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Six Things My Grandpas Taught Me About Financial Success

What My Grandparents Taught My About Finances{Both of my grandpas with me as a young girl on Easter.}

 TIAA-CREF recently surveyed a number of grandparents and grandchildren across the country. I was interested to read that this was one of the findings from their survey:

We discovered that grandchildren not only want to talk to grandparents about money and savings, but also that they view their grandparents as positive role models when it comes to the importance and ability to save money.

Read more here.

I so agreed with this, because I attribute much of my own personal financial success to my grandparents — my grandpas especially. My parents were highly, highly instrumental in shaping my thoughts on finances, debt, spending, and saving, but it was my grandparents who first laid the foundation for them.

There is so much I could share about how my grandparents impacted me. My grandmas taught me so much and set such great examples for me in many areas. But when it comes to finances, it’s hard to think of anyone who has impacted me more than my grandpas.

Here are six things my grandpas taught me about financial success:

1) Be a Disciplined and Diligent Person

Both of my grandpas have lived lives of productivity.

My dad’s dad (whom we affectionately call “Pop”) was one of the hardest working men I’ve met — right up until he passed away. He was usually up before 6 a.m. and he’d go out and walk and then start in on his day. Even after he retired, he never stopped working. He was always fixing things, building things, and looking for people to help.

My mom’s dad, Grandpa Duane, is still going strong. He keeps everything in their home and in his shop in meticulous order. He cares for his wife, my step-grandma, and is always thinking of others. It amazes me how much he does, even in his eighties! In fact, just recently, he was out on my parents’ property flying one of his planes. I hope that I’m still as active and driven as he is when I’m a great-grandma!

What My Grandpas Taught Me About Financial Success{Pop helping me with a present I’d just opened for my birthday while my older sister, Brigette, looks on.}

2) Save Your Money Carefully

I can’t think of any time I’ve seen either of my grandpas spend money frivolously or extravagantly. Every purchase they’ve made has been made carefully. Time and time again, I’ve seen them wait to buy something they wanted until they had saved up for it and were sure they were getting a good deal.

At the same time, I’ve also seen them be generous with their wives, their children and their grandchildren. I truly believe that the thought and intention they put into wisely managing their money gave them the opportunity to be able to bless others more.

3) Never Pay Full Price for Anything

I remember when Pop passed away and we were going through his house, we found multiple brand-new pairs of the same kind of shoe he always wore. We were curious what this was about until we realized that he’d found a great sale on them (they still had the clearance prices on them), so he’d bought extra for the coming years.

Not only do I love this story because it shows his wisdom in always planning ahead, but I also love it because it shows how simple he liked to keep things. He always wore the same kinds of clothes and shoes and once he found a brand/make that worked well and held up, he just stuck with that.

We’d often tease Pop about how he would buy extra of items like peanut butter if they were on a great sale. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he’s somewhat to blame for my bargain-shopping nature. And I’m incredibly grateful for the example he set and all the money he’s inspired me to save over the years!

What My Grandpas Taught Me About Financial Success

{Grandpa Duane with my brother, Dustin, my sister, Brigette, and me — yup, fingers in my mouth and all! ;)}

4) Think Through Purchases

I’ve observed both of my grandpas purchase a house in my lifetime. In both cases, I saw them think through the purchases very carefully.

They took their time. They asked for counsel of others. They considered their options.

And they didn’t just run ahead and get something because it looked like a great option. They wanted to make sure it was the best option. And in each case, the time and thought they put into these big purchases turned out to serve them well.

5) Use It Up, Wear It Out

My grandpas were experts at this! Why buy something new when the old one will do just as well? They took very good care of all of their possessions and made them last as long as they could. And it’s amazing how long they could make something last!

We would often joke with Pop about the fact that maybe he should replace his hole-y sweat pants or t-shirts, but he’d keep wearing them until they were completely and 100% worn out. While I haven’t quite gone this far, I do wear and wear and wear my clothes and shoes, usually until they are very well-worn. And this not only simplifies my life, but it saves us a lot of money.

