Thrift Today? 

​Not exactly

America's Personal Savings and Debt Crises.

  • The typical American household has seen its net worth fall by one-third since 2003, to $56,000
  • 44 percent of Americans either are in debt, have no savings, or only enough to tide them over for three months or less
  • ​Median household debt has tripled during the last 20 years and Americans' debt has exceeded their income since 2000
  • ​Barely half of U.S. workers have employer-provided retirement plans
  • 22% of married retirees and 47% of single retirees rely on Social Security for 90% of their income
  • The U.S. household savings rate is about 4.1%, compared to 9.9% in Germany, and 28% in China.
A broad national thrift movement flourished in the United States in the early 20th century, particularly from the eve of World War I to the stock market crash of 1929. Thrift was the rallying cry for many civic, professional, business, and other organizations and was enthusiastically embraced by millions of Americans during these years. This all but forgotten movement crossed paths with most of the major social and ideas and movements of the early 20th century. It emerged from intellectual and social tributaries such as Populism, Progressivism, the Social Gospel, the settlement house movement, muscular Christianity, home economics, the labor movement, conservationism, the temperance crusade, nativism, and the building and loan and  credit union movements. It drew on both older American values and new ideas of how to respond to a changing economy and society. . .

The thrift movement called for stewardship and investment, and created a big tent that included individuals as different as bankers and Boy Scouts. It addressed myriad social problems from poverty and debt to the exploitation of the common man and the environment. These problems, albeit in different form, remain very much with us today. This makes many of the now-muted messages of the thrift movement—90 years after its heyday—all the more worth hearing and understanding in the economically and socially troubled 2010s. 


"Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter and currently an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, argues for the importance of this now forgotten chapter in American history. The thrift movement was large, and reached deep into mainstream America. It also attracted an impressive range of participants, from financiers to temperance supporters, religious leaders, progressives, trade unionists, presidents and civil rights activists. Thrift meant more than mere saving. It was a larger philosophy of moderation, righteous living, hard work, self-control, responsibility to others and frugal husbanding of all resources, including nature." -- The New York Times Book Review, ​March 22, 2015

What Thrift Means Today

​Asset building
The new simplicity
​The sharing economy
Small house movement
Credit unions
Thrift stores
Children's savings accounts
​Savers' tax credits
Individual development accounts


"Thrift," Choice, August 2015

"How Early 20th-Century Americans Taught Their Kids to Be Thrifty," Slate, July 27, 2015

​​"The Wisdom of Thrift," Montgomery County Gazette, March 11, 2015

"Thrift," ​Princeton Alumni Weekly, March 2015

"Looking Back at How Today's "Sustainability" is Yesteryear's "Thrift,'"Deseret News, Jan. 23, 2015