So, how did our grandparents or great-grandparents, survive the great depression era? What can we learn from them? We’ll look at some of the frugal living tips from the great depression that can help us today.
These older generations were a hardworking bunch and had to be very creative in order to survive. They had to get used to living on less – borrowing, reusing, mending, repurposing, and upcycling.
You know how some of us decide to live frugally to increase savings today? Well, frugality was a way of life.
From turning the collars on their shirts, saving and using fried bacon grease as cooking oil, trading magazines with neighbors to save money, home economics was taught at home.
While many of the elders who survived The Great Depression are no longer with us, their secrets for survival are still relevant today.
Frugal Living Tips From the Great Depression To Save Money On Food
We take food for granted until we are greeted by an empty fridge. Thankfully, with modern conveniences like Uber Eats, ordering pizza is a phone call away.
But people of the Great Depression didn’t enjoy those luxuries. Money was in short supply, and they had to eat whatever they could get their hands on. Those times are behind us now, but we’re still left with the frugal wisdom.
Here are 11 frugal living tips from the Great Depression to save money on food:
1. Don’t Waste food
When it came to food during the Great Depression, it all got consumed.
No food scrap was useless. It could be regrown, made into soup or thrown in a compost heap.
Somehow over the decades, we’ve turned into a wasteful society. The average American household wastes over 30 percent of the food they obtain.
Last night’s dinner makes a great lunch today.
While I advise buying food in bulk, don’t overbuy. Buy the right type and amount of food to avoid wastage.
Sometimes, you may end up spending a lot of money on food that you’ll never actually eat.
2. Grow Your Own Food
Gardening is another great lesson we can learn from the Great Depression.
Food is a basic need making it a mandatory expense. One thing you’ll notice when you buy fresh fruits and veggies is how expensive they are.
Families from that period in history reverted to growing their food. There wasn’t any fresh produce from the market.
Almost every family had a “victory garden” where they grew whatever foods they could grow. This allowed them to save money that would have been spent on buying from the grocery stores.
Back then, they lacked adequate resources and information on how to best grow foods. With the abundance of resources now, you are better positioned to skip the store and build a sustainable home garden.
No matter the economic condition, growing your own greengrocers at home is a vital skill to learn, perfect and put to practice. Many foods are actually very easy to grow. Also, food grown by your own hands simply tastes better!
Consider learning to container garden delicious, nutritious and easy to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables if you don’t have a backyard or inclination to do a full-blown garden.
Grow more of what you can eat. It can be spinach, basil, eggplants, zucchini, bell peppers, green onions or tomatoes
Gardening is also a way to earn a little extra money if you have excess produce. Community gardens help build more resilient communities and strengthen your local economy.
3. Cook With What You Have
The main theme of the Depression era was making the most of what you had.
What you’re going to feed your family is one of the biggest concerns when times are tough.
You can bet that your grandparents weren’t eating out a lot during the Great Depression. They were always a dollar short and a day late in the pantry. To fill the gap, they often had to rely on whatever was on hand.
Being prepared involves much more than having a bunker of non-perishable foods. Truth be said, I fall into this trap more often than I want to admit.
The way to a great life can be found in the kitchen. Cooking from scratch is typically cheaper and much healthier than buying premade food items.
Cooking with minimal ingredients is something most Americans no longer do. You’ll be surprised at what you can do with a few sweet potatoes, a pat of butter, and a little brown sugar.
When you miss an ingredient, you can make up for it with something else. Keep your meals simple and healthy.
4. Forage For Food
Foraging is a lost skill that can help your food budget.
During the Great Depression, destitute people would take whatever they could lay their hands on to avoid starving.
When their pantries were empty, they indulged in the many edible goodies growing outside for free.
We live in a modern era, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t forage for the free treats that mother nature provides.
Do some research, keep your eyes open and you might come across many things you can forage for in your own backyard. Many of the plants we call weeds are edible and nutritious.
Start with wild berries and Morel mushrooms. Mushrooms can enhance the flavor of any dish, while berries are great for sauces, breakfast dishes and desserts.
Be careful when you go mushroom hunting as it can be hard to distinguish edible and poisonous mushrooms.
Other edibles to forage include dandelion, sheep sorrel, wood sorrel, plantain and chickweed.
5. Try Depression-Era Recipes
I know you’ve heard it before, but eating out is one of the quickest ways to waste money. You can live a healthy, fulsome life, while at the same time saving money on food.
Depression-era cooks would often come up with the most wildly outlandish recipes. These recipes featured cheap and simple ingredients like potatoes, beans, and pasta.
One resource we have that people in the Depression didn’t have is YouTube! So, make the most of the video-sharing platform.
Here are 34 recipes from the Great Depression you can try today!
6. Eat Less Meat
Meat is expensive, period! It’s even more expensive if you prefer organic meat as I do.
So what’s a person to do?
It doesn’t make any sense to cook at home (to save money) if you’re cooking bacon and steak every day.
