Feb 27

Financial Lessons Learned From My 80-Year-Old Grandma

student debt survivorI love my grandparents more than anyone the whole world. They are hard-working, “salt of the earth” folks who raised my mother and I in a small fishing village on the coast of Maine. My grandfather was drafted to Korea after high school and when he returned he started dating my grandmother. They got married in 1955 and had my mother the same year.

My grandmother stayed at home with my mother and didn’t begin working outside of the home, or driving a car until she was in her 40’s. Because they didn’t have a lot of money, grammy had to be really resourceful and super frugal. Her 80th birthday is today!

So in honor of her, birthday, here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from her about frugality and finances:

Keeping grocery bills low-Grammy was on the beans and rice diet before Dave Ramsey was born. But because we’re of Scotch/Irish descent, “beans and rice” in our household was cheap meat and potatoes. She’d buy a tough piece of meat and some potatoes and onions and boil them all together until they were soft. She’s serve with yellow mustard mixed with sugar and milk (sauce for the meat) and cider vinegar for the cabbage and carrots. She turn the left overs into hash, or soup that we’d eat for another meal. Nothing ever went to waste

Beauty products-Grandma says you don’t have to use expensive skincare or cosmetic products to look good. Grammy has been using Noxzema as a face wash and face cream for over 60 years. She refuses to buy expensive cosmetics and has been using compacts of Cover Girl pressed powder and Aqua Net hair spray for the same amount of time.

Pull out the, “good stuff” for company-I’m not really brand specific about food or drinks in my day to day life, but I do like to splurge when company is coming over. I’m sure I learned this from my grammy. She doesn’t splurge on the, “good stuff” for everyday use either. If company is coming over she’ll bust out the Pepsi, but if she and papa are just chilling at home, they’re probably drinking milk or tea. It’s cheaper and healthier.

Save for a rainy day-Grammy is a consummate saver. From growing vegetables and fruits in the garden and canning them for winter, to putting away extra money under the mattress for emergencies. Grammy has always delayed gratification and saved for tomorrow. She and papa paid for their house with one salary and never borrowed money for frivolous, “extras”.

Don’t be afraid of hard work-Grandma went to work for the first time in her 40s. When my mom went away to college she took a job at the local sardine cannery. For 20+ years she woke up at 4am and drove to the local factory where she stood on her feet for 8 hours a day cutting the heads off little fish with metal scissors and operating canning machines. Talk about hard work! Grammy is my hero.

So here’s my my beautiful, charming and adorable grandmother on her 80th birthday! I love you so much, I’ve learned so much from you and I’m so proud to be your granddaughter!

What have you learned about finances from your grandmother, mother, dad?

Image: Tax Credits


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  1. My grandfather taught us all that you don’t need much to have a good time. He would dumpster dive and we’d spend all day in his little shed taking apart and rebuilding different objects that he found. It was an awesome time and we learned so much! And this from a guy who didn’t have an education past the 6th grade.

    1. Good for grandpa, that actually sounds like a lot of fun and I bet you couldn’t have learned those types of things from a text book.

  2. I have always wondered why people buy really nice things and never use them. I always try to get out the nice stuff whenever people come over – why else do we have it?

    I also really like saving for a rainy day, it can really help to have a good stash of cash in case of an emergency.

    1. I think some of the saving for “good” or special occasions was a depression mentality for my grandma. You want to take good care of your stuff so that it lasts a long time in case you can’t afford to buy another “one”. This of course she learned from my great granny.

  3. My grandparents were poor and simply made due with what they had. They had 7 kids in a 2 bedroom house for goodness sake! That would be unthinkable these days.

    1. Wow, 7 kids in a 2 bedroom is pretty incredible (and probably pretty hectic). But as long as there’s plenty of love to go around that’s all that matters.

  4. I don’t remember my grandparents because they passed when I was really young, but it sounds like your grandmother has taught you the necessities of life. That just means that you are well-equipped.

    1. Sorry to hear that. I love my grandparents so much I can’t even imagine never getting to know them. I know I’m incredibly lucky and I’m thankful for that.

  5. My dad always told and taught me how to save. He was a BIG saver!

    1. It’s funny how different our parent’s and grandparent’s generations lived. I’d imagine that most of them were savers because they couldn’t get themselves into trouble with huge student loans and credit cards. If you couldn’t afford it you just went without.

