My Grandma's Money Lessons Are More Fantastico Than Yours

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My grandma is awesome. Not just the cute, little old lady kind of awesome –- but the "I don't give a heck what you think about me" kind of awesome.

There are a lot of lessons that a full- (and hot-) blooded Italian learns while growing up. Talking with your hands? Acceptable. Pulling over to the side of the road to knock on a stranger's door and ask to pick figs off of their tree? Definitely OK. Accordion jam sessions in the backyard? Absolute musts.

Being Italian comes with fun life lessons, but having a grandma who emigrated from Italy has also provided me with some of the most practical money advice I can recall. There is a ton I've learned from her, but when it comes to money, these three lessons take the cake ... or the cannoli, whichever you prefer.

1. Decide Where to Save and Where Use Those Savings to Splurge

To this day, my sisters and I still stand horrified at the kitchen sink while cleaning up after family gatherings. Not only are there pots and pans to be washed, but plastic plates, cups, utensils and Baggies -- even Saran Wrap has made it into the mix a few times. My grandma is relentless when it comes to reusing things. And despite the heckling, the whining and the poking fun, she's never backed down.

It wasn't until later in life that I realized that my grandma saves money on things that don't matter so she can spend it on things that do. She may pinch pennies on the day-to-day items, but a few years ago, she splurged and took the whole family (grandkids and all) on a seven-day Mexican cruise. That was a family vacation I'll never forget. And it happened because she has her priorities straight. Why spend extravagantly on the mundane when experiences with loved ones matter most?

2. Be Persistent

Have an old set of pots where one has a scratch? My grandma is the master of negotiation. It doesn't matter if the company doesn't make the product anymore or if she bought it 15 years ago. This woman will pull out her files, search for the warranty, and demand a replacement item even if the warranty has expired. She'll climb a customer service call center chain until she reaches the top, and can sweet-talk her way into a new vacuum, set of pots, or some other household appliance.

To this day, I'm not sure if anyone in our family (or community, for that matter) has ever told her "no." Persistence is key when you want something, whether it's a job, growing your income, a new home, a vacation -- or just a replacement coffee pot.

3. One Person's Trash Is Another's Treasure

My grandma started downsizing some years ago, which people often do when they age. What transpired over the following few years resulted in some holidays and birthdays to remember.
Members of our family began to receive clean (but used) coffee cups with a $20 bill inside, or random blankets or knickknacks from around her house wrapped up in the guise of a birthday gift.

While some (most) of these items have caused us to laugh, we know she is on to something. If she receives a gift card to a restaurant that she's not going to go to –- why hold on to it? Regift it to someone who'll use it. Some of my favorite costume jewelry has come from her gifts. If there's something you've wanted to get rid of, think of a family member or friend who might want it and pass it along. I think the woman is a genius to have decided to stop spending money on gifts and instead get rid of the items she's accumulated over these years. (Donating is another great option.)

Ultimately, our families are a key part of our money histories and beliefs. Growing up exposed to good or bad habits can have their effects on us. My grandma always set an example by working hard and being tenacious, which my Dad picked up on and passed down to me. What kind of money lessons have you learned from your family?

Mary Beth Storjohann is a certified financial planner and the founder and CEO of Workable Wealth.

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Great stuff and some funny, humorous husband is Jewish (not that that matters, but Jews are much like the Italians). He reuses everything - he minds the kitchen and washes out ziplock bags and reuses aluminum foil. I find him amusing - while he is saving us money.

March 25 2014 at 5:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Elect Grandma to congress. I'll bet she could balance the budget.

March 25 2014 at 4:28 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

we may be related!

March 25 2014 at 1:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You must be talking about my wonderful, late mother in law, Cristina Romano Esposito ! She came to this country as a young adult, speaking no English. She married another Italian immigrant and started a family. Only her husband worked outside the home, on the railroad, a factory night watchman / fireman, all workman jobs. However, with her frugality and talent to make much out of little, she was a terrific saver. Everyone of her six children were later lent money to purchase homes or property. It was to be paid back at bank interest when it could be. She even arranged to bring her sister and family remaining in Italy, to come to the US and rent a home and later buy their own. She never discussed how much or to whom she lent money u. After her last illnesses and end expenses, she still left a sizable amount of money to each of her children. None of us can even guess how she was able to this,but all of us know it can be done, even during the Depression.

March 25 2014 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

You have a smart lady for grandmother. She should have been a CEO of a big bank rather than these criminals that we have now.

March 25 2014 at 12:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Your grandma has "stuff" to regift because she learned long ago that the secret to economic success is determined through making wise financial choices, saving and not over extending. Your family like others should feel blessed that she has stuff to downsize with... God Bless her.

March 25 2014 at 9:00 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply