4 Money Lessons We’ve Learned From Our Grandparents


On a visit to my husband’s family farm in rural Iowa, his grandmother handed me a Styrofoam plate of brownies. I made short work of that plate, and as I licked the last delicious crumbs off it, I noticed that the “plate” wasn’t actually a plate at all. The brownies had been housed on a Styrofoam tray that grocery stores use to package meat, and the plastic wrap covering looked like it had been through two world wars.

I called my husband, who was at work, and he assured me that yes, the tray had previously held raw meat, but that I wasn’t going to die. His grandma washed them in the dishwasher, so they were “clean.”

“Oh, and that plastic wrap is still good,” my husband added. “Don’t throw it away.”

Crazy or not, when it comes to being frugal, no one beats octogenarians. From freezing everything to thinning out soap with water, the majority of us probably have grandparents who were born during the Depression, and who came of age when saving money wasn’t just a lifestyle choice … it was a necessity.

Here are a collection of money saving tips from the people we know as grandma and grandpa. Some of the tips might seem quirky, but hey, they’ve worked well for our grandparents over the years, so who are we to judge?

1. Everything Is a Resource

My own grandmother, Barbara Baranowski, grew up in Rome, New York. As the daughter of poor Salvation Army missionaries, she learned to make thrifty choices an everyday part of her life. In fact, her thrifty ways are so ingrained in her that when I asked her for tips, she replied, “Oh, I don’t do anything special.”

Oh, but she does. Among other things, my grandmother is the Mother Teresa to an orphan plastic bag. She will pick up any errant plastic shopping bag she finds, wash it, dry it and iron it out between two pieces of paper. Then she reuses them for shopping, or she puts them in boxes as packing paper.

My husband’s grandparents collect black walnuts from around their neighborhood and dry them on the driveway at their farm. When the walnut husks have turned from green to black, they drive the tractor over them to crack the shells. Then, Grandpa Arnie and Grandma Betty wash and package the walnuts in (reused) Ziploc bags and freeze them. They’ve never, ever had to buy walnuts.

Same goes for cherries, plums and pears.

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  • Sheryl

    This article brought back fond memories of my own grandparents.They have often come to mind during hard times. I remember how meticulously my grandparents wrapped food before returning it to the refrigerator, Grandma using the last bits of unused pie pastry to make me a small pie, and how half a banana sliced into a bowl with a bit of condensed milk and sugar was a yummy dessert. I have a special spot in a kitchen drawer to save the twist ties from bread bags and remember my Grandmother every time I reuse one. 

  • Joanne P

    We can learn a lot from our grandparents, and parents.  My parents were kids growing up during the Depression.  They were part of large families.  They made bread, had huge gardens, canned and froze, had chickens in the city for eggs and meat, and bought clothes that looked like brand new from people who she knew took care of their children’s clothes, and could make a penny squeak.  My grandma on my mom’s side did not have much at all because she raised 6 kids after her husband died young.  She took in laundry, ironing, babysat, baked for neighbors who had to go out to work.  She had time for the grandkids, and we just hung out with Grandma at whatever she was doing.  Just the time and talking together was very special.  For Christmas, it was a little something that she scrimped and saved for, but it was from Grandma.  I believe we could go back to a lot of that mindset and be better off.

  • Tina Odom

    my grandmother saved bread bags so that when she made homemade bread, she could give it as gifts. She also use vinegar and baking soda to clean so many things. Grandma also aved little scraps of materials to make into potholders, quilts, and aprons. She once told me that if she had more than a grocery sack full of trash, she wasn’t doing her job well enough. Using the same system for years, she was able to buy her own home after Grandpa passed, pay for his funeral and her own, put two grandkids through college and still give gifts to all her 180 grandkids, greats and great-greats included. Grandparents sure know how to live!

  • mugs

    hi i live in the uk …we throw away wembley stadium full of food each year!  as a chef you just learn to use all food you can in many ways.  my mum showed me so much…just add common sense to cooking and trust your instincts, have fun doing it,,some poor souls have nothing to eat.

  • Alex

    I’m 27 and yes, I water down my soap and make my own oven cleaner. My upbringing was one of “frugality from necessity.” Thanks for this article.

  • mcmanus60

    Thanks for this article.  I’ve been out of a job for a while now and need to save as much money as I can but still raise two kids.  i’ve tried some of these methods and will continue.  I switched how I grocery shopped.  I use to shop for the ingredients that I was going to use for that week’s menu but now I shop only store specials and then find a menu that uses what I have on hand.  so far it’s worked out great and my kids love the food I make.  I make everything from scratch now, it’s cheaper and it’s better for you.  you can alter receipes to make them healthier.  I’ve also started making my own beauty products, cooking from scratch, reusing almost everything.  I love it now.