This article is written in memory of my Nana and Papaw. They were born in the early 1930s and thus were members of the Silent Generation. Ironically, most people have never heard of this generation—we’re more familiar with the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, or the Millennials. The Silent Generation includes people born between 1928 and 1945; most of them were young children during the Great Depression, adolescents during World War II, and young adults during the Korean War. Many served in the military or supported the military in other ways, such as working in foundries or factories to build equipment or supplies, working in the medical field tending to wounded veterans, etc. They were parents to people we know as the Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964. The Silent Generation is often credited with laying the groundwork for some momentously important historical events, such as the Civil Rights movement, the Space Race, and many others.
Their thoughts and attitudes were shaped by these early and mid-life experiences during important, pivotal events in American history. They are known for being financially conservative and hard-working; often, they were considered rule followers and preferred not to speak up, earning the “silent” designation. My interpretation of this is they preferred to lead with actions, not words.
If I feel stuck facing a financial decision, I often ask: what would my grandparents do? When I follow their examples, I generally put myself in better financial shape because of that decision.
What makes the Silent Generation good financial role models?
In most cases, they were savers of many things, especially money, because the oldest members of that generation remember living through the last few years of the Great Depression and having to go without some of life’s necessities. They rarely, if ever, spent frivolously on goods or services they couldn’t afford—and do you know how they decided what they could and couldn’t afford? Typically, if they couldn’t buy something in cash, it meant they couldn’t afford it, or at least not at that point in time. Think about the implications of that for a moment. How many times have we (myself included) gone into debt or taken other financial detours to fool ourselves into thinking we can afford something? Truthfully, more often than we should. Circling back to the original point: the Silent Generation would save money to pay for the things they wanted.
As an extension of being savers, they were generally frugal. Frills and luxuries were few and far between because, quite frankly, they were considered unnecessary or even wasteful. Most of these folks lived in modest houses (especially by today’s standards) for 40 or 50 years, drove vehicles until they no longer ran, and lived a simple life.
They had strong convictions and beliefs about working for a living, sometimes in less-than-glamorous jobs. They understood themselves, but more importantly, they understood what it meant to be part of something bigger than themselves. Serving their country and their fellow citizens was more important than furthering their own personal goals.
The Secret Weapon
If there’s one secret financial weapon the Silent Generation possessed, it is contentment. As I covered above, they typically led modest lives by choice. Worldly possessions were intentionally kept to a minimum, and they had an appreciation for the simpler things in life such that they didn’t allow possessions to define who they were or guide their actions. Remember that old saying, “the things you own end up owning you”? This generation were experts at preventing their possessions from owning them. And this is what we all need to better harness—being content with what we DO have instead of focusing on what we DON’T have. Not only is this a great tool to lead you toward long-term financial success and independence, it’s a great way to be happy throughout your lifetime.
I can distinctly remember spending hours on a swing under my grandparents’ carport listening to cicadas in the summer, riding bikes and throwing frisbees, playing basketball in the cul-de-sac, and many other fond memories. Do you notice what all these have in common? They don’t cost anything! My grandparents didn’t need to spend money on anything to be content or happy—they were simply satisfied with and proud of what they had.
To conclude, I want to challenge everyone to ask: what would our grandparents do? Chances are the answer to that question would change the financial decisions we make. Let’s tap into those principles of contentment and frugality; be happy with what we do have; focus on lifting others up before we lift ourselves up; be part of the greater good. The world will certainly be a better place when we do!