“Men are divided between those who are as thrifty as if they would live forever, and those who are as extravagant as if they were going to die the next day” (Aristotle).
TO BE “THRIFTY” IS TO “THRIVE.” In fact, the two words come from the same root. Thrifty is what we must be if we ever hope to thrive, and in a sense, thriving may be defined as the quality of life that we, in fact, enjoy when we’re thrifty. The word “thrifty” has to do with the careful management of money, time, and other resources, and it specifically denotes the person who is industrious, saving, and otherwise diligent in conserving the means at his disposal.
As Aristotle remarked, we tend to go to extremes in the matter of thrift: either we’re obsessed with it and turn ourselves into misers, or we’re careless about it and spend our resources without any conservation at all. When the question is whether to spend or save, balance is hard to achieve, as it is in most things. But we can at least improve our balance in this area, and to that end, here are two basic ideas.
(1) Economy. Thrift comes down to the question of managing the raw materials that we have to work with in life. If we’re not good stewards of these resources, we won’t be able to do as much good with them as we should. So we need to be economical. In other words, we need to learn self-denial and restraint, we need to avoid waste, and we need to practice the principles of wise conservation.
(2) Wise economy. As good as it is, economy is not the ultimate good in life, however, and so we need to strive for wise economy. If we don’t, our thriftiness will actually result in a diminishing of the good that we’re capable of doing. Especially in the matter of love, our primary concern ought not to be conservation. Love is often extravagant, and expressions of love shouldn’t be rationed out as if they were in limited supply. Love takes great delight in spending and being spent!
The essence of thrift, then, is the wise conservation of resources. Concerned about more than the selfish desires of the present moment, thrift takes thought for the needs of others, both now and later on. Thrift’s primary motive is to do as much good as it can today — and if possible, it wants to do even more good tomorrow.
“It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow” (Aesop).