Will Your Legacy be More than Money?

by Tracy · 8 comments


There’s been a lot of talk lately about what we can learn from how our grandparents got through the Great Depression. My American grandparents died when I was very young so I don’t know too much about what they did other than a very vivid memory of my father’s mother telling me that when she was a young girl all she got for Christmas was an orange and a new toothbrush.

My mother grew up in South Korea right after the war. She lived in a little farming village and the war had left them so poor that the US Army and Red Cross would leave them provisions of rice, dried milk and cornmeal. While things aren’t quite that bad during this economic downturn, it’s inspiring and empowering to remember that we all come from tough people who survived hard times and we can do it too.

As I’ve been reading various newspaper articles and blog posts discussing various depression era tips for getting through tough times, it made me a bit wistful that I don’t know very much about how my own grandparents lived back in the days. Then it occurred to me that I was doing very little myself to make sure the stories I do have access to are preserved for my children and grandchildren and beyond.

There is no doubt that children need to be taught the mechanics and mathematics of finance. They need to learn how compound interest works and how to balance a budget and read a bank statement. But more than this, I think that we need to share our stories and experiences with the younger generations. Not just to share with them practical lessons in how to scrimp and make do and get ahead, but to show them concrete examples of how things can work out in the end and how at the end of the day, money is just a tool.

So, I’ve decided to start keeping a scrapbook of these things for my children and grandchildren. Here are some of the things I plan to do:

  • Interview my mother and father to get stories from when they were small and write them down and preserve them both on paper and in digital media. I will also do the same for stories from my childhood, teen years, and early adult years and beyond and likewise for my husband.
  • Save a couple of sales flyers each year to show what we paid for a loaf of bread, a pound of apples, socks and shoes and cars.
  • Write down recipes of the foods we most commonly eat, including which foods were for payday and which ones were for the day before.
  • Save clippings and printouts of various frugal tips and tricks and write my notes on how it worked.
  • Note what we gave and received for holidays and birthdays and how we celebrated.
  • Talk about the new technology and gadgets that came into our home, including how much they cost versus our income and what we used them for.

There is no doubt that our descendants will live in a world that is much different than the one we live in today, but I believe that human nature will remain the same.

I’m not sure what kind of financial legacy we’ll be able to leave to our children and grandchildren, but I hope that by preserving our family’s stories of survival, hope and perseverance, they will always remember that everything comes from generations of hard workers with can do spirits.

I hope that by sharing these little glimpses of what life was like in the past, I’ll inspire their curiosity and give them a sense of perspective about what is going on several decades from now.

Even if you don’t want to commit to a project as ambitious as keeping an ongoing scrapbook, I urge you to think about the stories that you have and how much others would enjoy hearing them. What memories do you have worth preserving? How can you help to make sure that the lessons that you and your parents and grandparents have learned about life and finances are not lost?

Photo Credit: iwinatcookie

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • It is easy to forget the importance of the preservation of family history and legacy in the day to day rush of life. Those of us who have self-appointed family history caretakers are indeed lucky.

    In my family, the caretaker for the last generation was Aunt Marjorie. She was the eldest sister of three and a spinster (yes they really did call unmarried women that). She cared for the family reputation by doing things like donating park benches inscribed with her father’s name. She preserved family heirlooms of furniture, pictures and stories. She was the instigator for carrying on family traditions – such as having each family member do a little performance (read a verse, sing a song, play an instrument, etc) on Christmas Eve. She even left hand-written notes about most of her possessions.

    Each generation needs a family member or members to ensure the legacy is carried forward. Now it is my turn.

    A deliberate and intentional approach to preservation of your family’s history (including how you got through the rough times like the past few years), culture and legacy can enhance the chances that your descendents will understand what it means to be part of your family. Involving all of the now living members of the family (all generations – including the youngsters) stresses the importance the family attaches to legacy, history and stories and allows the entire family to choose what parts of the legacy are memorialized for future generations. Pick the stories, history and items that demonstrate the values and legacy you want carried forward, but don’t forget to record the mistakes made – so others can learn from them too.

    @PDL – yes things have changed. My first job paid 75 cents an hour (but I got to watch all the free movies I wanted to see at the show where I sold concessions) -that was 1967. Our first house cost 25K and that was 1978.

    Tracy, thanks once again for a great post.

  • Squirrelers says:

    I like this post. As a parent with a school age daughter, I’m always looking to impart financial lessons to her. I think a great way to do this with younger generations is to tell stories and share this advice day in, day out. As it gets imprinted in their minds, it will (hopefully) show up in their behaviors.

  • PDL says:

    My mother did something like that before her grandmother died the year before last, asking her about how she celebrated Christmas, what presents and decorations they had. I know that my father told me his first job paid $1.75 an hour, and that was just in the 1970s. It’s hard to believe how things have changed.

  • Lindy Mint says:

    These are all great ways to preserve your story. My mother is our family historian. I grew up knowing so much about her side of the family, her grandparents, and where they descended from. It will be hard for me to pick up the tradition since she has carried it for so long, but I know I will have to so my kids can enjoy the same rooted history that I’ve grown up with.

  • Jenna says:

    I love that idea of creating a scrap book. My grandparents on my father’s side are big into keeping culture alive, so I’ve received many gifts that relate to our heritage and forces me to ask them questions, what are they, why are they significant, etc.

  • Briana @ GBR says:

    That sounds awesome. I definitely want to come up with a time capsule for my kids and show them how life was when I was a certain age. It would be a true mind blower I’m sure

  • marci357 says:

    Already on it.
    The scrapbook contains survival skills, info I worry will be lost on getting by,
    how to get the most out of bones after butchering, how to make scrapple, beef broth, veggie broth, fish bone soup, and all the scrounge-type things I do to get free food. I think it is important that the ability to make the most out of the food one does have is not lost to the next generation.
    Photos, recipes, words of wisdom, survival lore.

    When done, I plan to take it and have color copies made for each of my kids’ families… so the grandkids have this info, as my kids are aware of it all – so it is the grands that need the info remembered.

  • Vered DeLeeuw says:

    I love this post. I recently bought a digital voice recorder and plan to interview my parents and my in laws. Great minds think alike. 🙂

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