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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: Only use cash so you never overspend.
  • And second: Always keep a little extra back so you can treat yourself.

I’ve 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 farming and theatre I learned handier things like how to drive a tractor and read Shakespeare. 

But the lessons that have been most useful day to day come from his love of horse racing. It is one of his greatest passions, and he and my grandmother once owned as much as a leg of a racehorse. The jockey’s silks (the jersey and trousers worn by riders) still hang proudly in my grandfather’s study. 

I think it’s the drama of it all that gets him — the wonderfully florid and often ridiculous names breeders give their steeds, watching underdogs (or should that be underhorses?) pull ahead and surprise everyone by winning, the beauty of the animals and the relationship they have with their trainers and riders. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding 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’s grown older he’s attended fewer races, but when I moved to Paris the first thing he promised was that he’d take me to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, one of Europe’s most legendary horse races. This felt very much like a rite of passage and, true to his word, he stepped off the Eurostar to visit me, tickets in hand.

Now, you’re probably thinking the lessons I got from him that day involved learning to make bets and understand odds. I learned a lot of that (apparently my method of choosing the horse with the silliest name wasn’t the done thing …) but there are two main takeaways from that day that I’ve applied to many more areas of my life than horse racing.

The first lesson: Only take cash 

My grandfather was very keen to find an ATM before we got into the grounds. The map indicated it was quite far away and, millennial that I am, I queried his absolute need for cash rather than just using his card. 

“Ah, but if you use your card you won’t stick to your limit!” he said wisely, tapping his nose. So I gamely took out some cash, too, and put my credit card away. Then, even as the excitement of the races grew and I won a couple of bets, my card stayed in my wallet. Turns out, only having cash was a very smart move.

If I’m ever on a night out with friends, or when I go shopping, I think about my grandfather and his ATM. Setting yourself a financial limit and then — crucially — having the physical money that you can see being spent, makes such a difference if you’re budgeting

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

The second lesson: Always keep a little extra for a treat

The second lesson was slightly stranger but a great life lesson nonetheless. Having taken his cash out, my grandfather peeled off a note and put it in his top pocket “for later.” I didn’t think much of it until we were heading home from the races and my grandfather pulled us into a cafe where he ordered a sandwich and a dram of whisky. 

“Always keep enough for whisky and sandwiches!” he proclaimed, pulling out the note from his top pocket. His father had taught him this lesson so that, whether your day at the races is successful or not, you always have enough at the end to treat yourself. 

This might be one of my favorite things he’s taught me. It doesn’t have to be whisky and sandwiches, but the point is always to be careful not to run your pockets completely dry, and make sure there’s always a little set aside for treats. Even if times are tight, I always think about this lesson and try to keep back even the smallest amount of money with which to enjoy something nice. 

Life is full of strange moments and you never know where the most useful lessons might come from. Turns out for me, I learned some of my most savvy financial tips from a day at the races with my grandfather.

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