What My Grandpas Taught Me About Financial Success

{My dad’s mom holding me for the first time while Pop looks on and holds my older sister, Brigette.}

6) Don’t Go Into Debt — Except for a House

One thing that Pop ingrained in my dad was that you should never go into debt for anything except a house. From the beginning of my parents’ marriage, they followed this principle.

And then they took it one step further.

When I was around six years old, my parents decided to do something radical and work hard to pay off their house. They then saved up everything they could.

When I was ten years old, we sold that house and bought land out in the country. My dad bought an old single-wide trailer for a few thousand dollars and moved it to the land.

The trailer didn’t have an oven, didn’t have heat or air conditioning, leaked crazily every time it rained, had a bad mice problem, and was in fairly disgusting shape when we got it. But after days of elbow grease, we got it in livable shape, moved most of our possessions into a storage unit, and moved the basic necessities into that trailer.

We spent seven months in that trailer while we were building our house. I could write a book of stories from that experience. But most all of the memories are very happy memories and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

At the end of seven months, our new house was finished enough that we could move into it. And it was a huge celebration to make it to that day… and for my parents to have realized their dream of building a house debt-free.

Let me tell you: Pop’s encouragement to my dad to never go into debt except for a house and then seeing my parents take that advice and go even further with it, well, that has a profound effect on you as a child. Especially when you then see your parents go on and be in position to be able to give generously because they worked so hard to no longer have a house payment.

Truly, my husband and I owe so much to our parents and grandparents. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we would never be in the position we are in financially nor would we have paid cash for our first house were it not for my grandparents influence and examples. And we are eternally grateful.

Want to start a conversation between your kids and their grandparents about money and finances? Or are you a grandparent who would love to know how to talk to your grandkids about money? Check out these free downloadable resources for tips and ideas to start the conversation.

{Note: This post was underwritten by TIAA-CREF. See my disclosure policy here.}


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  • Jenni says:

    A book on those experiences would be great! My husbands family did a similar thing too. The simpleness of their life was fascinating.


    • As I was writing this post, it brought back so many memories of things from that time period in my life and what we learned… and it made me realize that I need to write those things down somewhere lest I forget!

  • angela says:

    it’s nice to read stories like these and gives me hope that I’m doing it right

  • Monica says:

    People often are taken back at department stores for not opening a department store charge card to save an additional 10-15% . I tell them, I pay with my debit card or cash only. They often look at me crazy. Who turns down an immediate savings of their purchase? A smart person who refuses to be a slave to DEBT, that’s who. =) Great article!

    • Karen says:

      I am this way for most places too, but I did open a Kohl’s charge account. I will usually only buy something if I have at least a 30% off paired with clearance or sale. Then after I charge it, I hand a check to the cashier for the amount I charged and immediately pay it off. My daughter (11) questioned me on it one day and I explained to her that if I paid cash for a $10 item then I would have to pay $10. But if I charge it, use the coupon and then write a check to pay the charge, it only costs me $7 and I can use that $3 savings elsewhere. No interest charges here! 😉

      • Susan says:

        Me too! I’ve saved so much money at Kohl’s on things we had to have. Of course, they hope to get you to pay interest! I also ALWAYS pay at the check out. If I can’t do that, I don’t buy it. When I’ve ordered online, I’ve put the money aside and paid in full the day the bill comes in.

    • I once had a very hard time trying to turn down the Kohl’s charge card offer… the cashier just couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that I would choose to pay cash, that I prefer to pay cash, and that I don’t have a credit card.

