10 Money Saving Tips from Survivors of the Great Depression (Depression Era Tips for Saving Tons of Money)
I learned a lot of lessons about saving money, among other things, from the industrious people who molded me into who I am now, starting with my grandparents and my dad. Many of my elders and friends lived through the Great Depression and other tough times. Here are some of the money saving tips from the Great Depression Era and before.
The elders I've been fortunate enough to have learned these money saving tips from include my parents, my grand-parents, my great-grandparents (when I was a child) and some wonderful elderly neighbors we've been blessed to live near.
They all lived through or experienced the tail end of the Great Depression, which affected all of them in various ways. Especially for my father, who helped support his younger siblings and parents as he turned into a teenager and young man, saving money and finding ways to not spend were vital to his life at that time.
The Great Depression, as miserable as it was, taught people some important lessons about saving money. The saddest thing is that these lessons are no longer being taught and sadly, are being forgotten. It may take another economic tragedy for these important lessons to be relearned.
Smart people learn these lessons ahead of time, though. They don't wait for a disaster or a financial problem to strike. Thinking people strive to learn how to do things and live a kind of life where they don't take money and things for granted.
Frugal living is trending these days, and I'm glad about that! Minimalism is the rage, and learning to live with less and decluttering is now the "thing." But these are things our ancestors unknowingly did!
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Here are 10 Tips from the Depression Era I've Learned from My Elders that will Help You Save Money
1) Buy Used:
I KNOW people like the shiny new stuff: cars, clothes, furniture, and lots more. But you can buy used items that are incredibly well-built that will last forever sometimes for a fraction of what you would spend on something new that also is cheaply made in these modern times.
Take vehicles, for example. When you purchase a bright shiny new vehicle, the minute you drive off the lot, you have lost thousands of dollars. Why would anyone do this?
Besides that, things that were made decades ago and are now considered "classic" or "antique" are usually way better quality. These items are built to last!
To inspire you, take a stroll through an antique store. You may just find a vintage set of dishes (like we did) that are priced right and are of excellent quality.
Start making this a mindset: Can you buy that thing you think you need used?
2) Pick Up Things You See Laying Around in the World:
My Dad would always do this. We'd be driving down the highway, and there would be a chain in the middle of the road that had fallen off a truck. Well, we would inevitably pull off to the side, and my Dad would run out there and pick it up, later to be added to his collection of potentially useful items.
Another time, we had parked by a curb getting ready to go into a store in the small town where he lives. He reached down and pulled out a penny from the mud in the gutter.
"EW!" I told him.
He just laughed, and said, "It's money. You never say 'No' to money. The only way I wouldn't have picked this up is if it was in a pile of s*%$ (his words)." LOL. That's my Dad.
Now, my Dad is not a hoarder. He is very organized and has a reason for every single thing he has. He's also rather wealthy, having worked hard all his life and made something of himself in a great career he enjoyed. But, these old Depression Era habits die hard, and I'm glad they do.
He has taught me the value of taking advantage of these free gifts from the world. And they are all around us all the time! Start keeping an eye out for useful things that are just laying around waiting to be picked up. And don't say, "EW," like I did!
I now pick up everything useful I can find, including change.
3) Hand Down Clothes to Others, and Use Hand Me Downs:
This lesson came from my father (and my mom too, as a veteran thrift shopper).
My dad was one of eight kids living in an old pioneer home in Southern Utah. As the oldest child, it was expected that his clothes would be handed down to each of his brothers in turn. Therefore, he was expected to take good care of his clothes and shoes. At the very least, they needed to last a good long time.
As a little boy, my Dad didn't have a lot. In fact, he tells about having only one pair of shoes. He wore those shoes to church and to school. When he got home, he took them off and went barefoot in order to save wear and tear on them so they could be passed down and reused.
It's so easy to just toss our modern cheaply made clothes from China in the trash. But at least take them down to the Good Will store where they have a chance of benefitting others in need.
Related to this is what I have coined "The Misty Principle." Essentially, it's all about buying quality that will last, even if you have to spend a little more up front. You will save money in the end this way.
4) Reuse Everything You Can:
I know of house wives decades ago who saved and reused everything, including storage bags, aluminum foil, and things we wouldn't even consider reusing these days because they are so cheap and plentiful. However, adopting a mindset of re-using things that still have use will add up to plenty of money being saved.
Better yet---make items that you usually throw away from cloth! Cloth helps you go plastic free, so you are not only helping the planet, you are improving your health because now you're not dealing with the chemicals in plastics.
I haven't gotten around to making reusable toilet paper, although perhaps someday I'll make that jump. I HAVE heard of folks who actually make and reuse their own toilet paper, just like you would a cloth baby diaper. That may seem a bit extreme, but in the olden days, this was often something they did. Or they reused newspaper, or corn cobs, or leaves.....
