3 Essential Personal Finance Lessons From an Octogenarian 

87 years of life gives you quite the experience and knowledge base to work with when it comes to managing your finances. This past weekend I was talking with a very lively friend of my late uncle and was told about all the lessons he learned throughout the years.

He seemed very concerned that the younger generations (ie me and all those other young whipper-snappers out there) have no clue about personal finances. Obviously, he did not know I write for this blog. Nonetheless, I would like to now relate to you his lessons on how to live a good life financially.

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1. Don’t forget to save, save, save!

He first wanted to make sure that I was saving money as I went along in life so I could retire someday and not have to work anymore. Most people these days have forgotten this lesson, but when you are born in 1930, one year after the great depression started you learn early in life the benefits of hard-earned savings.

As an 87-year-old man, he is still kicking and loving life. He and his wife still travel around the US and internationally. In order to afford all of this travel, he truly espoused savings. He worked a “full” career to the ripe old age of 65 but has been retired now for 22 years. That is a pretty nice retirement considering it has been a healthy and lively one. Many who work until that age don’t get the benefit of still being healthy and able to travel all around and experience life to the fullest.

In order to fund your retirement, he wanted to make sure I was putting as much money away as possible. I assured him, I was probably the last person he needed to worry about when it comes to retirement savings, as we are putting away $60,000+ per year right now trying to achieve early retirement. He may not have understood early retirement, but he really did appreciate that at least some of us from the younger generation, the millennials, know how to manage our finances.

So take it from the octogenarian, save as much as possible and then save a little more. Your future self will thank you.

2. Invest Your Savings

Rule #2 from this octogenarian is to invest those hard-earned savings. If you do not invest you are simply losing value. I couldn’t agree more with him on this point. Having your money sitting idly in a checking account, low-interest savings account, or the worst…cash, just loses you money over time.

These days you can look forward to 1.2% interest at best in a savings account and essentially 0% on checking with an actual interest rate of 0% on cash. These interest rates really are abysmal. Compared to the 7-8% you can reasonably expect over the long run in the stock market, why would you choose to have huge cash reserves? If you want to prepare for retirement, then you need to have your money invested.

He did not go into different types of investments as we only had 20 or 30 minutes to talk, but he definitely was pushing the investing point hard. The best place to park your savings is in a passively-managed index fund like VTSAX.

Invest your savings and you will set yourself up for success in retirement whether it is at age 30 or age 65-70, investing is the key to a successful retirement.

3. There Is No Excuse To Go Into Debt

Can you imagine living back during the great depression?

Lose your job and then lose pretty much everything. You can look to stand in bread lines miles long to get your daily rations because the food is being rationed out along with everything else. Under those circumstances, you really get to know what is a necessity and what is not.

If you are thinking about taking on a loan to buy a car or are just racking up credit card debt, it is unacceptable. What possible justification do you have for going into debt?

This octogenarian grew up with running water and electricity, he’s not THAT OLD, but he did grow up before the telephone, before TV, before computers, before cell phones. All of these things are considered by many to be essentials today. How can we live without a cell phone? Is it even possible?

Phone a friend

My favorite story of his was this:

“I still remember the day when we got our first telephone. My dad showed me how to use it and then let me try. When the operator picked up and asked where I wanted to call, I promptly hung up and knocked on the wall. I thought they were playing a joke on me because how is it possible to talk to someone that is not right next to you? I thought there was someone on the other side of the wall!”

He went on to explain how back when the first telephones came out they could only call 5-6 numbers and that is it. You could not call anybody you wanted only the select few that you chose. There really were operators like in the movies that connected the lines on the switchboard to connect your calls.

I tell this story to give an example of how life was back 70 years ago and that it was possible to live without phones. Today people get upset when we are not immediately available on our cell phones or when the internet drops out intermittently. The pace of life was slower back then.

Just remember, the next time you want to buy this or that gadget and it is going to put you into debt or lower your savings take a step back and think if you really “need” it.

If you are in debt, think of all the things you can do without to skyrocket your savings and crush your debt. Cut the phone, cut TV, cut internet, sell your car, etc. It is all in the realm of possibilities if you really want it. Ultimately, it is up to you to put a priority on crushing your debt and skyrocketing your savings.


I am truly glad to have met this 87-year-old chemical engineer. He was bright and knew his stuff. He hit all the right buttons on how to prepare for retirement and was helping out the younger generation to make sure we are financially educated. My only regret is I didn’t have more time to talk with him and everyone else at that family gathering.

Have you ever gotten wonderful financial advice from the older generations? What have they been able to teach that we as the younger generation don’t understand? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. My Dad is 89. I probably owe most of my foundation in saving, investing and personal finance to him. We still talk about the stocks and other investments we are buying and holding. He built his net worth following the guidelines in your article. It is tried and true timeless advice. Tom

    1. They learned the hard way and then do their best to teach us. If only we would listen… Luckily, I listened to many of the money talks growing up.

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