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A grandmother touches others' lives by living frugally but fully

En español | I watched my 90-year-old mother-in-law live on $19,000 a year for the past 30 years, in California. How did she do it? She was fond of saying, "It's the little things." For example, she used one paper napkin for all three meals, neatly folding it and tucking it under the corner of the microwave after breakfast and lunch. She reused gift bags. Nothing useful was thrown out. Coupons, of course, were meticulously cut and redeemed.

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A frugal mother-in-law lived on $19,000 a year for 30 years and lived well - family photo

Wilma Williams, right, with one of her 12 grandchildren. — Courtesy of Christine Williams

She used only flat sheets on her bed, so she could rotate them and wash only one a week. That way she kept her washing down to two loads a week.

She lived without the expense of a car. Her apartment was within 2 miles of her work and grocery store, so she could walk.

She never had a credit card.

Wilma was a giver of time and financial help. At church, she volunteered, tithed and made monthly contributions to several missionaries. She gave Christmas gifts to her three children, 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Without fail, at Easter, Halloween and Valentine's Day each great-grandchild received a card with a dollar enclosed. She remembered our birthdays with checks, too.

I believe that it was in giving that she received. As she continued to touch others' lives and was willing to do without, she was blessed until the end with the ability to live frugally but fully.

One of her favorite quotes was, "It's not how much we have, but how well we live, that brings happiness." It worked for her!

Also of interest: Fun ways you can make a difference. >>

Christine Williams is a reader from Carmel Valley, Calif.

Your Turn! Tell us what you really know about Grandmother's cooking. Email your essay of up to 400 words to Or mail it to "What I Really Know," AARP Bulletin, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. Please include your name and a phone number or email address.

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