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Grandma’s Top 10 Frugal Habits That Were Right on the Money

Many of our grandparents were born between 1910 and 1925. This is what Tom Brokaw dubbed “The Greatest Generation” when America was developed and defended on the backbones of its hard-working citizens. Anyone with silver hair, no matter their birth date, has spent an entire lifetime making choices and reaping consequences. It is our choice whether or not we will learn from our grandparents’ experiences and advice. That is why I’ve comprised a list of frugal habits I’ve learned from watching my own grandparents as a child.

It only just dawned on me that I’ve been learning from their example all of my life even though they’ve all passed on.

Even my grandpa “Big John,” who passed away from a heart attack when I was four, left a legacy in his community as a reliable and trustworthy man others looked to for business advice. Things like that, 25 years later, stay with me.

Grandma’s Top 10 Frugal Habits That Were Right on the Money

I titled this piece “Grandma’s Top 10 Frugal Habits” because many of us had “that grandma” who wore the same three outfits and that one pair of shoes.

But this list will also include other grandparents who had a powerful influence in my life.

1. Driving a used car.

My grandma Dorris drove the same used car through my entire childhood. It wasn’t new or flashy, but it was nice, reliable, and paid for.

frugal habits2. Gardening.

My grandpa Lloyd plowed Michigan soil every season of his adult life. In retirement, his favorite pastime was taking care of his beautiful garden.

Grandma Dorris and I spent time picking and snapping green beans straight from her garden into the dinner pot.

When I graduated from high school, grandma sent me a letter with two packets of seeds to start my own garden. That was my grandparents’ legacy.

3. Scratch and dent.

Grandma helped me shift my mindset and think about things like manager’s specials and clearance racks. She went a bit too far some days, coming home with food that looked like it was ready to crawl out and burrow itself into the ground, but the lesson was still valuable.

I probably won’t hunt for nearly spoiled food and cereal boxes that look like they’ve been flattened by a forklift. Still, finding food on sale because of a simple blemish or dent is a win in my book.

4. Saturday garage sales.

If I visited grandma Dorris over a weekend, we’d either end up at the “scratch and dent” store or we’d go to garage sales. If I didn’t bring my own spending money, grandma didn’t buy me anything.

I remember only one time when she got something for me. It was a knock-off Barbie doll with chopped hair and a missing foot. It couldn’t have cost more than a quarter. Still, I cherished her gift and played with it for many years.

frugal habits5. No TV.

I have so many childhood memories of showing up at grandma’s house, diving under her couch for a pack of Uno cards and sitting across from her as we played for hours. Not once did my grandma own a TV.

We’d occasionally listen to Peter Rabbit on her record player or catch the latest Detroit Tigers game while we cooked dinner together.

These types of memories stay with me as I raise my own children, and nostalgia has even led me to look at record players for sale from time to time. I love the idea of our TV being a side product to our house, not the central focus. We don’t have cable and we try to spend as much time in the play room, kitchen or outdoors as we can.

I want my kids to have as much fresh air and the color green in their memory banks as I had.

6. Homemade gifts, toys, and quilts.

Grandma worked constantly with her hands, whether that meant carving bars of soap into little rabbits or sewing brightly colored quilts and toys for her church and family. She didn’t have Pinterest, but I’m so glad that side of grandma’s life lives on in so many homemade projects happening in the world today.

frugal habits7. The gift of time.

One frugal habit we all have is the gift of time. Grandma Dorris became a widow in her early 60’s, but she devoted a great deal of time befriending and supporting other widows. She’d make them tea, sit with them and lend a listening ear.

Grandma also performed a tremendous service for the single mothers in her community. Each week, she opened her home to their children, running a sort of after-school hangout.

Many of these children had troubled environments at home or struggled with mental disabilities, unchecked emotions, anger, lying, and stealing. I was there to witness the patience of my grandmother with everyone she met.
I’m not saying grandma was perfect. She never followed a recipe and burned many a meal. Even still, she had the same 24 hours that you and I have. She willingly gave many of them away, saving money on purchasing gifts, but also giving some troubled and lonely people in her community a safe haven.

8. No debt in retirement.

My grandpa Lloyd did an incredible thing during the last few decades of his life. He lived in a modular home with my aunt and uncle, occupying one small bedroom with a bed, closet, and nightstand. Each month, he received his only source of income: social security.

Do I recommend building up a retirement fund besides social security? Yes, but stay with me, here.

Grandpa used his social security check to pay for his rent and any other miscellaneous expenses, then he gave the rest away.

The cool thing about it is: He was free to give because he owed no debt. You don’t have to wait that long. If you start a debt-free journey before retirement, think of the years you’ll have with no payments.

The less debt you have, the more control you’re given.

