Imagine having to live through a period like the Great Depression. Do you think you could survive? Would you need to change your habits drastically? Or are you already a frugal living nut who would totally rock this era with your nifty, thrifty self? Not sure? Well check out these frugal living tips from the Great Depression and learn everything you need to know about old fashioned living to save money! Trust me, when you’ve worked your way through these nuggets, you’ll be raking in big savings in no time.
The Great Depression was a worldwide economic crisis which lasted during the 1930’s and resulted in a decline in income, profits and international trade and an increase in unemployment. People’s survival depended on their frugal living skills – bartering, growing food, reducing waste, recycling, renting out rooms etc.
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Back in those days, people had no choice but to be frugal. There really wasn’t any other option. Ya know?
You know how some of us CHOOSE to live frugally to save money today? Well, those guys literally had no money to spend and had to find creative ways to get by. And then again there are also some of us who may be in a similar boat – forced to live frugally because we’re broke af!
Whatever your reason for living frugally, we can all learn something from the folks who lived through the Great Depression!
Here are some of the things they did to stay afloat and take care of their families. These can easily be applied and adapted to modern day life so that you too can live frugally and increase your savings!
Table of Contents
17 Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression
1. Grow your own food
How much money do you spend on food each month? Have you ever checked? Like really counted up your day to day expenses for both groceries and takeout?
I did this when I first started to become conscious of my spending and boy was I SHOCKED out of my mind!
Food and groceries made up the largest percentage of my monthly budget and it’s not exactly optional, ya know? So what’s a girl got to do? Find ways to cut costs of course (story of my life)!
Back in the day, people grew their own food and practiced homesteading. They were very much self sufficient and had little to no problem acquiring food… which worked out to their advantage when the Great Depression decided to kick them in the @ss.
I know what you’re probably thinking.
“BUT AMANDA, I already have a million things on my to do list every day. There is no possible way I can add ‘growing food’ to my already full plate!”
Same, girl. Same.
But time is money. And when you’re trying to save and trying to survive on little, you gotta do what you gotta to.
Maybe you can set aside just a few minutes each day to water and care for your little garden. It is such a great investment when you’re trying to save money.
Think about it, a single head of lettuce can cost around $1.50 whereas a lettuce seedling will cost you just a few cents. Do you know how many lettuces you can have for that same $1.50? Even when you factor in the cost of manure etc.? (Btw, there are frugal compost and manure options which will not leave you broke – in case you’re wondering.)
And furthermore, you can sell any excess and make extra cash. Saving money AND making money at.the.same.time? YESSS PUHLEASE!!
You can choose absolutely any veggie or fruit to grow based on your family’s needs and preferences. And if you’re feeling extra adventurous (and have enough time), why not throw some chickens into the mix? ?
2. Barter when you need something
Bartering is a pretty easy way to get items that you need without having to spend money. And these days, social media makes it simpler than ever.
There are numerous groups and pages set up so that people can easily request items that they need and trade them for things that they are no longer using.
Search for local ‘No Buy’ groups in your area and get started today. Just attach the name of your town or city in the search and you’ll stumble upon several groups in your area where you can start exchanging for free.
Seriously though, you’ll be surprised by how much money bartering can save you! And this is exactly what the folks from the Great Depression did to save a few bucks.
PSA – Do ensure that you practice safety smarts when meeting strangers to trade your items. Always be alert and choose safe, public places to conduct transactions! Remember not everyone can be trusted.
If you prefer, you can always keep your bartering circle small and limit it to just friends and family.
3. Reduce Waste
People from the Great Depression didn’t waste anything. Period. They found ways to stretch scraps and leftovers and used it to create new meals that could feed their family for days.
Some creative ways to reduce waste include:
- planting scrap herbs and veggies instead of throwing them out
- eating leftovers before they go bad
- using every part of a chicken – e.g feathers to keep warm (<thankfully does not apply to us but this was actually done during the great depression) and bones to make soup
- doing a pantry challenge (cooking using items from your pantry only)
- using a dry erase board instead of paper
- storing beans, pasta and other loose food items in airtight containers to extend their shelf life in your pantry
- repairing damaged items rather than discarding them
- using cloth dish rags instead of paper towels
- using every last drop – cut the toothpaste tubes, turn bottles upside down and turn packages inside out
These are all ways that can help you save BIG BUCKS – and the planet while you’re at it! Win win!
