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?