I suffer from grandmother envy. Not grandparent envy — as I had two wonderful grandfathers, one of whom lived until I was entering college, the other until after my first child was born — but grandmother envy. I am named for my maternal grandmother who died shortly before I was born and my father’s mother passed away when I was two. So I sometimes wonder what sort of wisdom, financial and otherwise, they would have dispensed over the years. In lieu of that, this collection from the wise grandparents of others is a great start.
In honor of National Grandparents’ Day — which was the first Sunday after Labor Day — I asked some notable figures to share the most treasured money lessons they received from the “greatest generation.” I think we would all do well to revisit some of these:
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: When I was little, my grandmother gave me a “surprise” every day I was visiting them in North Platte, Nebraska. Now I realize how small these little gifts were (typical: freebie fridge magnet from my grandparents’ bank) — but it didn’t matter to me at all. It was the idea of the surprise, and the anticipation, that gave me so much pleasure. The thing itself wasn’t significant! From my grandparents, I learned the money lesson to glean a great deal of enjoyment from even small things.
Carrie Wilkerson, blogger and author of The Barefoot Executive: The Ultimate Guide for Being Your Own Boss and Achieving Financial Freedom: My grandparents, Robert & Julia Owensby, owned a dry cleaners in Fort Worth Texas from about 1960 to the mid 80s. I was still young when they sold it, but I remember very clearly that my grandmother was more concerned about customer care than cash. She would recognize cars as they drove into the parking area and quickly retreat into the back to retrieve the clothes so they’d be waiting when the client walked in.
My grandparents didn’t own the only cleaners in town. They likely didn’t own the best or the cheapest. But they had Julia and she was worth coming back for. In my business, I know that others might out-price me or undercut me, but they can never replace or replicate me. Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me that caring keeps you from being just a commodity.
Savannah Guthrie, TODAY Show chief legal analyst and 3rd hour co-host: My grandma used to hide the bills under the couch. But Grandpa wasn’t too happy when he found out — and they were all overdue. BUT: they were thrifty – they were children of the Depression, after all. Lesson: don’t hide the bills or Grandpa will find out!
Joni Evans, book publisher and founding member of wowowow.com: I wouldn’t call Morris and Leah Sapré a golden couple. Both immigrated here in the 1930s from Russia — the fancy Sapré name was a gift from some authority on Ellis Island. On Sundays, we had a ritual: Grandpa would walk me to the corner drugstore on West 178th Street to buy me a candy bar. (A five-cent Nestlé’s milk chocolate in a red and white wrapper.) He always paid with 10 cents and received a nickel in change and handed the nickel to me. And he always said the same thing: “Now, Joni, save the money for a rainy day.” But he winked when he did so. He knew, as I did, that I was never going to save that nickel. As soon as I could, I would sneak back to the candy store and buy a second chocolate bar.
So, while he was frugal, while he was cautious and while he and Grandma lived within their means, he always knew that life was meant to be enjoyed. Small pleasures costing only five cents were important. I’ve lived my life the same way ever since — exotic vacations, a new car, etc. — are all candy bars I have enjoyed while, still, living within my means.
Maria Shriver, journalist, author, and founder of this blog: My grandmother was thrifty. When it came to shopping, she always said to buy a few very good things — classics that never go out of style — rather than lots of things. That always stuck with me.
What useful money tips did you learn from your grandparents?