What I Learned About Saving Money From Older Generations

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You ever notice how there are older people that don’t know the first thing about the world of personal finance, yet they seem to be experts at saving money? These people have also not heard of personal finance gurus, such as, Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman, or even Frugal Dad. Yet they still save money. They don’t read personal finance blogs nor do they ever want to listen to a full personal finance podcast.

Photo by eyg2158

Many of us twenty-somethings are completely lost sometimes when it comes to personal finance, yet we have all the information about money management available to us within a few clicks. We have a lot to learn from older generations when it comes to saving money.

How do these old school people manage to save money? What are their money saving tips?

They follow the “pay yourself first” mentality.

Instead of waiting for the end of the pay cycle, these ambitious individuals put their money away as soon as their paycheck comes in.
Whether they choose to invest in CDs, mutual funds, risky stocks, online savings accounts, or keep it under their pillow is irrelevant. Savings come first. Bills come second. Third is the necessities of life. Whatever is left over is used to enjoy life a little.

The key takeaway is that savings are always done first. Before you buy that new cologne it’s imperative that you have reached your set savings target for that pay cycle or whatever deadline you have set for you financial goals. If not, then the new bottle of cologne is going to have to wait.

They live below their means.

Not a revolutionary concept but a getting rich slowly basic that needs to be reinforced into all of us. These people are usually the millionaire next door that drive the car you would never dare step foot in because it’s embarrassingly ugly. They will never be the nicest smelling person in the room nor will they wear the most expensive pair of shoes.

These old school money savers understand how much money they earn and their lifestyle is directly proportionate to their income. If they earn $50,000 a year before taxes, they will likely not go all out and buy a BMW. They simply don’t see the need to acquire debt for a car (or home for that matter) that doesn’t fit their lifestyle.

They avoid external influences.

Advertising does have an affect on everyone. However, it is more severe on certain individuals. The old school money savers are less susceptible to fall victim to new age marketing techniques. How come? Because they have everything they need in life and don’t go looking for more. Sure they may occasionally splurge and buy something they really don’t need all that much. At the end of the day these scenarios are few and far in between.
Impulse purchases are kept to a minimum.

You have to work for their money.

It is fairly easy to extract money from most of us. The old school crowd feels that everything is a scam. They do not want to hear your sales pitch. They will not even humor you by pretending to listen to the sales pitch. You have to work your butt off to get your hands in their pockets.
You will have to sell something really good at a bargain price to get into their wallets.

At the end of the day we have a lot to learn from these old school folks (don’t worry guys I’m not calling you old, just old school).

Are there any other old school money saving tips that I missed?

What have you learned from older generations about saving money?


  1. My wife’s grandmother is a classic “old school” grandma. She worked until her mid-80s serving meals to people in a “donut shop”, though they actually served lunch also. She has somewhere around $20,000 stashed in a safe deposit box at her bank. She doesn’t trust checking accounts…go figure, she spent her teen years during the great depression. Her house is paid for, she has no debts, and doesn’t have (or want) air conditioning. Her TV is a 27 inch monitor that sits in a floor cabinet that takes two strong guys to pick up. She turned 93 last year and still drives a 1957 Chevy 3-on-the-tree manual transmission. And she cooks Christmas dinner for 30 people every year. Her only income is social security now, but she has a garden, grows her own vegetables, makes her own preserves, and cans enough food to feed a family of 10, which is why we end up with a lot of tasty produce during the winter.
    Classic, old-school, never bought a share of stock or a CD all her life long as far as we know. I love that lady. The don’t make ‘em like her anymore, and it will be a sad day when she’s gone. But the way she’s going, she may outlive us all!

  2. Make it yourself, whenever possible. Baking biscuits (no, buisquick doesn’t count), making tomato sauce from scratch, or making do, when necessary. They apply their creative impulse to creating solutions to everyday problems. For instance, instead of going out a buying a new chair, they would repair the old one with some wire wrapped around the legs to hold it together. DIY is not a new concept at all, just newly discovered by the younger generation who is more inclined to buy their way out of a problem than to solve a problem.

