I have always been fascinated by history. There is something soothing to me to read about the struggles and triumphs that our ancestors have gone through. One area of time that has fascinated me since my childhood is the Great Depression; especially frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
There is so much to learn from those who struggled during those years and I love to learn lessons from the Great Depression on how they made it through.
Obviously you’re here, on this post today, because you want to learn from them too. After all, those frugal living tips from the Great Depression are very tried and true. They are a great way to put old fashioned frugal living into play in your home and maybe to learn that living like Grandma did isn’t always such a bad thing.
No one expects you to walk around in a fuzzy pink robe with bunny slippers and blue hair that is always up in rollers. That isn’t what I mean by living like Grandma did.
Those robes do look comfortable though.
What I do mean is to take the lessons from the Great Depression we’ve learned and to put them into play in your own home, family and budget.
It means finding the best frugal living tips you can and doubling down on your finances until they are where you want them to be.
Shhh…don’t tell anyone. Sometimes I’m really bad at that whole doubling down part.
Frugal Living Tips from The Great Depression
What draws people to frugal living tips from the Great Depression is usually the simplicity involved. The lessons from the Great Depression that we fall in love with usually take us back to a time when life and everything involved with it was so simple.
There were no phones.
There were no computers.
People lived outside instead of clustered in their homes.
Even having a car was rare.
Life was just plain simple compared to today and I truly believe it is that – along with a side desire to save money – that draws us toward Depression era living skills and old fashioned frugal living.
Lessons from The Great Depression
Grab your coffee or a warm glass of herbal tea and settle in.
Here are what I think are the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
Learn to be more self reliant
A few weeks ago, I told you that in order to be truly frugal, you must learn to be self reliant. You may disagree, but it’s true.
If you are relying on anyone other than yourself to take care of you, you’re making a huge mistake.
The best lesson you can learn from the Great Depression is to take care of yourself. Your grandparents (and mine) relied only on themselves. If they needed something, they made sure they had it.
I get it. I totally get it. The idea of being self reliant can be scary and overwhelming. But, if you really are interested in old fashioned frugal living, you can’t escape the fact that you need to be as self reliant as possible.
Use it Up
My kids laugh at me because I will scrape the last tiny little bit of peanut butter out of the jar. They get a kick out of the fact that I will bang a ketchup bottle on the counter to get the last bit.
Using things until there is nothing left is the second biggest of the frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
Waste costs you money and if there is food left in that jar or shampoo left in that bottle, you are wasting money.
Instead, look for ways to reduce waste and take a que from Grandma; use it until it’s gone no matter what it is.
Grow more of what you eat
We rely on the supermarket far too much these days and it costs us in big ways. We pay not only financially, but also in terms of our health.
One of the best frugal living tips anyone can give you is to grow more of what you eat.
Fruits and vegetables grown by your own hands simply taste better.
Honestly, it’s such a simple idea to me that I don’t really consider it a frugal living tip from the Great Depression. It’s more simple common sense.
Even if you can’t start a garden because of space issues, you can still grow a porch container garden or grow herbs in your windowsill. My own garden is in containers in my front yard and on my porch.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way and if you want to grow your own food, you’ll find a way.
Raise more of what you eat
If you can grow a garden, you can raise at least some of your food as well. You don’t need a lot of land to raise back yard chickens or rabbits for meat.
The more you can grow yourself, the better off you will be both financially and in your health.
Do you know what you’re really getting with supermarket meat?
When you are trying to add frugal living tips from the Great Depression to your life, you can’t ignore the fact that most of our families were raising the majority of their food.
- Chickens provided meat and eggs.
- Cows provided milk or meat.
- Rabbits can provide meat.
- A pond with fish can provide meat.
- Raise quail and you’ll have meat and eggs.
- Ducks will provide meat and eggs.
Raising your own food is a frugal tip from the Great Depression that seems to have picked up steam again over the past few years.
The amount of money saved is the reason for that.