Cutting back on your meat intake can save your monthly food bill. Instead of having meat daily, once or twice a week can do.
You can substitute meat and stretch dishes with groceries that are rich in proteins like soya chunks, lentils, Tofu, eggs, Tempeh, or soup.
It’s okay to splurge once in a while but don’t use it as an excuse to buy more meat.
7. Buy Food In Bulk
This is an obvious one.
What if the food supply becomes compromised? Buying food in bulk will save you money and prepare you for anything.
Hunt for outlets with discounts on selected foods. You can buy lentils, beans, flour, sugar, rice, coconut oil, oats, etc. in larger amounts. Or maybe purchase a big bag of potatoes and split it with a friend.
It’s worth mentioning that not all things are cheaper when purchased in bulk. So do due diligence before you purchase.
8. Create A Meal Plan
Depression-era households would try every strategy to survive, and that included creating a meal plan.
Don’t experience the daily agony of wondering what meals to cook. Besides saving you from the indecision that comes with meal preparation, having a meal plan minimizes waste and eases grocery shopping.
Budgeting your expenses is the ultimate frugality tip. View a meal plan as a roadmap that directs your available income towards necessary foods, and as a result, help prevent needless purchases.
Stick your weekly meal plan on the fridge or somewhere else in the kitchen.
9. Learn How to Can Food
Guilty! I can’t can food. At all.
People in the Great Depression spent their time pickling and canning food in preparation for winter. Women canned everything, from meat to leftover produce.
Learning how to can food is one of the best lessons you can learn about surviving. Due to the panic, it can become challenging to find viable food sources when disaster strikes.
It doesn’t matter whether you have money or not; stock up when you have the opportunity. When apples and berries are in season, they’ll be cheaper at both the grocery store and the farmers market.
Check YouTube tutorials if you don’t have the first clue on how to can food. In fact, your biggest challenge will be choosing which tutorial to follow along with.
Local churches, colleges and community centers also offer canning classes.
9. Use Coupons or Discount Apps
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American adult spends $4000 on groceries.
Your Depression-era relatives would roll over in their graves if they knew that you were spending that much on groceries alone!
Coupons guarantee you the ability to get food at a fraction of the price.
You can also download discount apps like Ibotta and Rakuten to earn cashback on purchases.
10. Try Composting
Do you have inedible scraps? Put them in the compost bin to make your own compost for your garden.
You’ll save money and environment at the same time. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.
Frugal Living Tips
The Great Depression was a tough period in history but favored those willing to adjust and build their skillset.
Here are some frugal living ideas from the Depression:
11. Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies
Who says you have to use expensive cleaning supplies to get the job done?
In recent times, there’s been a big push on more natural, safer, cleaning products.
Do you have a particular cleaning product for your toilet, shower, countertops and floors? Did you know that a few ingredients can replace most (if not all) of your cleaning supplies?
Think about this the next time you think of raiding the entire cleaning aisle for disinfectant wipes, furniture polish, air freshener, window cleaner, etc.
With a little help online, you can make laundry detergent, stain remover or window cleaner.
Homemade cleaning supplies are as effective as commercial products minus the toxic load. I personally use vinegar and baking soda instead of cleaning supplies with nasty chemicals.
12. Use Every Last Drop of Products
Wasting nothing was one of the core principles of surviving the Great Depression. Back then, our grandparents found a valuable second and even third life for nearly every item you can imagine.
People of the Depression period wouldn’t think of throwing away a toothpaste tube until the squeezed out the last bit.
Overripe bananas were used for baking. They used up every drop of food, cleaning, and personal care items.
Remember that time you felt like the lotion bottle was empty, but then you turned it upside down, got another week’s worth out of it? No? How often do you toss out the last bit of soap or food item before it was completely finished?
Reuse, recycle and repurpose. Everything could have a second use.
Before you toss stuff in the garbage bin, ask yourself if it can be reused in some way. Chances are, there are other ways to repurpose things instead of throwing them out.
I mean, why spend on fancy plastic ware when you already buy it ice cream from the store and it comes with a cup?
Turn food jars into storage and old clothes into dish towels, dust rags or pieces of quilts.
Clothes that are torn are meant to be mended. Hole in your jeans? Don’t toss it out. Repurpose by turning it into shorts!
13. Make Repairs Yourself
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a handy person, but I do try!
Most of us are guilty of just wanting to buy something new instead of fixing the old item.
DIY wasn’t just a trend; it was a way of life in the Great Depression. Replacing things before trying to fix them was unthinkable.
People couldn’t afford to pay others to do home repairs and improvements for them. Almost everyone became a DIY-er.
Learn to avoid paying a lot of money on new items when you can repair them yourself.
Ask yourself, “can it be fixed?” before replacing it.
Most things can be fixed at a cheaper cost than buying new ones. Whether it’s a rickety chair or a leaky faucet, doing this is still relevant today when the economy falters.
Don’t feel shy rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.
There are tons of step-by-step instructions on YouTube. Check with your local hardware store if they offer free basic plumbing repairs and flooring installation classes.