      I think she thought I must have landed on earth from another planet! 😉

  • Jen says:

    Great way to honor them through this encouraging post. We often wonder if our kids are being impacted by the way we’re managing our finances. This was a good reminder that they ARE watching. Sounds like the way they lived purposefully with their money has given the rest of your family opportunities to then pass that blessing on to many others…including us readers who benefit from that wisdom 🙂

  • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    I see a lot of your younger daughter in your sister in these pics.
    My grandma was a spender, so mostly I learned how to make cheese omelettes and ensure that every bit of the toast was covered with peanut butter from my grandpa. He was still my favorite man on the planet!!

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m envious. I didn’t have the influence of grandpas. One I never knew (it’s complicated) and the other one died when I was a toddler. I wish I had, I just love old men. Many of them are so charming 🙂
    My parents were good though, about teaching me to be thrifty.

  • Lauren says:

    I never got to witness anything like this. However, my husband did. Because of his family, we share a dream similar to what your parents dreamed. Currently, we are working very hard to become debt free, and it is a very overwhelming task.
    This post put a boost in my step, almost as if it is shouting out to me that there is hope.
    Thank you!

  • Brandi says:

    We are currently debt-free except our mortgage, but we DO have credit cards that we pay off each month. The points got us a trip to Disneyworld AND New York this year.

  • Terrific share. I also had the great experience of learning from my grandparents, my maternal one in particular. He taught me many things, not the least of which was diversification.

    He was a small farm operator who did it all and refused the tide of specialization. He had a small dairy and sold directly to end users. He raised a few pigs, beef and chickens. He sold milk, eggs, meat, and vegetables. He raised all his own feed.

    It never mattered how the economy did because never really needed to buy much but salt and pepper! He kept life simple and lived with integrity. A great model.

  • My family has a similar story, except that my great grandfather came to this country as an immigrant from Ireland. He saved, worked three jobs, and earned enough to buy a home, pay it off, start a business, help six children on their way in life, and ultimately retired early; his only regret in life is that having worked so hard he was not able to attend university. My grandparents held onto the same beliefs, but my grandfather extrapolated on his father’s ideals, telling his children and grandchildren, that the only two things in life worth going into debt were a home and an education. He believed that especially for women, an education was the one tool in life that evened the playing field, per se; he once told me that I needed to go to college not so I could make a living, but to be an example to my own children on how I will expect them to be themselves, productive people. I loved his dearly for this idea, and without his earnestness, I am not sure that I would have been able to at 31, secure my own home, paid for graduate school, and now in the process of paying for law school myself. I believe that the American dream is the piece of mind in knowing that you are secure in your home, family, and within yourself, and I thank my grandfather for that!

  • Robyn says:

    This is so inspiring, Crystal! Love the pics of you and Bridgette…what beautiful little girls! 🙂

    And it doesn’t surprise me that you come from a family with so much wisdom to share!

    Over the years, reading about your story and the years that Jesse was in law school, I remember you saying that it was sort of an adventure. It sounds like your folks had that attitude too…living in a trailer for7 months to meet their goal.

    It’s a great reminder to me of how important my attitude is for my children. My kids are getting older, and I’m careful to remind them that yes, our priorities are different–we give and we save rather than spend on everything we might want right now–but there is JOY for me in putting money in the bank for them to go to college someday. I will be that crazy smiling lady with a purse full of coupons in the front row at their college graduations!!

    And now they’re earning their own money (mowing lawns this summer) and I love watching them take trips to the bank and watch their savings grow, and think carefully about what they are saving up for. They’re getting it.

  • Gina says:

    Number 5 just about made me laugh out loud, and then brought tears to my eyes. . . my Grandad’s (mom’s dad) motto was “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Sometimes I think he was a little extreme with it, for instance, eating food that had been in the freezer a little too long and was past it’s prime because he couldn’t bear to throw anything away. But, that principle, and saying, is something his kids and grandkids will never ever forget. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

  • Penny says:

    Great article! Grandparents are SO IMPORTANT to building a strong foundation of values and culture. I also recommend stashing a number of age-appropriate books about money and values and priorities and generosity and gratitude; this has been another way for us to start having meaningful discussions with our 4 year old.

