The First Mustachians

Over the past year or so that I have spent time reading about the FIRE movement and frugality, I’ve noticed that many people are completely struck by this concept when they first hear about it.  Admittedly, I too spent so long brainwashed into thinking that I had to carry a balance on my credit cards and that taking out loans for everything was a necessity.  However, when I thought back on my past, I realized that I had been coached quite a bit by my grandparents not to be a total consumer and to focus on saving.

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and this had a profound impact on the way they lived and the way that they perceived money.  I’m sure that if you stop and reflect back on anybody you may know that lived through the Depression, you will also see that the way they lived their lives was probably pretty Mustachian.  The biggest difference between us today living in a frugal way, and our grandparents and great grandparents, is that we are mostly doing this as a choice, whereas they did it for survival.  I’m sure that once you’ve lived through a financial crash as great as the one they did, you are forever altered, and you understand that even when times seem good, the other shoe may drop at any time.  Although I myself was not alive at that time, I feel like because I spend a significant amount of time with my grandparents as a child, that some of this mentality rubbed of on me.  I always have this little voice in my head asking me what would happen if disaster struck.  Now that I have a child of my own, especially since I’m a single mother, I am more motivated to create some a financial buffer for our security.  Of course, it would also be lovely to save enough to not have to work, but that is secondary.

Here are some of the Mustachian lessons that I learned from my grandparents that I still apply today:

  1. Always save a portion of the money you earn. – When I was young, we never talked about percentages, but it was assumed that any time you earned money, you would put some away for a “rainy day”.
  2. Making food at home is superior to eating out. – Occasionally I would go out to eat with my grandparents if someone special came to town, but for the most part, all food was prepared at home.  My grandmother would frequently comment on how it was so much better than anything you could get outside.  She was right!
  3. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. – As far as I know, my grandparents didn’t invest in stocks, but I do remember taking trips to various banks around town to make deposits and things.  They told me that it was best to keep your money in a variety of establishments as a precaution.  Today I would take that advice and say that it is equivalent to making sure that you diversify your investments.
  4. Living in a multi-family home can help you save money. – Around Boston it’s common to live in a multi-family home.  There are single family homes as well, but it’s the norm to have 2 or more apartments in a single house.  My grandparents bought a house and they rented the second apartment out to my aunt and uncle.  They never upgraded houses to gain more space or to avoid living in an apartment.  They understood that there was no such thing as a starter home.  Also, collecting rent helped them pay off their mortgage.
  5. Owning a car is expensive and you shouldn’t drive everywhere. – I know this point is unavoidable for some people, but if you live in the city, you don’t NEED a car.  My grandfather did have a car, but it was not used for every little trip out of the house.  My grandmother never had a license.  She walked to grocery store almost daily to get what she needed, and she did this well into her 70’s.  Walking around town helps you get exercise and avoid the costs associated with owning a car.

I could go on with the lessons I learned from my grandparents as a child, but I think I’ve covered the basics.  To some people reading this, the information I’ve presented may seem really obvious.  If you’re new to the concept of FI, maybe it’s not.  Regardless, it’s clear that there was a whole generation of Mustachians that lived before us.

The biggest question is, what happened to the generations in between that made everyone lose sight of this frugal way of living?  Why is it so hard for people today to understand the value of frugality?

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