Babci Says It’s Never Too Late to Save

by Sandy L on March 22, 2011

Barb Friedberg wrote a post the other day stressing the importance of how to save and she basically said that the earlier you start the better off you are.   Although Babci would agree, she wasn’t able to come to America until she was 36 years old.  She was starting at square 1 with nada, zip, zilch, zero, in her late 30’s.   I’m 37 and I can’t imagine hopping on a plane to a new country with no language skills or money and starting over.  I’m sure I could do it because Babci did, but what a scary thought.  I’ve had an extra 20 years to get educated, establish a career, pay off debt, build a retirement nest egg and build equity in my home.  By age 37, all Babci  had was a supportive brother, a minimum wage job and a roof over her head.   Wait, she did have one other thing and it’s the most important one of all, HOPE.

She had hope that in America, she had opportunities to get ahead that she would never get in her home country. In America, there were jobs that women could work.  In America, when you worked 15 hour days, you got paid for 15 hours.  On her farm, she worked from dusk til dawn and was still dirt poor.

She also had perspective.  She hardly had any money at all, so when she finally started earning it, she saved most of it.  Perhaps that’s what’s good about coming from a developing country. You literally don’t know how to spend money yet, so you manage to save quite a bit of it.   I really feel bad for people who grew up in upper middle class homes and now are struggling financially.  I think it’s so much easier having nothing and then going to a poverty level income, than it is if you have always had everything and now must learn how to edit and cut back your lifestyle.  Adding is so much easier than subtracting when it comes to lifestyle design.

How to Save – Starting Over

Some of my favorite blogs are the ones with stories about people starting their lives over again, after a divorce, job loss, or looking to make a big move.  Babci started over several times in life and each time it was a little better than the last.  I think if you believe your new life will be better than the one you left, then hope springs eternal and sometimes that’s enough to pursue your dreams.  Sacrifices are made willingly in the pursuit of this better life and eventually, it will come.   I think like a lot of parents Babci sacrificed a lot to make sure I had a better life than she did.  Thankfully I’m now getting to pay her back a little with a nicer home and the piece of mind that there is more money than her $740/month social security check and she doesn’t need to deplete her savings to pay for her day to day expenses.  In the end, it did pay off for her.

Bruised Produce Apple Berry Pie

I’m seeing more and more people in their 70’s working as baggers and cashiers. Are they doing it because they need the money or do they just want the social aspect of working and maybe getting the store discount?  Someday I might have the guts to ask one of them.

When I’m at the grocery store, I can’t help myself notice that the only people who are perusing the slightly rotten produce section are the elderly and immigrants.  I wonder if they do it because they are thriftier than we are or if they are actually doing it out of necessity. (By the way, that section is great for things like fruit pies or bananas for baked goods.  Here’s a pie I made last night from slightly bruised apples and berries from Babci’s garden. Delicious!).

Step by Step Instructions on Being Frugal

So, in summary, here are Sandy and  Babci’s tips to starting to save at any stage in life.

  1. Convince yourself that saving is critical to your success and happiness. (If you start with the belief that frugal living is about deprivation and denial and that you’re making yourself miserable on purpose, then you are bound to fail.  Attitude is everything.)
  2. Tell yourself:  better late than never.
  3. Believe in yourself.  Make sure you think it’s possible to get ahead no matter how dire you think your circumstances are.
  4. If you haven’t already, start looking at how and where you spend money.
  5. First Reduce Expenses without making any major life changes (like moving, getting roommates, selling cars, etc). After a couple of months of this, determine if this gets you saving fast enough.
  6. If your answer to #5 is no, I’m not saving fast enough, convince yourself that you can always cut more out of your budget and that you may need to take bigger steps to achieve your goals.
  7. When you’re going through a tough time transitioning to a newer more frugal way of life, tell yourself “it’s only temporary.”  This is how I got through my college years.  I knew the reward at the end was a good paying job and it kept me working hard.
  8. Once you get into the groove of your new lifestyle, make sure you schedule in some fun.  Pot Luck Dinners, Parks, Hiking, Swimming, are all frugal and fun.
  9. Set little goals and milestones for yourself that are achievable. Don’t set 100 goals at once. Start with one and move onto the next one once you achieve the first. I’d start with something easy to get the ball rolling.
  10. Last but not least, ignore the haters and try not to listen to the people who think there is only one right way to live your life.  Try to build a support system with friends and community members to help you achieve your goals.