Learn to hunt for food
Steve is a hunter. Every fall he will go and claim at least one deer to put on our table. If you’ve never had venison stew, you’ve been neglected in life and I feel for you. Not only does he hunt deer, but rabbit and squirrel as well.
His hunting saves me an incredible amount of money on food.
One of the biggest Depression era living skills was to hunt. Once things got really bad, there were families who would not have eaten at all if they could not hunt their food.
If you’re looking to really get down to business with these frugal living tips from the Great Depression, hunting – or learning to if you don’t already – is a really great way to do that.
Old Fashioned Frugal Living
Learn to fish for food
Ask my husband who his best fishing buddy is and he will tell you it is me. I am most comfortable and at peace sitting on the banks of our favorite lake with my pole in my hand.
and I often out fish my husband.
Yes, I am proud of that fact.
Aside from the fact that I love to fish, it also enables me to put food on my family’s table in a way that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Fresh fish is so expensive at the store, but I can catch it myself for considerably less.
Learn to forage for food
Foraging really is an old fashioned frugal living skill and one that has been largely forgotten, but it is a great way to put food on the table for free.
But…foraging can be incredibly dangerous if you pick and eat the wrong thing. Just look into Chris McCandless if you need proof of that.
Because of that, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of The Idiots Guide to Foraging as well as any other foraging books that tickle your fancy. Thriftbooks is a great place to get them all used for a really great price.
It’s better to pick up a book than to forage the wrong food.
Depression Era Living Tips
Save fat from meat you cook
When I first began trying to save money, one of the first Great Depression living skills I learned was how to render fat from meat. Have you ever rendered chicken fat or beef fat? Depending on which one you do, you’ll either get lard or tallow.
Keeping with the theme of using everything up, saving fat from meat to render saves you money on cooking oil, shortening, and even candles if you learn how to make candles from tallow.
This lesson from the Great Depression really does help you to use every part of something before you are done.
Save bones from meat
Saving meat bones is another lesson from the Great Depression.
If you don’t have enough to make a batch of stock, drop them in a freezer bag and freeze them, along with vegetable scraps until you do.
Save bacon grease
Ya’ll there is nothing better to me than potatoes sliced up, fried in bacon grease and served with a country gravy on the side.
My cholesterol doesn’t like it, but hey, we all have to treat ourselves once in a while.
Bacon grease makes amazing biscuits, eggs, fried potatoes and more. Grandma used to save hers in a jar next to the stove and you should too.
It will save you money on things like butter or shortening while giving your food that smokey bacon flavor we all love.
Eat Fewer Processed Meals
Processed meals are cheap and quick, but they’re also very expensive in what they do to your family’s health.
Cheap, processed meals helped to make me fat and helped give me diabetes, high blood pressure and PCOS.
They weren’t eating boxes of Hamburger Helper during the depression.
They were eating fresh ingredients made from their own hands. You should be too.
Reduce how much you’re using
My daughter Emma is a cook. She’s been cooking since she was a toddler, but dear Lord, that girl thinks each recipe needs an entire pound of cheese on it! She uses so much!
Chances are good you’re using more of – well, pretty much everything too. From sour cream on your tacos to electric to cheese in your pasta, we all have a tendency to waste a lot. One of the best frugal living tips anyone can give you is to simply. use. less.
Take a look at how much your family is using too much of. If you can squash the extra use, you’ll save more money than you expect.
One of my favorite recipe books is Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression. Clara shared her families Depression Era recipes on Youtube and then in a cookbook.
They’re Depression recipes but they take very few ingredients to make.
Fix it before you buy it
My husband is my own personal Mr. Fixit, but with him being over the road, that job falls to me more often these days.
Our girls’ bathtub and their hair are the bane of my existence these days.
Home repair, car repair, even toy repair are things we no longer do. We live in a disposable society that tosses things when they break and buys new. We call a repairman and spend four times more money than we need.
Depression Era living skills teach us that in order to save the most money, we have to at least try to fix what is broken. If you don’t have the skills, places like Udemy offer video courses to teach you.
