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Thrift – An American Value

Posted on Friday, August 11, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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14 Comments
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Thrift

Americans are struggling – facing unnecessarily high inflation, correspondingly high-interest rates, artificially high energy costs, and high anxiety. Why? Federal mismanagement, overspending, and overregulation. Needed are leaders who recall thrift – an American value.

American value? Yes, we are a people who traditionally did not ask for more government but less. Why? Because more government meant less liberty – more waste, more taxes, more mandates.

We did not want more welfare, forced dependence, bailouts, or freebies. We wanted a chance to do what we could, what we were born to, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. It was not complicated. Most just wanted a chance to work, make ends meet, and enjoy the sunset.

In northern New England, one adage said it all, produced less debt, less regret, and better sleep. Old-timers said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Conserve, and be grateful.

To be content, of course, you had to know what made you content. Often, that was less than you might think – and far less than the government now thinks. Limited government, lower taxes, fewer mandates, and basic safety were key—that left workers with more pay and less worry.

Put differently, we like our independence, freedom to make decisions, and some predictability. We like reliable gas cars, trucks, stoves, easy to service appliances like refrigerators, lawnmowers, and water heaters. We believe in that thing called free markets, supply meeting demand.  

We like affordable food, which means affordable fertilizer, harvest, and transport, higher farm margins, and lower consumer costs. We like our dollar – hard earned and saved – to keep its value.

Unfortunately, unconstrained government expenditures, taxes, and regulations – all bad calls – are forcing many Americans back to thrift, forcing us all to learn how to “do more with less.”

In practical terms, most Americans budget, match their spending roughly to revenue, and thus make hard decisions. We used to have leaders who did that. These days, they have forgotten, transferring pressure back to taxpayers, who pay for endless leaders’ generosity with our money.

Somehow, not long ago, leaders knew “money does not grow on trees.” Tax dollars were not theirs to waste or burn but were hard-earned. They knew, too, that Americans expected thrift.

Leaders knew taxpayers were not keen on reckless, socialist programs – meant to solve problems in the purview of citizens, not the government. Leaders knew it was not their job to tell us what we could and could not buy, say, or do; they had no right to take away choices that belonged to the people.

Americans are patient – but if we are impatient about anything, it is the insidious growth and overreach, intrusion, entitlement, and arrogance of government. Most do not want the government behaving like a “helicopter parent,” there’s no need for that. They have had quite enough overspending.

When you get right down to it, most people do not want more government. They want their leaders to be thrifty, stay on budget, and conserve the limited resources we all have.

Growing up, many Americans knew thrift, or “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” As kids, if bedsheets got old, they became rags for cleaning windows and cars, and later were torn into strips for kite tails, crafts, and tying things off.

Nothing was wasted. Old soup cans held nails, screws, nuts, bolts, or collected coins, buttons, paperclips, and grease at the sink side. A can went over the tractor stack to keep the rain out. Plastic milk jugs had tops lopped off and became boat bailers.

When we outgrew lunch boxes, we took paper bags to school – which were folded, brought home, used again until they gave out, and became fire starters.

Ashes and coffee grounds went to the garden, which supplemented store-bought goods. From the garden, we pulled beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, corn, and carrots. The woods gave us blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, while one lone peach tree gave us fresh fruit, pies, and cobbler.

We tended to sweat in summer, shiver in winter, turn lights off when we left rooms and might get spoken to if we left the front door ajar, even to bring in wood. Energy was conserved.

When it came to eating out, we seldom did. If we could make it, we did. If something broke, we fixed it. If we could not, we “made do,” embarrassed for something new. “Disposable” – as in razors, cups, and bottles – was a relative term; things were only “disposed” when useless.

Of course, even thrift has limits – and we observed them. A broken bottle, week-old stew, cross-threaded screw, well-rusted tool, or bucket with a hole were disposable. Matches, chewing gum, oil, and air filters, not to mention disposable diapers, were used only once.   

Net-net, thrift is an American value, and still is in many places. The value dovetails with limited – not limitless – government. Leaders with a bead on taxpayers should know, if you can save a dollar, do. Until then, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” The old mantra is back!

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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PaulE
PaulE
11 months ago

Teaching thrift or simply the concept of limiting spending to living within one’s means is a concept completely foreign to much of Washington, D.C.. Remember, the people in Washington are NOT spending their money, but rather the taxpayers’ money. So there is no personal cost or impact to them. To the vast majority of career politicians, their view is it’s all just numbers on a piece of paper (legislation) or an electronic spreadsheet (the various federal budgets cranked out on an annual basis), that can be changed up or down in seconds. Yes, thrift and living within a defined budget that reflects one’s means is a concept that does still exist in much of America. It just doesn’t happen to exist in Washington, D.C..

anna hubert
anna hubert
11 months ago

Younger entitled generation does not get it that you can not spend more then you bring in I don’t think many people understand that they must make do with what they have or work more if they want more Welfare by design destroyed work ethics to make people slaves of the state An American tragedy

Melinda
Melinda
11 months ago

The old mantra is one I’ve subscribed to all my life (my parents emigrated from Germany during hard times). I think the idea of thrift has been largely lost among people under 60. It seems most have too much debt and can’t stop spending. So they don’t worry about government debt, either. Life is too easy, we need hard times to educate us. The struggle makes life worthwhile.

Rik
Rik
11 months ago

Thrift is non existent to the vocabulary of today’s so-called Democratic Party Leadership!

Kathy M
Kathy M
11 months ago

I wish Rik’s observation was limited to Dems! Used to be Rep but changed to Indep as not much difference any more.

Laura Bentz
Laura Bentz
11 months ago

The government is broken through reckless spending. How do you propose to fix that? And if money is increasingly inflating every day, how much longer can we survive as a nation? This seems to be just a puff piece praising frugality without any solutions to our dilemma. Maybe because there is no solution except a total turnover of our government which most Americans are reluctant to do. So don’t expect things to get any better. Just tighten our belts more while the bureaucrats in Washington feast on our hard-earned tax dollars… You know you can live on less… or do try to do without…

Pauly Mack
Pauly Mack
11 months ago

We need to get family farmers (not corporation farmers) into Washington, they would show em how to do it right. The only problem for Washington would be farmers wouldn’t take all the vacations/holidays the politicians (Both Republican

Joan Brewer
Joan Brewer
11 months ago

A fine analysis of what’s wrong in Washington. The old saying has come to mind lately, At the advanced age of 91, I have lived with it as a mantra all my days. The result is I have no govt assistance. (My soc. sec amounts to $4.50 per month after Medicare is taken out and the Government Pension Offset does its thing.) Living within your means is the answer.

Pay bills
Pay bills
11 months ago

Stop giving all your money to trump to pay his bills and you will have some money left lol

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