15 Things Our Grandparents Lived Without (and We Probably Could, Too)

By Staff

My grandfather grew up in a rural setting during the Great Depression, and for much of his young life had no running water or electricity. He often joked that they really did have running water–he ran to the well with a bucket and ran back.  During particularly lean summer months, my grandfather and his brothers and sisters often went barefoot. He often joked that he doesn’t know why people refer to those times as “the good ol’ days,” because there wasn’t much good about them.

Of course, I cherish these stories and the time spent with my grandparents because they made me the “frugal dad” I am today. When I find myself drooling over a new gadget I think back to stories of my great-grandmother searching the cupboards for a missing dime that meant a can of soup for her kids’ dinner. It puts life in perspective to remember that people did manage to get by without today’s modern conveniences.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not an indictment of today’s modern conveniences, because frankly, many of them make life much more enjoyable. However, we should be reminded that many of these things are luxuries, not necessities, even though media and peer pressure would have us believe otherwise.

1. GPS Devices.For me, the jury is still out on GPS devices for your car. I hear about more people arriving late because they took the “GPS directions” than I hear success stories. I don’t know what’s wrong with a road atlas – I just bought a new one from Sams Club for a few dollars. Besides, some of the best discoveries are found when you are lost.

2. Tanning Bed Salons. Direct quote from my grandfather: “Why pay hard-earned money to cook your skin when the good Lord shines a sun over your head that does the same for free?” 

3. Cell Phones. Yes, people can live without a cell phone. In fact, many still do, as hard as that is to imagine. If you are concerned with safety while traveling, consider a prepaid phone and keep it charged. Heck, even a cell phone without a calling plan, but a charged battery, can call 911 in an emergency. While I do consider cell phones more of a utility these days, I consider data plans and all the bells and whistles a luxury. Disclosure: I own a DroidX, and curse the bill every time it hits the mailbox!

4. Microwaves. I’ve yet to taste anything out of a microwave that tastes as good or better than stove-top or grilled. Still, it’s a time saver, and since we all have so little of it these days I suppose it helps.

5. Credit Cards/Debit Cards. The concept of borrowing has been around for centuries, but it has only evolved into plastic over the last century. Speaking of plastic, my grandfather didn’t use an ATM card until he was in his 70?s, instead he always went inside the bank, walked up to the teller, and did business ”eye-to-eye.” They knew him by name and were always happy to help with customer service issues he ran across over the 40 years he banked with this particular bank.

6. Electronic Book Readers (Kindle). Why spend money on something with a screen the size of a book when you could simply…read a book. They even let you borrow them for a couple weeks at libraries for free. Yes, I know toys like the Kindle do other stuff, but its primary role is an electronic book reader. Disclosure: I purchased a Kindle in the hopes it would make me read more. Truthfully, it did not, and do miss the smell of an old book. Guess I’ll be re-gifting it.

7. Digital Cable. Even I can remember growing up with only a handful of channels from rabbit ears on top of the television. My grandfather could remember times before television! Imagine getting all of your news and entertainment from a radio, instead of Fox News and MTV. Speaking of MTV – didn’t that used to stand for “music” television?

8. Health Insurance. If our grandparents got sick, I mean bad sick (not a simple cold or poison ivy), they went to the doct0r and paid for their services. The first “health insurance” plans only covered long hospitalizations or major illnesses, not the routine things we see doctors for today. However, one could certainly make the argument preventative medicine has helped us live longer, healthier lives, and much of that is made more affordable thanks to health insurance plans.

9. Plasma Televisions. Up until 2004 my grandfather owned a decades old, 27-inch floor model console television.  He eventually got rid of it when the picture began to have problems around the edges, and now has a basic 19-inch screen on a shelf. When I asked him about a plasma screen once he said, “There is nothing wrong with the picture on my screen now. Besides, I’ve heard those ‘plasma things’ cost as much as a small car.” Indeed, although it had been a while since he priced a small car!

10. SiriusXM Radio. Why pay to listen to something that is available for free over the airwaves? I did get an XM satellite receiver for my grandfather’s car to use on trips, and he found one feature worth paying for – not having to listen to commercials. Unfortunately, this is not true today as I’ve heard commercials have made their way into satellite programming.

11. Xbox, Playstation and Wii. I remember one Christmas while staying with my grandparents I got an Atari 2600 game system. I hooked it up to the television and ran through games like Combat, Frogger and Pole Position. He thought it was interesting enough, but those little game cartridges sure were expensive! Imagine what he’d think about today’s game prices!

12. Health Clubs. Why pay $30 a month to pick up heavy weights and walk on a belt that runs underneath your feet? You can get the same workout walking outside, lifting things in the garden or filled milk jugs, using your own body weight, etc.

13. Calculators and electronic cash registers. People knew how to perform basic math computations and make change. Enough said.

14. Student Loans. Student loans are also a relatively new (I mean, last 50 years or so) phenomenon. People used to simply pay for college, but that was before the days of college tuition costing an arm and a leg. Which begs the question: Has the federal student loan program encouraged colleges to increase costs by allowing students to spread payments out over a quarter of their lifetimes? Reminds me of what happened to housing prices when more and more previously disqualified people were allowed to borrow big money on mortgages.

15. Disposable Items. Ziploc bags didn’t really hit the market until the 1960s, although some “resealable bags” were around a decade earlier. My grandparents used to put things in containers (jars, dishes, etc.) and store them. When they used the item, they washed the container and reused.