Often they run $10 video lesson sales on their courses meaning that you’re still saving money over buying the new option or paying someone else to do it.
$10.00 is well under my budget for learning something new. In fact, I used a Udemy course to learn about self-publishing when I was working on my book: Six Dollar Family from Six Dollars to Six Figures.
Another great option is to pick up books like the Readers Digest Do It Yourself Manual. They can be found used for a great price and – from personal experience – can save you a lot of headaches.
Find Ways to Reuse Everything You Can
I know, you’ve heard it before, but when are you going to actually start doing it? Reusing things so you don’t have to pay for something else is not only a key lesson from the Great Depression, but one of the best frugal living tips anyone could give you.
It doesn’t matter what it is either. It could be a pair of jeans that you turn into yarn or a peanut butter jar you store rice in.
If you can find another use for it, you’ll ultimately save yourself money in the end. And finding ways to reuse things, really isn’t as hard as some like to make it seem.
Learn a few new things to make
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” – Albert Einstein.
There’s no shame in having to learn a new skill. I love to learn and am almost always teaching myself something new. The same was true for people who survived the Great Depression.
Folks living during the Great Depression didn’t buy much that was made for convenience. In fact, quick dinners, frozen meals and the like weren’t even invented yet.
Instead, they made things themselves and you should be too. If you don’t know how to cook, invest in some online cooking lessons.
If you have never made your own beauty products, THESE are super easy and a great place to start.
If you can’t do something and are paying someone else to do it for you, now is the time to learn.
Learn to Simply Do Without
My children – and yours too I’m sure – both think that when they want something, they must have it. Most adults are the same way.
Even when it’s an item that isn’t necessarily needed, but we think it is. We just have to run right out and buy it.
Instead, take your cue from the Great Depression and simply do without unless it is a life savings item such as medication.
Going without a special food, seeing a movie or some other “waste” of money, won’t kill you. Promise.
Learn to like something new
I often get asked why my kids don’t fight me on eating anything even if it’s something they don’t like.
The answer is because neither one of them are allowed to be picky. Picky eaters lead to pickiness in other areas of our lives. Our ancestors knew that.
It shouldn’t be considered an old fashioned frugal living tip to not be picky, but sadly, I feel it is. It can also sneak up on you since pickiness does not only apply to food.
Anything you are brand loyal to – detergent, shampoo, toilet paper, – is you being picky. Try a new brand and learn to like a new food to save more money.
Drive Less – Walk or Bike More
This frugal living tip from the Great Depression is pretty self explanatory. Walk more, drive less. During the Depression, most people did not have cars and those that did did not drive them as often as we climb in the drivers seat now.
You’ll save money on gas, wear and tear for your car and you’ll be healthier. It’s a win/win!
Live below your means
Do you know what it means to live beneath your means? It basically means you live poorer than you can afford to. Living below your means is a great way to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
They did not live beneath their means during the Depression, but circumstances caused most families to live very poorly.
Learn a lesson from how they were forced to live and make the choice to live under what you can afford.
Borrow When You’re Able
During the Depression, neighbors helped neighbors. I know that these days it’s rare to have that, but give it a shot the next time you need something – especially a big ticket purchase like a lawnmower.
Borrowing what you can keeps you from having to pay for something yourself. Instead, it gives your family, friends and neighbors a chance to help.
There are two caveats to borrowing: never ask to borrow money and don’t make a nuisance of yourself. If you need to borrow something more than twice? It is better to buy your own.
Barter when borrowing is not an option
Bartering is a Depression Era living skill that is rarely practiced anymore. However, if you are unable to borrow what you need, bartering is the next best thing.
Bartering doesn’t have to be done with an item either. You can also barter your time or services. Offer to babysit, to clean a house or whatever else you may be good at.
Go zero waste as much as possible
My family has taken steps to start a zero waste lifestyle this year and the amount of money it has saved has been incredible. We’ve already talked about how a Depression era living skill was to use as much of something as possible.
Going zero waste – or at least trying to reduce the amount of waste your family produces – will help you to do just that. It teaches you to use every last bit of something or to reuse something as you’re working to reduce your family’s waste output.
