19 Brilliant Money-Saving Tips We Learned from Grandma
My grandma grew up during the Depression and knows how to save money, food and resources. Here are her best tips.
My grandma turned 91 this year. She’s seen quite a lot in her lifetime. She grew up during the Depression, and nearly every family she knew, including her own, had a father out of work. Finally, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal, her father got work painting the fire hydrants in the town. She still remembers how proud he was to have a job to do. She was in high school during World War II, and shortages of food were common. After the war, she married a schoolteacher, and they spent the summers working second jobs at a camp and gradually building a cabin our family still uses today. In short, she’s a pretty smart lady who’s taught me a ton about saving money and living well.
Here are the best money-saving tips I learned from my grandma. Some are genius, some might be a little eccentric-all of them are worth a try.
Never Waste a Dime
I’m definitely pound wise and penny foolish. I’m cautious about buying expensive items, but I’ll fritter away small amounts of money: an iced coffee here, a movie rental there. My grandma taught me that spending money, whether it’s a couple of dollars or even dimes, shouldn’t be done lightly.
Case in point: At an Aldi checkout, the cashier offered us a paper bag for 10 cents. My grandma scoffed. “Don’t throw your money away!” She helped herself to a box lid from the front of the store and arranged her items inside. (Here’s why you should be shopping at Aldi, too.)
Cook at Home More Than You Go Out
My grandma almost always cooks meals when we’re together. She’ll even make a big batch of popcorn before we head off to the drive-in movie theater so we don’t have to buy the fake stuff! Learn how to make popcorn the old-fashioned way.
Serve Salad and Bread with Dinner so People Eat Less Meat
Dinner at Grandma’s tends to be traditional: an iceberg lettuce salad, some kind of meat and vegetable, and a big loaf of crusty bread. My grandma cooked for two sons and a husband, and that taught her that second (and third!) helpings of meat really add up. Serving bread with the meal offers more filling food that’s less expensive (and less caloric). Bookmark these family dinners for less than $10.
Add Bread Crumbs to Ground Meat for Burgers and Meatballs
Any leftover slices of bread get toasted and crushed into breadcrumbs. Add them to meatballs and even burgers to stretch the meat, so you don’t need as much. Using some crumbs even helps bind the meat.
Think plastic containers, plastic utensils, aluminum foil, baggies, grocery bags—even paper towels.
Open Grandma’s fridge and you’ll spot a dozen containers: margarine, yogurt, cottage cheese. Inside, not the product you’re expecting but leftovers of some stripe. Sheets of aluminum foil are wiped with a dish rag and neatly folded back in the box for next time. Even plastic utensils get washed and reused a few times. Paper towels used on hands or countertops are allowed to dry over the back of a chair and used again. Didn’t stain your napkin at breakfast? Expect the same one on the lunch table. This saves both money and resources. Get greener in your kitchen today.
Grandma even saves items that seem to have no value. Cut a piece of parchment paper to line a pan? Use your leftover scraps to grease pans. (Save old butter wrappers for the same use.) Received a ribbon on a gift or have a scrap of fabric left from a project? Save it for crafting, especially for kids.
Heating up the Oven or Grill? Fill It Up
Cooking just one thing in your oven? You must own shares in the electric company! Get the most out of your fuel by filling the cooking space. Here are some ideas:
For the oven: toss in a sheet pan of veggies; roast whole tomatoes, potatoes or eggplants (poke holes in them with a fork so they don’t explode); toast bread; warm plates.
For the grill: corn on the cob; bread wrapped in foil; whole potatoes or eggplants; sliced zucchini or other veggie; toast burger or hot dog buns. (Shh…we shared the secrets to the best grilled burger.)
Have a Repertoire
My grandma likes to stick to her tried-and-true recipes. In addition to saving money on ingredients wasted due to a faulty recipe or a meal that flops with eaters, she saves time. I bet she could make chicken-in-mayonnaise in her sleep.
Use Every Bit of an Ingredient
Within my grandma’s repertoire? Meringues with berries. Rather than ditching the egg whites she has left over, she makes omelets. (I prefer to add some whole eggs to the pan with the yolks, but my brother once choked down a yolk-only omelet and lived to tell the tale.)
Olive Oil Is for Drizzling, Not for Cooking
These days, a lot of cooks use extra virgin olive oil like it’s water. Grandma uses cheaper cooking oils, like peanut, to cook, and she uses olive oil where she can actually taste it: to drizzle onto toast, meat or salad. See how you should really use all those oils.
Open the pantry door at your own risk: You might just find a dozen cans of corn, several bags of potato chips, jars of salsa, even huge tubs of coffee. Some might call this hoarding. My grandma calls it good sense. When you know you like eating an item, buy a bunch when they go on sale. Many pantry items’ expiration dates are years away. Meat can be frozen (even deli meat); she’ll even freeze milk. Find more surprising items you can freeze.
Take Expiration Dates with a Grain of Salt
OK, this one is definitely one of the more eccentric items on this list. But my grandma doesn’t exactly believe in expiration dates. She’ll often set out a bottle of ketchup on the table that “expired” last year, and we’ll eat it without ill effects. That said, this habit also can extend to some very suspect items, like milk. If you don’t have an iron stomach, pass on this tip! (Find out if it’s really safe.)
Add Water to Your Liquid Soaps
Diluting liquid hand or dish soap with water makes it last longer (and it’s still super bubbly!). This trick is especially handy when your soap dispenser is almost empty: Adding some water makes it easier to get the last of the soap out.
Use Bar Soap
Save big bucks on pricey face and hand soaps by using bar soap. It lasts forever, and you won’t be throwing away all that plastic packaging, either.
Use Pantry Items like Vinegar to Clean
Save and Repurpose Worn-out Items
When clothing and sheets wear out, turn them into rags. Cut up larger items into manageable squares; use socks for dusting by slipping your hand inside. Large sheets are handy to keep around for drop cloths for painting, or for myriad kid projects (tents, forts, togas). Old towels? Use them to pad a dog’s bed, for a poor man’s picnic blanket or to protect car seats from spills on a road trip.
Don’t Run out and Buy Something New
Before birthdays and Christmas, my grandma always says, “Don’t buy me anything. I’m 91. What do I need?” She may be 91 now, but she’s never been a big shopper. From the furniture to the art on the walls, her home has looked the same for decades. Her tricks:
- Ignore trends and buy what you love.
- Consider the big picture before making a purchase. How will that new pillow fit with the rest of your stuff? How about that trendy new sweater? A narrow color scheme in your home and wardrobe can make it easier to make decisions (and resist fleeting trends).
- Be very choosy when making a purchase, and buy high quality—the extra cost now will save you money in the long run when you don’t need to replace it.
Simple Pleasures Are the Best
In the morning, my grandma drinks a cup of coffee on the deck. The afternoon might mean a trip to the library or to buy a few pieces of fruit from the farm stand. Evening finds her sipping a cocktail in front of Jeopardy! These small rituals cost very little, but they make her happy. Take time to enjoy your home and treat yourself to small indulgences.