9. An entrepreneurial spirit.

Both of my grandfathers ran their own businesses built from the ground up. Grandpa “Big John” ran a repair shop that my uncle took over and runs to this day. I already mentioned that my grandpa Lloyd was a farmer, but he and grandma Doris (not to be confused with my other grandma Dorris…) started their own elderly care facility when they were both in their 60’s and 70’s.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, but if you run your own business, then you see the importance of frugal habits in a whole new light.

10. Giving words of love versus money.

Grandma Dorris wrote each of her 24 grandchildren a personalized poem every year on our birthdays. For a time, she included a $5 bill in the card. I’ll never remember what I spent my $5 on, but I will remember the slant of my grandmother’s cursive as she wrote about birds and hymns and life in that blue ink.

One Parting Thought:

Recently, I discovered that my great uncle Earl, who became the primary breadwinner in his family after his father’s untimely death during the Great Depression, spent his life writing on a single sheet of notebook paper instead of purchasing greeting cards.

When asked why, he said, “I worked too hard for a dollar a day to spend it all on one greeting card.”

What frugal habits did you inherit from your grandparents? Share in the comments below.

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Wow! Is that AWESOME – simply AWESOME! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks a bunch, Jim. They were pretty incredible people.

  2. Lovely post Laura.the tips were great but what kept me reading was the personal story – it must be wonderful to have those “words of love” still. Reinforces what’s really important in life.

    • I greatly appreciate that, Jill. I wish I would have kept more of my grandmother’s poems and not taken them for granted when I was young. But I guess that’s part of growing, learning how to cherish your loved ones and the gifts they freely give.

  3. Beautiful post and very practical as well. We have so much to learn from this generation. Another thing is that they didn’t spend nearly as much entertainment as we tend to now. We probably have more “free time” due to modern conveniences, but it doesn’t need to all be used on expensive entertainment and recreation. There are plenty of simple ways to enjoy our leisure time.

    • You’re totally right, Kalie. We have more conveniences than ever to carve out more free time, and yet, we have less free time than ever. I say “we” because I’m as guilty as anyone. Guess I should pick up some “minimalist living” pamphlets or something. 🙂

  4. Good stuff here – love the wisdom of our grandparents! We can learn so much from how they lived. Thanks for sharing their life with us.

    • It was an honor, Aaron. I only wish they were still around for me to say, “Thanks.” And perhaps for another game of Uno.

  5. Great Tips! #8 especially!

    • Hi Gary,

      Yes, that’s definitely one that can be expounded upon in many directions. Generosity, living debt-free, contentment, living within your means… It was all there in a humble, quiet man.

  6. I love your Grandmas Doris and Dorris! My daughter has Grandmas Carol and Carole. 😉

    • Love it. We didn’t know any differently. My brother and his wife named their daughter after my sister-in-law’s grandmothers: Sally Margaret. My brother teased and said, “Don’t worry though, our next daughter will be Dorris Doris.”

  7. Rather amazing how naturally frugal and economically conservative our grandparents’ generation was compared to the present. I’ve read that this is at least partly due to having lived through the challenges of the Great Depression.

    • I agree, Kurt. Someone once pointed out that they were such hard workers and lived on so little because that was only way they could survive. It’s hard to picture what that would have been like, day in and day out.

  8. Awesome article. Grandma knows best! But in all seriousness, one thing about visiting my Grandma’s house that resonates with me was how long she managed to keep products. Sure, the 1970s can opener and coffee pot are an eye sore. But when my mom tries to purchase a new one for her, she politely turns her down and says that it functions just fine.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Bert, one of the Dividend Diplomats

  9. It’s good to remember the habits of our grandparents, and to try to adopt them so our grandchildren can learn them from us. My gran recently said she didn’t understand how my generation never seemed to have time for anything, but we have more conveniences and disposable income than she had. My answer was easy- our generation is lazy. Conveniences like microwaves and washing machines aren’t appreciated like they are by those who remember times without them.

  10. The 4 lessons I learned from my elders that I apply to this day:

    1) Never pass up an opportunity to make extra money (my parents were illiterate and needed all the extra $ they could earn)
    2) Don’t throw away those meat carcasses – they make great broth for soup! (To this day, I boil down all the bones from my leftover roasts, chickens, turkeys, pork roasts, lamb, etc.)
    3) Leftover food is not a punishment – don’t waste it!
    4) It’s not your employer’s job to “fix” your money problems – they will give you a raise when you give them their money’s worth (not because you “need” a raise).

  11. Being a Grandma myself, I have instilled my experiences in my life towards my grandchildren. I have always involved myself in their lives since they were born and was at 3 of my grandchildren birth. I know I can make a difference in their lives and I have always taken them to the library, church, activities at their schools, too. Money management is also important so as they grown up this can be part of learning to spend and also save. I am a thrifty spender and so is my daughters. Thank-you.

    • Thanks for swinging in and commenting, VR! It’s crazy how vital grandparents can be to the emotional growth of little kids. Great job being a role-model for your grand-kiddos as well!

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