All year long, Clark.com’s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox!
Not long ago, I was sitting at a restaurant across from an acquaintance who learned about my job at Clark.com and started firing off questions, wanting to know the secret to saving money.
I don’t remember exactly how I replied, but I wish I had told the person about my grandmother.
Grandma’s best advice about money
Long before I achieved any degree of financial success, I was taking notes from Grandma Joan, the smart, strong and sometimes stubborn matriarch of our family.
With her permission, I wanted to share the advice that she has given to me over the years:
1. “Don’t let your food go to waste.”
Are you one of those people who eats everything on your plate after you’re full? Thanks to my grandma, I am.
I pretty much always clear my plate (or save the leftovers for another day) because I can hear her voice in my head telling me to never let my dinner go to waste.
Grandma grew up poor, so I always understood where she was coming from.
In fact, since Americans waste 30% to 40% of their food, earlier this year I started posting a list of the foods I waste on my fridge to remind myself about the issue.
Almost immediately it helped me pinpoint which foods I’m buying too much of at the grocery store.
2. “Working hard doesn’t cut it anymore. You need a degree.”
My grandmother never graduated from college, but she did take classes and always encouraged her children and grandchildren to get an education.
Even with a college degree, it seems like it’s harder to find a job that can keep up with the rising cost of living.
Although we’ve highlighted 17 jobs that don’t require a college degree and pay over $70,000 a year, Clark has said getting that degree is the best way to go.
For millions of people like me, that meant starting at a community college before transferring to a four-year school.
When Clark was in college, he ended up working full-time during the day and going to class at night to pay for tuition after his father lost his job.
It was a turning point in Clark’s life that led him on a journey to help others.
“For me, what happened when I was a teen was great. It made a huge difference in my life by getting me to work at a very young age,” Clark said. “That meant I missed a lot of the fun that people have in college, but the result of it and the benefit in my lifetime has been great.”
To learn more about college costs and how to save on your degree, check out our step-by-step student loan guide.
3. “Get a 15-year mortgage if you can.”
My grandmother and her late husband made a hobby out of investing in different types of real estate properties, which she says was her best financial decision.
“Real estate is still a good investment if you’re going to wait. Sometimes it takes 10 years,” she told me.
One piece of her advice that I followed had to do with mortgages. She always recommended that I try to get a 15-year mortgage to save money on interest —and I did.
I ended up paying off that $86,000 mortgage in two years. Here’s how.
A 15-year mortgage is certainly not for everyone. The upside is a lower interest rate, but that means you’ll have higher monthly payments.
Take a look at this example using current interest rates:
If you aren’t ready to commit to a 15-year mortgage, most lenders will allow you to prepay a 30-year mortgage without a penalty, reducing the total cost of the loan.
Just sending in an extra $50 or $100 a month can make a real difference!
4. “Timeshares are a waste of money.”
Grandma Joan doesn’t like to admit to her mistakes, but she made an exception to spread the word about timeshares.
Aside from the upfront cost of the timeshare, there’s typically an annual maintenance fee. This added expense makes timeshares unattractive to potential buyers on the secondary market.
In fact, some people are just happy if they’re able to give their timeshare away.
Timeshare scams are another thing Clark has warned about over the years. If anyone promises to sell your timeshare for an upfront fee, there’s a good chance it’s a scam!
Read more: Inside the timeshare sales pitch
5. “Credit is dangerous.”
If you can make it to the point in life when you can’t remember the last time you paid credit card interest, you know you’re doing something right.
Although my grandma says credit is dangerous, especially for young people, it doesn’t have to be.
By paying your credit card bills on time and in full every month, you don’t have to worry about high interest rates. It’s when you do carry a balance that debt spirals out of control.
What works for me is paying bills once every week so that I never get hit with expensive late penalties.
There’s one more thing about my grandmother that has inspired me: her confidence.
People who are truly comfortable in their own skin — like my Grandma Joan — don’t feel the need to show off by purchasing fancy cars, electronics, jewelry, etc.
And once you realize that buying “stuff” doesn’t lead to happiness, saving money becomes a whole lot easier.
Check out more from our Michael Saves series:
- Secret Aldi savings trick you probably haven’t tried
- How I save 75% on prescription drugs
- 12 things that are cheaper at T.J. Maxx than on Amazon
- Simple budgeting trick to save 2 full paychecks in 2017