7 Frugal Lessons from Great-Grandmother

by David Ning on 12 November 2010 12 comments
Photo: blueflames

If there is anything good that came out of the financial disaster we just experienced, it's the general public's attention to frugal living and the realization that money does not, in fact, appear out of thin air. During the boom years of the 90s and the easy credit of the last decade, the whole country seemed to forget how to live below its means. Luckily, we don't have to venture far to find the appropriate way to live. If we just look at our great-grandmother's way of life, we can get insights into how to save money. Here are eight ways that she lived with less.

She did things herself.

She almost always cooked for the whole family (and probably cooked while they were on vacation too), and it doesn't end there. She had no maids, nannies, or even a handyman to call on. She fixed small problems like leaky faucets and non-working toilets while leaving the bigger jobs to her husband.

She saved every condiment, napkin, and anything else unused.

It didn't matter if it was from the occasional takeout or from a dinner out on Mother's Day. She saved everything, taking it out when she needed it next time.

Actually, she would rather not use paper napkins at all.

Anything that's one-time use is a waste. Convenience is great, but saving money and reusability is much more important to her.

She had a clothesline.

Why use a dryer when all it does is ruin the fabric and waste energy? There's really no need to look at the instructions tag if you are drying clothes via fresh air.

She brought drinks from home.

Whenever there would be a family trip, she always brought everyone's favorite drink from the fridge. "Can I buy a can of Coke mom?" "Are you nuts? That costs 5 cents!"

She wasn't addicted to technology.

Not that there were nearly as many gadgets back in the day, but she lived just fine. She had no smart phones, no iPods, no laptops to replace every three years.

She used public services.

She encouraged the kids to use the libraries, didn't have a pool in her backyard when there was a community pool just outside, and certainly would have taken the bus (or walked) instead of buying that fancy car.

Few great-grandmothers lived with more resources than we have today, but they managed, on avarage, and with bigger families, too. You may hate the idea of living frugally, but perhaps a more relaxed life will change your mind. Great-grandmothers show us that frugal living is really not a sacrifice.

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Awesome post! We could learn a lot from the way that our great-grandparents lived. If only we could get back to those solid, proven principles, we could be much better off financially.

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Guest

...and she also didn't work 60 hours a week outside the home while her husband is in grad school to change careers after the financial industry imploded.

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Guest

My grand parents on both sides worked full-time jobs in an age where the workers didn't have the rights they do now. They worked in Mills and other dangerous jobs that required them to be there from sun up to sun down. My grandmother once got her hair caught in the machine at one mill she worked at. No workers compensation for her, she lived through it and they considered her lucky to have survived and no you didn't sue the company for it was unheard of in her day. What they did practice however was multi-generation living so both her parents and both the parents on her husbands side of the family lived in the same house. The older women(great-grandmothers) cooked, cleaned and took care of the young children while their husbands went off to work. My great-grandfather was a brick layer as were his sons. They worked and helped with the family funds. Everyone had to get along in order for them to survive.
Your husband is lucky that he can go to grad school. Back in my grand parents and great grandparents day once the mills were closed they had to get jobs doing other things like working as waitresses s for 10 hours a day! I don't know how much you know about the past but my Great-Grandparents came to America from England to avoid the work houses. What a privilege it is to go to grad school!

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Guest

I can appreciate this article - MINUS the technology point. Let's face it, it is a completely different world now vs. when great-grandma was around, ok? Few peoplle had cars or tv's in her day. She was in the majority with what she DIDN'T have (I'm guessing she and great-grandpa also didn't have college degrees, either). I would love a simpler way of life - no question. However, technology is making sure that we become dependent on it - for jobs, cell phones (a complete necessity, IMO), computers, etc. I would love to dry my clothes on a clothesline. However, I don't think my Home Owner's Association would be thrilled about that idea. I follow some of the points here - we bring snacks and drinks from home when we travel; we save condiments, etc., etc. But let's be honest, saving a ketchup packet here and there will not fatten your bank account in the long run.

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Guest

Clearly this writer had NO idea of what life was like a couple of generations ago. Vacations? Take-out? The fridge? Not my GRANDmother, and she lived in Cleveland.

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Guest

That's a great idea. I think I will avoid all technology from now on. If I need to buy something new, forget researching the best brands and comparing prices online. That's not how grandma would do it.

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Suzanne Favreau

My grandmother was the most frugal person I've ever known. She and my grandfather did not have a car or a telephone. Hot water for dishes and bathing was heated at the time they wanted it. My grandmother wasted nothing. She dyed her Easter eggs using skins from red onions...she saved them as she used the onions for cooking...and the eggs were beautiful and unique. Homemade soup was a part of every dinner because it was inexpensive to make and filling. When she and my grandfather bought their first home in the 20's, they helped to pay their mortgage by taking in borders. Clothes were dried on the clothes line. My grandfather had a big garden and made his own beer in the basement. Both grandparents worked in the textile mills in Massachusetts. When they finally bought a TV in the 60's, they watched it in the dark. Why waste electricity? They walked a lot, ate simple real food and always went to bed by 9...Nana's rule! Yes, this was a different and in many ways less complicated time, but living frugally has a lot to do with mindset and the perception about what's nice and what's necessary to get through life.

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Guest

Of course she cooked every meal at home. She didn't work outside the home.

Clothesline? Nice if you have a yard; not possible if you live in an apartment or condo.

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Guest

Totally agree , my recently passed away grand mother (1912-2010), who by the way raised me, did exactly the same, perhaps it has somthing to do with the war culture. I´m missing her a lot.

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Guest

Its not her fault your husband is in grad school...times were much worse then with the great depression compared to now.

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Guest

this is the way i have always lived didnt realise this was frugal living, we need to be more frugle than this to save us any cash, pool in the back yard Do what!!!! laptops, phones ipads replaced every 3 yrs again do what!!! thats for rich folk i thought, sorry not much help here

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Guest

My family is more frugal than my folks and my grandfolks. We paid off our home, cars, the kid's college. I cut my hair and kids too. We never have anyone doing work for us, we do it ourselves. I don't work, but it keeps me busy. I'm the person who buys stuff for our family. I try and make sure I value every dollar.

First thing we do when we get a paycheck is to tithe, then save. The Lord provides big time for us, so He is our #1 priority.