Lessons from the older generation

The view from our balcony

For regular readers of this blog you will know that I have just returned from a week away in Italy with my mum. We stayed on Lake Maggiore, which was fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone, but it is certainly not a frugal holiday destination. We saw luxurious hotels (although unfortunately weren’t staying in one) and a classic car show, sponsored by a Swiss bank. Amidst all this excess Mum and I found a couple of ways to save a bit of money.

Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps

Firstly, as is usually the case on the continent, tea and coffee wasn’t provided in the room and you had to buy it in the bar. In order to save money Mum brought a small kettle, two cups and some tea bags with her. As well as enabling us to retire to our balcony overlooking the lake of an evening and have a mint tea, it also allowed us to have a cup of tea in bed in the morning, something which us Brits can’t live without. There was a fridge in the room and so we could keep a carton of milk in there for the morning cuppa.

Secondly, the restaurant in the hotel refused to provide tap water at dinner. When I asked for it I was told that they don’t have tap water (I am not sure how they washed the dishes or boiled the potatoes). I didn’t bother arguing with them and after the first night we just brought our own. Mum had a small plastic bottle which she could fill and take down in her handbag. My water bottle is rather large and wouldn’t fit in my handbag, so she suggested keeping the small wine bottle we had from dinner, which had a screw top, and then I filled that with water from the bathroom tap and took it down to dinner with me. Other guests were spending €4 a time on a bottle of water. Strangely, the couple who we shared a table with were under the impression that the water in Italy is not safe to drink, which is evidently not the case.

As well as saving money on drinks I think that we also resisted buying things for the sake of it. We went to a market one morning and whereas previously I would have bought something just if I liked the look of it, as I didn’t need of anything I didn’t spend a penny. Mum bought two wooden spoons for cooking, for a grand total of €5.

We did spend a lot of money on food, partly because the evening meals in the hotel weren’t very special and as Mum said, we wanted to sample real Italian food. I feel that we spent money on experiences, which included all of the optional trips of the holiday, and a nice lunch everyday, rather than buying more possessions.

This is the first occasion that Mum and I have spent time together since I discovered FI/RE. We live 180 miles apart and although we speak on the phone once a fortnight, we only see each other a couple of times a year. One of those is always a week’s holiday together. Often we go away in the UK, but as it was my 50th birthday this year we thought that we would do something special, hence the Italy trip.

Spending time with my mum this year has made me realise that she is a fabulous example of how to be frugal. Firstly, she is a great fan of charity shops and whenever we are away in the UK she always wants to go into charity shops and will often tell me that what she is wearing was bought in a charity shop. In respect of food, she grows fruit and veg in her garden, she cooks from scratch and she and my father rarely go out to eat. She can sew, so makes her own curtains, tablecloths and in the past, her children’s clothes, when we were young.

As well as her thriftiness, she is also a great example of how to set up a side hustle. My mum is not very academic and never had a career. When my siblings and I were young she stayed at home to look after us, doing part time work from home so that she and my dad could make ends meet. When she was 50, her father died and left her some money. It wasn’t a fortune, but she used it wisely. She bought two rundown properties and renovated them, doing a lot of the decorating herself. The rental income provides her with a pension so that she doesn’t have to rely solely on the state pension.

Thinking about all of this has made me wonder what we could all learn from our parents. Although my mum never went out to work until I was a teenager I never felt that we were poor. We always had food on the table, my parents owned their own house, we had two cars, albeit second hand ones and we went on holiday every year, although sometimes this was camping and we always stayed in Britain. I find it strange nowadays that both parents often seem to work full time and an oft-used phrase is that ‘she had to go back to work’. I am certainly not advocating for women to stay at home, as I am a feminist and glad that society has moved on from that view, but to me it seems that both parents only need to work full time nowadays to fund the extravagant lifestyles that we lead. New cars, the latest iphone, a TV in every room, weekly takeaways and meals out, designer handbags and clothes. The desire for all of these takes parents away from their children. I had a great childhood, but it didn’t feature any of these things and I realise that my mum gave us a great life because she found ways to make the best of what we had. I do feel that today’s generation could learn a lot from their parents and grandparents about what is actually important in life and instead of working just to keep up with the Joneses, choose to work less and enjoy more time with their family

So if you’re reading this and you’re middle-aged, what could you learn from your parents and if you’re in your twenties, maybe you need to have a chat with grandma and granddad and see how they have managed their money over the years.

What are your views? As someone who doesn’t have children am I being harsh? Do you feel pressured to work full time so that your kids don’t miss out on possessions when really you would like to be at home more?

6 Replies to “Lessons from the older generation”

  1. This was a lovely post Sam. And no, I don’t think you’re being harsh at all. I wish more parents could see that what’s so much more valuable to their kids than more ‘stuff’ and activities is time with their parents.

    My two boys neither want nor need a lot. We’ve raised them this way—to not chase material possessions—because we were raised this way. Like you, we’ve taken many lessons from our parents. All four of them were immigrants to Canada and came with little to their names. They had to work and save hard to give their children good lives… and that they did!

    I feel that by living our life in a way that reflects their teachings is the most wonderful way to show our appreciation for what they taught us.

    It sounds like you’re also doing this with your mom. You and she are lucky to have such a close relationship.

    1. Thank you so much Chrissy. It’s amazing how seeing things from a FI position makes you re-evaluate your life and also the actions of other people. Discovering that my mum is a great example of frugality and side hustling has been a revelation to me. As you say, I think that we can all learn a lot from our parents and grandparents.

  2. Interesting to read this – thanks for sharing.

    Conversely, my mum went back to work as soon as she could after giving birth – she and dad ran their own business and as immigrants to the UK, they wanted to work as hard as they could. I remember growing up thinking that she was always working so had little time to play with me and the other siblings, but as I got older, I saw that as a result of working, she independently had her own money to buy things herself, to save and to invest. I guess she was my first role model, ensuring that I would always want to be independent with my own money and to work hard to get it. She and dad retired early and I don’t have to worry that I will have to use any of my own FIRE funds to support them in their old age.

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