9 Money Lessons From My 90-Year-old Grandpa

My grandpa turns 90 years old in a few days. Honestly, I can’t believe that he’s 90, and neither would you if you met him.

Even at 90 years old, both he and my grandma are fully independent, drive, still have all their faculties (mostly anyway), and routinely go places and do things.

My grandparents have been a huge part of my life and continue to be. In fact, I learned a lot about money from them. Both grew up in poverty and were able to build a comfortable middle-class life, the benefits of which I’ve enjoyed on my own journey.

So, on my grandpa’s 90th birthday, I thought I’d ask him to share some of his money knowledge with the world.

Here are nine money lessons from my 90-year-old grandpa.

But first, some background.

The Big Shot

My grandpa did not have a good upbringing.

In fact, he grew up the oldest of a family who was constantly terrorized by his father.

Abusive, tyrannical, and extremely lazy, my great-grandfather was about as bad as they come.

He ate before his wife and children and slept close to the fire while the rest of them tried to stay warm. When the bill collectors came calling, he moved his family. When my grandpa made a little bit of money, his father stole it.

He was verbally, physically, and every other kind of abusive you could imagine.

His favorite insult for my grandpa was to accuse him of being a big shot.

I won’t go into the full story here but suffice it to say that my grandpa basically raised his younger siblings and tried to help his mother the best he could.

Until he was old enough, then he ran away.

Ironically, he did become the big shot of the family through hard work and sacrifice.

Although the oldest, he’s the last of his siblings. Here are his nine money lessons.

Related: 13 Personality Traits That Lead to Money Success

Strive for Better, Not Best

As I mentioned, my grandpa came from poverty. In fact, they were so poor that my grandpa often hunted and fished for their meals.

Despite the incredible progress he made throughout his life, he acknowledges that there were always people who had more. Especially as he got older and was more exposed to the world outside his family and hometown, it was hard not to notice a discrepancy between his life and that of others.

Some might have been envious and focused on how unfair life is. Not my grandpa. In fact, he used this discrepancy as motivation. He realized that he could live a better life, and he set out to do it.

This brings us to his first money tip: strive for better, not best.

So many people see what others have and focus on how unfair it is. But what most don’t realize is that focusing on what others have doesn’t help you become better; it only helps you become bitter.

My grandpa’s advice? Don’t focus on becoming what you see in others. Some have a head start, but you’ll never be satisfied comparing yourself to others. Instead, focus on bettering yourself in any way you can, and be proud of the progress you make.

Strive to make yourself better than you were. It may not seem like much, but any progress you make will carry on in your family and give them that much more of a head start than you had.

Strive for better for yourself and your family.

Hard Work Will Pay Off

This is an extension of the point above, but the second money tip from my 90-year-old grandpa is that hard work pays off.

My grandpa came from the bottom and worked his way into a comfortable middle-class life.

How? Through hard work.

Most people tend to follow in the footsteps of their parents because they model the same habits and behaviors.

Not my grandpa. He saw that others lived a better life and realized that the only way he could attain something similar was to work hard, something his father refused to do.

My grandpa started his working career pumping gas for Standard Oil, then worked his way up to service station manager. Eventually, he advanced to the position of regional manager for a division of Standard Oil called Signal Oil and, later, Exxon Mobile.

Although he realizes that life and society are very different now, he also knows that some things never go out of style.

Hard work is one of them, and it will pay off no matter what you apply it to.

Persistence Is One of the Most Important Traits for Success

Several years ago, my grandpa gave me a plaque that still sits in my dining room.

The plaque contains a quote from President Calvin Coolidge and reads:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more

            common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is

            almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence

            and determination alone are omnipotent.”

I remember my grandpa telling me he wanted me to have it because it was a creed he had lived his life by and one that I was already using in mine.

Whatever you do, persistence is the key to reaching your goals.

All of us face adversity in our lives, and of course, some face it more than others. My grandpa faced a great deal of it, but he never gave up his pursuit of a better life.