I look back at this list and realize this is mainly my take not Babci’s, so here are a few things she’d say:

  • Babci would say that people are crazy for buying expensive electronics on their credit cards and paying double for an item that is not necessary for survival.
  • Babci would say the right way to do things is save up the cash, then buy the thing you want, not the other way around.
  • She would also say that prepackaged convenience foods are for people who are okay with poisoning their bodies with chemicals and paying more for fake food.
  • She may also use one of my uncle’s favorite sayings “Americans have more money than brains.”

Readers. Am I missing any steps?



{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki March 22, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Sometimes I forget that we are actually young, 29/30. I always think we got on the right financial path too late and we will never be in the “right” place , but that really isn’t true.
Babci is amazing, when you really delve into the facts, moving to another country with nothing at the age of 37 is an enormous feat in itself, never mind actually becoming a success story.
That pie does look yummy.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Niki – I ate a slice for breakfast too. No matter what the reason people have for late starts or having to start over, it’s still possible to succeed. 20’s is young for sure.


Molly On Money March 22, 2011 at 8:18 AM

This is a great list! I can’t see anything that you are missing so I’ll elaborate on the one that helped me the most.
Attitude- if you go into it as a negative and take away it can be really depressing (obvious, I know). When I first started I’d have my good days and my bad. Once I wrapped my head around the fact that my life was getting better and less stressful I had fewer and fewer bad days. I actually had to acknowledge it.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Molly – thanks for that. I wasn’t sure I should put attitude at the top of the list, but you re-affirmed that it belongs there.


Nicole March 22, 2011 at 8:38 AM

I do worry a bit that DC is being raised in an upper middle class household and isn’t getting the day-to-day skills that got us to this point. I did have a college roommate with upper middle class parents who was still perfectly frugal, but her parents were totally hippies from Northern CA. Another good reason to move to the Bay Area some day I guess.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:19 PM

Nicole – ditto. I think that’s part of the reason I still shop yard sales and go to thrift stores with my kids. We spend a lot on fun though…but hopefully my son will learn that buying second hand skis at the ski swap for $10 means more leftover money for actual lift tickets and skiing itself. He really doesn’t mind used stuff and is even wising up to the fact that I’m much more likely to buy a used toy at a tag sale than something new at Walmart, so he’s stopped asking during most of the year (birthdays and christmas are the exceptions).


Everyday Tips March 22, 2011 at 11:56 AM

As always, great post.

I too look at the elderly people going through the bargain bins at the grocery store and my heart just breaks. However, maybe I need to change my perspective and think that maybe it is by choice?

I am always fascinated by how immigrants are often very successful in the US, yet many Americans make excuses for why they have no money, and they were born with every advantage.


Nicole March 22, 2011 at 12:24 PM

My dad does it by choice. And whenever I’m at our local produce store I always check for avocados in the discount section because super-ripe avocados make great guacamole.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:22 PM

Babci and I also do it out of choice, not necessity. Maybe for Babci it started with necessity, but old habits die hard. For me, I guess it’s just a way to cling onto my frugal roots. My grocery bill is now my second largest budget item, so I’m always looking to trim here and there. I still buy fresh produce most of the time, but I do always take a look see to determine if something catches my eye.