Refuse to Buy New
I’m not sure if thrift shops were a thing during the Great Depression, but I do know that they weren’t running out to buy new things whenever they needed them. As we’ve already talked about they often reused, repaired or made what they needed.
One version of that tactic for us these days is the thrift store. When you shop at a secondhand store, you will save money over when you buy new.
I have things I refuse to buy new and highly urge you to create your own list too. I’ve saved more money than I could count by purchasing used.
On the other hand, I also have a list of things I refuse to buy used.
Learn want vs. need
When you lived during the Depression, there was no confusion as to what you wanted and what you needed. These days, there’s a lot of it.
It’s one of the best lessons from the Great Depression we can learn, but too many people fail to do so. The exact lesson?
Buy only what you need and save your wants for when you can afford them.
Have a crisis budget ready
It does not matter how much you prepare for a budget crisis. You will, at some point, have one. Before the Depression, most people did not.
It was because of that lack of preparation that the Great Depression was as bad as it was.
Instead of getting caught unaware, learn from their mistake and create a crisis budget for your home.
You can’t afford to not have one.
Get outside more
Do you know when I spend the most money? When I’m sitting at my computer. I’d be willing to bet you can spend quite a bit while you’re indoors.
To combat that, do what our ancestors did; spend more time outside without your phone.
If you’re not on a phone or computer, you won’t be tempted to spend money.
Stock your pantry with the basics
Each of us should have a pantry that is well stocked with the basics. During the Depression, most people did not. From that – and how hungry people went – we can learn that doing so is incredibly important.
Stocking your pantry with basic food items – flour, sugar, beans, rice, broth, and so on – gives you what you need to make meals for your family should you not be able to grocery shop.
Make repairs yourself
As we’ve already talked about, learning to repair the broken things around your home instead of paying someone else to do it is part of being self-reliant.
I felt it warranted it’s own point though. I can’t stress it enough.
If you really want to save money, you’ll learn how to do the things your home or car needs.
Enjoy cheaper entertainment
Instead of heading out to the movies, that expensive amusement park or some other form of entertainment, why not look for a cheaper option?
Go for a bike ride. Play a board game. Read a book. Talk to your family.
Free entertainment will always be better than paid financially and our ancestors knew it. They knew the value of the family gathered on the porch or in the kitchen simply spending time with each other.
Hand wash your clothing
Ya’ll, I love my washer, but the truth is that it costs us all a lot each year to run it. Hand washing a few loads a week can help save big on laundry costs.
Electric washers were around during the Great Depression, but a poor family was more likely to either still be using a laundry washboard or a manual wringer washer.
These non-electric washers allowed them to still wash their clothing without having the added cost. It can do that for you as well.
I personally have a Wonder Wash on hand. I use it to hand wash dedicates or things I don’t want to run through the washer. It has been a huge help.
Use a clothesline to dry your clothes
Did you know that a dryer is one of the most expensive appliances in your home?
If using your washer less often can save hundreds per year, using your dryer less will save even more.
How can you dry your clothes without a dry? Simple. You use a clothesline.
Open a window in the summer
We live in North Texas. If there’s one thing we know, it’s heat and humidity. That also means we know the true need of an air conditioner. In three digit temps, it is a safety necessity.
But when the temp isn’t blazing hot? Opening a few windows in your home will help save you more money than you might expect.
Air conditioning wasn’t a thing during the Great Depression so if you’re looking to follow these frugal living tips from the Great Depression, you’ll need to figure out when it is best to use it and when a window would be best.
If you’re having trouble cooling your home with your windows open, grab a handful of box fans to create wind tunnels (of sorts) in your home. Place one fan in a window facing out. Place another fan in a window across the room facing in.
The fan that is pulling air out of the room will help move the cooler air that is being pulled in by the other fan.
Find a cheaper heating solution
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how expensive it can be to heat a home too. Finding a cheaper option is the answer.
