Relearning the lessons of the Great Depression

Merry Ann Frisby of the Tallahassee Democrat has an article up about how she is coming around to the way her grandmothers used to think after the Great Depression:

Both of my grandmothers died with kitchen drawers full of twist ties, rubber bands and bits of twine. Neither was impoverished, but neither could resist the siren song of a used plastic tub.

These Depression Era women also conveyed to their adoring grandchildren a distrust of financial institutions. They had both seen homes and acres of farmland repossessed by banks. My Texas grandmother’s mantra was, “Use banks, but don’t trust them.”

My widowed Tennessee grandmother preached pay-as-you-go. “Do not owe a man anything,” was her chant.

I did not understand that for decades, now I do.

Today that distrust, which I considered old-fashioned in my early years, has re-emerged in our family with a vengeance. I am also startled to discover that I have a kitchen drawer full of twist ties and a heart hardened against insurance companies, mortgagers and credit cards.

She goes on to relate the experiences she and her family have had during the current recession, and while I feel for them, I think their anger at the various companies they have struggled with are a bit misplaced–with the exception of the “other” insurance company. She describes her children as hard-working and responsible, but then goes on to explain their struggling to pay their mortgages and their credit card bills. If she said any of these children are unemployed I missed it. If that were the case I could understand. But if they are having trouble making mortgage and credit card payments they were not all that responsible, or they wouldn’t be stuck in the first place.

I refinanced my mortgage last year when I suspected I might lose my job (it’s easier to do if you’re employed, I suspect, which is somewhat counter-intuitive), so by the time I knew for sure my payments were lower already. I’ve always watched my credit card use and always paid off any balances within the grace period. I’ve been saving money as best I could for years. I don’t need to game the mortgage, credit, or insurance process. I’ve already got a financial situation I can handle.

I’m glad Ms. Frisby and her children are learning these lessons, even if it had to come the hard way. The recession will not last forever. With any luck the lessons learned will, and they will never be in this position again. For me, the lessons I already learned are just sinking deeper, reinforced by the realization of the rewards that come from being prepared.

I realize I’m bragging a little. But really, all I can brag about is having successfully listened to others who tried to teach me all of this years ago. I didn’t disregard against the “odd” practices of my mother, who grew up during WWII, I absorbed them. I can never thank my mother enough for teaching me that.

Now, it could be that I learned it better than some others have because my parents were never well off. They struggled financially, so frugality was essential. We learned the lessons because we relied on them. I’m concerned that prosperity cushions us too much and we forget we need those lessons. I don’t want my children to have it too easy to where they forget how to fend for themselves. I don’t want them to find themselves on the wrong side of the financial equation someday.


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