My grandmother is severely obsessed with food and money.

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Okay, so I want to begin by saying that my grandmother who is 84 years old has worked incredibly hard her entire life, has saved as much money as a human being possible can in this world, and she is a very sweet lady. In fact she is quite oblivious and innocent in most things. She has a sweet nature but she is one of a kind. I don't think she can be classified into a certain group here. I love her dearly but I am currently the family member who is taking care of her, so I need some help coping with a few unusual characteristics I am not used to dealing with.
She has been living with me for one month now. It's amazing how I have known my grandmother my entire life but am just now getting to truly KNOW her now that she lives with me and my family.
She is and has always been incredibly tight with her money. She has a lot of she will never spend and she will eventually leave it to my mother and aunt. When I say she is tight with money, I will give you some examples: She still has the same shower curtain up from over ten years ago with sewn up holes, her deep freezers are filled with food that went bad before she even placed it in there. She hoards food. We'll get back to food in a moment. She wears thick stockings to help with her varicose veins, but because they are much more expensive than regular hose, she only buys one pair, and wears them for years, and sews any holes that appear with whatever color thread she has, just as long as she doesn't have to buy new thread. She has a home located in town where there is water and sewer available, meaning she has a limit on how much water she can use per month. It is very difficult to reach the limit, but she worries so much about going over and incurring extra charges that she does extremely thrifty acts to avoid it. She fills a bucket with bath water (old dirty water) and pours it into the washing machine to wash clothes. This way the washer will not fill up with what is too much water in her mind. She will use her bath water to water plants and flowers too. This is on the rare chance that she actually bathes in the tub. Usually, she will wipe off in the mornings with a wash cloth. She washes her hair in the kitchen sink with minimal water once a week or less. She does not wash her hands for fear of turning on the water. Instead, she splashes them in the dirty dish water and dries them off with the hand towel that has not been washed in weeks. She wears clothes and uses towels for weeks before washing them. She smells old. Not bad necessarily, but old. She uses only a tiny drop of dish detergent because she wants the bottle of detergent to last a year. Now that she lives with me , she doesn't have any household duties but she comments on the way I run my house. She is always commenting on how much it is costing me to run my dishwasher, my washer and dryer, my water usage (I have a well). She doesn't understand nice furnishings or decor of any kind. It is all a waste in her mind and not needed. She obsesses over what our family spends on everything. We do not splurge. We live a modest lifestyle in a 1200 sq ft home. We shop sensibly for groceries and we have a budget and goals. She thinks we should only buy items on sale and plant a large enough garden to freeze vegetables for the entire year. We should kill squirrels and deer for our meat. She is insane. Her clothes have holes in them and she still thinks they are "mighty nice". Everything she owns in her home or on her back was purchased at a yardsale. She barders or negotiates for everything. She is on over 30 medications and has us running around to 5 different pharmacies to get the best deals on each prescription, sometimes just to save 10 cents. Now lets talk about food. She only indulges in one thing. Food. She is not overweight but has a rather large protruding stomach. She loves to eat. Okay that's fine, but she will not allow anything to be thrown out after a few days, she just keeps putting things in the freezer. She eats food off of others plates and constantly comments on all food. She talks while she chews and will not listen to us when we ask her to stop. She thinks her behaviors are okay and that we could learn a few things from her but I just wish she would be more normal. Sometimes it's embarrassing. Like if we go to a buffet for lunch (big mistake) she will make as many trips to the buffet as possible until she's miserable because she wants to get as much as she can for the $6 she spent. She also seems to believe that we are all nuts and that everyone else in the world is just like her and so...she brags and boasts about her ridiculous attempts of saving money and how much she has eaten. She doesn't comprehend the world as we know it today and she lives in the past. She has never watched television or listened to music so she has no idea what is going on in the world. All she knows is that she wants to pinch pennies and eat for cheap. That is her life. HELP!


I had to chuckle at what you wrote, because your grandmother sounds so much like my 88-yo mother. The big difference is my mother is not so concerned about saving money. She does have this major food hording thing. She hates it when I throw food out. She doesn't understand the concept of bacteria and food going bad. When I first got here, the kitchen cabinets were full and the counters were stacked to the ceiling with food. There were no table surfaces cleared. The freezers and refrigerator was bursting with food, some of it dating back 25 years! When I started trying to toss the old food, it was like I'd declared WWIII. Still, I stuck to what I knew had to be done and it ended up fine. One thing that was kind of funny was there was a sweet potato pie date 1990 in the freezer. She said, "Don't throw that away!! It's still good!!!" I asked her if she was going to eat it. No -- she's diabetic. Was Dad going to eat it? No -- he didn't like that type of pie. So I told her I certainly wasn't going to eat it, so plop into the trash it went. It is probably petrified somewhere in the landfill now. The rats probably wouldn't even eat the thing.

