Live Like Grandma Challenge

Neil's grandparents' wedding photo, circa 1942

Neil’s grandparents’ wedding photo, circa 1942

Pretending to be poor is in some ways akin to living like your grandparents. I don’t mean you should start watching daytime television and microwaving leftover coffee (although this is much cheaper than the Keurig). Pretending to be poor is nothing new; it’s actually quite old-fashioned. From the Proverbs to the Greatest Generation, we can reclaim a wealth of thrifty know-how from those who have gone before us.

Speaking of grandparents, my dad tells the story of how he thought his family was poor when he was growing up. Turns out they were just pretending. (Maybe it’s genetic?). Their investments put their five children through college and allowed them to retire before they were too old to enjoy it.

This type of lifestyle was once relatively normal but now it’s weird enough to be the subject of blogs like ours. It sure feels ironic to blog about how you should live more like your grandma did. But stick with me. What did your grandparents do? Some examples:

  1. Cooked homemade food.
  2. Grew a garden (& canned it).
  3. Hung laundry instead of using the dryer.
  4. Clothed the children in hand-me-downs.
  5. Saved up for purchases.
  6. Walked places.

What didn’t Grandma do?

  1. Buy things on credit (except a house).
  2. Shop as a pastime.
  3. Eat at restaurants often.
  4. Develop an expensive coffee habit.
  5. Waste things.

I realize times have changed. The Grandparents didn’t enter the workforce with $50,000+ in school debt. Grandma stayed at home with the kids so she had “more time” for frugal fixes like sock mending and scratch cooking. (Although she also didn’t have a lot of time-saving products like no-wrinkle work clothes and a microwave oven).

Without rejecting modern technology, why not view the “extra work” of running your home without tons of convenience items and consumer debt as a fun & thrifty throwback? Are any Little House on the Prairie fans tracking with me? I would’ve made a pitiful pioneer but when I start getting crabby about hanging the laundry I try to feel like a domestic money-saving goddess instead. Of course the burden of household savings shouldn’t all be on moms. There’s plenty of work to go around. Kids have to help, too! And this could give them a chance to earn change for their give, save, and spend jars. (We’re about to launch this plan with our 3-year-old. Results coming soon.)

So are you ready to take the Live Like Your Grandma challenge for the next month? Here it is:

  1. Interview your grandparents or other older relatives. What was it like to run a household when they raised your parents? What was it like when they were children? (This might be the ticket if you’re young like me.) Older generations didn’t talk as much about money but see if there’s any financial wisdom they’re willing to share.
  2. Give your dryer a break. Hang-dry your clothes for a month and track how much you save on electricity. String a simple line or invest in an inexpensive drying rack. Try to get your kids to help you. (To decrease wrinkles in nice clothes, give them a good snap, fluff 3-4 minutes in the dryer, snap again, dry on a hanger.)
  3. Cook from scratch. Cut back as much as you can on frozen meals, prepackaged side dishes, lunchbox snacks, cereal, granola bars, and all the stuff your great-grandparents probably didn’t eat. While you’re at it skip the Starbucks & the K-cups & maybe even microwave some coffee.
  4. Don’t shop as a pastime. Recreational retail is a dangerous game until you develop a healthy aversion to spending, and then you won’t find it much fun anymore. Find something free and old-fashioned to do instead. Go to the library, the park, a friend’s house, ride bikes, take a walk, de-clutter & sell something instead of buying.
  5. Put your savings to work. The steps above could save you $100 or more. Track how much you save, brag about it in the comments, and then put the money toward one of your financial goals, like paying off debt or maxing out your 401k. If you want a reward, keep it simple & go out for ice cream. I’m sure Grandma would approve.

Have fun!

How do you make money-saving fun? What are your thrifty throwback ideas?

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36 Responses to “Live Like Grandma Challenge”

  1. DC @ Young Adult Money says :

    It’s always interesting to talk to the older generation and hear about what the “norm” was during their life. It seems like they didn’t eat out nearly as much and in many ways they lived a very frugal lifestyle (by today’s standards at least). I think we could learn a thing or two from them!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, our idea of frugal was very much the norm 50 years ago. It really puts living within or below your means in perspective.