  6. I hope your Gammy has a wonderful 80th Birthday!!! My Grandmom has always taught me that living life to the fullest can be difficult when factoring in responsibilities and that nothing in life is free. She is the reason to am trying to become self-sustainable.

    1. Thanks Bill. Sounds like your grandma did a pretty good job teaching you what’s important in life. Aren’t grandparents great?

  7. My grandparents lived through the Depression and it’s amazing how that shaped their outlook on money. I was closest to my paternal grandfather and how was a very animate saver and was big on being content with what you have.

    1. Absolutely. Mom and grandma have always told me that there’s always someone who has it much worse than you, so you should be thankful for what you have.

  8. Awww, I love this post! It makes me miss my grandma.

    My grandparents lived through the depression and it truly shaped how they saw things. My grandma found a use for everything and didn’t waste a thing. That has stayed with me and I like finding new uses for things. Also, she wasn’t a food waster, and neither am I 🙂

    1. Aww 🙁 I know a lot of folks my age and even younger who don’t have there grandparents anymore. I really hope that my future kids will be able to meet my grandparents. I knew my great grandmother and she was a pretty amazing woman. I have to admit I waste a pretty significant amount of food sometimes (grandma would not be proud-shh).

  9. My grandparents do the good stuff for company too, and were super frugal with 7 kids. Although now that they have money they can’t spend on themselves and I think it is a sad lesson I learned from them.

    1. Sounds like it’s something that many peoples’ grandparent did/do. My mom does it to a certain extent (not as much) too so I guess it’s been passed down through the generations. With 7 kids you’d have to be frugal or really rich. I think it’s really sad when people work hard their whole lives to save up for retirement and then aren’t able to enjoy their retirement. Like you said, it’s a good lesson in making time to do the things you love periodically before you’re too old or too ill to enjoy them.

  10. Very refreshing to know you have such a great family and close knit relationship. You Grandmother sounds like a great woman who was there to teach you things early on that others had to learn much later in life.

    1. She’s pretty fabulous, but I guess I’m a little biased.

  11. Awww, that’s great. I love what you learned. It’s great to have such wonderful inspirations in our lives. I love bringing out good stuff for company too and I’m definitely not afraid of hard work! Happy birthday to your grandma!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I do the “good stuff” for company too. But not as much as she does. You can’t take the “nice things” or good food, fancy plates, nice linen etc. when you die, so you should enjoy them as much as you can when you’re still able to enjoy them.

  12. My grandparents sound very similar to yours! Happy Birthday to your Grandma!

    1. Thanks 🙂

  13. What a tribute!

    I love my parents but most of the skills I learned from them were based on doing the opposite. My parents never valued saving and were definitely people who spent money in the moment. Watching them age it’s tough to see them realize mistakes long after they can fix them.

  14. Aww well happy birthday to your grandma! What a great idea for a post!

  15. Wow, what a wonderful woman! You can tell her entire life has been a labor of love. And some good financial lessons to pass down, too! I had no idea you were from Maine….I seriously love it up there. Go up to Acadia every once in a while.

  16. Expanding on the beauty products, honestly there are almost perfect dupes for Mac and Nars in the local drugstore for way cheaper. If one looks hard enough, they can find amazing makeup for cheap prices. No need to spend $50 for Chanel foundation!

  17. Happy Birthday Grammy, hope she has plenty more. Yes, grandparents just grew up in a different time, less distractions. Time and effort was given to the family, I think most of our valuable lesson come from the elderly. Even without college degrees and in some cases high school diplomas, their wisdom is unmatched. Maybe we need a more “hands on” education system like they had when your grandmother was a teenager!!
    Happy Birthday!

  18. We need to learn from that generation again….after all they were the “greatest generation.” My grandmother is 84, still works 40 hours a week, even had a part time job on the side, will shovel off her driveway in the winter and then do the neighbors as well. She is something else, and I admire her ability to keep moving.

  19. Your grandmom has given you the universal truths, the keys to financial success. My parents are your gradmom’s age and they taught me all of these things and to be prudent and careful. Do your homework on issues and work hard. You can learn a lot from this approach and you will become a competent person as a result. Great post!

      • KK on March 19, 2013 at 9:35 am
      • Reply

      Thanks Steven, she is a pretty amazing woman. Sound like your parents taught you some of the same truths. Those life lesson have really been priceless for me.

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