My mother had this fear of running out of food. She was morbidly obese during most of her adulthood until she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Even after she lost weight, she fixated on food. They would have been probably been much wealthier if she had been able to stop buying all that food.

I found the best way to dispose of food is just to do it without consultation. I don't waste food, but know when the limits of safety are being pushed. I would rather be safe than sick by trying to save a slice of turkey. (Yes, we've been going through the great turkey throwaway this week.)
Your grandmother isn't going to change. This is the way she's always been and there's no changing her attitudes now so don't even try. All you can do is try to accept that this is the way she is and that you can run your household any way you see fit, grandma doesn't get a say in it.
Yes I can definitely relate to the stacked food in the cabinets, fridge, and freezer. I remember visiting once when I was a kid, and she had duct tape on her fridge door to keep it closed because it was too full to shut on its own. Good for your mother for not eating that pie since she's diabetic. My grandma is diabetic too but that does not stop her. We fuss and argue with her but she says ludicrous things to justify her actions and she just becomes filled with anxiety when she doesn't get her way. We make trips to the hospital a lot. She still doesn't understand it. She is also a hypochondriac and I am now convinced that she is not happy unless she has something to complain about health wise. She absolutely loves being in the hospital although shed never agree to that. But she seems her happiest when she's there. She despises the nursing home though so that will never be an option.
She is not insane, she is a typical child of the Great Depression. In the 1930's starvation was common. In the 1940's there was wartime rationing. Read the history and you will fully understand her mindset. What they endured will never be forgotten.
Jocelyn, do you remember studying about the Great Depression when you were in school?

People who lived through it developed many money-saving techniques *because they HAD to*. Many of that age group never let go of those habits, and the ones who did likely revert to them as theirs brains deteriorate. In addition, there were water shortages even in my lifetime where we were encouraged to conserve water by watering plants with bathwater and even using it to flush the toilet. Waste not, want not. They used to tell us to put a brick in the tank of the toilet to use less water. Now we have water saving toilets. We have water saving shower heads, we have water saving dishwashers and washing machines. These are all a result of the very real problem of water shortages. May your well never run dry.

Families of your grandmother's generation used to pass clothing down from one child to the other. Holes were patched, hems let down, seams let out.

May I suggest you pick your battles. Let her tell you how to do things and smile sweetly when she does. Let her wear her holey clothes around the house and save the "good" clothes for going out. Many people feel the same way at a buffet, eat until you get your money's worth. $6.00 was a good week's pay when she was a kid. It's all a matter of perspective.

Then there were the shortages and rationings of WW2. Victory gardens, reusing tin foil and wrapping paper. For a good idea of that era, watch The Waltons.

Toss the food when she's napping. A little at a time into black garbage bags so that she can't see into it. Eventually, she'll fixate on something else and this won't be a problem.

Bless you for taking your grandmother into your home, but never say never. You are one month into what can become a long journey. She's only 84.
Is she fit enough to help with a garden? I'd draw the line at killing squirrels but I sure wouldn't mind eating fresh lettuce and carrots, especially if some one else did much of the gardening. Do you have children who might like to grow a garden with great-grandma? Even if she could only be in charge of growing herbs indoors in pots that might give her a feeling of contribution.

I agree that she is very unlikely to change. Either realize that her behavior at buffets is no reflection on you and stop being embarrassed about it, or don't take her to buffets. Run your kitchen as you see fit, without arguing with her about it. Accept her as she is, but don't think she has the right to change you.

I think I would avoid telling her what things cost, and redirect the subject to something she might like to talk about. She wants to know what you paid for the new throw rugs: "I really was happy to find some without fringe that gets caught in the vacuum! Gramma, when you were a young bride, how did you clean your rugs?"

