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Templeton Report
News from the John Templeton Foundation
February 6, 2013

Thrift Week: Celebrating a Practical and Spiritual Virtue

VIDEO: Benjamin Franklin gives students a history lesson
VIDEO: Benjamin Franklin gives students a
history lesson.

January 17–23 was Thrift Week, which annually celebrates thrift as a virtue and crucial dynamic within the American way of life.

That imperative can be traced back to the writings of Benjamin Franklin. In his Advice to a Young Tradesman, he wrote: “[T]he way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.”

“Franklin encouraged Americans to be industrious and frugal,” pointed out William Mattox, resident fellow at the James Madison Institute, in a recent article for USA Today. “[N]ot just to facilitate upward mobility, but also because he knew that economic dependency and chronic debt hinders one’s liberty.”

As part of Thrift Week, the James Madison Institute offered programs, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, to coincide with Franklin’s January 17th birthday. Students at Killearn Lakes Elementary School in Tallahassee, Florida were treated to a history lesson from Franklin impersonator Lloyd Wheeler. In addition, a week-long learning module, “All About the Benjamins: Understanding the Value of Thrift,” has been studied by approximately 300,000 Florida high school students as part of a financial literacy requirement and continues to be taught each year.

A Thrift Week declaration was announced by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater. “Thrift and saving are integral components of any financial plan and the root of long-term financial success for families, businesses, and individuals,” he said. Mattox also noted that “[T]he Republican governor of Florida has joined the Democratic mayor of Philadelphia in signing Thrift Week proclamations tied to Franklin’s Jan. 17 birthday.”

In Philadelphia, the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values, also supported by a John Templeton Foundation grant, partnered with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on January 26th to host a public lecture entitled “Personal Financial Education: What Research Tells Us.” The lecture, presented by economic education advisor Andrew T. Hill, covered the effectiveness of personal financial education with a focus on the high school level. The presentation was part of a Thrift Week teacher workshop, “Engaging Students in Thrift.”

Does a Culture of Thrift Cultivate Generosity?

Although thrift is generally associated with saving and conserving, this essential virtue also has to do with thriving. The two words share the same linguistic root. Dr. Jack Templeton has developed this theme in Thrift and Generosity: The Joy of Giving, proposing that thrift is about far more than just making the books balance. In combination with gratitude and generosity, it can generate a deep and lasting contentment. Thrift has a spiritual dimension because, by practicing the virtue, life begins to reveal its deeper meanings. “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift,” was one way that Sir John Templeton expressed this sentiment in his book, Worldwide Laws of Life.

Thrift has been “a complement and spur to generosity in American thought and practice,” noted social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in a recent essay at Big Questions Online. This was part of Franklin’s insight as well, Whitehead continued. He argued that there is a rationale for doing good for others while you are doing well yourself. In short, if thrift makes for individual betterment, then generosity contributes to social betterment, creating a virtuous spiral that potentially benefits all. Thrift is an attitude worth cultivating, not out of necessity, but out of principle for human thriving, as well as cultural and social health.

Historically, Thrift Week was widely celebrated in America. In the early twentieth century organizations as diverse as the YMCA, the American Bankers Association, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs worked together to spread the values of saving, giving, and collective concern. An article in The New York Times, published on January 15, 1922, stressed that the purpose of the week was “to help the individual to think straight and act wisely about money matters in the realms of earning, spending, saving, investing, and giving.” It is a perennial need that has not lessened in the century since, which is why the return of the week is now being championed by the Bring Back Thrift Week initiative. Thrift is of great relevance to contemporary life, and the idea has created more programs and organizations committed to better understanding the benefits of the virtue and promoting its influential values.

 

Notebook

2013 JTF Grant Inquiries Now Being Accepted

2013 JTF Grant Inquiries Now Being Accepted

Researchers and project leaders seeking financial support from the John Templeton Foundation are now able to submit Online Funding Inquiries for the first funding cycle of 2013, which opened on February 1. During this period, the Foundation invites applicants to submit Online Funding Inquiries related to its Core Funding Areas and 2013 Funding Competition, “New Assessments and Measures of Virtues.” Online Funding Inquiries will be accepted until April 1, 2013. A Full Proposal is requested by the Foundation if an Online Funding Inquiry is approved. Full details are available online.

 

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