The Virtue of Thrift: A Person-Centered Conceptualization and Measure Development

Abstract

The virtue of thrift, defined as the wise use and distribution of resources, has yet to receive much empirical study, despite the popularization of virtue research more broadly within positive psychology. With the recent rise in perceived resource scarcity (North and Fiske in J Soc Issues 72:122–145, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12159), thrift is a virtue of increasing importance. The purpose of these studies is to establish the virtue of thrift as a construct for psychological inquiry. The Thrift Questionnaire 21 was developed with EFA (Study 1; N = 257) and validated with CFA (Study 2; N = 401) to measure five factors of thrift (frugality/ecocentrism, spending dysregulation, investment, sharing/borrowing, and sanctified thrift), which relate to other virtues and predict well-being after accounting for personality traits. Latent profile analysis of the thrift factors in Study 2 revealed three profiles for the virtue of thrift: instrumental thrift (40.1%), non-thrift (33.7%), and sanctified thrift (26.3%). Participants classified under the sanctified thrift profile reported the highest levels of spontaneous giving, self-reported generosity, and gratitude, which supports the classification of this profile as representing the virtue of thrift. Potential objections to thrift are addressed as well as future directions for research.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Our choice to employ the Schnitker et al. (2019) conceptualization is rooted in philosophical commitments to the cultural specificity of virtues (e.g., MacIntyre 2007), research from developmental and personality psychology supporting the contextualized nature of the virtues (e.g., Lapsley and Narvaez 2014), and the conflicting literature surrounding the VIA’s measurement structure (e.g., Haslam et al. 2004; Macdonald et al. 2008; Ruch et al. 2019).

  2. 2.

    The data do not indicate participants must be religious for the scale to work as people who identified as non-religious demonstrated variability in sanctification, with some people scoring at higher levels.

References

  1. Achtziger, A., Hubert, M., Kenning, P., Raab, G., & Reisch, L. (2015). Debt out of control: The links between self-control, compulsive buying, and real debts. Journal of Economic Psychology, 49, 141–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2015.04.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, C. L., & Nevitte, N. (2006). Teach your children well: Values of thrift and saving. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 247–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2005.08.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Aristotle. (1994). Nicomachean ethics. (W.C. Ross, Trans.). In D.C. Stevenson (Ed.), The internet classics archives. (Original work published 350 B.C.E.).

  4. Austin, T. (2017). Giving USA special report on giving to religion. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Barraza, J. A., & Zak, P. J. (2009). Empathy toward strangers triggers oxytocin release and subsequent generosity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1167, 182–189.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Blankenhorn, D. (2008). Thrift: A cyclopedia. West Conschohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Blankenhorn, D., Whitehead, B. D., & Brophy-Warren, S. (2009). Franklin’s thrift: The lost history of an American virtue. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bor, J., Cohen, G. H., & Galea, S. (2017). Population health in an era of rising income inequality: USA, 1980–2015. The Lancet, 389, 1475–1490.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bradshaw, T. (2007). Theories of poverty and anti-poverty programs in community development. Community Development, 38, 7–25.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bugg, C. (1991). Stewardship. In T. C. Butler (Ed.), Holman Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 3–5. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610393980.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cantor, N. (1990). From thought to behavior: “Having” and “doing” in the study of personality and cognition. American Psychologist, 45, 735–750. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.45.6.735.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Chancellor, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2011). Happiness and thrift: When (spending) less is (hedonically) more. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21, 131–138.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Choenni, C. E. S. (2011). Integration Hindustani style? On the migration, history and diaspora of Hindustanis. Amsterdam: Free University of Amsterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Cordon, W. M. (2012). Global imbalances and the paradox of thrift. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 28, 431–443.