When she was in her 80s I took my mom to Penney's to buy new sheets. She had not purchased sheets in probably 40 years, having gotten them as gifts. She went into absolute sticker shock. I had all I could do to get her to go a step above the basic muslin. She certainly wouldn't go for the high-thread-count percale. In her case it wasn't so much about being thrifty but about being ignorant of current prices (or wages). I feel the same way when I am at a car dealership and see cars that cost 50% than I paid for my first suburban 3-bedroom house!
She is not capable of gardening. My father and my husband's parents both grow large gardens each year and usually give us more vegetables than we can manage. But this is not enough to my grandmother. She always wants more! If she visits my parents, she will sneak out to the garden to work in it, only to be followed up by an emergency trip to the ER later on that same day. She can't handle the activity. She has a-fib and they have exercised all options over the years to help her. She has diabetes, CHF, kidney failure (we are on the verge of having to begin routine dialysis), high blood pressure, acid reflux, etc. She's sick. She won't listen, yet she wants to live to be 100.she also has terrible anxiety and takes medication for it but still is easily fretted, particularly when you are tryingto care for her and it isnt what she wants to hear. I do not disclose prices to her. She just keeps guessing, obsessed over what she assumes the price would be. Ah... I'm just going to have to get creative.
My 90-yo mom is somewhat like what Jocelyn has described, though not to the extent that there are bad smells in the house due to hygiene/food issues... although we did have some bad chemical smells inside some of the kitchen and bath cabinets and in the garage.. but one night last fall while Mom was asleep I loaded their decades-old, smelly household chemical bottles/cans into my vehicle to be taken to the community's annual hazardous waste drive the following morning. (Actually had to do the same thing at my own home last year, too. The years go by fast, don't they?)

Anyway, for years and years Mom would tell me how she was having to go to the grocery stores almost every day of the week. I couldn't figure out why, and she couldn't explain it. When I started caring for my parents in their home it became clear: Mom has an almost uncontrollable urge to respond to sale ads in the local newspaper for her grocery and household items.

The problem, as you can guess, is that no thought is being put into whether or not responding to a one or two-day sale ad for just ONE little item, often where the store may have only a few (or none) in stock is worth the time, inconvenience, and gasoline/mileage. Sometimes the stores are 10 or 15 miles away, round trip.

I used to feel guilty for whining about having to go pick up a bottle of catsup or a package of batteries being advertised at a special price, sometimes at a store we don't even normally shop at. The days are already busy enough. But I have slowly found ways to get around most of the problem and yet accomplish what Mom REALLY wants: to save money.

First, there is this one particular store I hated going to that runs sales ads what seems like constantly. I hate going there because of having to argue with the checkout clerks over the special-sticker price advertised in the aisle versus the full price that comes up on the computer at checkout (even after I've already given them my rewards card) and then often having to also wait for a manager to come up and make the price correction.

Over the past two years I've found ways around having to shop at this particular store but still get as good of prices (or better) on all but one of the items we were shopping there for regularly. For example:

1) For incontinence products, towel paper, and TP, I was able to set up a recurring order on the Dollar General website. They currently offer free shipping and 5% off, plus various coupon deals. Now I don't have to go to that other store that I don't like and I also don't have to lug all that heavy stuff home. It's delivered right to our door, and Dollar General's brand is pretty cheap in the first place. I can't tell you the lift this has given me.

2) For food thickener, the issue had been that I preferred the other store's better than a well-known brand because it has less sodium (my dad has high BP). Recently though, I found that the CVS brand also has the same lower sodium content. And CVS, like Dollar General, allows you to set up a recurring order with free shipping, etc. (I just discovered this one last week, so I'm still a bit giddy over it.)

3) For disposable gloves and various skin-care products, I talked with our local pharmacy where Mom and Dad's prescription drugs have been purchased for years and where they know us well. They were willing to MATCH the other store's sale prices AND order for us in bulk. So now all I have to do is pick up a case of gloves, for example, maybe like every 5-6 months, and it costs about down to the penny what I would have paid ON SALE at the other store that I didn't like going to.

4) For disposable oral swabs (Dad uses swabs as a safer alternative to swishing his mouthwash and having it go down the wrong way), Amazon. Major price diff.

Mom is satisfied with the above, but her current beef is the number of tissues that Dad and I use. Neither Dad nor I tend to re-use a used tissue. We just throw them away after blowing our noses, whereas Mom places them next to her on the sofa or in bed and then later re-uses them, possibly multiple times. She has asked me to switch tissue brands like four times, still searching for the elusive perfect brand of tissues that we won't use as much of...because it will be harder to get the tissues out of the cardboard box, I guess.

