4 Money Lessons We’ve Learned From Our Grandparents


2. You Can Always Do More DIY

My father recalls that his grandparents made their own toothpaste out of baking soda and a little hydrogen peroxide. “It tastes awful, but it gets you clean,” my dad said. It should be noted that he buys his toothpaste. At the store.

Two years ago, I started making my own kitchen cleaner with natural soap and tea tree oil. When I told Grandma Betty, she wasn’t impressed. “I’ve been doing that for years!” She said. “Before you all were ‘going green’, we were just cheap!” She also suggested washing my floors with a vinegar and water solution, and I’ve been washing them that way ever since.

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The very idea that you would hire someone to do something you can do yourself was horrifying for our grandparents. My friend Jim Martin told me that his grandfather taught him to do everything himself, from changing his oil to roofing his garage and cleaning his house. Martin adds, “He also worked 50 hours a week, but managed to always have a side business white washing barns in rural Ohio.”

3.  Waste Not, Want Not

Robin Mayhall remembers that her grandmother used to save the heels of bread and used them to make her own croutons. She also reused tin foil over and over, washing it and flattening it out, so it could survive multiple uses. Mayhill notes that while she may draw the line at reusing tin foil, she does follow her grandma’s example and recycle Ziploc bags.

My grandma Baranowski showed me how to take little bits of soap bars and ball them together into one giant ball of soap. She also would sew two washcloths together to make a small pocket, where she would deposit the soap remnants, just so she didn’t miss “one little soapy bit.”

My mother’s mother, Barbara Boyce, grew up one of thirteen children and knew how to save a penny. She cut the buttons off old shirts so she could turn the shirt into a rag and still keep the buttons. “They’re expensive!” was her justification.

4.  Less Is More

Brenda Della Casa was raised by her grandfather, who would make her humble meals of pork and beans, with dessert of rice, milk and a little sugar.  And once a week, he would take her out for a hamburger and a piece of pie. Said Della Casa, “…it was the most incredible ‘date with Grandpa.’  So much so that I celebrate him on his birthday and honor him the day he died by having ‘burgers and pie’ with my closest friends.”


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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.