Linda March 22, 2011 at 2:29 PM

What a great perspective! It’s disheartening to start off major goals thinking you’re already behind. I didn’t start saving until after I was married at 30, and then I lost a big hunk of it due to divorce. But if I can keep pace with Babci’s achievements from 37 onwards, I think I’ll do just fine. Nonetheless, I draw the line at packing odd bits of rusty metal in my suitcase next time I travel! 😉


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Linda -LOL at the babci comment. I never said everything she does is prudent or even sane. She is a character though. Divorce sucks but as babci says, it’s better to have one mule pulling the cart forward than having two mules and the other one pulling it in the opposite direction. I’m sure you’ll be better off long term without the extra mule.


Sandy @ yesiamcheap March 22, 2011 at 2:55 PM

I go to my local green grocer for fruits & veg and I go right to the discount area. It’s amazing to me what goes into that section just because of a few bruises. And I’m sorry but bananas are not ripe when they’re green. They’re the sweetest when they’re black and make the most AMAZING smoothies and banana walnut bread if you are so inclined. Same with the mangoes on the smoothies.

As always, a great post on perspective.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:29 PM

Sandy – I didn’t even think of smoothies. Good idea. There are certain fruits that I hate eating that are old (like tomatoes) but most of the stuff is actually in really good shape, if you ask me. It also provides some incentive to use it quickly instead of letting it go bad in the crisper drawer…when things are super fresh, I tend to be like “oh, I can wait another day to use that”and before you know it, it’s a pile of mush.


laura March 22, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I think you’ve about covered it all Sandy!

I agree with Molly about attitude. Having the right attitude is the key to changing your life..and hard work! I know, I’ve done it 😉

Love this post!


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:32 PM

Laura – you’re right, feeling bad for yourself never got anyone anywhere. I’m glad you changed your life for the better.


Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom March 22, 2011 at 3:17 PM

I think Babci and my dad should get together. She’s single right? He’s in really great shape for a 91 year old guy. He won’t go to a senior’s place because he thinks the cooking / food is crap. And it probably is. She probably wouldn’t be quite frugal enough for him, but maybe she could help him lighten up.

I think it is far far easier to go bare bones if you grew up that way. That’s one reason why I don’t spoil my kids much, but do a little. I’m trying to train them in the art of patience and it seems to have worked.

Sandy begs at the green grocer? 😛 😛 ITA on the flavor of riper fruit.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:35 PM

Jacq – I fixed Sandy’s typo. Babci response to your setup request would be “I’m done being a slave. I don’t need another man that expects to be waited on hand and foot”. I don’t believe your dad is stingier than babci though. I need an example.


retirebyforty March 22, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Sandy, very good list. Believe in yourself and do what you need to do to achieve your goals! Ignore the haters and the Jones, they won’t lift a hand to help you anyway so they don’t have a say.


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:36 PM

Rb40- How could I have forgotten about the Joneses? That’s a good add.


Deidre March 22, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Very nice list Sandy! I love the thoughts about the bruised fruit section 🙂


Sandy L March 22, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Diedre – bruised fruit is where it’s at. There was an immigrant family ahead of me the other day looking through the reduced section. The woman had two teenage boys and of course I was staring at them trying to imagine their story. The older boy made eye contact with me and I smiled. He smiled back with a knowing smile like “hey, we both know this secret place in the grocery store that no one else bothers to even look at.” He also heard me talking to my mom in another language, so we had the immigrant bond going. It was cool.


Laura L March 23, 2011 at 1:43 PM

This sort of frugality is so empowering–gas going up? We can manage this. Everything going up? We’ve done this before, so what else is new? I find this lifestyle so satisfying. It’s like our secret weapon. When the neighbors roar by in their big new SUVs or trucks, I just smile as our 2000 Ford Ranger with 227,000+ miles sits in the driveway. When they take out their cell phones that do everything and cost a fortune, I smile to myself as I make a call on my free-with-contract basic cell phone. No one says I have to get a new one, either, as long as this one works. As so many of you have remarked, attitude is everything.


Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer March 27, 2011 at 9:13 AM

I agree with Babci that it’s never too late to start saving. I hope those baby boomers that haven’t started yet know they can start now and it will help in retirement.

Her last comment cracked me up although I don’t agree with any generality like that.


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