The death of thrift

Open any cookbook published before, say, 1965. The recipes all make mention of how to make the dish cheaply, using affordable cuts of meat, and canned vegetables because they were cheaper than fresh. The idea of "Thrift" was alive and well, and the idea that a housewife should look for ways to stretch the family budget was lauded as a virtue.

We snicker at such old-fashioned values today, even as we hold dear the nostalgia for a "simpler" time. Sometime in the last few generations, the fiscal conservatism our grandparents practiced as a matter of course went out the window with the rotary phones. A provocative article in Canada's Financial Post asks what happened?

Laurie Campbell, executive director of Credit Canada, has a simple answer for what happened to thrift: "It became old fashioned, sadly," she told the Post. Credit counselors don't see much thrift and when they do it tends to be from older people., she said. For young people, "it's not cool to be thrifty," Campbell said in the article. "To be honest, I don't think they know the meaning of the word thrift."

And that's in Canada. You have to presume that here in the States, it's even worse. Since 2005, savings rates for both countries have dipped into the negative. The last time that happened was during the Great Depression -- when people simply didn't have jobs. These days, we have no such good excuse.

At least two generations have come of age with access to credit cards and the omnipresent American mantra of "Shop 'Til You Drop." It's the rare individual who is able to keep their desire for immediate gratification in check, and that's been great for an economy largely fueled by consumer spending.

Alas, our spendthrift ways are coming home to roost. You could view the current global credit crisis as the ugly end result of our playing fast and loose with money. When it all shakes out, frugality could make a comeback as a great American characteristic.

What do you think? Is thrift the new black?
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