If you have a smaller home and live in a milder winter climate, ask yourself if you even really need to run the furnace. Can you make due with portable heaters and extra blankets?
Seem excessive? I will never forget moving into a house a few years ago in East Texas that did not even have a furnace.
Electric fireplaces kerosene heaters and pellet stoves are all options that may be a better option for you than running your furnace. You could even look at wood stoves if you are super serious! After all, most of my ancestors and yours too probably, all used wood stoves; especially during the Great Depression.
Use more reusable products
During the Great Depression, a mess made in the kitchen was cleaned up with a washable towel; not a paper towel. These days, we reach for the Bounty and quite literally throw our pennies away.
Getting rid of disposable products and moving to as many reusable ones as you can is a Depression era living skill we all should be putting to use.
The swaps are easy to make too.
You can swap:
- paper towels for reusable kitchen towels
- expensive cleaning wipes for homemade cleaning wipes
- fabric softener sheets for reusable dryer sheets or wool dryer balls
- food storage bags for reusable food storage containers
- disposable diapers for cloth diapers
- disposable feminine pads for cloth pads
The possibilities are endless when you really sit and think about it.
Don’t pay for what you can get free
Did you know that Six Dollar Family was originally a coupon and freebie blog by another name? It sure was and that means one thing. I love free things.
So did folks who lived through the Great Depression. If they could get something free, they took advantage of it. Why wouldn’t you?
Need some help getting started? We have a couple of huge freebie lists right here on the site. Our list of free wedding samples here is perfect for anyone getting married soon or knows someone who is.
And our list of free baby samples here is perfect for new moms and soon to be moms.
Put your debit and credit cards away
Plastic didn’t exist during the Great Depression which means that for the most part, it shouldn’t exist in your life.
If you’re doing any kind of spending, use cash like they did during The Great Depression. Save the credit card for when you have an emergency.
No, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t have credit cards. I absolutely think we all should provided they’re used responsibly. In today’s world, having good credit is so important and having a credit card or two is a great way to help build your credit.
Learn how to preserve food
Now, during the Great Depression, they canned and preserved a lot differently than we do know. We have far more knowledge than they did about things like botulism.
But they had enough knowledge to know that preserving their harvest and bounties was the only way to make it through a hard winter and to feed their family at times.
It can do the same for your family if you take the time to learn.
Visit the doctor less
I know how this one sounds, but hear me out.
Doctor visits are massively expensive. Medications are ridiculously expensive.
My daughter was just put on 5 medications. Together, they cost over $1,000 a month! One medication alone is priced at $997.00 a month! Thankfully we have a great savings program through Kroger.
If, however, you take the time to improve your health, you may need those visits and medicines a lot less.
During the Great Depression, they weren’t always running to the doctor. They couldn’t afford to! Instead, they did what they could to stay healthy, used holistic home remedies and ate a whole lot better than we tend to now.
The medical costs they had were non-existent compared to ours now.
Have an emergency fund
Remember when we talked about having a crisis budget? This goes along with that and is a lesson from the Great Depression on what they did not do.
Most people were not able to have much of a savings before the Great Depression hit. As a result, they had little to no money to fall back on when things went south.
Do better than that for your family.
Start with saving $1,000 and move up to 6 months worth of living expenses. If things go south for your family, you’ll be glad you did.
Wait before a big purchase
I get some funny looks when I tell folks I wait 3 days before any large purchase. The reason for this is that it gives me time to re-think whether I truly need the item or not.
While this isn’t something that they did during the Depression, it does teach a lesson they were good at.
Create and Stick to a Maintenance schedule
Your home, your car, your kids bikes, even your clothes all have to be maintained for them to perform the way they are designed to.
Depression era farmers knew this. They maintained their tractors and other farm equipment as needed in order to keep them running.
If you don’t currently have a maintenance schedule for things like your car and home, creating one can save you both money and a headache later on.
Learn to sew, crochet and knit
Most women during the Great Depression not only knew how to sew, but most could crochet and knit as well. These skills are just as valuable today as they were then.