4. Rent out rooms
Many people from the Great Depression era rented out rooms to others who needed a place to stay and could afford to pay the price.
It’s a pretty genius way to make some extra money if you ask me. It’s literally free money in your pockets – you can make hundreds without investing as much as a dollar!
I mean if you have an extra room, and can be a trustworthy roommate, why not? Right? In modern day living, this process is even simpler with programs like AirBnB. AirBnB makes renting out your property as easy as 1-2-3.
Got a car? Not using it this weekend? Why not rent that out too? Many frugal living tips from the Great Depression can be adapted to our modern lifestyle today! Check out sites like HyreCar to list your car for rent this weekend and start stacking up some serious cash!
5. Don’t buy Brand New Items
If there is something that you need, find ways to get it without straight out pulling money out of your wallet. Consider other options like finding someone who can barter with you, borrowing it from a family member or getting it gently used from a thrift store.
And get this, if you’d totally be up for thrift store shopping, but have an ego that is too big to contain (Hey, we get it!), you can do your thrifting online from the comfort of your home on sites like ThredUp. You might even have some luck on sites like Ebay and Craigslist. But remember to shop for necessities ONLY!
6. DIY Errything
Girl, when you’re trying to save money like the peeps from the Great Depression, you gotta become a DIY Queen!
And do you know what you’ve got that they didn’t? Hello Pinterest! (AND Google!)
With tutorials right at your fingertips, don’t you dare make the mistake of paying for things that you can DIY.
Need a birthday cake made? Girl, DIY that!
Leaky faucet? DIY that!
Kids need a costume? DIY that!
Home decor? Yup, DIY that!
And bonus points for you if you can DIY with materials that you already have lying around your home.
7. Cook at Home
Cooking at home is legit one of the biggest game changers when it comes to budgeting and saving money. And people from the Great Depression knew this.
This right here is one of the most important frugal living tips from the Great Depression. Once you can master meal planning and cooking at home, you’ll pretty much save hundreds of dollars each month!
That being said, it is easier said than done!
“Just meal plan and cook at home to save money.”
Tell that to an exhausted mom of two who has to do homework, clean, do chores and stop two kids from fighting with each other – after getting off work on an evening. That mom is me FYI so I get it.
But when you’re trying to save money, something’s gotta give.
What I find helps is doing as much meal prep as possible on a weekend – cutting up veggies, making marinades, preparing the meats. On an evening, cooking requires little to no effort when most of the work is already done.
If you don’t get weekends off like I do, set aside some time during your day off to meal prep. It helps SO much! Meal plan, make a shopping list and make one trip to the grocery store. Trust me, your wallet will thank you.
Pssst! Did you know you can save more money by meal planning? Meal Planning saves me thousands of dollars every year! Not sure how to get started? Grab a copy of my free Meal Planning e-guide below.
8. Have Meatless Meals
Now, if you’ve decided to make the effort to meal plan and cook at home, you must understand that your meals should be budget meals (and healthy!).
What sense does it make to cook at home (to save money) if you’re cooking lobster and caviar every day? Ya know?
Yes it will be cheaper than buying lobster at a fancy restaurant but it will still make a dent in your food budget. It’s okay to splurge once in a while but try to stay on track as much as possible.
A good way to do this is to consider having a few meatless meals per week and cooking cheaper, budget meals instead.
Need inspo? Check out this post which includes 12 budget-friendly, yummy meals that cost $1 per person.
9. Take care of your things
You know what was one of the simplest frugal living tip from the Great Depression? Those guys took care of their things!
It’s no secret… when you take care of your belongings, they last longer. And when they last longer, you don’t need to spend extra money to replace them.
So what are some little ways to take care of your things? Use needle and thread to sew up any holes in clothing, socks and bags as soon as you see it. Wash clothing frequently to avoid permanent stains. Take care of your shoes. Keep items in cases. Do not leave your belongings where they are not safe or could be stolen. And all that other good stuff.
10. Find cheap/free things to do to entertain your family
When you’re trying to spend less or save money, you gotta find creative and cheap ways to have fun with friends and family. You think people from the Great Depression era went out to have dinner every night, went shopping every week and had tons of money to spend on entertainment? NOPE.
So here’s a frugal living tip from the Great Depression for ya… do not spend all your money on fun!
