6 Nuggets Of Financial Wisdom From The Old School

My grandfather, young and handsome!

My grandparents could not take advantage of much education when they came to America as they had to go to work at a young age. But in many respects, my grandparents managed to acquire more financial intelligence than most of us, including me and you.

Makes little sense, right? How can someone’s grandparents possibly be smarter than they are? The older generation did not have access to all that we do. This is the information age. We have Google and Bing to search at the speed of light, and Twitter and Facebook to share any piece of information that we have in real time.

Most of us would also have an edge in education, as well. My grandparents never attended college. They went to work as soon as they possibly could, to aid in the support of their family. So, naturally, our intelligence must be more advanced too, right?

Look at me now, typing away, publishing my words on-line and competently stringing a few sentences together. You might say this talent makes me a little smarter than, say, my grandmother.

We may be able to gather information more quickly, that’s a given. More intelligent? The jury’s out on that one. As far as being common sense smart, the previous generations might have it all over us. I’d like to offer some of their “money handling” examples:

They spent their money wisely – Yeah, at times my grandfather would splurge on a lottery ticket (or two). And yes, my Nonna liked to buy a surplus of imported cheese that was fifteen dollars a pound. But most times, they were not crazy with their money. They went to stores infrequently, shopped sales when they did go, and they didn’t have any expensive hobbies like golf, boating, or weekends in Las Vegas. Things were pretty simple. And when your needs are simple, you tend to not spend money.

They saved the same way – Since there wasn’t a lot of spending going on, they saved a lot of money. As they worked hard and built their business, they were also able to build a house in 1969 without taking on a mortgage (that one still amazes me). They purchased another restaurant after operating their first one for several years. You’re able to do that by saving- not dropping all your cash.

Their house was not an investment – Very simply, they bought their house to live in. Period. They weren’t concerned about the house’s market value, if they could tap it for equity, or if they could retire if it was sold. They lived there. It was their home – not a piece of an investment portfolio.

Meals were prepared at home – There were very few trips to restaurants when my gram and her sisters were around and cooking at full throttle. Dinners out were special occasion only. For them, the term “take out” meant taking out the garbage. These girls made some of the greatest lunches and dinners to ever hit a table. It never occurred to them;

“Gee, why cook? Let’s go out for dinner tonight!” or “Honey, I’m tired from my day doing piece work at the factory…can we go out?”

Ridiculous. They knew they would never get a meal of the same quality at a restaurant as one they cooked themselves at home. I feel the same way.

They brewed their own coffee – Especially in my grandmother’s house, the coffee pot was ritual. Granted, in my grandparents’ prime, the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks of the world were not at all prevelant. But if they were around today, I’m sure they would probably think “Really?? People like paying seven dollars for a cup of coffee?” Myself, I’m not here to bash Starbucks. I love their coffee, and every six months or so, I’ll treat myself to one. But every day, like some people? Not me. That’ll really put a hole in your wallet.

And last but not least…

They were happy with what they had – Keeping up with everybody else was not in their playbook.  They didn’t give a shit about what the neighbors had. If there was ever any envy or jealousy, it was about who had a bigger fig tree or had the best spread on the Sunday dinner table. My grandmother’s one extravagance was a fur coat, and she wore it out. She wore the same dresses, and my grandfather wore the same flannel shirts, forever. And they were perfectly happy. They weren’t concerned with clothes, jewelry, fine wine, or exotic vacations. The only concern was whether or not you had enough to eat.

What say you? Should we adopt some of the financial principles of yesterday? Or should we continue guzzling Starbucks and lusting after BMWs while the economy falls further into the outhouse? Agree or disagree, comments please!

15 thoughts on “6 Nuggets Of Financial Wisdom From The Old School

  1. lovely blog. my mother and father was the same.. i am 55 and next to the youngest, so they were the “greatest generation” who did not have debt, ate in and if you did not have the money $ cash to pay for it, you did not get it. and hand me down clothes?, forgetaboutit!! i had 2 sister we wore them AND my mother made some of our clothes. my father worked 4 jobs when he got out of the air force to feed and clothe his family at the time. no credit cards for him, although they were not availabe then i think, lol… he only got one in the mid 1980’s. lol

    1. Hi Lucy,
      Thanks for stopping by. My grandparents did all of those things, and then some. We have taken advantage of hand me downs for our son and daughter as well (some very nice clothes), and my daughter loves to browse GoodWill shops with her mother to try to find a hidden clothing treasure for a couple of bucks.

      Don’t forget to subscribe! More content like this in the future!

  2. There are two things that, though unsaid, seems to be part of their picture.

    1. Did you grandmother work? If she did, and still did all the cooking, that would be remarkable.

    2. How big was the house? Right after WW2, Levittown sprang up. That was where tract housing had its beginning. The houses were snapped up faster than they could build them and everyone was ecstatic. The houses had just over 900 square feet, I remember correctly.

    The percentage of income people spend on housing today is double what it was compared to our parents. How many people are happy with a 900 sq. ft house with no garage?

    Not saying… just saying 🙂

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, William. Yes, my Nonna worked all of her life, starting as a teenager. Before getting into the restaurant business, she also worked as a “piece worker” in a factory, sewing collars on dress shirts. She had a strong family network that would help her with cooking chores if she was running late. And a lot of the dishes she made were simple and did not take a ton of time to prep and cook.

      As for their house, it wasn’t Levittown, but it was a simple brick ranch with three bedrooms, a modest house. They did have a large property to raise gardens and fruit trees. No garage necessary, though. They never owned a car, always had public transportation, as well as a team of chauffeurs, one of which was me! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks for checking out my blog today. I’ve just read about your grandparents and it’s the same message I was trying to convey when I wrote about my grandmother-great minds think alike! I feel the same as you, wasting all this money, taking it out of our own savings and for what? To be trendy? Our grandparents had the right idea and I’m getting back to that as well. Make my home as comfortable as possible and enjoy it instead of wishing I had someone else’s life. What they had that we don’t is contentment and peace of mind. Loved your post!

  4. Hi Joe,

    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    My wife’s grandmother saved her entire life. She wisely weathered the Great Depression and because of that spent little and invested in very solid companies and stuck with them for the long haul. She put my wife and her sister through college, bought them each a car and all her diligent saving took care of the family after she passed away.

    Thing is, she didn’t need to spend the money while she was living. She led a frugal, but very happy life. When I first met my wife I loved speaking with her grandmother, because she had amazing stories and always had a great sense of humor.

    The coffee thing cracks me up, because my grandfather probably would have slapped me for spending $5 bucks for a stinkin’ cup of coffee 😉

    p.s. Had a great time in your city at BWNY. Only regret was I didn’t take one more day just to relax and see more of the great city.

    1. Great comment, Craig. Looks like your wife’s Gram had a lot in common with my own. That generation was certainly one of a kind!

  5. Joe, you’re hitting the nail with this post. With the struggles our grandparents had to face, they learned a better way to spend money. You’ve distilled them down into 6 great points.

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