Some Lessons From Grandma

Archived blog posts from FinMango

By Ahana Samat

Growing up, my weekends and holidays were all spent the same way. My parents, both of whom worked full time, even on Saturdays, would drop me off in the morning at my grandmother’s apartment and pick me up in the evening. This routine became such a way of life for me, that it continued on unquestioned even as a teenager. 

Every morning, I would be greeted the same way. “Hi Putta,” she would say, evoking my nickname, her characteristic bindi in the middle of her forehead, and her sari so neatly pinned up, that I often joked that it looked like it had been pleated with a ruler.

In the extensive time I have spent with my grandmother, or Bajju, as everyone calls her, my appreciation for her fierce independence has only grown.

In a small town in India in the 1970s, Bajju, a single mother, worked two jobs as a teacher and a tutor, for what must have been 10 hours a day, to single-handedly sustain her family. She independently financially supported my mother through school, university, and graduate school. All this at a time when most women were afforded little autonomy, and those who seized opportunities and broke glass ceilings were discriminated against systematically.

Very little of my general perspective on life has remained untouched by Bajju. Through leading by example, she has taught me some of the most profound lessons in life, the most important of which helps me manage my finances as a college student.

For starters, she showed me the importance of recording everything I spend. And I mean, EVERYTHING. For as long as I can remember, every time we came back from buying groceries, she would immediately write down the amount she spent in a little notebook. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but as I began living on my own, I emulated that habit. While I use an excel sheet to record all my expenses instead of pen and paper, the importance of organization and discipline in having adequate information to make informed fiscal decisions is not lost on me. Sometimes, I am scared to know how much I spend for fear that I have made bad monetary decisions. However, knowing exactly where my money goes helps me cut down on subscriptions, takeout, or Amazon packages when I need to.

But it’s not just about not wasting money, it’s also about not wasting things. A rule that Bajju enforced- and that I continue to hold onto- was to never waste food. I never throw away the food I cook, I never take more on my plate than I know I can eat, and I always store leftovers in the freezer for subsequent meals.  Most of my friends and I often say we would save so much money if we stopped eating out. An article by Money Under 30 on the true cost of eating out quantifies this opinion, - actually fact. So, every time I think of ordering in, I also think about whether there is food in my fridge and if I want to waste it. It sounds silly but it’s saved me so much money!

Why stop at food? Bajju would always recycle glass containers (like those that hold pasta sauce, for example) to hold grains, lentils, or leftovers instead of throwing them away. I recycle all my pasta sauce jars to hold food, stationary, and even act as vases. On a more philosophical level, I have begun to appreciate the variety in utility of every material and how one’s creativity can add to it.

The core of any endeavor, Bajju has taught me, is the drive to learn. Every afternoon when I visited, Bajju and I would sit beside each other: She would be reading (she is never without a book), and  I would be working on homework. Whenever she comes across a word she does not know, she immediately consults the dictionary to learn what it means. If she is not satisfied with the explanation, she consults the thesaurus. 

I apply her example to personal finance. I choose a topic, research it online, and reference several sources before I am satisfied. Sometimes, it is investopedia; sometimes, it is an eBook from my university library: and sometimes, it is my favorite personal finance Instagram account, but I try to make sure I really understand it. The process is never complete - it is comprehensive and exhaustive. But, it is an invaluable lesson in the determination to master a topic and the ambition to succeed.

Admittedly, I may be biased. But, of all the books I have read, podcasts I have listened to, and the research I have done, I have yet to come across a better financial role model than Bajju. An 83 year old woman with a neatly pinned sari who taught me the most valuable lessons I have yet learned in managing my finances and conducting my life.