Although he may have been thwarted in many of his goals, he never let that completely halt his progress. Instead, he simply diverted his path and kept on going.

Your persistence in money and in life will be a huge determinant of your success. You will face adversity, and you may have to alter your course, but as long as you never give up, you will make a better life for yourself.

Want Change? Remove Those Holding You Back

Our family and friends are the ones we count on the most. Unfortunately, oftentimes those that should support us the most are actually the ones holding us back.

My grandpa isn’t the only one to escape the clutches of poverty or overcome childhood trauma, but he is in the minority.

It’s no wonder people born into challenging circumstances often struggle to break free. Aside from the tendency to inherit modeled behavior and habits, those who do try to better themselves are often held back by ridicule and jealousy.

My grandpa’s story is a perfect example. He did well in school, played sports, and worked hard. He was becoming better than his father ever was, and with each success came more taunts and ridicule.

Remember, he was the “big shot.”

While the thought of his father’s favorite taunt angers him to this day, a big part of his success was due to his ability to turn his back on the people who made his life toxic. He ran away from home, came back after his mother begged him to, then left for good after high school.

He did still see his parents periodically until their death, but it was limited and on his terms.

My grandpa’s advice? If anyone is trying to hold you back from becoming better, even if they’re someone you care about, you’re going to have to make the tough decision to cut them out of your life if you want it to change.

Don’t Let Your Past Define You

Our normal is formed by our life situation. If you’re wealthy, your normal includes wealth. If you’re poor, your normal is defined by less. If you grew up in an abusive household, your normal is filled with abuse.

Often, it’s only when we become exposed to those outside of our “normal” that we realize that others live differently and that our normal may not be so normal.

Unfortunately, changing your normal is much harder than it seems due to the challenges we’ve already discussed, as well as the ones we haven’t. Even if we want more, we are hampered by our “normal.”

In other words, in order to change yourself for the better, you must redefine your normal so that your past no longer defines you.

My grandpa’s normal was abuse, poverty, hunger, and a plethora of other challenges. Although he was still affected by his past, he didn’t let it continue to define him in adulthood. Instead, he created a new normal, and it was normal that he had always wanted.

He wanted a world where his wife and children had enough to eat, where he worked as hard as he could to support his family, and where he could live a comfortable life free of worries about debt collectors.

His past was a part of him, but he didn’t let it define him.

Again, this idea applies to life in general as well as money. Many people start off making money mistakes or perhaps face some adversity with money.

No matter what has happened in the past, it’s important not to let past events impede future ones.

Only Buy Something if You Have the Money in Hand

Obviously, this money tip has some exceptions, but overall it is a rule of thumb that my grandparents have lived by their entire lives.

They don’t buy something unless they have the money in hand to pay for it.

Some of this mindset came from necessity, as access to credit was far more limited back when my grandparents were starting their adult lives (credit cards didn’t appear until the 1950s).

With no credit cards, my grandparents used cash and checks to pay for everyday items, which of course, requires funds to work. This is a habit they still primarily use to this day.

Although credit cards didn’t make an appearance until my grandparents were adults, lenders did extend loans for large items like houses and cars. However, after living constantly on the run from collectors in his childhood, my grandpa knew that he needed to be careful when it came to using credit.

They never make a purchase unless they have the money in hand, and they ensure they can afford the monthly payments for any loans.

In sum, if you don’t have the cash already to cover an expense, then don’t buy it.

Use Credit Sparingly

Expanding on the point above, another money lesson from my 90-year-old grandpa is to use credit sparingly.

Again, my grandparents grew up in a world without credit cards. They also grew up with less, and therefore their normal was having less. These two factors helped them to develop money habits that didn’t rely on credit or having the latest and greatest.

While he understands that the world has significantly changed since his youth, he still advises younger people to use credit sparingly.

For my grandpa, this means only using credit when you have to, such as with large purchases like a house or car. In addition, err on the side of caution when taking out these loans, and make sure you have a cushion. It’s better to underspend than to overspend, even if you don’t get exactly what you want.

As for credit cards, my grandpa would advise most people never to own one. The reason is that most people are not able to be responsible with credit cards. In fact, their aversion to credit cards is what kept me out of the credit card game for so long.

While they have had credit cards in the past, they only use them for certain purchases and then immediately pay them off.

My grandpa’s advice? Use credit sparingly. Only take out loans when you absolutely must (such as with a car or home), and be very careful with credit cards. If you can resist buying things you shouldn’t and pay them off monthly, then go for it. If not, don’t have them.

Keep an Eye on the Future

So many people are ruled by instant gratification. They want what they want when they want it.

In the words of Queen: “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it NOW!”

Unfortunately, instant gratification often gets in the way of long-term success.

Maybe it’s because he came from a world with basically nothing, but my grandpa has always been able to look long-term and see the bigger picture. He has been able to hold off on the little things he wants, knowing that if he can stay the course, he will reach an even bigger goal.

This is why one of his nine money lessons involves keeping your eye on the future and the bigger picture when it comes to money.

His advice is to spend some serious time thinking about what you want out of life. Once you think you know, make a plan to achieve it, and evaluate every little decision along the way to make sure you’re not pushing your goal further into the future.

My grandpa grew up with an eye on the future, biding his time until he was old enough to leave. He knew that if he could survive his childhood that any other struggles he faced were small potatoes.

No matter the adversity or temptation, he kept his eye on the future and the larger goal.

Make Sure You Spend Time Doing the Things You Love

Last but not least, the 9th money lesson from my 90-year-old grandpa is to make sure you spend time doing the things you love along the way.

This may seem contradictory to the previous lesson, but my grandpa would say that the opportunity to do the things you love is always there; it’s just that the scale may be different depending on your life stage.

The thing my grandpa most enjoyed was hunting. As a kid, he hunted out of necessity, but it was still a pastime he enjoyed as an adult. While he always hunted, the scale of this pastime was very different depending on his life stage.

As a young man just beginning to pull himself up, he had to limit his trips and his gear. As he got older and enjoyed more wealth, the trips became longer, and more expensive, and he indulged in better gear.

The lesson? It’s always possible to indulge in things that you enjoy, but you need to scale your pastimes to your life stage. If you have limited income, your indulgences must also be limited. As you start building wealth, you can similarly spend more on pastimes.

In addition to scaling your indulgences to align with your life stage, my grandpa would also recommend focusing your attention and money on experiences and not things. Even on a small scale, spending your money on experiences will give you significantly more bang for your buck.

Related: 20 Country Songs About Money and the Lessons You Can Learn

Moral of the Story

In a few days, my grandpa will turn 90 years old.

He’s lived in a world crippled by Depression, seen World War II, and served in the Navy during the Korean War. He’s seen cars go from the privileged few to a given for all.

He was alive when man landed on the moon, when Kennedy was assassinated, and when Martin Luther King had a dream. He was around when the first computers were built, all the way through the birth of the internet.

The world has changed drastically since he was a kid, but there are some things that ring as true today as they did in his day.

When asked to pass on his most critical money advice to the younger generations, his response was to strive for better, not best, that hard work will pay off, and he emphasized that persistence is one of the most important traits for success.

He also advised others to move on from those holding them back, not let the past define them, and only buy things when they already have the money to pay for them. Finally, he suggests that people use credit sparingly, keep their eye on the future, and don’t forget to spend time doing the things they love along the way.

It’s difficult to condense nine decades of life into a few core pieces of advice, but in doing so, my grandpa hopes that the knowledge that took him years to attain will help others reach even higher goals than he had.

And for those out there that are suffering adversity in any form, you can overcome it.

These are nine money lessons from my 90-year-old grandpa.




Tawnya is a 34-year-old Special Education teacher in the sixth year of her career. Along with her partner, Sebastian, she runs the blog Money Saved is Money Earned. Tawnya has worked extremely hard to reach her goals and remain debt-free.

She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.

Tawnya and Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. It is this wealth of tips and tricks that they wish to pass on to others.