Why I Pick Up Pennies: A Manifesto of Sorts

Why I PIck UP Pennies1Almost exactly two years ago, I sat across from my grandma as she blew out the candles on her birthday cake. Her 93rd birthday cake. She laughed, and she cried. I remember watching her eyes glisten as I told her I couldn’t imagine having ninety-three birthday cakes. She squeezed my hand and said, “Neither can I, honey. Neither can I.”

Exactly two years ago, she passed away. It was entirely unexpected. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend what I lost – a second mother, the finest cook, a certified spitfire, our family’s historian, the best spare-change finder I’ve ever known. While I still can’t put pen to paper well enough to convey the weight of that loss, I can finally articulate some of the real wisdom she imparted, the insight that became the catalyst for this blog.

  1. Pick up pennies. All of them. Even if other people walk right past them. Even if other people look at you strangely.
  2. Save your pennies. The ones you find and the ones you earn. Even if other people don’t. Even if other people look at you strangely. Keep some in a Pringles can. Put most of them in the bank.  
  3. Spend wisely. Every purchase you make should push you a little bit closer to your goals. Whether your goal is to have the best damn shoe collection at ninety-three or to buy a home as a widowed mother in the 1960s when everyone told you it was impossible.  
  4. Give. Even if you think you can’t. Even if you could be on the receiving end of charity. There is always be someone less fortunate than you.  
  5. Gamble a bit. Let everyone at the table underestimate you, and then surprise them every time. Don’t let it go to your head.
  6. Keep smiling. No matter the circumstances you’ve been dealt, greet each day as a new opportunity. Laugh when your granddaughter calls you for help with a paper on the Great Depression, and she’s disappointed to hear your family was just as poor before the Depression as they were after. Situations and hardships undeniably influence your future, but you are the one who ultimately determines it.
  7. Remember it’s only money. Rich or poor, you can’t take it with you. The true measure of your life is the sum of how you spend your days, not the sum of your bank account.

So Tell Me…What’s the best lesson you ever learned from a grandparent?

Why I Pick Up Pennies: A Manifesto of Sorts

33 thoughts on “Why I Pick Up Pennies: A Manifesto of Sorts

  1. Love it, Penny. Heartfelt and inspiring. My grandfather taught me to jump at entrepreneurial opportunities. He started an advertisement newspaper in his hometown and then started his own printing company. He built something he wanted to be a part of every single day until he died. He kept his desk upstairs and visited the office right until the end.

  2. What a touching post. I lost my grandmother last year, and have a lot of these same feelings. Same as yours, she wasn’t all that impacted by the depression because they didn’t have much to lose. (Though her father was a sharecropper dairy farmer, so the other farm kids thought of them as the rich ones because they had milk to drink! What a different time.) I love the lessons you learned from yours — she seems like she was quite the iconoclast! I love how much she taught you to go against the grain and not worry about what others think. 🙂

      1. Ah! Thank you. It’s been totally worth it to hear all the grandparent stories so far. I was afraid it would make it too real (a silly thought but I think it’s kind of true). Thanks for the push!

        You’re so right about different times. That’s so interesting that dairy was a status symbol. What a great perspective to share with grandkids.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I too am glad that you hit “Publish”. 🙂
    My grandfather taught me the power of music in bringing people together. He was a professional musician for most of his life and then went mostly deaf in his later years. He didn’t talk a lot because even with his hearing aids he often couldn’t follow conversations well, but he still played the piano and sang, and he loved it when I would play the piano for him. That was the way he connected with people, and it really was powerful.

      1. I play a bit, and so does my dad, though neither of us is very accomplished. But my dad does have my grandfather’s old piano in his house now, which is cool (my grandfather died when I was 12).

        I also have a memory of going to visit my grandfather in the hospital when I was a kid, and singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for him to help him get well soon. 🙂

  4. This is truly so wonderful. Thank you for sharing this! I have learned so much from my grandmothers (I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfathers). One huge lesson I’m learning from one of my grandmas right now is not to settle when you know something is not right & you can negotiate for more. She currently lives in California, where developers are buying out lots from her mobile home park to build newer, fancier houses. One developer came to her with an offer – but she knew her livelihood & memories deserved more. She showed perseverance and told them “no.” The next developer came around, and they offered double the price. She accepted (she knew something better would happen). She took this task on all by herself! She’s 83, and whenever we speak it’s never about money or hardships – it’s always about family, memories, the future, and how she treats others. This was a wonderful read!

  5. I love this post, Penny. My grandma died at 96 and she was still sharp as a tack. Her husband died when she was in her 30s and and she was left alone to raise 3 children in the 1934. She went on two dates and never looked at a man again. When she turned 90 I asked her if she still missed her husband. She turned to me and said “I forgot what he LOOKS like!” and laughed. I learned from her, through it all, don’t lose your sense of humor.

    1. That’s hilarious! Sounds like she was a remarkable lady. My grandma’s story is similar – she was widowed for 51 years and would always joke about never wanting to do another man’s laundry again as a reason for never dating or remarrying.

  6. My grandpa passed away a few months ago, and I miss him all the time. The best lesson I learned from him was attention to detail–whatever you do, put in 100% effort. Lessons that tie for third place: eat all of your food and put a sweater on. 🙂 I miss Grandpa.

    1. Thank you! It was hard to write. It made her loss more real in a way, I suppose. But it’s been so worth it to read all these amazing grandparent stories.

  7. My dad’s parents taught me to be generous and to enjoy the holidays for the right reasons. Nana used to always make a Jesus birthday cake so that her grandkids understood what Christmas was all about. Also, to dress nicely when going out, use good manners, and always be a lady.
    My mom’s parents taught me to knit, to make toys from leftover two by fours, to bake bread, and not to be afraid to get my hands dirty. They lived extremely frugally and saved a lot of money. They gave us the freedom to explore the woods and fields. Also, when going out of town, leave so that you can get home before dark.

  8. Aw, this made me miss my grandmother a lot. My grandma had albums full of pictures from all over the world and her travels with my grandfather. I’m pretty sure she’s a major reason I was bit so hard by the travel bug. I miss sitting with her and sharing our adventures.

  9. I particularly like point 7:
    Remember it’s only money. Rich or poor, you can’t take it with you. The true measure of your life is the sum of how you spend your days, not the sum of your bank account.

    Thanks for reminding me this 😀


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