Want to save money and pay off debt? Try living like your grandparents.

3 minute read

[Personal finance columnist Deb Hipp]

Hi, this is Deb Hipp, and I write about all kinds of ways to stretch a dollar. Check out my column, 7 Things I Learned From Grandma About Frugal Living.

My grandmother grew up poor. So she gave me a wealth of good advice – much of it about money. Here are a few tips:

  1. Eat beans. They’re cheap, tasty, and a healthy source of protein.
  2. Read a newspaper. Actually read the ads, specifically, the grocery offers – I save $20 a week that way.
  3. Clear out the clearance rack. Sure, most of it is junk but score a deal on anything that’s not.

I learned many more lessons from grandma. Read about them at Debt.com

I was one of those lucky kids whose grandparents were always present in my life. My brothers and I visited them at least once a week, and we often spent the night. Little did I know at the time, my childhood brain was soaking up subtle messages about money that I’d benefit from later in life.

There were many mornings at Grandma’s house when I awoke to birds singing from the trees near the open bedroom window. It was a peaceful awakening, unlike the jarring buzzers and alarms that jolt me from sleep as an adult.

One such morning, I padded barefoot down the hallway into the kitchen, where my grandma was preparing bowls of oatmeal for me and my two brothers. Our meal came from a big cardboard canister, not expensive single-portion packets. I thought nothing of the price of oatmeal that day, having no idea that the grain she mixed with butter, milk and sugar for my breakfast cost next to nothing.

It’s probably the feeling of safety, security, and love I felt that morning that keeps the memory so vivid decades later. However, the oatmeal lesson wasn’t completely lost on me, either. When money’s tight, oatmeal is still one of my go-to foods for breakfast.

Maybe you learned some frugal living tips from your own grandparents. But even if your grandma was a hard-drinking gambler who declared bankruptcy, you can still benefit from my grandmother’s wisdom.

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1. Beans go a long, long way

My grandma, who grew up poor in the South and had to use food ration coupons during World War II, knew how to make food stretch. She always had a big pot of bean soup and cornbread on hand, which can get you through a lean week without sacrificing protein. With every batch, dish out portions to freeze for later.

2. Scan the weekly grocery ads

Grandma was always on the lookout for a good sale. That’s why she perused the daily newspaper’s food section on a regular basis. I do the same thing now, saving at least $20 a week on my grocery bill with meat and produce sales and coupons.

Not everyone reads the newspaper now. To save money on your groceries, check out Debt.com’s coupon section.

3. Earn cash with a side hustle

My grandma had a side hustle before side hustles were cool. My grandfather worked, but Grandma tacked babysitting fliers up on grocery store and laundromat bulletin boards for some cash of her own. Over the years, she saved babysitting money for holiday presents, pricey appliances, vacations and anything else she needed.

4. Check out the clearance rack

Grandma worked hard for that babysitting money, and she knew it would go a lot further if she waited until clothing or other items went on sale. Now that trait is ingrained in both me and my mom, who bought me one of my favorite shirts for $1 off the clearance table at a department store.

5. Find out what’s in that junky-looking store

Grandma loved to shop at a little store that sold unclaimed freight, a bunch of stuff that got rejected or lost and spilled into the aisles of a mom-and-pop place on the sketchy side of town. You can find household items like toiletries, appliances, toys and even food for slashed prices at little out-of-the-way places.

6. Grow your own veggies

Maybe it’s the Southern roots, but both sets of grandparents had gardens where they grew green beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, strawberries, you name it. Then Grandma would can and freeze much of it for future use. Do I do all that? No. But I do have two cherry tomato plants that I bought on sale at Lowe’s this spring, thriving on my patio this summer to help save money on salads.

7. Weekly meal prep is smart

My grandparents’ refrigerator was consistently crammed with food. I could always grab a piece of chicken, a bit of salad or coleslaw, a boiled egg or even just a slice of lunch meat. Taking time to prepare a week’s worth of food to have on hand keeps you from spending money on fast food and take-out meals when you don’t have time to cook. Meal prep also reduces food waste.

Call her what you will, Grandma, Nana, Grammy or Mamaw, the elder that spoiled you knows a thing or two about stretching a dollar. So, get your vintage on and shop like Grandma. Just don’t hold up the cashier’s line by writing a check.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC