10 Financial Lessons We Learn From Our Grandparents

Depending on your age and circumstances, it's likely your grandparents' relationship with money was forged by some different (and probably tougher) financial times. My own grandparents have been gone for decades now, but their lifestyles were studies in frugality and sharp financial management that I remember to this day. In honor of all the grandmas and grandpas out there, here are ten financial lessons we've learned from our grandparents:

1. Pay Cash

My grandmother never owned a credit card. She paid cash for everything and tracked every nickel in little paper passbooks. We found dozens of them when she died. She was meticulous. She was frugal. And she was always in the black.

2. Take Care of Your Stuff

Today, we live in a throw-away culture where it's easy and relatively cheap to replace most things we own. Not so for our grandparents. Every item was considered an investment, and therefore, everything was diligently cleaned, waxed, oiled, painted, patched, and repaired. Their stuff lasted forever — and that saved money.

3. Have Practical Skills

Doesn't it seem like our grandparents' generation was filled with renaissance men and women? My grandfather farmed, raised livestock, built his own house, repaired machinery, and — I kid you not — divined for water using the twigs of a willow tree. With that level of skill, I wonder if he ever needed to hire anyone to do anything. Today, developing frugal skills is still a great way to build self-reliance and save money.

4. Get Creative

Folks who grew up during the Great Depression had to channel their inner creativity to survive. Their ingenuity helped them feed their families, earn an income, keep their kids clothed, and maybe stash a few bucks on the side. It's the same today; discovering ways to boost creativity can still positively impact our budgets and keep us engaged and inspired.

5. It's Better to Own

With few exceptions, it's better to own than rent, especially during tough economic times. Access to money-producing assets (land, a house, a paid-off car, and the like) helped many generations survive and build wealth.

6. Save for a Rainy Day

No offense Suze Orman, but our grandparents and great grandparents invented the emergency fund. The idea of saving up for a rainy day is just smart financial strategy. Because our grandparents lived through some very lean years, they never allowed themselves to be lulled into thinking that today's prosperity guarantees tomorrow's.

7. Get Dirty

Our grandparents taught us that, if we're lucky enough to have a little plot of land, we better put it to work by planting a garden. Gardens stretch our grocery budgets, promote healthier eating, and get us moving in the great out-of-doors. Few activities pack such a holistic health punch. (See also: 4 Things a Vegetable Garden Needs)

8. Live Together

No…not in that way. In earlier generations, it was more common for households to include mom and dad, their kids, and grandma and grandpa. More people living under one roof through these multi-generational arrangements meant more child care resources, more household help, and more sources of income.

9. Keep Your Wants Under Control

Slowly creeping wants can easily choke our budgets. Our grandparents were able afford what they needed by keeping their wants modest and entirely flexible.

10. Small Luxuries Are Still Luxuries

Even our grandparents' generation knew it: little luxuries now and then are good for the soul. But pampering doesn't have to cost a fortune. An afternoon off, a leisurely meal out, a mid-day nap all sound quaint by today's standards. But with the right frame of mind, they can still feel indulgent and be entirely therapeutic.

The weird thing is, we are (or will soon be) the grandparents of tomorrow. The economic times we've recently weathered have already left their mark on how we spend, save, and invest.

What money lessons will you pass along to your grandchildren? Which ones are all your own and which have been revived from your grandparents' generation?

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Guest's picture

This is a great article. I was very close to my grandparents and learned so many useful and money saving skills from them. As it turns out, they were also skills that I wouldn't appreciate as healthier than today's alternatives until many years later: make my own food, use vinegar to clean, good old weeding is better than chemicals.

There are so many other takeaways from our grandparent's generations as well. Kids who are respectful rather than sulky or "fresh." Birthdays that celebrate the special kid with a small gift rather than giant extravaganza. Kids who have the skills to move out and survive on their own when they leave high school/college.

Thank you for a well-thought out article with useful reminders.

Guest's picture
Paula Tillman

This article reminded me of my grandparents and how they lived. They didn't have cell phones and the technology that we did. They saved for what they wanted to buy and were able to afford the big stuff like newer cars and a modest house without going into debt like so many people do now. My grandparents mostly visited family on their vacations and took road trips to Quebec (where my grandfather's family was from) and down the East Coast. My grandmother was Italian (born in Italy) and her family came here when she was a baby. Because they were immigrants, she learned a lot of frugal things and most of the time she cooked at home (and made the best Italian food!). Restaurants were for special occasions and so were amusement parks, but we had tons of fun when we did go!