My mom grew up in The Great Depression. She knows how to make a penny scream for mercy. For 50 years I have learned from her dedication to financial responsibility. And it’s a good thing too. With the current economic downturn, phrases like “making ends meet” and “cutting the family budget” are being used more often. The proverbial wisdom of gaining wealth “little by little” is true. For most people, we will not see large windfalls of cash. But what we can do is save. Instead of indulging our expensive passions and pursuits, perhaps we should pay off credit card debt and put the rest in the bank.
Newsweek recently reported that those who feel the impact of belt-tightening measures hope to save up to 15% of their income. In part, the article referred to the psychology of entire generations shaped by the times in which they grew up. Economic research explains that our lifelong behaviors are determined in large part by the seismic events—good or bad—of our youth. Now experiencing the worst economic period since the Jimmy Carter presidency, it’s no surprise that people have begun to wonder what sort of citizens will be bred by the Great Recession. In short, tough times produce tough people.
But are there larger issues at work here? Pope Benedict XVI’s instruction “Love in Truth” lays out a response to the economic pressures of our time. In essence, the pope believes the economic crisis is a result of a moral crisis. The ultimate solution will not necessarily be forthcoming from political policy changes. Pope Benedict believes that only a renewal of our spiritual underpinnings will lead to economic prosperity. A Wall Street Journal editorial contends, “The pope understands this eternal truth: Societies cannot endure for long without a belief in God and a submission to His will. We are ignoring him at our peril. Instead, the pope stresses that a market economy is shaped and driven by cultural underpinnings. If the culture is rotten, gangster capitalism inevitably flourishes. If it is morally healthy, a socially responsible free market takes root.”
What can we learn from the pope about enduring difficult economic times? What principles should we apply? I would contend we should give more than we get. Our financial situation must reflect thankfulness, understanding that much of our so-called “success” is owed to others outside ourselves. I would also say personal responsibility trumps government bailouts. Economic solidity is built on a foundation of law, personal ethics, freedom, community development, and individual hard work. Most breadwinners and families know their futures are not guaranteed by Washington.
My mom is still making pennies scream. I think that’s true because mom links eternal truths with money principles. My sister’s and my family pitched in to get mom a new computer recently. She was so appreciative. But she asked in an email, “Are you sure I need one? Mine still turns on!” I assured mom that she probably needed a new machine every five years. It’s hard to accept that idea when you spent hours pulling the aluminum foil off the back of gum wrappers to sell for a few cents in 1940. We learn eternal lessons of frugality from others who have seen tough economic times. For Prime Time America, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Tough Times, Tough People, Moody Radio Commentary, February, 2010
Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College
 Jeffry Kuhner. “A real conservative vision,” WSJ Online August 1, 2009.