  3. We get the benifit of hearing about all of the great deals available, but we’re so awash in advertising that it’s hard to filter the deals from the glitz! I geuss the lesson from the Old School is to determine our own “Lifestyle,” so advertisers don’t find that void and exploit it.

  4. Based on my grandparents, never throwing out anything that could be resued should be on the list. They were the original recyclers. Nothing with any possibility of reuse was ever thrown out. Nothing new would ever be considered if there was a way to repurpose something you already had. Good lessons we are all rediscovering.

  5. Reuse and reuse is the best thing I learned from my grandparents, and not only things, but also food. Meat, rice or bread were served again and again, never went to trash, you have to eat everything today, or you will see it tomorrow. My granpa is a very wealthy guy whose furniture and TV are the same as 30 years ago, and he has never owned a car, even though he owns big amounts of land and investments in some profitable companies as shareholder.

  6. I think the older generation is more frugal because money is harder to come by for them. My parents had to work extremely hard to get ANYTHING in life.

    My mom was always the last person to pay for her high school tuition, and had no money to attend college. My dad had to work part time to finish his college degree just to work at a middle class job, 10 hours a day for 40 years.

    When money involves so much sweat and tears, you tend to think twice about blowing it away.

  7. I work at a retirement community and love picking up their little gems of wisdom.

    The “Greatest Generation” look at material things differently. They drive reliable, basic cars that have no bells or whistles, they wear the same coat for 10 years saying “this is my best coat!”, they basically live as if it were still the Great Depression, yet I know they have at least a million in the bank to be able to live at a CCRC.

    They go over their bills and statements with a fine tooth comb, use public transportation when available, find happiness in the simple things in life such as reading, writing, puzzles, art, music, etc and don’t spend money enjoying these things. They hold on to quality pieces of furniture and treat them like gold throughout the years, and then pass them on to their children and grandchildren. They don’t need new wardrobes every season and will wear the same old basics year after year, repairing and altering things to save money from buying new pieces.

    They use CASH, CASH, CASH! Always! Never credit cards and certainly not debit cards (what are they?)! They save their loose change and deposit it or use it on small items. They go into the bank to do their banking, never online!

    And most important of all, they don’t base their self-worth on what they have, but how happy they are and the relationships they keep.

  8. My grandfather, another Great Depression survivor, taught me to be a healthy skeptic – of government, of anyone trying to sell you something, etc. I never take anything at face value. Always dig a layer or two deeper through your own research.

    Along those same lines, be as self-sufficient as possible. Do not rely on others for security, financial or otherwise. Sure, things like police protection and government bailouts are nice, but these are reactionary forces. In the heat of the battle is ultimtely you who are responsible for your own well-being.

  9. It’s not so much about living below means, but living, well, frugally and comprehending the difference between quality and quantity. Why go out to eat breakfast when you can make your own? Why buy a pair of jeans at Macy’s when you can buy the same brand at a discount in other stores? Why buy drugs at the local pharmacy when they are cheaper mail-ordered from Canada?

  10. I recall that my grandparents learned to make their money work for them rather than just working for their money. They had investments that would net them money later in life.

    Seriously?!? Metallica on 8 track? Didn’t even know that existed!

  11. Be as self sufficient as possible, and don’t buy anything you can make yourself.

    Save up until you can pay CASH for everything needed – or don’t buy it.
    The only exceptions were a house, and sometimes a car/truck.

    Take good care of what you DO have – maintain and repair and keep it clean. Take pride in what you do have.

    Keep everything – cuz someday you may have a use for it.

    Learn basic first aid and health care so you don’t have to run to a doctor (and get the bill) for little things that can be taken care of by any responsible adult at home.

    Cook from scratch.
    Hand me down clothes, remake clothes, trade and save. As a teenager, I wore some of my Mom’s teenager clothes – that she made herself.

    Buy quality for the long haul- not throwaways.
    Don’t get taken in by fads.

    I’m 55…. this the way I was raised, and what I tried to pass on to my children (pretty successfully) and am now instilling in my grandchildren.

  12. Sure, lots of older folks are sensible with money, but many of them aren’t too.

    My parent’s generation (now grandparents with over a decade of experience) are the seedlings of the “me” generation, unfortunately I am 99% sure my mom will go bankrupt AGAIN before she gets her Senior’s Gold Card. Just like her mom (my Grandma)she is impulsive with her money and keeps debt big and deep.

    My grandparents are all long gone… of the 4 of them only one was any good with money, and she still passed away living below the poveryt line month to month with subsidised government pension only.

    My husband’s family was MUCH better at money at the Grandparent level, they too are all passed on now, but they had something at the end to keep a roof over their heads. BUT my husband’s parent’s are also atrocious with money, zero savings, zero assets. His mom on disability pension renting in a low-income housing project, his dad in a terrible little rental home downtown with dead cars in the lawn and no prospect of retiring EVER.

    Thankfully we seem to be learning from our parent’s mistakes and want better for our golden years — hopefully we won’t have to care for all the parents as THEY age too!

  13. My husband’s parents (mom just died at 83) were amazing.
    Raised four children in a 1500 sq ft house that they bought for $8,000. All block. did the repairs themselves.
    Never bought anything on credit- even cars. Saved stuff forever.
    My FIL never was over lower middle in income and was forced to retire at 60. They continued to save.
    My MIL died with $250,000 in the bank! She had been in assisted living for ten years.
    They grew a large garden, gave half to the widow women in the neighborhood.
    They monetarily supported their grandchildren’s mission work.
    All and all- they were amazing.
    I hope to be somewhat like them—someday.

  14. It is not a question of generations alone. My father-in-law, born 1921, was the younger one of two brothers. When he was 10 his father died, so he grew up much poorer than his brother. Aftert the war, they both had to start from zero, having lost their home. They both made about the same amount of money. But my mother-in-law now owns two houses and a nice sum of money and gets a very good pension, while her brother and sister-in-law had to rely on social security and my father-in-law during their last years.

  15. Thanks for the insightful comments everyone. Some of you listed some very positive experiences. Others listed negative lessons learned.

    At the end of the day this was a highly subjective article and I only wrote about what I learned from “successful” individuals. I’m sure we can all agree that there’s a lot to be learned from those that weren’t wise with their money (i.e celebrities, athletes, etc.)

    I feel that the important part is that we learn from others– both their failures and accomplishments.

  16. Old school savers, also know the value of mending, repairing, and making do with what they have. Their world is not a disposable one like the current generation’s world is.

  17. My older generation bartered w/ items of food and work. Maybe someone could chop wood and another could make quilts and would barter.
    My mom was a single mom in 1938 -she helped w/ neighbors when they processed chickens and hogs-she was payed w/ the parts that she was given. I have seen her wash clothes for others in the creek,do their ironing, w/ the iron you heated on the cook stove, to get $ for the items you could not grow.
    Break green beans and can for 1/2 the beans.
    And I never heard her complain. Life was hard but she made it fun.

  18. My grandparents weren’t barraged by marketing all day and had to work for a lower standard of living so each dollar meant more to them. It seems that they’re just accustom to living a lifestyle that’s advocated by Dave Ramsey and Suzy Orman. Maybe living in the past is the best way to invest for the future…

  19. My Nana was one of the wisest savers I knew, and I thank her for many a financial lesson over the years – the most important being that you should save and save early. You can never get that time back once it is gone.

  20. Depression era people = good.
    Boomers = not always so good.
    Gen X = the jury is still out. I fall into this category and I have my sh*t together because I make $33K and can’t waste my money.
    Generation Y(whine) = Maybe once they learn to pull up their pants and stop buying gadgets every time they leave the house, might get it together but I have my doubts.