Prudence seems like a rather old-fashioned word and virtue—and maybe it is if you use the term as it was traditionally. Prudence seemed to mean avoiding behavior, especially "deviant" or sexual behavior, that would embarrass you or diminish your public image. In this day an age, however, many people are less concerned about constraining their behavior for the sake of public image, and often "spontaneity" is the virtue that people admire more.

Prudence is still compatible with modern values as it is actually defined as caution in "practical affairs," which basically means caution in your normal, everyday activities (it will benefit you to not go around and sleep with all your friend's lovers, but prudence goes way beyond this sort of moral caution). It also means looking after your interests in a careful, wise manner. Much of prudence is already covered in wisdom, as wise people will already act for the benefit of their own best interest and those around them. So, why is prudence here under the umbrella of temperance? Well, one reason is that prudence is listed here within the Universal Values, and I cant change that, and secondly prudence does have a lot to do self-control—especially when you consider that this virtue also covers the careful management of your finances.

So, after that long introduction, the gist is this: if you want to become a prudent person you need to learn to control your urges to spend too much, control your other "spontaneous" urges that will hurt you in the long run, and learn to prepare for the future at the expense of more immediate gains. I will focus here on preparing for the future since the need to control urges also falls under the virtue of "self-regulation" where I will cover this topic in detail.

Spending too much money is a serious addiction that many people share—especially in cultures that over-value consumption (we've recently learned that the American economy depends on people being overactive consumers). We tend to think that our lives aren't full or complete if we don't have the latest gadgets, beautiful furnishings, new clothes, or whatever our personal hang-up is. Living within your actual budget takes a lot of self-control and also a stronger sense of fulfillment beyond those that toys or the experience of shopping gives you.

Controlling your budget means being aware of what is going on in your bank account, especially keeping track of how your purchases are affecting your balance (or how much they are increasing your debt). But prudence goes beyond not spending beyond your means, but also spending money on things that are truly important to your life and future, and saving money for emergencies, retirement, education, and your other needs as well.

Entire books have be written on this subject, which is why I suggest that you go and find one if bad budgeting is one of your biggest weaknesses. Knowing how and why to invest your money is also an important topic to educate yourself in. Then, developing the self control you need to work within your goals will finally direct your life toward a more secure and promising future.

While you work on financial goals, also keep your other "practical matters" in mind. Are you spending enough time with your most important loved ones? Are you working hard enough at your job so you might be considered for promotion (or at least have better stuff to brag about on your resume)? Are you managing your schedule well enough so you make time for chores, friends, family, and yourself? These all fall under the umbrella of prudence. The trait of self-control, which we cover later, will help you avoid the temptations that will derail your goals in your finances, relationships, or time management.

Final Note: There is much more that could be said of prudence in regards to caution in personal behaviors, morality, and decisions, but since that area is so controversial, I would rather leave these matters to your own discretion to work when working on your personal prudence and self-regulation.

Here are some activities you might want to consider:


  • Keep a Balance Sheet: Get an old-fashioned notebook or some neat computer software and record the money you spend every day. This will help you understand the consequences of your foolish, daily behavior (or at least give you ideas on how to improve your budget). Like a dieter counting calories, this really helps keep your finances on your mind. If you are more focused on time management, you should do the same thing with how you spend your time. You can even record how you manage your relationships, like, when was the last time you gave your spouse a spontaneous sign of affection?
  • Read a Book or Take a Class: Give yourself some quality self-reflection, and discover what your greatest weaknesses are. If you need to manage your time better, then educate yourself about that. There are plenty of opinionated people out there who will want to tell you how to manage your money, time, or relationships, so find the book or class that you think will best meet your needs.
  • Write Down your Goals: Goals are imbedded more deeply into the mind when they are written down, and they also seem to hold a little more gravitas this way. Write down your goals in detail and do the work needed to get them done. This will mean you might need to keep a record as discussed in the balance sheet above to make sure you are working on achieving your goal every day.
  • Get Feedback from your Friends: If managing your relationships is your most important focus, you may want to outright ask them for a job review. Do they feel like you give them enough time? Do you show enough consideration or concern? Some people will never get enough from you, but I think you still get the basic idea. If you don't even need to ask, maybe you should get to work right away!

Your Record

Whenever you give into an urge to buy something that you know you shouldn't spend money on yet, mark yourself at "fault." If you're dipping into your savings without an emergency or a preplanned purpose, then mark yourself at fault. If you do something than you know you will regret later in a significant way, then mark yourself at fault. When focusing on this virtue, make goals based on the activities above. If you fail to perform the activities or miss your goals, then mark yourself at fault.


Prudence is the mode of reasoning about contingent matters in order to select the best course of action. Contingent events cannot be known with certainty, and actions are intelligible only with regard to some idea of what is good. As both such matters are always subject to dispute, they can be resolved rationally only through deliberation—that is, through reciprocal exposition, comparison, and evaluation of arguments that represent competing perspectives or purposes. Likewise, analysis of how others might act and determination of one’s own objectives each require consideration of what is good in general. Therefore, prudence is the determination of what is good for both the individual and others. Since it must culminate in action, prudence also includes the determination of how to achieve these linked ends in particular cases. Thus, prudence requires a knowledge of particulars that can only be acquired through experience, and this knowledge will be used most effectively as it becomes ingrained in one’s disposition to act. As a result, prudence culminates in character rather than technique. This character becomes fully realized when it incorporates other qualities conducive to effective action amidst disturbing circumstances on behalf of common goods—qualities such as selfcontrol and sympathy toward others’ predicaments. Ultimately, prudence accomplishes an integration of all the virtues sufficient for living well with regard to the full range of one’s needs and obligations.

Robert Hariman | Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Practice

Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.

William Shakespeare, Renown English Playwright and Poet

Good nature without prudence, is foolishness.

Anonymous Proverb

Golden Mean

Imprudence, carelessness, impulsiveness
Procrastination, irresolution, indecision

Recommended Reading

The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook — by Judy Lawrence

A good, basic guidebook for keeping your spending under control and coming up with a budget.

How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously — by Jerrold Mundis

A program designed specifically for people struggling with debt.

Personal Finance For Dummies — by Eric Tyson

An introduction to investing your money wisely from the popular "For Dummies" series.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Prudent, cautious self-control, is wisdom’s root. Robert Burns