At the beginning of this month, The Globe and Mail reported that, while the average savings of Canadians has gone up, 56% of us still say they have less than $10,000 set aside for a financial emergency, while a quarter of Canadians are living pay cheque to pay cheque.

With the recent announcement that our country is officially in a state of recession, I thought about the cyclical nature of the economy and the tribulations faced by our predecessors. Coincidentally, the basic tenets of my financial practice were taught to me by my grandmother.

She was a first-generation Canadian growing up in the tenement houses of Yorkville in the 1930s – before Yorkville was a place in which any tourist would want to step foot. Her parents could barely hold down work during the Depression and moved around a lot in the turbulence of renting and being evicted. As an adult, one of my grandmother’s major achievements in life was owning her own home. She made this possible by following a simple Golden Rules of finance: “Always know how much money you have.”

I should preface all of this by saying that I am in no way qualified to give financial advice, nor is my grandmother, but as she journeyed from rags to riches, I think she was onto something. Here are some of her tried and true pearls of wisdom:

Always save 10% of everything you earn

As far as my grandmother was concerned, this was the keystone of saving. When she was a child, my great-grandfather put her and her sister in talent shows at the Elgin Theatre to earn money. (I want to say that a portion of that money earned was put aside for her, but I don’t think that was the case.) As a teen, that 10% would have gone to her mother to help with the family’s finances. Then, as an adult, that 10% was pure savings for her future.

Write down your spending

My grandmother was a very meticulous woman and wrote down all of her household spending in a little book that she kept in her purse wrapped up with an elastic band and a little golf pencil. Every time she came home from a trip to the store she deducted what would have come out of her account. My grandmother understood that keeping track of behaviour will regulate the behaviour – in this case, spending.

Do your own taxes

My grandmother was a big proponent of doing your own taxes (and doing them every year). This is an area in which a lot of us could improve. Personally, I don’t do my own taxes and I feel embarrassed handing over that accounting fee expense. I can just picture my grandmother arching her left eyebrow in extreme disapproval. Not to mention, the thought of doing years worth of taxes in one sitting would send her into a pulmonary embolism. As Gran would say, “You cannot plan your finances properly if you do not know how much of your money is your own.”

Don’t buy so much

This is for sure her post-Depression-era kicking in, but my grandmother just didn’t buy very much. She also saved everything: sandwich bags, brown paper bags, wax paper, cooking grease, elastic bands, paper clips, envelopes, scrap paper, ribbons, gift bags, tissue paper, etc. I have joked many times that my inheritance will be the towering collection of margarine containers and matching lids that once filled her kitchen cabinets.

Repair your clothes

My grandmother was an expert seamstress. She made a lot of her own clothes and while that may be a skill that has declined in our generation, there is something to be said about learning to repair your clothes. Gran would buy ‘classic’ pieces and as their seams wore down she would repair them rather than just donating them or throwing them out. I must admit, I’m not great with a needle and thread, but I have made myself adopt this principle in order to save some of my favourite purchases and spare myself from the price tags of their replacements. If you don’t know how to sew, there are amazing tutorials on YouTube that I highly recommend.

There’s an amount of excess in our modernity that I believe many of us could do without, especially in these financially constrained times. The preceding generation has shown that it is possible to thrive in scarcity. Today, my grandmother no longer lives in the home she bought. Suffering from dementia, she is unable to do her own accounts or even estimate the value of her estate. But due to her solid financial practice and in passing that practice down through the family, she lives comfortably with all the best treatment that can be provided.

It can be difficult to talk about money, but our financial practices should be thought about for the long-term. A healthy savings plan is one that is practical to maintain and grow and will support us should there come a time when we can no longer support ourselves.