The World War II generation is fading away, and with them goes a lifetime of lessons this generation could certainly use today. If you were to sit down with one of these wise men or women, what would they tell you about life and money? Likely, you’d learn a thing or two about surviving difficult circumstances and how to foster strong business relationships with your fellow man. Let’s take a look a few of the priceless money tips you’d learn from these brave souls.
1. There’s no such thing as “too frugal.”
Growing up in the Great Depression, the World War II generation knew what it meant to be frugal. The difficulties they encountered pale in comparison to the recession of late. Many didn’t have enough money for food, and every purchase was carefully considered. They were frugal because they had to be, but would likely tell you that it’s good to be frugal even when you don’t have to be. If they could’ve saved money for a rainy day, they would have. In fact, they are notorious for their frugal ways even during these times of plenty.
2. Work really, really hard.
The World War II generation understood the value of a job, and they worked very hard at the task at hand. Back in their day, they often didn’t have a wide variety of jobs to choose from. Today, typing a job search into Google will show you some results in the blink of an eye – an advantage non-existent to those living 70 years ago.
Complaining was not an option. You worked hard because if you didn’t, there was someone standing in line waiting to take your position. Finding your dream job probably never came to mind; instead, finding any job was a dream come true.
3. Find contentment in what you have.
Consider the words of Larry, an 89-year-old:
Let me tell you, in the 1930s we had the Depression . . . . We’d maybe get a nickel once in a while. We were half a block from a wonderful park, they had lots of activities there for kids, and wading pools, and we had a huge skating pond down there. And they’d have band concerts down there in the summer the whole neighborhood would go down there. There were popcorn wagons parked all around there. We kids would have a nickel and we’d sit there for several minutes trying to decide “What I should I have?” And these poor guys, they’re trying to wait on you, they’re patient waiting for you to decide: Do you want popcorn or do you want ice cream? You want a Holloway sucker or what do you want? And once in a while at the movies, they would have Saturday matinees for kids, for ten cents. And after the movie if we had another nickel we’d stop at a place that had ice cream and popcorn and we’d get that. And boy, we really had a Saturday afternoon.
Do you ever hear kids today saying such things after a movie and ice cream – “And boy, we really had a Saturday afternoon?” It’s clear from Larry’s story that he was content with much less than children are today. Movies, ice cream, and popcorn with friends were all a kid needed to have a blast. And these aren’t even small things. Something tells me Larry was content and happy even when he couldn’t afford such entertainment.
4. Don’t let inflation catch you off guard – because it’s real.
Take a twenty-dollar bill out of your wallet if you have one. As of this writing, that twenty-dollar bill has the same buying power as $1.19 the year World War II started (1939). Inflation is real, and you should figure it into your financial planning. While nobody can predict future inflation rates, this calculator will give you some more ideas about the effect of inflation on money.
5. You shouldn’t rely on credit cards.
Credit cards wouldn’t land in the hands of consumers until about a decade after World War II, making access to credit more difficult for that generation. While sharing supplies with your neighbor was a common occurrence in the early 1900s, borrowing at interest was far more difficult than companies make it today.
While the World War II generation would eventually, in part, adopt credit card use later in life, you’ll still find many from that generation using checks and debit cards as a means to spend money they actually had – what a novel idea.
If you have the opportunity to sit down with a senior and talk with them about life back in their youth, do. Ask them about some of their best money tips, and be open to taking their advice. You’ll be glad you did.