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Financial Freedom : The Story of Two Sets of Grandparents

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financial freedom - grandparents

Recently, Pauline over at Reach Financial Independence had a great post entitled, Are You Richer Than Your Grandparents? I found the post interesting for the simple fact that my grandparents were, financially, the polar opposites of each other.  One set was very, very well off.  Definitely millionaire status.  The other set always struggled with money.

As we continue on our road to financial freedom, I’m finding myself more and more intrigued about the people in our lives, how they view and treat money, and how their views on financial freedom have influenced me and my husband.

The Road to Financial Failure

My “poor” set of grandparents were an absolute joy.  I truly adored them.  They raised 8 kids, and worked hard all of their lives; grandma managed the home while grandpa did any number of things.  He worked for many years on building the railroad system here.  He was a carpenter, residential painter, and generally awesome handyman.

At one point when I was quite young, they even owned a cute little store.  It was kind of a fluffed up convenience store.  It had the basics, but also offered a wonderfully colorful display of different types of candies, and a wide variety of stuffed animals that would make any kid think they’d just walked into the kid version of the Garden of Eden.

What I remember most about the store is its vivid colors.  If memory serves me, it was a shiny new place with lots of pretty things, and it housed, upstairs, a little apartment where my grandparents lived.

What I remember lots about this set of grandparents, though, is that financial freedom was always a distant, inconceivable dream for them. They had experienced financial failure for so many years that I think they just accepted that they would always struggle with money.  They lost that cute little store they owned due to foreclosure, and moved a lot.  My mom tells me that they never managed their money very well.  As an outsider looking in (these were my dad’s parents), she could see things more objectively, so I tend to believe her.

We saw these grandparents a lot because it was generally a pretty close-knit family until they passed.  We’d visit their small hobby farm many weekends, and there were always at the least three other of my dad’s siblings up there when we would go.

Regardless to say, everyone was always there when grandma or grandpa had a birthday or it was Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.  I remember asking my dad a lot what he got each year for gifts, and he would always give them money, and so would everyone else, because they struggled so much financially that money was their biggest need.

It pained me to see them struggle, but I always just thought, like they did, that financial freedom or financial failure was kind of a crap shoot: either you were lucky in money or you weren’t.  How wrong we all were!

The Road to Financial Freedom

My other set of grandparents, my mom’s parents, were very well off; millionaires for sure.   My grandpa on this side of the family wasn’t my actual grandfather; he had died of an apparent heart attack at 41.  My grandma was left to raise my mom and her two brothers alone: brothers were nine and four and my mom was eight.  That same year, my mom almost died from Encephalitis, and it about sent my grandma over the edge.  She married shortly after that, out of a desperate need for security, it sounds like, and the guy was a real jerk.

I’m ashamed to admit it was a blessing for the family when he died six months later, also of a heart attack.  The guy was an angry, abusive man who started pushing the kids around shortly after he and my grandma were married, even though she saw no signs of this before they married.  No love lost there.

A few of years after that she married again, also making her choice largely for financial freedom and security.  Her biggest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to keep and feed her children after my real grandpa died.  I often questioned her choices when I was younger, but as I parent, I can see now what she might have been thinking. Grandma was an LPN, but they didn’t make much in those days.  Grandma often said that “LPN” stood for “Low-paid nurse”. 🙂

SO, onto the story.  🙂 This grandpa and grandma, they were pretty loaded, financially.  We weren’t especially close to them; he was very aloof and I always got the feeling he thought he did grandma a big favor by marrying her.  Grandma had a great, dry sense of humor that always made us laugh, but she kept it largely under wraps until my grandpa, her third husband, died.

When I brought our son, Sam, over to her house for the first time, I beamed with joy, announcing, “Grandma, this is Sam!”  She said “SAM?  You named him “Sam”?  Sam is an old bald guy’s name!”  We all laughed, expecting nothing less than complete honesty from Grandma.

Grandma and Grandpa lived in the modest but nice house he had built before he married my grandma.  It was in a nicer area in the city, but wasn’t anything special, especially by today’s standards.  It did have some upgrades, such as a commercial oven/stove, but not many.  He had been an owner in some type of construction biz but was able to retire early because he lived frugally.

Grandma ended up working for the state for many years, and stashed away her own little nest egg out of her earnings, as Grandpa was, well, beyond frugal – let’s just put it that way.  They never had expensive clothing or furniture, but they always drove luxury cars.  Not “Mercedes” luxury, but the top of the line Buick and such, and there wouldn’t be very many miles on the cars before they traded them for a new one.  They traveled occasionally, but never out of the country, and they liked to enjoy dinners out at nicer restaurants.

Basically, they didn’t spend much money, but when they did, they spent it on higher grade stuff.  You’d never catch them buying fast food, but they were regulars at the fancy steak house near their home, and the owner of the steak house knew them well and appreciated their money.

When both of my sets of grandparents got older, you could see an even more glaring difference in their finances, especially which set achieved financial freedom and which pair did not.  My poor grandparents’ quality of life continued to be a struggle, in all areas, whereas my rich grandparents sold their house and lived in a kick-tail retirement condo/assisted living community and wanted for nothing, having the community’s employees at their beck and call, due to their large bank account.

Now that I’ve had my eyes opened to the truth about financial freedom, I am determined to follow the loving ways of my first set of grandparents, but have a bank account similar to my other set of grandparents. The reason I’m determined as opposed to either fatalistic or ambivalent is because I know that financial freedom isn’t a crapshoot; it’s an active choice. Daily, we get to choose whether we will make wise financial decisions that lead to greater financial freedom or poor decisions that lead to greater indebtedness to our money. At the end of the day, that’s the real question we all need to ask ourselves – are we indebted to our money or are we free to make it work for us?