Personally, when I am strapped for cash, we have game nights and movie nights at home. If we can spare some change on gas, we go for a drive to the beach or a park. There are tons of other things you can do without putting a strain on your wallet!
Check out this list of 37 free activities you can try when you’re on a no-spend challenge or when you’re just trying to spend less.
11. Reduce Household Bills
This is one of the more obvious frugal living tips from the Great Depression. Think about all the bills that you currently pay every month – electricity, water, cable, internet, phone bill, insurance, Netflix, magazine subscriptions, subscriptions to apps. I’m sure these may be just a few.
Now, do you think people from the Great Depression era had all these bills to pay? Nope.
So if we’re trying to learn about frugal living tips from the Great Depression, one of the first steps we may want to take is to eliminate unnecessary payments and reduce our household bills.
Do you really need all your monthly subscriptions? How about taking a cheaper phone plan? Do you need Netflix AND cable? Can you choose one? What about cutting your electric bill in half? These are all little things to consider that would make a huge difference in the end!
12. Save money in any way that you can
I’m pretty sure when survival mode kicked in during the Great Depression, people did whatever they had to do to save money. How does that translate for us in modern times? It means finding out of the box ways to save money and make money.
The internet makes it so easy to do this now. For example, I use Rakuten (formerly Ebates) to save and make hundreds of dollars every month! I use Rakuten to buy things that I need during the month and get cash back each time I spend.
I literally get money back every single month (but get paid every 3 months). And who doesn’t like extra cash? I just purchase the usual things on my shopping list via Rakuten and start earning immediately! Sometimes this means that I don’t even need to go to the grocery store! FRUGAL WIN!
13. Forage for Food
Imagine if you could eat… for free! If this sounds like something that might be up your alley, then you may want to consider foraging for food.
What is foraging?
Foraging refers to finding and gathering wild food for free. And during the era of the Great Depression, this act would have been a way of life and a necessity for survival.
If you’re new to foraging and would love to get started, why not check out this Beginner’s Guide.
It’s important to understand that foraging can be dangerous if you do not know what to avoid – obviously some plants are poisonous.
Start simple with berries, chestnuts or elderflowers. Do your research and you’ll be a foraging expert in no time!
14. Layer up during winter
Instead of increasing the temperature and by extension, increasing your electric bill, consider layering up instead. The folks from the Great Depression used feathers (from chickens) to make blankets but fortunately, we don’t need to do all that extra work.
Before touching the thermostat, ask yourself – Am I wearing socks? Can I put on another sweats or jacket? Is this the thickest blanket I have?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, add another layer before increasing the temperature!
15. Find ways to make extra money
I already mentioned earlier that people rented out their extra rooms during the Great Depression. This was just one of the ways they made some extra cash.
Today, there are numerous ways to make money and increase your monthly income. The internet makes it super simple to do so! You can literally work from anywhere in the world once you have a phone/laptop and a reliable internet connection.
Want some more info? Check out the articles below!
16. Be contented with what you have
This frugal living tip is self explanatory. Be happy and contented with what you have.
I’m sure it helped that people from the Great Depression didn’t have Facebook and IG to compare their lives and standard of living against someone who lived thousands of miles away.
If you find yourself spending hours looking at people’s fancy foods and vacations (damn those newsfeeds with infinite scroll!), hit the logout button immediately, and pull yourself together.
Which brings me to the final point…
17. Stop trying to keep up with the Jones’
Do not be fooled by the pretty pics on social media. People pretend well. They show off their European vacations and designer clothing – but behind those pics are people drowning in loans, debt and even illegal activities.
Seriously, do not be fooled.
Stop trying to keep up with the Jones’!
Final Thoughts on Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression
We can all benefit from trying these frugal living tips from the Great Depression. Some are more extreme than the others but the best part is that you can choose those that suit your needs or preferences.
Frugal living was a way of life during the era of the Great Depression and adopting their lifestyle can certainly help us be smarter with our money and put it to better use.
Do you have any additional frugal living tips from the Great Depression that was not included here? Share with us in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!
P.S. Are you struggling with money management? Do you dream of becoming debt free and achieving financial freedom one day? Not sure where to start? Why not start by signing up for our free 5 Days Money Management Course below? You’ll be one step closer to your #financialgoals!
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Until next time,