Two Lattes and a Basement Full of Toilet Paper


Choose any Sunday afternoon from 1983 (the year my grandma began to go blind) to 1999 to sit in my grandparents’ living room in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Make yourself comfortable on the couch, and enjoy a scene I observed many times.

My blind grandma is seated in the small gold recliner in the corner. She is leaning forward, straining not to miss a syllable of what is being read to her.

My Aunt Carolyn is seated in the blue chair in the opposite corner reading aloud…none other than the weekly grocery ads.

Yes, the weekly grocery ads. Aloud.

The audio content in the room went something like this:

Carolyn: Rainbow Foods; oranges are on sale five pounds for a dollar; bananas, twenty-five cents a pound; grapefruit…

Grandma: Carolyn, you skipped the lettuce. Look again, does Rainbow have a sale on lettuce this week?

[You will not find it hard to imagine that my aunt occasionally tried to shorten the grocery ads reading chore by skipping over some of the sales, but her attempts were rarely undetected.]

Carolyn: [sigh] Lettuce, forty cents a pound…

Grandma: Let’s see, Cub had it for thirty-nine cents a pound this week. We’ll wait to see what price it is in the other stores before adding it to a list.

[I’ll omit the continuing minutes of monotony. I mostly tuned it out anyway. Fast forward several minutes. You can jump back in anytime…]

Carolyn: …Joy dish detergent, a dollar fifty; Scott toilet paper, thirty cents a roll.

Grandma: Thirty cents a roll? That’s excellent! Be sure to pick up twenty rolls.

Carolyn: But Mother, we already have a full box in the basement.

Grandma: I know, but David has a large family, and you have no idea how much toilet paper they use.

So ran the conversation for an hour every Sunday afternoon. My grandpa or aunt reading through every word of the grocery sale ads with my grandma carefully taking mental notes, making comparisons, and then assigning purchases.

And every week that Scott toilet paper was on sale, someone was sure to be delegated to pick up as many as were permitted by the store’s limit. Each day. And then they were expected to go back with the same amount of new purchases at another register. (That’s the way my grandma shopped all sales. Store limits meant nothing to her; after all, there were at least ten registers open!)

And so it was that when my grandma died on April 1, 1999, she bequeathed us not just one, but many boxes of toilet paper that had been stowed away in the basement. There was so much, in fact, that it lasted our family of seven almost two years. No exaggeration.

I wish you could have known my grandma. You will never meet a more generous person. She gave freely, generously, and frequently—to her family, to her church, to missionaries, to those in any kind of need.

But this post is not an eulogy of her life. It is a simple observation.

Unconnected dots

Most people I know would love to be more generous…if they only had greater resources. I’d even venture to say that most people equate the ability to be generous with the possession of extra wealth. If they have money to spare, they’re happy to give. If they don’t have extra, they assume they cannot give.

I disagree.

As you might have guessed from the sample conversation above, my grandma grew up during the Great Depression. She went to public grammar school and high school, saved and pinched her way through college, graduated with an elementary education degree, and became a public school teacher. She married my grandpa when she was twenty-seven. Early in my grandparents’ marriage, before any children came along, she encouraged my grandpa to move overseas for three years to gain his PhD. They didn’t have the money to do it, but she knew how to conserve and save; and she was content to live with very little.

Back in Saint Paul, Grandma taught mentally challenged children in the special education classes of Saint Paul’s public schools. I don’t have any idea what her salary was, but I can assure you that it was modest.

What’s more, I can tell you that from her modest salary she gave more generously than most of us would budget for.

Was her generosity a by-product of wealth? Not a bit. It was a byproduct of her loving heart, and it was made possible by her frugality.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the most generous person I have ever met was also the most frugal person I’ve known.

For the price of two lattes 

A couple of months ago, I was considering purchasing a computer program. While I wrestled over spending $10 for the program, I continued to read up on its benefits. To promote sales, the developer pointed out, “For the price of two lattes, you can enjoy….”

For the price of two lattes.

We easily spend money in small amounts, don’t we? Yet, we forget two aspects of these purchases:

  1. How quickly they could add up and become a significant amount we could give. Buy a $5.00 drink at Starbucks weekly, and it amounts to $260 over a year. I know lots of people who would love to give $260 but don’t think they have it.
  2. The significance of $5 or $10 in giving. For the price of two lattes, you can enjoy two lattes, or you can invest in eternity.

Eternal dividends

We’ve exhausted the toilet paper bequeathed from my grandma. (However, we still have many bars of soap in the basement. She saved soap for us, too. And shampoo. And Kleenex.)

But my grandma today is enjoying the benefits of her savings. She’s in the presence of Jesus thankful for every cent she gave to Him and to His work. She’s, no doubt, meeting people from around the world who were led to Christ or enabled to serve Him through her giving. She’s enjoying dividends that far surpass the moments of pleasure when sipping a latte.

Is this post a bash against lattes? Not at all. I’m thankful for the good gifts God gives us.

I just think that sometimes we need to look a little further than the immediate pleasure and make spending choices with an accurate view of their value.

Mostly, I think we need to remember that thrifty living enables generous giving.

Want to give more? Start by asking how you can better save.