 

What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about money? Who taught it to you? Who influenced the way you think, feel and act about money today?

 

Photo courtesy of: Chedderfish

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

25 Comments

  • Wow, what a very inspiring story Laurie! My parents told me that in order to have a good life, you need to work hard for the money. My father was a nautical before and he was a chief mate, but he was very humble and a very kind person.

  • Really enjoyed reading about your two sets of grandparents, Laurie. My grandparents are/were both on very similar financial footing. One of my grandfather’s was a postal deliveryman and the other drove and managed public transit buses. Both were/are very frugal so I think that’s kind of been passed down to the next couple generations. You brought up a great point though that we can make money work for us and use it as a tool instead of an end in itself.

    • Sounds like you’ve got great grandparents too, DC. It’s amazing how very much they influence their grandchildren, isn’t it? Over the 14 and a half years I’ve been a parent now, I’m learning more each day about how very valuable my kids’ relationships with their grandparents are.

  • DEBt DEBs says:

    Wonderful to learn from both sets of grandparents and take the good stuff and not do the bad. Plus you are teaching the next generation new and better ways too!

    I like these posts that give a little insight as to how and why we end up with our own financial DNA. There’s always such interesting stories behind them.

  • Liz says:

    I have a similar situation Laurie. One set was wealthy and the other set really struggles with their finances. I think I have learned lessons from both sides. My big takeaway has been that living with more financial stability means less money stress.. not necessarily that you are a happier person, or lived a more fulfilling life. Just less stress related to finances : )

  • It’s great that you took away something from both sets of grandparents. Growing up, I was close to my mom’s parents, and have realized that usually those with little to no money share whatever it is they have, usually their companionship and love. Like you, I want to have a nice nest egg but also be the warm and fuzzy grandmother one day.

  • Thanks for sharing your grandparents story. I would say my mother taught me my biggest financial lesson. She told me and my siblings that we would be on our own financially at 18. We all knew we had to find jobs and find our way without depending on her as adults. I think it was the best thing for us.

  • Dianne says:

    I really didn’t know my grandparents, except by stories told by my parents. My parents were raised during the Depression. My dad’s parents were better off than most, but the home was not a happy home, because my grandmother always wanted MORE than my grandfather could provide, and she let him know it. They were wise with their finances, but I don’t see the freedom there. They were a slave to their money, thinking it would buy happiness.
    My mom’s mom is my heroine! She raised 5 girls alone, taking in laundry and cleaning houses. There were times when they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. My grandmother ended up sending the older girls to relations to live. The poverty brought them closer, and each hurdle was a victory! HOWEVER, when my “Granny” was 60 years old, she decided she wanted to become a nurse, and she went to college and BECAME ONE and was financially independent until she died.

    Money can put you in bondage, no matter what your circumstances. Your attitude about money is what gives you freedom.

    • What a powerful lesson, Dianne. You’re so right about money putting people in bondage, whether with too little of it or too much of it. You are so lucky to have had such a great influence as your mom’s mom. She sounds like she was an amazing woman.

  • Thanks for sharing your families’ history…it’s always interesting to hear about someone’s background. I’d have to say my parents, and in particular my father influenced the way I am with money. He was very frugal which is where I guess I picked that up. But he was also very interested in learning about investing and encouraged me as well as helped me open accounts to start investing.

    • It’s so important to have someone to instill in you the values of life and happiness, isn’t it? I’ve read a few stories about your dad, and he sure sounds like an awesome guy who taught you a lot. Congratulations, and good for you for listening.

  • E.M. says:

    I love reading stories about other families. My grandma has been the only grandparent I grew up to know. She’s pretty frugal and believes in working hard. She loves getting a good deal. Since my parents were in debt, I grew up seeing them adopt frugal habits, too. They didn’t care for anything flashy or new and barely ever ate out, which I try to follow.

    • E.M., you’ve done a great job of following your parents/grandma’s frugal ways. I think it’s impressive how you so often reflect on what you’ve learned from them before you make spending choices. Great job!

  • Pauline says:

    Thanks for the spotlight Laurie! I think my grandparents influenced me a lot with those WWII stories, the food being rationed, having to make mend do, being resourceful for everything because there was no other way. They kept their habits after the war and were able to retire very comfortably.

  • Thanks for sharing your personal story about your dueling grandparents. I was inspired by Pauline’s post as well and found myself reflecting on my grandparents after reading it. And like you, my grandparents who did not have much of anything had a ton of love and good spirit and the one that did have money, was difficult to “warm” to. I didn’t really get any financial lessons from family growing up, but I did get taught the value of hard work and commitment and I apply those efforts to my financial life now.

    • That’s interesting, Shannon! I believe you can have both money and a warm and loving heart, and I sure hope I don’t grow aloof as our wealth rises. Maybe this is a key to why we were so afraid of wealth for so long.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks for sharing. I do think you can have both happiness and wealth if you play your cards right. My Mom’s parents were dirt poor as far as money, but they had lots of land and really didn’t need much because they were pretty much self sufficient with farming and livestock. I bet they never had much in the bank, but always seemed to be OK. My Dad’s parents were pretty well off by KY standards because my Grandpa went back to school to be a dentist after my Dad and his brother were born. He didn’t want to live in the poverty he was raised in and I admire him for that. If not for him, I’m not sure my Dad or even myself and my sister would have had the drive to go to college. Funny how everyone influences you. It’s good to take a little from everyone and make it your own.

    • “It’s good to take a little from everyone and make it your own.” SO true, Kim!!!! All around us, there is so much wisdom (or foolishness) to be gleaned from others, and it’s up to us what we do with the habits we observe from the influences around us.

  • Tom says:

    Wealth: it’s not about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about regular investing, pivoting based on market shifts, living frugally, but making exceptions for the things you truly value … great article!

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