  2. Dee @ Color Me Frugal says :

    Love this! We have started doing a lot more cooking from scratch in the last several months. I try not to buy any processed foods anymore. I’ve also managed to kick my shopping hobby over the past several years. I think this alone has been saving us loads of money :-). I haven’t yet tried line drying clothes- but that’s on my list of things to do as soon as we live somewhere that we could do it! Great post!

    • Kalie says :

      Don’t you find you also feel better when you’re eating real food? It’s a great bonus to the savings (or vice versa).

      Not buying things (shopping) is a great way to save money. Sounds obvious but it isn’t when we’re surrounded by ads and others shopping as a pastime.

  3. Tiffany says :

    I tried to hang laundry outside during summer months, I am still debating the time spent on taking wet laundry outdoor, gather them when dry vs. put the wet clothes in dryer while I do other chores…I suppose the saving comes in when I get the bills and the fact that I was able to go outside enjoying the sunshine is a mental break bonus.

    One thine we have started doing is to instead just putting all changes into a jar, we put dollar bills into a container. Our last saving effort netted us over $200 in 3 months which we put into our savings account. Not too shabby!!

    • Kalie says :

      That’s a nice little savings trick. We don’t use cash much but I remember when growing up, my family put change in a jar to save for Christmas gifts.

      Hanging laundry can be annoying until it becomes a habit. Now I don’t think twice about it. I use our laundry room or sunroom (in the summer) so I don’t even have to haul it outside.

  4. Adam @ says :

    That’s a good way to put it. It really is just like living like our grandparents (except mine didn’t garden).

    • Kalie says :

      It also helps to remember the many ways we have it easier than previous generations. Bringing back a few thrifty habits is manageable because we have such a wealth of technology and conveniences.

  5. Even Steven says :

    I always find it amazing how we have taken a left turn from what our grandparents have done. Something as simple as hanging out our clothes has been lost, garden, and cooking from scratch. Those that do seem to have more smiles than not. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kalie says :

      There are many hidden, non-monetary advantages to living a simpler, thriftier life. After a certain point, more stuff and more conveniences don’t make us happier. Being grateful and working hard are more rewarding than materialism.

  6. Ash says :

    So true that our grandparents don’t like to talk about finances. My mom told me that my grandpa refused to fill out the FAFSA while she was in school because “it’s nobody’s business how much money I make”. Instead he just paid for it and gave her a checkbook in his name to use for emergencies (must’ve made quite a bit)….I only remember him ever saying that he makes enough money for my grandma to spend. I’m not even sure she knew how much he made. Now that I’m getting into personal finance more I wish he was still around for me to pick his brain since he seems to have had finance pretty well figured out.

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, that is a serious sense of privacy to not fill out a FAFSA! It’s unfortunate that some of that financial wisdom was lost. I’m glad it’s more acceptable to talk about personal finance more–hence this blog 🙂

  7. Kathy says :

    Nothing fresher and cleaner smelling than sheets hung outside to dry. Unfortunately, now many subdivisions have covenants against clothes lines. I guess they think it makes the neighborhood look impoverished although with all the emphasis on living green I’d think the practice would be favored.

  8. EL @ Moneywatch101 says :

    Right on as I agree we should live like the old world lifestyle. Every Saturday and Sunday the malls are packed, and I know its the same people going on recreational shopping. I am trying to teach the kids to be more modest, and to appreciate what they have. Good luck with your grandma challenge.

    • Kalie says :

      Being grateful for what we have goes a long way. Our kids are still young so I’m sure living differently from their peers will get harder with time.

  9. still pedaling says :

    Glad to found this site! If anyone doesn’t have a grandma to ask, I’ll fill in – born in 1929. Yes, I know, centuries ago. Married in 1950, started out in a 8′ wide, 28′ trailer, parked on a farmer’s land. The farmer and my husband laid a water line from the farmer’s house to our trailer so we would have water. Then they buried a 55 gal drum for our ‘septic tank’. Needless to say, there was no local zoning laws. The town had one grocery store and 2 churches and no movie theater. My husband drove an hour to his job, worked 8 hrs and drove another hour home; so this new bride had lots of time on my hands. With one car which he drove to work, I had no opportunity to spend $ anywhere! Yes, that little trailer had a small washer which stayed in a kitchen closet when not in use. To use it, haul it over to the double sink for filling, washing and two rinses, one in each sink. Then take it all outside to line dry. Sorta tough in freezing winter. We left that area when expecting our first child and needed to be closer to a hospital. From that very small start, I have to say I never felt ‘poor’. We were having an adventure! Some adventures are more exciting than others but life has been good and I have no regrets. I’m comfortable now and am pleased to find a group of young’uns learning to enjoy living within their means. It’s worth it!!

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It really puts perspective on our lives! Having a fun and rewarding adventure is a great way to think of life.

  10. Suzanne says :

    I love the part about Americans not needing to buy any clothes for years — it is so true, but we don’t realize it. I live in Japan now, where homes are tiny and space is shared. When my new Japanese sister-in-law saw my walk-in-closet full of clothes- she commented that it looked like a Store! She’s right– I had way too many duplicates –couldn’t wear all of those things in 30 years! She, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a hanging space of her own, let alone a 10th of the selection– she folds what she has out of sight into drawers. So I have learned a lot about minimalist living and make it a point to regularly pare down my wardrobe as much as I can. Still honing that idea, of course, as I like to sew. My goal is not to add any more unless I get rid of something else first.

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sure our “pretending to be poor” would look extravagant in many parts of the world. Sounds like your experience is very eye-opening.

  11. Suzanne says :

    Actually, your Grandma challenge is spot on for Japan. There is a lot of daily cooking (even I do now) for the family, however, when there is a celebration with friends or extended family, it is held at a restaurant because homes are too small for entertaining. We do not have dedicated guest bedrooms, either, and many families do not have dedicated bedrooms for family members. Some parents still sleep on the floor in the living room by laying out a futon each night and fold it up each morning and put it in the closet (we have futon closets). A futon here is just a pad to sleep on. It is somewhat like sleeping on a really fluffy comforter. My husband’s parents still do this. You might say that no bedrooms is a different take on how to economize. Most people hang clothes out on a line (few people choose to have a dryer), however, I have a dryer and I use it exactly as you suggest! So just about all of your suggestions resonate with me as reasonable ways to ratchet back lifestyle creep!

  12. Jen Atkinson says :

    We’ve been using for our menu planning and it’s helped SO much. We haven’t eliminated “Oh, for the love of bob I’m too tired to cook, let’s go out to eat,” totally but it’s gone down to once or twice a month instead of once or twice a week, all because I know that I have a recipe on tap and the ingredients on hand.

    Also, most of them make enough so that we have leftovers for lunch the next day.

    • Kalie says :

      That sounds like our approach. We still enjoy going out sometimes but in some ways (like with little kids) it’s more convenient to cook at home & have leftovers ready for the next day. I hadn’t heard of that tool; I’ll have to check it out.

  13. Forticus says :

    also in winter when air is cold or frozen, put clothes outside. If air is dry, the warm wetness will evaporate quickly. If you snap clothes while wet and then put on a hanger you don’t need to iron, saves plenty of life time (may not be valid preparing for job interviews).

  14. Anne says :

    My grandfather was a self starter and went from being poor to being very well off. When they started getting ahead they kept up their thrifty ways and invested in things that meant something to them, like their home, travel, experiences, and really never did spend to meet their income. My grampa told me one day that when he was young he was governed by need and that he would never take for granted what he earned because he never wanted his choices limited again.

  15. Karen says :

    Good Morning! Cloths Line in Apartment / Condo area
    My Sister-in-Law had the same trouble with my niece when she moved out. Her approach was to see the “patio” area as a place for clothes. She screwed sturdy cup holder screws (look like a big C with screw part on end) or the closed loop screws they use for the hook & latch at any hardware store. Then she strung some line through all of those. This is all below the “view” of anyone from outside her patio and my niece had a washer that was like a portable dish washer that she hooked up to her kitchen sink when it was time to wash and she hung her clothes on this patio area! Worked out perfectly. There are also Grandma’s fold up rack I remember my Mom having (94 if living & always used clothes line).

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