    Google Scholar 

  16. DeSteno, D., Bartlett, M. Y., Baumann, J., Williams, L. A., & Dickens, L. (2010). Gratitude as moral sentiment: Emotion-guided cooperation in economic exchange. Emotion, 10, 289–293.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dickens, L., & DeSteno, D. (2016). The grateful are patient: Heightened daily gratitude is associated with attenuated temporal discounting. Emotion, 16, 421–425. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Diener, E. D., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21, 115–125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2011.02.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fleeson, W., Furr, R. M., Jayawickreme, E., Meindl, P., & Helzer, E. G. (2014). Character: The prospects for a personality-based perspective. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8, 178–191.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Flood, G. (1997). The meaning and context of the Puruṣārthas. In J. Lipner (Ed.), The fruits of our desiring: An enquiry into the ethics of the Bhagavadītā for our times (pp. 11–27). Calgary: Bayeux Arts.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Frank, B., Enkawa, T., & Schvaneveldt, S. J. (2015). The role of individualism vs. collectivism in the formation of repurchase intent: A cross-industry comparison of the effects of cultural and personal values. Journal of Economic Psychology, 51, 261–278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2015.08.008.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ger, G., & Belk, R. W. (1996). Cross-cultural differences in materialism. Journal of Economic Psychology, 17, 55–77.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Haslam, N., Bain, P., & Neal, D. (2004). The implicit structure of positive characteristics. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 529–541.

    Google Scholar 

  25. John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). The big five inventory: Versions 4a and 54. Berkeley, CA: Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Keynes, J. M. (1936). The general theory of employment, interest, and money. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kohout, F. J., Berkman, L. F., Evans, D. A., & Cornoni-Huntley, J. (1993). Two shorter forms of the CES-D (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression) depression symptoms index. Journal of Aging Health, 5, 179–193.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kotler, P. (2011). Reinventing marketing to manage the environmental imperative. Journal of Marketing, 75, 132–135.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., & Dean, L. R. (2009). More gratitude, less materialism: The mediating role of life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760802216311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Lapsley, D. K., & Narvaez, D. (2014). The having, doing and being of moral personality. In N. Snow & F. V. Trivigno (Eds.), The philosophy and psychology of character and happiness (pp. 133–159). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Lastovicka, J. L., Bettencourt, L. A., Hughner, R., & Kuntze, R. J. (1999). Lifestyle of the tight and frugal: Theory and measurement. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 85–98.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Macdonald, C., Bore, M., & Munro, D. (2008). Values in action scale and the Big 5: An empirical indication of structure. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 787–799.

    Google Scholar 

  33. MacIntyre, A. (2007). After virtue: A study in moral theory. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Marsh, H. W., Hau, K. T., & Wen, Z. (2004). In search of golden rules: Comment on hypothesis-testing approaches to setting cutoff values for fit indexes and dangers in overgeneralizing Hu and Bentler’s (1999) findings. Structural Equation Modeling, 11, 320–341.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Matherly, T. (2019). A panel for lemons? Positivity bias, reputation systems and data quality on MTurk. European Journal of Marketing, 53, 195–223.

    Google Scholar 

  36. McAdams, D. P., & Pals, J. L. (2006). A new Big Five: Fundamental principles for an integrative science of personality. American Psychologist, 61, 204–217.

    Google Scholar 

  37. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. A. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112–127.

    Google Scholar 

  38. McCullough, M. E., Kimeldorf, M. B., & Cohen, A. D. (2008). An adaptation for altruism? The social causes, social effects, and social evolution of gratitude. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 281–285.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Miller, C. B. (2013). Moral character: An empirical theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th edn). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.

