2 money lessons I learned from a day at the races with my grandfather

2 money lessons I learned from a day at the races with my grandfather

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  • My grandfather loves horse racing, so we went to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe when I moved to Paris.
  • I learned two money lessons that day. First: use only cash so you never overspend.
  • And secondly: always keep a little extra back so you can enjoy yourself.

I learned a lot from my grandfather. From his love of food, I learned the (arguably useless) art of using a stilton spoon. From his love of agriculture and theater I learned more practical things like driving a tractor and reading Shakespeare.

But the lessons that have served him the most on a day-to-day basis come from his love of horse racing. It’s one of his biggest passions, and he and my grandmother once owned even a racehorse leg. The jockey silks (shirt and pants worn by riders) still hang proudly in my grandfather’s study.

I think it’s the drama of it all that gets it – the wonderfully flowery and often ridiculous names breeders give their steeds, watching the underdogs (or should that be sub-horses?) go from l before and surprise everyone by winning, the beauty of the animals and the relationship they have with their trainers and riders. There is a lot of glitz and circumstance around horse racing and my grandfather loves every minute of it.

horse racing in paris

Anna Malzy attended the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with her grandfather.

Anna Malzy



As he got older he attended fewer races, but when I moved to Paris the first thing he promised me was that he would take me to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the one of the most legendary horse races in Europe. It felt very much like a rite of passage and, true to his word, he got off the Eurostar to visit me, tickets in hand.

Now you’re probably thinking that the lessons I got from him that day involved learning how to make bets and understanding odds. I learned a lot from this (apparently my method of picking the horse with the dumbest name wasn’t the thing to do…) but there are two main takeaways from that day that I have applied to many more areas of my life than horse racing.

The first lesson: only carry cash

My grandfather was very keen to find an ATM before entering the park. The map said it was quite a distance, and being a millennial that I am, I questioned his absolute need for cash rather than just using his map.

“Ah, but if you use your card, you won’t meet your limit!” he said sagely, patting his nose. So I also took some cash and put my credit card away. Then, even as the excitement of the races increased and I won a few bets, my card stayed in my wallet. Turns out having only cash was a very smart move.

If ever I’m at a party with friends, or when I’m shopping, I think of my grandfather and his ATM. Setting yourself a financial limit and then more importantly having the physical money that you can see being spent, makes Phone a difference if you budget.

It ensures that you don’t wake up the next day with a huge hole in your pocket. It means you pace yourself. It helps you make more conscious purchases. Cash is so scarce these days, especially after the pandemic, but it really is a great lesson to have learned and one that has served me well.

The second lesson: always keep a little extra to treat yourself

The second lesson was a bit weirder but a great life lesson nonetheless. After pulling out his money, my grandfather peeled off a note and put it in his top pocket “for later”. I didn’t think much about it until we got home from shopping and my grandfather took us to a cafe where he ordered a sandwich and a shot of whiskey.

“Always keep enough for whiskey and sandwiches!” he proclaimed, pulling the ticket out of his top pocket. His father had taught him that lesson so that whether your day at the races was successful or not, you always had something to enjoy at the end.

This is possibly one of my favorite things he taught me. It doesn’t have to be whiskey and sandwiches, but the point is always to be careful not to completely dry out your pockets and to make sure there’s always a little aside for treats. Even though times are tight, I still think about this lesson and try to save even the smallest amount of money to enjoy something good.

Life is full of weird moments and you never know where the most useful lessons might come from. It turns out that for me, I learned some of my most savvy financial advice during a day at the races with my grandfather.

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