Whether it’s washing your car, doing your nails or mowing your lawn, don’t pay for things you can do yourself.
14. Reduce Energy Bills
When you run the dishwasher multiple times a day or plug in the air conditioner all day, consider alternative ways to do these things that don’t need so much electricity.
I am getting after my family all the time to switch off the lights when they leave their rooms and turn off the charger once the laptop or phone battery is full.
On a hot summer day, opening a few windows will help save you more money than you might expect.
Put on a sweater or layered clothing when it gets cold instead of jacking up the heater. A wood-burning fireplace is another great source of heat.
Let your clothes and bath towels air dry instead of using the dryer.
Try being more mindful of your electricity usage for just a month and you’ll notice the difference it makes to your bill.
15. Borrow From the Library
While books are a great way to kill time, you could be losing a lot of money buying them.
People shared a lot during the Depression. Even though there were not many libraries around, the concept of book sharing was already popular.
Follow this pattern set by our frugal Depression-era forebears.
When I was a kid, weekly visits to the library were a big event.
If you’re a book worm and willing to walk through those doors, getting a library card will save you a lot of money on board games, recipe books, movies, and CDs.
16. Look for Free Stuff
People love shiny new stuff: phones, cars, furniture, clothes, you name it!
Most families couldn’t afford to buy new things during the Great Depression.
Never buy anything new when being frugal. New doesn’t always mean better. The moment you drive a brand new car from the dealership, it loses value or depreciates almost immediately.
There is free stuff everywhere if you know where to look. Yes, even free money!
Consider trading or bartering instead of spending. Depression-era folks could trade a gallon of milk for a visit to the local vet.
While it’s unlikely that your vet will accept milk as payment for services, you can come up with fresh ideas to make the bartering system work for you.
For instance, in exchange for a minor home repair, you can offer your next-door neighbor pet sitting services. Swapping books, DVDs and clothing with friends can also work.
17. Stop Buying Unnecessary Things
This is where need vs. want comes in.
Life sometimes gets in the way, and we end up splurging on things we want instead of spending on things we need. Going without buying a designer handbag or driving the new Tesla won’t kill you. Promise.
The best way to save money is to cut needless spending. Put expenses through your own ‘frugality filter.’ Channel your Depression-era family members and ask yourself if it’s a need or a want.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you don’t need it, simply don’t buy it.
18. Cut the Cable
No, grandma didn’t have cable in the Great Depression, but it wasn’t all doom. They figured out how to make their own fun.
People played board games and had useful hobbies like knitting to distract themselves from what they were going through. This proves that you don’t have money to kill boredom.
How much is that cable television costing you each month? I calculated my cable bill when I first started becoming conscious of my spending, and boy, was I shocked!
Stop spending money to entertain yourself. Rather than binge-watching Black Mirror, try afternoons at the park, backyard campouts and game nights.
Cutting cable will give you more time to focus on more useful stuff like cuddling with your kids, exercising, getting lost in a good book and preparing those homemade meals I mentioned.
Reducing TV time also means less exposure to commercials that makes you want to buy, buy, buy!
19. Save for Things You Want Instead of Using Credit
During The Great Depression, the use of credit was a major concern. Folks in that era were wary about debt. They would save up for big purchases.
Nowadays, our eyes tend to get bigger than our wallets when shopping. It’s easy to turn to credit when you lack money and need to maintain your lifestyle.
Live within or even below your means. Learn to only buy what you can afford at the moment. Use the word “NO” more often.
If you’re unwilling to adjust, this can lead to a significant amount of debt piling up. Getting approved for a credit card or loan isn’t a gift! Debt is a ruthless trap because you are paying interest.
When you choose to save, there’s no rush to make a choice at the moment. You have more options to evaluate all the available options and watch the price waves to land the best deal.
The average American adult carries thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Credit will only weaken your situation and make it hard to recover.
20. Sell Stuff
Loving our frugal living ideas from the Depression? Here’s another one!
You don’t need all the junk lying idle in your home.
For example, do you really need two washing machines? There are many things you can sell to make money.
If you want to lead a frugal lifestyle, look for old items around the house collecting dust, rework them into something useful and resell or pawn them for a profit.
This will simplify your life, home and living.
21. Find a Side Job
Building multiple sources of income is another common lesson that can be learned from the Great Depression.
During the economic collapse, people lost their jobs. But there is evidence of an improvement in the quality of life for folks who could pick up new skills and complete tasks that others couldn’t do.
By picking up a side job around town, these people continued to power through the economic meltdown. A side job meant they could save some money as they waited for the economy to recover.
Few things help stretch your budget further than supplementing your income. There are so many side jobs to make extra money nowadays.
If the opportunity to make a little money presents itself, take it and put the money in savings. This could be anything from working at a call center after hours to writing resumes or house-sitting.
While the Great Depression may never happen again, living frugally will help you be better prepared for the unknown.
What frugal living tips from the Great Depression do you already use or want to learn?