Here's a story about our octogenarian neighbor who used to live behind us. Mr. V. and I loved this man, who was extremely practical and absolutely practiced all these money saving tips from the Great Depression era.
I'll call him DB. Well, DB had a grand daughter who was about 9, and she wanted some money. So he told her how she could go about earning a few dollars very easily by picking up the aluminum cans left behind by tourists and others in our wilderness area and turning them in for cash.
So, DB and his grand daughter would spend their time together saving up cans, and when they had enough, they'd take them to the recycle business for cash. She had quite a little savings going on.
But then....she turned 11, and when she told her peers at school what she and DB did for fun and money, she got laughed at. Well, she refused to save aluminum cans after this. This really hurt DB.
But he kept saving them for her, and we saved ours for him, too. His goal was to save up enough to make a difference when she went off to college so he could prove to her how important and wise it is to reuse things and how to make her own money too.
**You may also enjoy this little history of flour sack dresses!
5) Cook from Scratch:
Cooking from scratch seems to be a growing trend, especially for the health-minded and the self-sufficient crowd. Besides the health benefits, cooking from scratch can save you some serious money, my friends!
My grandmothers and the great-grandmother I got to know as a child while she was still alive cooked from scratch. My great-grandma always had a pot of beans simmering away on the stove. They smelled SO good, and she made enough to feed lots of people, and they lasted awhile too. Nothing was wasted. And beans are inexpensive!
In another example, my mom refused to buy us treats at the store. Now, at the time I felt a little deprived, but looking back from this side of 50, I so very much appreciate what I learned from those growing up years of frugality.
My mom baked all our goodies, and even made her own granola back then. And you know what? It was WAY better than the junk from the stores I ate at my friends' houses.
And I got to learn to cook too! I remember when I got home from school as an upper elementary student, it was my job to get those potatoes cut up and going so we would have homemade mashed potatoes. (My dad was a meat and potatoes man.)
Or, I'd go out and grab some veggies from the garden and turn them into a salad. Then mom would get home from her job and get the meat going---always from scratch, and often from animals my dad hunted.
One Saturday morning, my dad was out harvesting fruit from the garden and the peach trees. My mom was at work. I was about 11 or 12 I guess. Well, he came in with a big bowl of peaches and said simply, "Do something with these."
Although I had no clue what to do with them at that time in my life, I quickly figured it out. When my dad gave a directive, we all knew to just DO it.
So, I found one of my mom's recipe books, and I made my first peach cobbler. I still use that recipe to this day! And I learned this lesson: Cooking from scratch is fun, not that hard, and you feel a sense of accomplishment. And...you can learn how to do it yourself.
And that's why I love cooking my own food, and I can't bear to buy processed junk, besides the fact that it will kill you. (You might be interested in reading 10 Foods You Think are Healthy but Are Really Killing You.)
Besides being way more healthy, guess what? YOU SAVE MONEY! :-) Win!
6) Grow a Garden:
You really can grow something any where. You know those really expensive sprouts people buy in the stores to add to salads and sandwiches? Well, my mom actually grew them on our counter top at home.
So, I learned how to do this too. I don't think I've ever purchased those old gross sprouts in the stores because I can sprout my own right in my kitchen! And you don't need fancy equipment like this seed sprouter. You can use a Mason jar! I'll be writing how to do this, I believe, if you are interested.
And you can get wonderful varieties of sprouting seeds for very little money at Starwest Botanicals, where I get most of my culinary and medicinal herbs.
Growing sprouts on your counter is just one example and a very small one, about how you can start gardening at home, indoors or out.
If you are fortunate enough to have even a small yard, you can start growing right there in your yard. I used to grow tomatoes, zucchini, herbs of all kinds, eggplant, and lots more right in the beds of our little suburban landscape, among the "normal" plants of the time. It was fun!
My neighbors would even come over asking for fresh vegetables, and of course, I shared. If I can do this, I know you can too!
If you are in an apartment or condo, or maybe you are living in an area with restrictions, perhaps give container gardening a try! I went through a period of time where I had to rent a house, and we were not allowed to make any changes to the landscape at all. Not even a flower. So I gardened and grew my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, and lots more in pots.
One of my favorite books on permaculture is by Amy Stross, who turned her entire suburban yard into a food producing area. It's called The Suburban Microfarm, and I highly recommend it if you have a yard (even a small one) you can garden in.
If you are lucky enough to have a larger area for a gardening plot, and water restrictions (like in Las Vegas) don't make it prohibitive, you really owe it to yourself and your family to start gardening. It's great exercise, you'll be blessed with healthy foods, and....you'll SAVE MONEY!
Where I love to buy seeds: White Harvest Seed Company. They are a family owned, small seed company, and they have heirloom, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds. They also carry survival seed packages!
