12 Things That My 90 Year Old Grandfather Taught Me About Money & Life

As some Money Viking readers may know, many of my posts on this blog are actually a kind of tribute to my grandfather Henry. You could say the original Money Viking. Quite simply, he practiced and lived many of the financial independence principals long ago. I have learned many valuable financial and life skills from him. Sometimes a great way to succeed is by emulating other good examples.

Great Examples

Like many wonderful grandparents, he has given me a tremendous treasure trove of life wisdom. And I do not take this gift for granted. I am forever grateful for his influence. My grandmother has also been very important to me, but I will save her wit and wisdom for another article. She is wise (and funny) in her own ways.

Opportunity to Learn

It is an amazing opportunity to hear from folks that have lived through many different times and stages of life. We are in many ways all on a similar adventure and evolution. In other words, it provides a precious perspective on the various stages in our arc of life as we understand it. Therefore if we listen, we can learn about the things that were harder, the things that are better, and dream about the potential to come. I also think listening to our grandparents can help us manage our immediate challenges and put things in perspective.

Stages of Life

Life has it’s various stages as notably outlined in Shakespeare’s plays. That is the whole point of the “Life is a stage” speech. In the beginning we are dependent on others. If we are lucky this is a nurturing time. After this we transition into the world and become self sufficient. During the later stages of this period people become dependent on us. For example as we raise children of our own. Then in the third stage we are independent and no one depends on us complelety. We have a chance to savor life and the joy of reflection. Listening deeply to my grandparents has helped me navigate the first two phases so far. My grandparents have meant a lot to me over the years. As a middle-aged adult, I now appreciate them even more than ever. They provided an amazing example of integrity, hard work, ethics, love and wisdom.

Very Humble Beginnings

My grandfather did not come from material riches. That is to say he came from a financially strapped family and grew up in the later stages of the Great Depression. He survived polio and began working at about the age of 13 to help support the family. He did have a loving mother who thought the world of him. As a result of his circumstances, he ventured off on his own at a very young age and began to make his way in the world. I can only imagine what that was like. As a result, life was probably not easy. He worked mainly by fixing things and wood working. He started his own little business called “The Furniture Doctor”. One day as a young man of 22, he made his way to a public pool with a friend. And there he met a girl. She was a beautiful girl of Italian descent. She had dark hair and a sweet personality. They fell in love and married. A few years later they had my mother. They worked hard. He built things and could fix almost anything. He turned these skills into honest and honorable employment and a living for his family. They worked as an amazing team building businesses, investing and creating a life for their family. Here are some of the things he has taught me so far. More than say these things, he has taught me by example.  

12 of the most valuable lessons Grandfather taught me about money and life:


1. Live with integrity, be ethical, treat people with respect

My grandfather to me is an example of a life of integrity. For example, he always paid his dues, worked hard, etc. He is dedicated to his wife and family. He had his share of business partners and others that were unfair to him. But he rose above it and persevered. He took the high road and did the right thing. He consistently played by the rules and treated others with respect. He also believed in receiving respect in return. Another aspect here is that he worked as a team with his wife (my grandmother). So many couples seem to compete with each other, but many times you are stronger as a unit. It is not a competition! Together you can be stronger. Of course, they had their disagreements with each other, but this much was always true: They tried to argue fairly and respectfully. They knew they would get through the hard times. And they truly love each other.  

2. No “pity parties”, just get up and try

My Grandfather was not handed many advantages in the beginning of his life. He was born in America and was able to make the best of his situation and therefore thrived. However, it was not easy. But too many people blame their parents, their situation, this and that on their current situation. Instead they should take stock of their current assets and implement a plan to move forward. Every single one of us will be handed challenges in life, there is literally no way around that fact. All we can do is get up each day, give it our best, take care of ourselves and others, get up and do it again! Life is managed not cured. Grandpa always told me that life will hand you one “problem” after another and he said there is always at least one solution to each.  

3. Truly respect the power of a dollar

I remember watching the way my grandfather held a dollar. It was with respect. This is because deep down inside he respected his work and his time. He respected that a dollar is a form of energy that can be harnessed in life to support your family. Are we all really respecting a dollar the way we should? Are we not even thinking about it? It takes quite a bit of your time and life energy to earn a dollar, therefore have respect for your time, work and effort. If not for you, do it for your children or others that depend on you.  

4. Seek investment opportunities

My grandfather showed me how a person can seek and apply investment opportunities. Above all he taught me an important concept about working for money. That is, none of us will really ever earn enough, therefore we must save, invest and reduce debt. With the exception of lucky entertainers, sports stars and trust fund kids, none of us will really make enough. We will make average or above average salaries, most of which will be required for monthly survival. The solution is to develop a saving and investment mindset. He taught me the important “fruit tree” metaphor: Plant trees and only eat the fruit. In other words, do not cut the “tree” or investment down, feed off the income, dividends, etc. Invest in things you understand. Keep it simple. We do not need to be expert stock pickers to invest our money. My grandfather was one of the original FIRE folks, retiring from full time work at about age 50. He continued to work and invest in other things, but these were things of his own choosing due to saving, investing and frugality.