It never seems to be enough. It doesn't matter how much money I have been able to save them over big-ticket stuff... like suggesting that she just re-paint the kitchen cabinet doors and get new pulls (about $2,000) instead of letting another family member talk her into replacing her entire kitchen cabinetry ($20,000 or more). Or that I was able to find a workaround to having to redo Dad's shower floor that had an entrance he couldn't step over, by simply turning his sliding shower seat into a sliding shower seat on wheels, thru putting rolling-walker wheels on the bottoms of the shower chair legs (they just happened to fit one inside the other!) and then placing two legs outside the step and the other two inside the step, so that a caregiver could slide him in.

I think also that some of this, besides the Depression-era aspect and the memory aspect, is that my mom actually enjoys thinking about scrimping on the small things like paper products.... and that perhaps some of this is just something to do with her free time. Unfortunately, I don't really share the enthusiasm when it affects me down to stuff like how I blow my nose and letting my Dad's mucus drip down to the carpet for lack of a tissue.

At this point, Mom is not able to consistently remember how much net worth they have and that they should never have to worry about money. We keep a list of their assets on a clipboard for her in her bedroom, but she tends to lose the clipboard or forget to look at it and then we have to go over it again with her. I'm currently thinking it may help her memory if SHE looks at the monthly/quarterly statements and makes a list herself... in her own handwriting. So we'll probably work on that this weekend.

It's hard. Sometimes I get frustrated over things like the above Kleenex issue, and then when I complain about her focusing on this kinda stuff instead of just enjoying the time we have together, I feel guilty. I've gotten into a habit of being on guard with myself so that when she starts talking, if the topic is a paper-products issue, I can remember to react by saying something like 'okay, whatever you want to do', instead of complaining back to her about her complaint. But once in a while I still slip up and complain about how ridiculous it is to worry so much about money when they have so much and have such a good income each year.

Today I slipped up..maybe because we were away from their home and I am not yet in that 'mode' away from their home. She started talking about switching to yet another tissue brand from yet another store (that has a cardboard box that makes it harder to get the tissues out once the box is only about half full), and I complained about her wanting me to scrimp on tissues... and then I felt guilty about complaining to her about her complaining, and of course apologized about 10 times for not being more understanding.

As usual though, I'm feeling uplifted after reading other people's stories. How fortunate we are to have others to lean on thru this site. How blessed I am to still have my wonderful parents alive and doing pretty well at age 90.
My parents both grew up in the Depression era and as adults became millionaires through my dad's hard work, frugality and investments. On a visit to their house several years ago I was taking a shower in their guest bathroom and noticed the shower curtain plastic liner had been repaired with duct tape! A shower curtain liner costs what, about $5? But yeah, my dad was thrifty! Then there was his habit of re-using zip-lock bags. He would wash them in the sink and shake out the water and put them back in the drawer for later use. Then my parents proudly told me how they would go to a restaurant and order one cheap meal to share. It would cost about $3 each. My dad would drive an extra 20 miles to buy gas a penny or two cheaper...and I would think: where is the rationality in that?? Does he not know that driving those 20 miles uses gas that he wouldn't have otherwise had to use? Apparently not. He would use the same towel for a month or so before giving it a spin in the washer. I can think of countless examples of how money was an issue to them, almost an obsession with penny pinching. It's like they don't understand that the purpose of money is to buy yourself some comfort and convenience. Maybe a little happiness! There were many times I would have to remind my mom "Newsflash Mom, the Depression is over!!" She would laugh and continue doing the exact same things she always got to the point of when she would pull something out of the freezer to use I would ask her "What vintage is this?" She would say it was only a year or so old. On one of our visits to see them she told me, hey come for lunch tomorrow for tacos. I have some ground beef in the freezer I need to get rid of. My thought was: How appetizing!! And I feel so special that you want to "get rid of" your old freezer burned meat by getting me and my husband and kids to eat it! I have to say that was a little insulting, although I don't think she meant it that way. But it is sad that money becomes such an obsession for some older people. Then there's the regifting...don't get me started!! LOL
Interesting subject. With sky rocketing prices and a desire for a simpler and healthier lifestyle, people all over the world are getting back to some of the old ways ... some, as in growing a garden, canning, thrift stores, yard sales,reusing and repurposing.

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