Money Lessons That Only a ‘Great’ Grandma Could Teach
My grandmother was frugal before frugal was cool. Here are her key money-saving tips.
Back in the 1950s, my grandmother raised seven kids on one income. My grandpa was an army general, and the only perk, since they moved often, was that they had a very low rent. Nevertheless, money was tight for my grandparents.
My grandfather remembers that after everything was budgeted for, he had a meager allowance for himself – generally just enough for a comic book and a haircut.
The rest of the money was grandma’s to manage. After World War II, inflation was rampant, so she would dig through the bags of sliced bread at the supermarket to find the one that still had the pre-hike price tag.
At home, no food was wasted – ever. Stale bread was turned into pudding and French toast, while old fruit was preserved for the winter.
To this day, they never waste food – something I hate as well, as I compare it to throwing away cash. Everything was cooked from scratch – birthday cakes, Christmas turkey… – and they never went out to eat.
Being from a family of seven herself, grandma got a lot of hand-me-downs from her siblings – cots, clothes, and other baby accessories. The rest, she often sewed herself.
My mum was the eldest, and I remember pictures of my uncle, the second, with clothes that were a bit girly, as if for the first few months, he wore my mother’s clothes. Number seven probably never wore anything new during her childhood. Knee and elbow holes were patched, and socks were mended.
Sixty years later, when I visit, I still sleep in the same bed and sheets my mum grew up in.
To take care of herself, grandma also had a few tricks. A bottle of perfume or nail polish would last her 10 times longer than other women. She would make her own dresses with old fabric, and have only a few quality pairs of shoes that she took good care of so that they lasted forever.
My grandfather would also keep an impeccably detailed log of car and house maintenance to avoid costly breakdowns and repairs. If something was not broken, it was not replaced. They kept TVs and electric ovens for decades.
The two things they did spend money on were in line with their values: education and holidays.
The kids attended private school, where each sibling got a steeper discount than the previous one. And come summer, the lack of seatbelt regulations allowed them to pack the four smaller ones in one row and the three bigger ones in the back, and drive the whole family to the countryside.
Now don’t imagine some fancy resort vacation. Everyone packed a sandwich, they took the small road to avoid tolls, and they spent a month at their parents’ place. But still, the kids got to play with their cousins and be around animals and nature.
They never took on any debt except for their mortgage. There was simply no money for interest. If a kid wanted something, he could either work for it or wait until there was money, if my grandparents deemed the expense worthy.
I admire that mentality of, “What we have is what there is.” You don’t take a loan to buy something unless it’s an investment. When times were tough, they kept their can-do attitude.
Sure, Grandma could have found a job, but daycare alone would have taken most of it, and there would have been less time for her thrifty endeavors.
They really only lived as a family of nine for eight years, from the time number seven was born until my mom got married. With every kid leaving the house, things got easier.
Because they never gave in to lifestyle inflation, most of the newfound room in the budget went into savings. This allows them a comfortable retirement today. Thankfully, with such a tight budget, they never faced any big emergency. They often talk about sleepless nights thinking there was no room for a mistake.