  41. North, M. S., & Fiske, S. T. (2016). Resource scarcity and prescriptive attitudes generate subtle, intergenerational older-worker exclusion. Journal of Social Issues, 72, 122–145. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Otto, A. M. C., Schots, P. A. M., Westerman, J. A. J., & Webley, P. (2006). Children’s use of saving strategies: An experimental approach. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 57–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2005.06.013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Pargament, K. I., Magyar, G. M., Benore, E., & Mahoney, A. (2005a). Sacrilege: A study of sacred loss and desecration and their implications for health and well-being in a community sample. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44, 59–78.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Pargament, K. I., Magyar-Russell, G. M., & Murray-Swank, N. A. (2005b). The sacred and the search for significance: Religion as a unique process. Journal of Social Issues, 61, 665–687.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2005). Sacred matters: Sanctification as a vital topic for the psychology of religion. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15, 179–198.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pepper, M., Jackson, T., & Uzzell, D. (2009). An examination of the values that motivate socially conscious and frugal consumer behaviours. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33, 126–136.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Phipps, M., Ozanne, L. K., Luchs, M. G., Subrahmanyan, S., Kapitan, S., Catlin, J. R., et al. (2013). Understanding the inherent complexity of sustainable consumption: A social cognitive framework. Journal of Business Research, 66, 1227–1234.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Piff, P. K., Kraus, M. W., Côté, S., Cheng, B. H., & Keltner, D. (2010). Having less, giving more: The influence of social class on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 771–784.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Rabinovich, A., & Webley, P. (2007). Filling the gap between planning and doing: Psychological factors involved in the successful implementation of saving intention. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 444–461. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2006.09.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Raffel, S. (2001). On generosity. History of the Human Sciences, 14, 111–128.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Rand, D. G., Greene, J. D., & Nowak, M. A. (2012). Spontaneous giving and calculated greed. Nature, 489, 427–430. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Richins, M. L. (2004). The material values scale: Measurement properties and development of a short form. Journal of consumer Research, 31, 209–219.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Rick, S. I., Cryder, C. E., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Tightwads and spendthrifts. Journal of Consumer Research, 34, 767–782.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Roberts, J. A., Tsang, J. A., & Manolis, C. (2015). Looking for happiness in all the wrong places: The moderating role of gratitude and affect in the materialism–life satisfaction relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(6), 489–498. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1004553.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Ruch, W., Gander, F., Wagner, L., & Giuliani, F. (2019). The structure of character: On the relationships between character strengths and virtues. The Journal of Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1689418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Schnitker, S. A. (2012). An examination of patience and well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 263–280.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Schnitker, S. A., & Emmons, R. A. (2019). Personality and religion. In O. P. John & R. W. Robins (Eds.), Handbook of personality (4th ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. (in press).

    Google Scholar 

  59. Schnitker, S. A., King, P. E., & Houltberg, B. J. (2019). Religion, spirituality, and thriving: Transcendent narrative, virtue, and telos. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29, 276–290.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50, 19–45.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Shah, A. K., Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2012). Some consequences of having too little. Science, 338, 682–685.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Shah, A. K., Shafir, E., & Mullainathan, S. (2015). Scarcity frames value. Psychological Science, 26, 402–412.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Sharpe Wessling, K., Huber, J., & Netzer, O. (2017). MTurk character misrepresentation: Assessment and solutions. Journal of Consumer Research, 44, 211–230. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucx053.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Shim, S., Serido, J., & Tang, C. (2012). The ant and the grasshopper revisited: The present psychological benefits of saving and future oriented financial behaviors. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 155–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2011.08.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Smith, C., & Hill, J. P. (2009). Toward the measurement of Interpersonal Generosity (IG): An IG scale conceptualized, tested, and validated. Unpublished monograph. Retrieved March 2015, from http://generosityresearch.nd.edu/assets/13798/ig_paper_smith_hill_rev.pdf.

  66. Tangney, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Boone, A. L. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72, 271–324.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Tatzel, M. (2002). “Money worlds” and well-being: An integration of money dispositions, materialism and price-related behaviors. Journal of Economic Psychology, 23, 103–126.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Templeton, J. M. (2004). Thrift and generosity: The joy of giving. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Thies, C. F. (1996). The paradox of thrift: RIP. Cato Journal, 16, 119–127.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Tsang, J. A., Carpenter, T. P., Roberts, J. A., Frisch, M. B., & Carlisle, R. D. (2014). Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 62–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.02.009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Watson, J. J. (2003). The relationship of materialism to spending tendencies, saving, and debt. Journal of Economic Psychology, 24, 723–739. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2003.06.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1070–1083.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Worthington, E. L., Jr., Wade, N. G., Hight, T. L., Ripley, J. S., McCullough, M. E., Berry, J. W., et al. (2003). The Religious Commitment Inventory—10: Development, refinement, and validation of a brief scale for research and counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 84–96.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The preparation of this article was supported by a Grant from the Travis Research Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Juliette L. Ratchford.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

All authors involved declare that there is no conflict of interest in the preparation and publication of this manuscript.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic Supplementary Material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 306 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ratchford, J.L., Schnitker, S.A. & Reppas, P. The Virtue of Thrift: A Person-Centered Conceptualization and Measure Development. J Happiness Stud 22, 385–411 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00235-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Thrift
  • Virtue
  • Generosity
  • Gratitude
  • Materialism
  • Frugality
  • Sanctification