If you ever met my grandparents, you would quickly know who runs the household. My grandma is a strong woman who had seven children before she turned 35 and made ends meet on one income in France post-WWII.
Her thriftiness inspired me a lot on my journey to financial independence. As the majority of American households live paycheck to paycheck today — many on two incomes — seeing how Grandma handled her family of nine without getting into consumer debt was an inspiration.
Let Nothing Go to Waste
After the liberation, France continued rationing food for years. Afterward, hyperinflation still made a lot of basic items a luxury. My grandma can remember going to the supermarket and searching for goods with an older price tag, as prices would go up from one week to the next. That often meant the food she purchased had a shorter shelf life and additional organizing was needed when it came to meal prep.
Americans waste about a pound of food a day, per person. Think about how much money you could save if you thoughtfully planned your meals, took your leftovers to work or froze them, and made it a priority to eat what is about to go bad in your fridge before anything else. To this day, even if a product is expired, Grandma will still eat it. She lets nothing go to waste.
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Grandma is also a master at reusing and repurposing things. Old sheets turn into cleaning rags, clothes are mended and passed on from one generation to the next, and when she washes vegetables, she keeps the water for her garden plants.
Consequently, waste is one of the things I dislike the most. It is equivalent to setting money on fire, in my opinion. Why work hard and buy something only to not actually use it? Seeing clothes with tags still on them at thrift stores makes me wonder how people can throw things away that they’ve never used.
Invest in Quality Items
One story that has stuck with me is the time Grandma got mugged in the underground. At the time, she was carrying a name-brand purse (not a Chanel but some fancy French brand) containing some silk and knitting supplies for a skirt she was making for herself. I was surprised she owned such valuable items since they were on a super tight budget. I later realized Grandma was willing to pay more for quality items that would last longer.
That is the key difference between being cheap and frugal. Cheap people will buy a $10 pan that will fall apart within a year. Frugal people will scrimp and save and then thoughtfully purchase an item that they can get some longevity out of. Grandma still owns the Le Creuset cast iron skillet she bought half a century ago.
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I spent a few years being cheap, but I am now following in her footsteps and looking for items that offer a lifetime warranty. From socks to coffee presses to backpacks, you would be surprised how many brands out there are proud of the quality products they offer and willing to back them with a lifetime warranty.
Don’t Forget to Live
My most crucial money lesson was to see that, in spite of their tight budget, Grandma and Grandpa always took off for a month or so in the summer. At first, they would rent a camping space and pitch their tent by the beach, driving there and having picnics to avoid restaurants, or just go to the countryside and visit their respective parents.
It’s not the fancy all-inclusive resort you may have in mind, but it’s a nice way to make family memories nonetheless. They prioritized leisure in their budget. Yes, their seventh kid may be wearing all sorts of patched hand-me-downs, but that kid saw the ocean every year.
You Can Learn From My Thrifty Grandma, Too
If you feel like there is not enough room in your budget, maybe you are trying to have everything at once. The new car, holidays and nice clothes might be nice, but they could also be an indicator that you’re living beyond your means. If you prioritize, get rid of the waste and spend only on what matters to you — like my Grandma and I do. You might find that money can go much further than you thought.
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