I recently attended a birthday party for a group of ladies who had reached the ages of 78, 84, 86, and 104. These ladies are residents of a retirement home. This is not a nursing home, but an assisted living facility. Even though the topic of conversation often leans towards aches and pains and other health matters, and the main mode of locomotion is with a walker or by motorized chair, these residents are very much active, sociable, funny and talkative – very talkative – and fun to be around.

These elders have surpassed the average life expectancy by several years – and even decades. Today, life expectancy is around 79 years as opposed to 54 years just a century ago.

Related: Talking to your elderly parents about money

They’ve seen it all, from the Great Depression, World War II, boom times and busts. They’ve got great stories, individual quirks, unparalleled perspective and sage advice, but it’s often ignored.

Everyone is busy with work and home life, and few people live near their grandparents as the multigenerational households of several decades ago did. (Think “The Walton’s” TV show.)

What can we learn from them? Here are six life and money lessons from our elders:

6 Money Lessons From Our Elders

6 Life and Money Lessons From Our Elders

1. They were great savers

Many did not earn large incomes, yet they obviously have the means to live in these pricey digs. How did they do it?

They had a plan. They:

  • Saved first and spent only what was left over.
  • Never bought anything they could not afford.
  • Learned to live within their means.
  • Saved for the future. Having a good retirement fund gives you the ability to live your golden years to the fullest.

“If any one of us kids needed money, the solution was simple. We got a job.” – Pete, 90.

  • Many did not even own a credit card until well after retirement.

91-year-old Bruna got a credit card only 2 years ago, and only on the advice (?) of her son. She uses it often, but pays it off monthly.

2. Be frugal, but live a little

77-year-old Audrey had her first job before she was 20 and saved everything she could from her paycheques. If she spent money going to a movie, for example, “it meant less money in my savings account. I wish I could have enjoyed myself more.

“During the Depression we were poor but didn’t know it.” – Catherine, 93.

“We learned to get along with a lot less and appreciated it when you did get things.” – Dick, 89.

Related: Why do we save?

Think about the future, but appreciate what’s going on around you right now. Enjoy your days and don’t be so absorbed with thrift.

3. Don’t work just for the paycheque

Do what makes you happy. Accept a lower standard of living if you have to. Many said if they could do it again, they would have spent more time with loved ones.

“My regret is not spending time with my family and children.” – Roy, 92.

They are at an age where family members and good friends have passed away so they understand the value of enjoying and maintaining relationships.

4. Take a chance

Don’t let fear of change get in the way and hold you back. You’ll never know what could have happened and you might never get the opportunity back.

Related: How this couple spends their retirement travelling

Many of these residents took the plunge and moved to another city, province or even continent for greater opportunities.

5. Don’t trust the banks

Some of the residents remember bank failures. This is probably why a good number of them are wary of financial institutions, and tend to keep a sizeable amount of cash in their homes.

My take on this is don’t put blind faith in your financial advisors. Know what you are invested in and know what the risks are. This is not the time to risk losing large portions of your wealth.

6. Take things in stride

Stop worrying about things you can’t control. Don’t give yourself a bad time. We’ve all made poor choices sometime.

Related: 3 things I wish I had done differently with my finances

Life is a journey down a road with many forks in it and decisions to be made. Make your decisions, right or wrong, live with them and move on.

On longevity

Not surprisingly, many did not expect to live this long. Some said they didn’t think they were financially prepared to live as long as they have.

“I’ve lived as long as I have because I drank all the good whisky I could get, and worked like the devil.” – Reg, 89.

Have a good attitude, find something you like to do – and keep doing it.

“I walked on the treadmill every day until I was 102. I had to stop after I was in a car accident.” – Edna, 103.

93-year-old Edna booked a cruise for 2015. She said she knew she could be dead by then, but it would be worse if the cruise sold out.

Final thoughts

Take an elder out to lunch. They’ll appreciate it, talk your ear off – and maybe give you some great advice.


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