My grandmother is flying out to visit us this week. Not every grandparent can afford to travel because they didn't manage their money well in their younger years. Instead of traveling, they delay retirement and have to work longer or live on a shoestring budget because they can no longer physically work but can't live the retirement of their dreams because they can't afford it.
These are a few tips my wife and me picked up from our own grandparents and great-grandparents (who lived through the Great Depression).
Don't Buy Everything
This is my own opinion but I do believe there's a correlation between the number of possessions and the size of our houses.
Let's see how the average house size has grown over the past century for a single family home:
- 1920: 1,048 sq. feet
- 1940: 1,177 sq. feet
- 1960: 1, 289 sq. feet
- 1980: 1,740 sq. feet
- 2000: 2,266 sq. feet
- 2014: 2,657 sq. feet
In almost 100 years time, houses have doubled in size and then some! Why?
We have to make room for all of our kitchen appliances like microwaves and keurigs, wall-mounted flat-screen tvs, and everything else we can buy that is powered by batteries and semiconductors. Most of the things in our houses today, didn't exist several decades ago. If they did, they were very expensive and our grandparents went without.
For a trip down memory lane, watch this intro to The Waltons where getting a radio was a BIG deal!
Avoid the Throw Away Society Mentality
An often quoted statistic is that the U.S. GDP is 70% consumer driven. Basically, the stock market ticks higher and our economic growth is measured almost entirely on how much money people spend.
People spending money is a good thing, especially when a boss is paying me a salary, but it's not good if spending makes you go into debt.
In the post-World War II era, we have a larger disposable personal income than our grandparents that has fueled a technology-based spending boom.
The downside is that our products have a shorter useful lifespan and we get to buy them more often:
One negative consequence of the leaps and bounds in mass production that makes cheap products possible is that it's cheaper to replace than repair broken items. For example, when it comes time to replace the parts in our gas grill, it's almost always cheaper to spend a few extra bucks to get a brand-new grill. Plus, “they just don't make things like they used to.” 🙁
I have one final lesson on this topic…we buy way more consumable single-use items than our grandparents did:
- Bottled water
- Fountain drinks and lattes from Starbucks (or the gas station if you're frugal) that come in a styrofoam or paper cup
- Fast food restaurants
Do It Yourself
While we like to think we are very efficient because we have computers and high-tech machines that boost production, our grandparents were pretty efficient for their time too.
Yes, their lives might not have been as busy and they didn't have as many money trees in their backyard as we do, they were resourceful with their skills. By doing the hard work themselves instead of hiring a contractor or buying a premade product, they saved a ton of money.
The DIY principle can take many shapes and forms in our 21st-century lifestyles:
- Cooking your own meals (instead of going out to eat)
- Washing and vacuuming your own car
- Growing your own vegetables
- Mowing your own lawn
- Exercising at home or local park instead of buying a gym membership
- Building your own house (this is a little more complex, but it saved us about 50% in building costs)
Being generous in the 21st century might take a different form than it did 50 years ago when children could still play in their front yards without fear. However, I still encourage you to be involved in your community through some of these activities:
- Knowing your neighbors
- Spending time with families outside of church, group activities, or sports practice
- Donate food to your local food pantry
- Help build Habit for Humanity houses
- Donate cash to charity organizations
We're guilty of it too, but we spend too much time with our faces glued to a computer screen or text message than having conversations with real people. I didn't have my first cell phone until I was 21 years old and it only had phone call capability then (text messaging was still a novelty) so we passed our time having real conversations with real people like our friends and strangers.
Now, we stay in our ginormous houses with lots of stuff we don't really need because we're “too busy” to talk or help others or we don't feel safe leaving our house. I'm sorry if this sounds like a rant, but that's why this is a blog post and not a polished article being published in Time.
Because we're more secluded, we live in a bubble and insulate ourselves from the lives and circumstances of others. Unless somebody shares something on the top of our Facebook feed, we don't know about it.
This self-absorption of our time is also a reflection of how we spend so much money on ourselves by buying things we need and want. If we focus some more time and money on others, maybe we can fix some of the problems in our local communities that weren't as rampant as before. Money alone won't fix the problem–we also need a renaissance of ethics and morals–but it can certainly help.
I have more ideas, but I'll turn the floor over to you. What financial lessons from grandparents are important to you?
Please share them below, I'm all ears!
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.