5. Never pass up a free piece of pie

This one is pretty clear for those seeking financial independence or FIRE. My grandpa is really good at seeking out freebies and discount opportunities. As a result, it becomes a kind of game and I can see how it can be fun. We mention all kinds of discount opportunities here at The Money Vikings. Taking advantage of these discounts and “freebies” is a key aspect of achieving financial independence.  

6. Fight for your rights, negotiate

When my grandfather was a very young man he worked for Krogers and repaired equipment in the factories. He developed the skill to fix and build things. He was paying union dues at the time and began to wonder what those dues were doing for him. Therefore he joined the union and therefore developed a voice for his rights and others. The point here is to join in and begin to have a stake in your life. We need to advocate for ourselves. If we do not advocate and stand up for ourselves then no one will. If we are productive law abiding members of our society then we deserve a piece of the pie. We deserve some protections and rights, but we must express them and fight for them. If you know in your heart that you are working hard and deserve a raise, then develop your argument and gin up the power to ask! More importantly, these negotiating skills can help a person in all aspects of life. If fighting for your own rights seems hard or selfish to you, think about your children or your older self. In other words, your financial situation is directly linked to your kids and older self.  

7. Work with what you have

We have what we have at the moment. Take stock of your assets and liabilities and make the most of them. Focus on what you have. My grandfather assessed what he had in terms of assets and skills, then developed strategies to move forward and grow.  

8. Shun bad debt

My grandparents did a very good job of avoiding toxic debt. Toxic debt is debt for credit cards, cars and other depreciating things. This kind of debt is so toxic to wealth building that it needs to be eliminated and not used. Your financial life depends on it. When a person pays high interest on a car loan, fancy dinners out, clothes, etc. they are essentially paying 8-20% more for stuff that has no return on value.  

9. Avoid outward displays of wealth

There is no need to wear a $3,000 watch, drive a high end Mercedes, or live in a McMansion! These are outward displays that are trying to fool people. My grandfather never felt any need to prove anything to anyone in terms of outward displays of wealth. This is a common characteristic of the “Millionaire’s Next Door” as studied in the famous books by Dr. Stanley.   SEE RELATEDHow To Be The Next Millionaire Next Door  

10. Cultivate patience, things take time and you are ok now

Grandpa has a way of always seeing the long view. The reality is that most of us are fine day to day. We have a roof over our heads, food, clothes, etc. If everything is ok, then it can be important to cultivate patience when it comes to investments. It takes several years of consistent investing in order to begin to see the effects of compounding. Things take time. Accept where you may be and take steps to improve your situation one step at a time.  

11. Harness the power of Thrift Stores and “Throw-aways”

For many years my grandfather would walk around the neighborhood for exercise. This is one of his good habits he developed over the years. Well on these walks he would notice on trash day all the great stuff that people threw away. For example, many people throw away a vaccum cleaner when it gets jammed up with hair. He would simply take it home, cut out the hair and debris, clean it up and fix it. He would then sell it at a garage sale. $10 in his pocket for little effort. Multiply this by 40 years of finds and garage sales and you are talking a lot of money. Let’s say they made an average of $500/quarter on garage sales. Over 40 years that is $80,000! Invested that could become $250,000 on stuff people threw away. The grandparents are also fans of thrift stores. Many people put their nose up at second hand shops. That is silly. There are amazing things that can be found at these stores for a fraction of retail prices. Especially after this Konmari de cluttering wave: SEE RELATEDApplying the “Konmari” Method to Our Finances  

12. Keep learning and rethinking assumptions

For a man that has lived a long time, Grandpa is able to continue to learn new things and be open to new ideas and points of view. Many people in this world get locked into one view of things and cannot expand their thinking to take into consideration another point of view or new information. Even though my grandfather is traditional and “old school”, he is amazingly open to thinking about new perspectives. Above all in my opinion this is a major strength in life and wealth building mindset.

Forever grateful

It is hard in a single blog post to express all the layers of emotions for those we love. This is a life of “True Wealth” in all its glory. It is the special moments with those we love that makes life worth living. Find someone older and more experienced you love and simply listen, you may be amazed and inspired beyond your imagination!        

4 thoughts on “12 Things That My 90 Year Old Grandfather Taught Me About Money & Life

  1. Wow! What a touching tribute! Grandparents and other older relatives are so valuable, and if young people are willing to listen, they are often able to avoid hardships through the guidance of their relatives. Great article!

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