  • CJ says:

    Both my grandfathers have passed away but both of my grandmothers are alive and still living on their own (95 and 90) – both are now great-great grandmothers. Their generation is so inspiring – family came first and you never threw anything away, you fixed it (this included relationships). They were able to take care of their families on one income and these were families of 8 and 5 children per household. I find my grandparents and their generation to be of much inspiration in my life and I would feel honored and blessed to be able to live a life as simple and yet so full as they have lived and are still living.

  • Tracy says:

    My maternal grandpa was a great man. He knew that he needed to provide for his family when my Mom was little she was diagnosed with diabetes this was in the 70’s and Insulin and those things were not cheap. He worked out a deal with the local pharmacist and did all the bookkeeping for him in exchange the pharmacist gave him the insulin and supplies at cost and my Grandpa’s wages went towards all of it. He worked 3 jobs to provide for his family.

    Later in life he would tell me how you should always provide for your kids and help teach them how to do things for themselves. He taught me how to use tools properly, do all sorts of outside work, and that there is nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty. I am so greatful for what he taught me I am able to pass down this knowledge to my son. My favorite part about knowing these things is when my son tells his friends how his mom fixed or made X and his friends all are surprised then they tell their Dads. The Dads most of the time say “wow how did you do that, I was never taught that growing up.” I just tell them I had a very smart man teach me long ago.

  • Marianne Hardy says:

    Crystal , I have followed you for years. I remember the day when you posted that you paid cash for your house and my jaw dropped to the floor! So impressive. I love this story. It is so personal and meaningful. This may be my favorite thing you have written.

  • I learned my money saving ways from my mother-in-law. She fed 5 kids on a laborers salary. My father-in-law would get laid off in the winter and the money had to last. When something went on sale, she stocked up. She always hanged her laundry to dry and still does to this day. She has a stockpile of food in her basement of all her sales finds.

    I have learned to buy things with cash, even cars. My friend always says I am the only person who buys cars with cash! While our home is not totally paid off, we saved a huge amount by building it ourselves. It took us 2 years to move in but it was worth it. We also pay more on our mortgage each month to pay it down.

    We do most of the maintenance, landscaping, cleaning etc ourselves. When I purchase something, I really think about it before I spend. I take care of my clothes and repair them, so they do not wear out as fast. I think not using the dryer helps.

  • What a wonderful legacy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dawn says:

    So much I could share about my own grandfathers, but I just want to tell you a funny story about “using it up.”

    My Granddaddy was SOOOO anal about using things up that he would wear his house slippers or jackets or shirts until they were literally falling apart. If someone bought him a new one of whatever it was, he would hang it in the closet and not use it.
    My grandmother devised a way to get those truly ratty things OUT and the newer things IN. She showed me one day. She took just one thing, put it in the trash, and poured old grease all over it. She said if she didn’t, he would just pull it out of the trash.
    I died laughing that day. And he was forced to finally wear something without holes or falling apart. He of course knew she did it, and it was a joke between them.
    I still tease my own husband sometimes, “I’m gonna take the grease to that!!” if he hangs onto something that’s way beyond its usefulness. LOL!!

    (I hope nobody thinks my grandmother was being disrespectful. It truly was a joke between them. If my Grandfather had ever told her not to do it, she wouldn’t have.)

  • Yes to living on the land while you build a house! I hope our kids have great things to say about our experience as well 🙂

  • Beth says:

    Yes! Our families are such powerful influences, good or bad, on how we define contentment, how we manage money, and plan for the future. Like you and so many of your readers, I had awesome role models. My grandparents raised my dad and his 4 siblings in a “shoebox” of a house. My grandfather built that house, knowing that it was exactly the size he needed to raise his family. My mother’s family was just the same.They spent their money on things they valued and were genuinely happy. I hope to pass along that contentment to my children’s children some day.

  • Natasha says:

    Gotta love grandpas! So wise!

  • Sonja says:

    Thank you! This was great! What a rich heritage! (No pun intended … or not… :))Truly the richest families do the same things! I’m sooooo thankful for godly, frugal grandparents!!! LOVED reading this post. Made me reminisce my upbringing, too!

  • Melody says:

    I loved this article! What a beautiful tribute to your grandfathers!

  • Alicia says:

    Great article 🙂 My grandparents have been instrumental in shaping me into the person and family we are today. From their strong marriages, importance of families, and of course financially. I have been fortunate to grow up with two very successful grandfathers and this is due to their hard work and good money sense. I am so thankful for this 🙂 I am off to celebrate my grandpa’s 85th birthday today… Thanks for sharing this article ! ( I had a couple tears writing this ) …

  • Autumn Beach says:

    Hi, Crystal! I love this post. For so many reasons. Just wondering…did your parents explain debt to you? I was pretty aloof as a child, so I guess I’m just wondering how your parents explained to you what they were doing. My parents were ahead of their time in buying/flipping houses for a profit until they had enough to build their forever home, where I was raised and where they still live today. I’m sure there were some great lessons to be learned, but I’m just now realizing how diligent they were. And I just turned 38! Ha! Wish I would have picked up on some things along the way. So, I guess I’m just trying to glean from you HOW your parents/grandparents taught you these lessons. Was it just keen observation on your part or were they intentional in explaining debt, etc?

    • Yes, they explained a lot of basic financial concepts to us from a pretty young age (debt, credit cards, savings, etc.) So I’m blessed that they not only demonstrated things to us through their life, they also taught us about it, too.

      • Autumn Beach says:

        Wow! That’s just awesome. I know you must be SUPER busy, but if you ever need ideas for a post, I would love to know exactly what they taught you about these things and how they taught it to you. Or maybe you could just point me in a direction. I know there are several Christian resources for teaching your kids about money (Dave Ramsey, Crown Financial, etc.) but I would love to hear it from somebody in whose life it actually worked. Ha! 🙂 My kids are 6 and 4, so I hope to start talking about money soon! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I sincerely appreciate it.

  • shelby says:

    Great post with lots of great tips. I hope that we can all pass these on to our children! My favorite is cash only, and I love when I see that it is possible to pay cash for a house. we didn’t do that, but I would love for my kids to see it as a worthwhile endeavor.

    I also have a question. I know you have very few outfits each season, and I hope to someday imitate that, but I definitely learned well from my grandparents and dad that you keep something until it is unusable. This means that any clothes in my closet that you might find unnecessary, are beyond selling or even giving away, but not yet ready for the rag pile, so I continue wearing them. When you only have 7 outfits, is a season long enough to completely wear them out, or do you rotate your wardrobe in some way?

    • Yes, I’ve found that I usually wear out at least a few items each season — typically shirts that I’ve worn over and over again. I’ll replace these the following season… usually with something I find on or (I’ve had good success with getting great deals off both of those sites!)

  • Julie S. says:

    I would love to hear more stories (or more details about how your parents accomplished this). We would someday love to build our own home debt-free. We would like to pay off our place now (it has an older manufactured home), and one day when we have saved more money and feel more financially stable we’d like to take this on. We LOVE building, we’ve already heavily remodeled two homes and have the skills we just want to make sure we have the CASH to do it so that we can truly enjoy the process and feel blessed once we are in the home and not burdened. It would be so neat if you could somehow round up some stories about people that have done this… seems difficult to find stories even online of people willing to share (either as they go in a blog or journal form, or in detail about it after the fact in a book or something).

    One neat place I found for simpler smaller builds (many of them are cash flowing it) is They have great stories on people that have built their own homes, they have a really neat forum of owner builders as well that is pretty active. So when I get the hankering to see a project coming together and be inspired to build our own home one day….I go there and soak it up.:)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this story. I love that you have such respect for your grandparents and the morals they encouraged in your family have come to fruition.:)

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