There is quite a contrast between growing up in the 1940s and early 50s compared to what we have today. We all know that we learn from our early experiences in life and with managing our money, it’s no different.

Today we are still coming to terms with the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). We still see headlines highlighting how everyday people and now countries are battling just to stay financially afloat.

In this ‘question and answer’ article, we seek to learn from the past by taking a snapshot of what life was like for many of that generation. We talk to Maria (surname withheld), who like many immigrants to Australia started life under very difficult circumstances in Europe during the 1940s, before arriving in Australia in the 1950s.

Those memories of long ago, financially battling one week at a time are still fresh and have shaped her attitude towards money. The answers to the questions can be quite startling but at the same time, they can be seen as refreshing. The money tips at the end of the article are simple but very effective, especially for the current economic environment that seems to be lingering on for much longer than anyone wants.

Can you recall any luxuries growing up?

There were very few luxuries when growing up.  The only one I can recall is my brother bringing us a Christmas tree from the forest and decorating it with lollies and mandarins.  We made our own entertainment by going for picnics in the mountains and going for walks.  Trips to the movies were a rare treat.

How did you purchase your weekly food?

We were by and large self-sustaining by growing our own vegetables, we had chickens and if we were lucky we had a pig we would rear to adulthood.  Nothing was wasted, we had a very frugal lifestyle compared to today.  We use to preserve meat for the winter. We did have a tab at the local shop for specific purchases however; it was always a struggle to find the money to pay off the debt.  Work was very difficult to find for my parents so money coming in was at times very erratic.

Did you work as a child? 

I started babysitting when I was eight years old.  When I was 10 years old I moved to my Aunts house.  I used to help my Aunt who managed a local bar by scrubbing floors and washing glasses.

What educational level did you achieve at school?

I left school when I was 12 and learnt to become a seamstress in the local village, this was quite common at the time. I loved school and I was very good at writing but there was no choice as we had to start earning a living.  I married young just like most people did in the village and soon afterwards we immigrated to Australia. A big decision at the time, made easier by the opportunities that Australia promised.

What is your view of saving money?

I have always saved money.  My parents always struggled to save as work was difficult to find and I didn’t want that situation for myself and my family.  With my savings, I have always had a little extra put aside for a ‘rainy day’. I always found that there would be that unexpected expense, you never know when, but the rainy day will happen.

How do you save money?

To save money I spend carefully.  I always go for the more economical price range of goods at the shops.  I kept little weekly targets for saving and spending, similar to having a budget. Most of my savings was invested in a traditional bank account.

A critical goal for me was to buy a house. That gave me much security and comfort in my life.

What about loans and credit cards?

We had a mortgage for a house and our number one goal was simple, pay it off as quickly as possible. We wanted the security of owning our home.

I have credit cards but I rarely use them. I have always believed that you save for what you need and want, as opposed to buy now, pay later which a credit card can encourage you to do. When I do use the credit card it is usually for convenience and I always pay of the balance in full.

What money tips can you give to our readers?

These money tips are little things that worked for me:

  • Have weekly savings and spending goals. The savings goal is the priority, in other words, you aim to meet the savings goal first and spend what is left over
  • Always ‘over-save’. Emergencies always come along, you should have a special emergency fund available
  • Keep a close eye on your funds for retirement. This is more important now than ever. I’m nervous for people who might rely on social security for retirement as many countries are struggling  to meet these payments
  • Use debt carefully. Buying a house for me offered security for the future but I would never use debts for little things, I always save up for them
  • Avoid credit cards if you can. I have seen too many people get into financial difficulty as a result of their credit cards
  • Keep educating yourself. I love to read and follow the news and this way i feel more in control of my money situation
  • And finally, enjoy yourself but remember you don’t always have to spend to have a good time. Some of the happiest memories I have of growing up were the picnics in the mountains.


It will be interesting to see if history does repeat itself. People who grew up in tough times tend to have conservative attitudes to money. When it comes to investing, people who have struggled will often adopt the rules made famous by Warren Buffett:

“Rule No.1 is never lose money. Rule No.2 is never forget rule number one.”

We are all shaped by our past and our money habits will be no different. Everyone will put their own value on money and going without for a while, usually means that a greater emphasis upon preserving every dollar we have and earn.

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