Friday, October 28, 2005

Let's Bring Back Thrift Week!

On the eve of America's entrance into World War I, the leaders of the nation's major civic organizations began to think about how they could support preparedness efforts for the battle ahead. The Young Men's Christian Association launched National Thrift Week, to be observed every year starting on January 17th, Benjamin Franklin's birthday, to teach children - and adults - habits of saving money and using it wisely. Though it was endorsed at its founding in 1916 by Herbert Lord, the director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, the popularity of Thrift Week grew significantly in the years to come.

In the early 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge was seen as the very embodiment of thrift. Both his policies, which included paying off the national debt and reducing tax rates, and his persona, that of a frugal farmer, inspired others to more thrifty behavior.

By 1927, Thrift Week had almost fifty sponsors, including the American Red Cross, the Girl Scouts, and the U.S. Postal Service; and, according to the report of the organizing committee, just under thirty thousand people heard thrift messages in schools, churches, and businesses. Almost eighty thousand pieces of printed matter were distributed, including personal budget books.

Each day of the week was assigned a particular kind of thrifty behavior: Pay Bills Promptly Day, Life Insurance Day, Own Your Own Home Day, Budget Day, Safe Investment and Make a Will Day. These names may sound a little old-fashioned and perhaps a bit too earnest for twenty-first-century Americans, but who can deny the value of these practices seventy-five years later?

Thrift Week not only educated people about how to save up money for themselves and their family. It also expanded their understanding of the very purpose of thrift. In explaining why Share with Others Day was included at the end of this celebration, one of the organizers wrote, "The great majority of us have money enough to spare for the needs of society from our store. A margin is there from which thrifty people can contribute to answer the call of humanity." Bring back Thrift Week.

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