Mend clothing instead of buying new
As I said, sewing was a common Depression era living skill. One reason for that was because they needed to be able to mend clothing when something ripped or tore.
Have you ever heard the term “darning socks?”
Yes, they even mended socks. That goes back to that who “use it until you can’t anymore” philosophy.
The next time your jeans rip, sew them instead of tossing them. You’ll save yourself the cost of the new jeans for around 15 minutes of work.
Learn to make your clothing
I love handmade clothing. There’s just something about knowing that it was made with hands instead of a machine and that someone took the time to make something beautiful for me to wear.
Walmart wasn’t in every town in the 1920’s which meant if they wanted something new to wear, they had to make it themselves more often than not.
Learning how to make your own clothes keeps up with that “don’t buy it” thought process and could potentially save you thousands each year.
Wear an Apron
I have a super pretty red and white rose half apron that I wear whenever I am cooking something messy. I have a huge habit of wiping my hands on my jeans so the apron protects my jeans from that.
I will never forget the first time Steve saw it. I think he was in shock.
Aprons were common during the Depression and that clothing protection is exactly why. Clothing was either expensive to buy or time consuming to make. Wearing an apron protected that clothing helping it to last longer.
I also really like the full apron I got from Grove Collab. It is amazingly sturdy and works incredibly well to protect my clothing.
Use the sun whenever possible
If you pulled up in front of my house, you would see a 3.2 ct. ft. mini fridge sitting along side the house. It isn’t trash even though it might look like it. It is the old fridge that Steve had in his truck. When it quit working and we upgraded him to a newer, larger model, I claimed the non-working one.
What is it? It is a homemade solar dehydrator using an old fridge. It works amazingly in the Texas sun.
Because electricity was still scarce in some parts of the country during the Great Depression, the power of the sun was often used. Now, I don’t know if they were using it to cook, but they took advantage of the light whenever they had it.
Solar power is free. Electricity is not.
Collect rain water
Water bills were pretty uncommon during the 1920’s and 30’s. Most folks had wells that provided their water.
These days it is the exact opposite, well water is pretty uncommon while a water bill is more common.
You can offset that though by getting your water from a well of sorts?
Rainwater is free and perfectly good to use for plants, car washes and other tasks that won’t be consumed.
A word of caution on collecting rainwater though: be sure to check your local and state laws. Harvesting rain water is actually illegal or have stricter rules in some states (I’m looking at you Texas!)
You know what rainwater is, but have you ever heard of greywater? Greywater is the clean water that flows from your kitchen and bathroom sinks. It can also be water that does not touch your body in the shower.
Basically, you collect clean water that would otherwise be wasted.
It can be used to water plants (make sure it has zero soap), wash cars, flush toilets and more.
Learn to freezer cook
Freezer cooking goes back to the idea of making sure your family is taken care of. You cook meals in bulk then freeze them for later. When you’re ready to eat, you simply take one out of the freezer and cook it.
If you’re just getting started with freezer cooking, you’ll need to pick up a few freezer cooking supplies. Once you’ve done that? Cook away!
Buy an electric pressure cooker
Keeping with the Great Depression tradition of using less, buying an electric pressure cooker can help you use less power. Whether you use it to make dinner quickly or you use it as a slow cooker, it’s a great buy all around.
I cooked frozen chicken breast in it yesterday in 20 minutes flat.
Hand wash dishes
They didn’t use dishwashers during the Depression. Dishes were hand washed, dried with a dish towel and put away at all once. Your dishwasher uses much more energy and water than you would if you just filled up the sink and hand washed them.
You can save yourself even more money by making your own homemade dish washing liquid.
Use manual kitchen tools
Electric kitchen tools can use more power than you think. Phantom electricity and the power used to run them all help to jump your power bill each month.
You can take a final cue from those that lived in the Depression and use as many manual kitchen tools as possible.
Learning from the Great Depression is one of those things that I really do feel we should all try to do at some point. There is no doubt in my mind that we would all be much better off if we lived a little less expensively and a lot more as they did.
Do you agree?
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