking a toll on the environment. And trading fads and fashions as they become “so yesterday” is as costly to the earth as it is to our pocketbooks.

And if you believe thrift means you aren’t doing your part for the world economy, think again. Saving and giving or investing is the way to feed the hungry and raise the masses of the world out of poverty. Instead of indulging ourselves, we should live well below our means. Then we can afford to give generously and to invest in the development of countries where charity or capital investments can do the most good. We live simply in order that others might simply live.

Be proud of your thrift. Save, invest and be generous out of your largess. Only those who live well below their means have the means to fund the ventures that can change the world for the better.

Photo by Megan Marotta

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President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.