Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bring Back National (or International) Thrift Week?

National Thrift Week had a 50-year run in our history before being dispensed with in the 1960s. It began on Jan. 17, 1916—the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, the “American Apostle of Thrift”—and soon spread to more than 300 communities. Everyone from the YMCA to the Jewish Welfare Board to the National Education Association sponsored the event. Indeed, educators, partnering with financial institutions and businesses, played a key role in promoting thrift during the week.

David Lapp, in a commentary for Education Week, proposes that we revive this product of the very early 20th century because of its relevance to our difficult current economic times. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Economic prosperity doesn't guarantee the future, and certain values that used to help protect us from fiscal disaster seem to have been lost, especially in the young.

But how could anyone become so excited about a mundane idea like thrift? Doesn’t thrift mean pinching pennies? Thrift leaders of that era were quick to point out that thrift is not synonymous with miserliness. They believed it was just the opposite. After all, they pointed out, the root of the word “thrift” is “thrive.” How is the thrifty person the thriving person?

Many of us as young as thirty-something may have absorbed thriftiness from our parents or grandparents, who lived through harder times than this. Parts of the U.S. suffered economically even in the 80's, and plenty of us pinched pennies with white knuckles to get by.

What about today's kids, the children of the 90's and the "oughts"? Do they feel that subconscious urge to prepare, or has it been simply too easy? History shows that our memories are short when it comes to the negative. Second-hand memories vaporize even more quickly. Perhaps regular revisitation of the tenets of thrift are called for today. Lapp offers some ideas:

• Devote a student assembly to teaching thrift. Just as in the heyday of National Thrift Week, schools could partner with bank and credit-union leaders to teach students about savings, budgeting, and wise spending.

• Hold a thrift essay contest. Teachers could encourage students to research the life of Franklin as an example of how a thrifty person lives. Schools could also partner with their local chamber of commerce to award the winners savings bonds.

• Start a “green thrift team” that works on recycling and conservation projects. Schools could partner with public officials to meet local needs.

Atomic Learning offers a number of free financial literacy tools that may be useful as part of National Thrift Week, and for the classroom in general. Let's work together to put our kids' future back in their hands and minds, rather than simply trusting fate.


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