7) Keep Chickens if You Can:
Chickens are great! And I'm so glad the laws are starting to change as far as being able to keep a few backyard chickens, even if you are in an urban area.
Chickens don't cost much to feed, provide you with lots of cheap sources of protein and healthy fats in the form of eggs, and when they're done laying, they'll give you a nice little meal and some bone broth too. They also give you some excellent compost for your garden!
Many people sell their extra eggs, and this actually makes up for the cost of any feed! So for these people, the eggs are essentially free. That's what we do. There are times of the year when the chickens are laying a lot, that their keep is absolutely free, and we may even come out ahead!
If you are interested in raising chicks to chickens, you'll enjoy these articles: Bringing Home Your Chicks: What You Need to Help Them Transition Well, and Pasty Butt: What is It and What to Do About It.
8) Learn to Make Due:
You know what? This is probably one of the top things you can start doing to save money. My parents and grand-parents learned this lesson, and it seems our elders had it down pat.
Can you imagine being a pioneer with all of your belongings in a small covered wagon, trekking across miles of rough country? You could not go running off to the store for things. Nope. What did these brave people do?
They made due. Period.
I think people in very difficult situations quickly learn the difference between needs and wants. We don't really have a grasp of this anymore, in our throw-away world.
So try to switch your mindset. Do you REALLY need that thing? Or can you make due without it?
I guarantee, when you practice living this way, you will SAVE MONEY! :-)
9) Fix Things Instead of Buying More:
It's so easy to just throw it away. Yep. And that's why our landfills are filled with so much trash that is actually usable. But why not switch your mindset to a challenge: Can you fix it?
Hole in your sweater? Don't toss it out! See if you can fix it! Challenge yourself! (Actually, I've got a sweater just like this hanging in my closet, and I have been about to throw it away about a hundred times....but I just can't. So I need to see if I can fix it as soon as I have time, as it is a perfectly lovely sweater.)
Our elders fixed their things. They didn't go out and buy new.
10) Learn to DIY and MIY:
This is one of my favorite ways to save money that I learned from my parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, as well as the many like-minded folks I've met along my journey. Making your own and doing it yourself are both super empowering habits to get into.
Both my parents and step-parents taught me how and why this was important. From helping as a child to make jam from berries our family foraged in the nearby mountains, to watching my mom sew many of our own clothes, to all the things they both did---I learned a strong importance and work ethic about why DIY and MIY is valuable.
My mom makes quilts these days---gorgeous quilts. I love them, and when I am gifted one by her I feel extremely blessed, and I treasure it. Gifts that come from a loved one's own hands are the best ones. We layer those quilts on our bed during the cold months, and we are never cold.
My dad was hunting with Mr. V. recently, and noticed that my husband did not have a dutch oven lifter. So...my dad went out, gathered the wood needed, and made him two! A small and a large one. There are directions for how he made a dutch oven lifter here. But the point is, if you have some basic skills, you can make many of your own items and barter for those you can't make.
I once had a friend laugh at me (like really...she snickered behind her hand) as she said, "Why wouldn't you just go buy these things at the store?") about our DIY and MIY beliefs in learning new skills all the time. She completely missed the point, as so many do.
That's one of the best things about changing your mindset to one of frugality (DIY/MIY)---You get to earn a sense of empowerment that you never could have otherwise.
You can find out more about the Seven Ways it Pays to be Frugal and why they're not all financial in this article.
I have written many articles about ways to homestead and ways to make things yourself and all the reasons why you should. Here are some articles I think you might enjoy and that may just inspire you to make your own:
(And there are so many more on the blog---please do some searches over there!! I know you just might be inspired to make many of your own things!)
Final Thoughts on Money Saving Tips from the Depression Era
There is so much to be learned from our elders. It's sad to see how their knowledge is being Pooh-Poohed by some and ignored by others. The old ways and traditions are so important, not just because of the incredible history of their lives, but also because there are lessons there that we can (and should) apply today---like how to save money in conscious ways.
I ran across a book recently called The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands On Living. It's a book filled with stories about a couple who got tired of their "acculturated" life being consumers in New York City, and who decided to move to New Mexico to live off the land. They created a space for themselves of paper/clay homes, garden areas, and built this life using re-purposed items.
Their story is fascinating and so out of the ordinary modern ways. And also beautiful. It's inspiring to see what others before us have done, as well as the things people who have this kind of mindset are doing right now. These lessons are all around us, and it's important to learn them while we can.
Do you apply any of these lessons in your own life? Are there other lessons you think I should add? I'd love your thoughts, so please leave a comment in the comments section.
Hugs & Self-Reliance,
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P.P.S. You might also enjoy these homesteading articles: Homesteading: