13 Frugal Living Tips From the Great Depression Era

Check out some crucial, frugal living tips from the Great Depression Era that you can implement in your everyday life to live below your means and achieve your financial goals.

There has been perhaps no time in recent history of greater economic and financial conflict than that of the Great Depression. Officially, the depression ran from August 1929 to March 1933, but most of the 1930s were marked by poverty and struggle.

Now, why am I talking about the Great Depression? Those of us living in the present day and struggling with our own financial challenges could learn a thing or two (or thirteen!) from those years.

You’ll find out some of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression era, those that people from the 1930s lived by, and while we don’t need to be facing the same hardships (hopefully), we can still benefit from the thrifty practices

Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression

1. Save with DIY cleaning products

The marketing departments of some of the world’s biggest and best home cleaning product companies have a lot of which to be proud. We are constantly convinced that the only way to clean our homes, remain eco-friendly and create safe and hygienic work and cooking spaces is to use whatever fancy strong-smelling organic all-natural product the company has come up with the most recently. They’ll charge us $6.50 for a small bottle and we’ll think we’ve done the right thing.

When times are hard, you can actually make huge savings by making up your own household cleaning products from items as mundane and everyday as white vinegar, lemon juice, hot water and baking soda. Their cleaning power is great and it’ll only cost you pennies per time. There are plenty of recipes you can get online to implement this frugal living tip that was essential during the Great Depression.  

2. Grow your own herbs and produce

Another great saving to make is on seasonings and produce. Even if you live in an apartment, you can invest a little money in window boxes and seeds to grow simple herbs with which you can cook. If you have more space, you can plant a larger garden and grow your own produce.

You might have to spend a few dollars on boxes and gardening tools if you don’t already have any, but it’s a small investment for something that can keep on giving for a long time. Growing your own herbs and produce is a great way to ensure that what you’re eating is organic and healthy, and also reduces your dependency on outside supply chains. In hard times, that’s always a good thing.

3. Learn to sew

How many times have you thrown away a shirt because a button came off or there was a small tear in the stitching? Those living in the great depression had to make the things they had last much longer, and one way of doing that was repairing things instead of throwing them away, and that includes clothing. 

We are somewhat spoiled in the modern age with common clothing items like jeans, t-shirts, white office shirts and similar items that are in such abundance and so cheaply priced that it seems we can easily afford to just throw them away when they’re no longer perfect. The art of sewing and clothing repair has therefore started to disappear among young people.

Learn to sew on a button or fix a seam with basic stitchwork, and you’ll find you can make your clothes last longer, saving every time you don’t have to purchase new ones.

4. Cook your own food

One of the great recipes from the Great Depression Era (pun intended) is cooking at home. The average commercially prepared meal costs $13, equating to $39 a day if you eat all three meals. A week’s worth of groceries, on the other hand, can cost just $148 on average, and less if you shop smartly and invest in food that can become the basis for several different dishes.

Cooking isn’t just a great money-saving activity, but also a great life skill and promoter of good health. Cooking for friends is a fantastic way to impress your social circle and even make new friends.

In addition, when you’re doing the cooking, then you know exactly what’s going into the food and can control additives like sugar and salt. This is something you have limited to no control over when you buy commercially prepared food. Besides, there’s nothing that beats homemade food, and most of us already got this frugal tip from Grandma, right?

5. Track and manage your electricity usage

Do you know how much electricity that you pay for is actually electricity you’re using productively? Do you leave the air conditioner on while you’re out of the house? Do you leave lights on in rooms that you’re not using? 

Such habits lead to unnecessarily large electricity bills. Develop good habits with electricity, unplugging devices that don’t need to be plugged in, only turning on lights and air conditioning in rooms you are currently using, switching to energy-saving light-bulbs, and so on.

This may seem like an extreme frugal living tip, but you’ll be grateful you followed it when you compare the electricity bills from before and after. It’s in fact one of the best frugal living tips with a big impact!

6. Do the same with water

Those same frugal electricity habits also apply to the way in which you use water. Do you treat yourself to a relaxing bath every night? Do you leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth? Do you boil up a huge pan of water to cook a little bit of pasta in the evening?

Cut back on water usage and you can make savings and help the environment at the same time. If you live in a place that experiences water shortages like southern California, then you just might be helping avert catastrophe with your Depression-era frugality.

7. Give up credit cards

Ordinary people may not have had credit cards in the Depression era, but there were still plenty who relied on borrowing, be it from banks or loan sharks, which is pretty much the same. Debt was a state that perpetuated their poverty during that time, and the same applies in the modern age. If you are constantly in debt, then you are never living frugally, nor are you ever living truly free.

So the next frugal tip from the Great Depression is to cut back on credit card use. You don’t want to cancel them altogether – that could be bad for your credit rating, anyway – but stop relying on them for every purchase. Pay down existing debts with money that you save and gradually free yourself from the prison of credit card and other debt. Keeping your card active for emergencies only is a perfectly reasonable and sensible policy.

8. Learn about canning/pickling

Do you find yourself throwing away vegetables from your refrigerator often? It’s obscene just how much food waste there is in the developed world, especially in the United States. No one in the Depression era wasted food, and that’s because they knew all about canning and pickling

Canning and pickling food in brine is a tremendous way to preserve it while even retaining its flavor, and in some ways enhancing it. Pickled vegetables are a staple in countries like China and South Korea, where the idea of wasting food is bordering on blasphemous. They taste delicious and ensure that vegetables and other fresh food that doesn’t make it into your regular cooking schedule can still be used up.

9. Make your own gifts

Too many of us have resigned ourselves to the idea that gifts have to be bought from gift registries at department stores, or from other commercial entities. Whatever happened to the handmade touch?

If you have a certain skill, or a knack for arts and crafts, why not make something to give as a gift instead of just buying something. That personal touch can make your gift all the more special and it’s one of the greatest frugal living ideas from the Depression.

10. If you can do it, then do it yourself

Think back over the last 12 months and reflect on the number of times you’ve called on the services of someone else to do something for you that you are capable of doing yourself. You’ve likely had food delivered to your house; you might have had someone come and clean your car for you, or clean the house or apartment for you. All of these are common enough scenarios.

If you want to implement the old-fashioned frugal living style, however, you have to learn to do more things by yourself. This starts by always doing those things that you know you can already do, like washing your car. But it can also extend to things that you currently don’t know about. Get on YouTube and learn new skills by finding a how-to video and doing some more DIY around the house. Those are great skills to learn and can save you a fortune in bills.

11. Switch to reusable

One-use products aren’t just non-eco-friendly, but in general, they are extremely wasteful. Some people rely on single-use cutlery, chopsticks, and even plates and cups just so they don’t have to do the dishes as often! This goes against any and all money-saving tips from the Great Depression, and it’s an enormous, unnecessary waste.

If it’s really that big of a deal for you washing the dishes, invest in a dishwasher and get reusable things that you can wash and use over and over again. The long-term savings make it worthwhile.

12. Use your freezer

One of the best frugal lessons from the Great Depression is related to food: when you cook, do it in batches and freeze the remaining for later. You’ll be saving time, energy and money cooking in this way.

If you cook a big pot or dish of lasagna, casserole, curry, or something similar, it can make a great lunch for the next several days ahead. That means you don’t have to cook fresh and clean up every mealtime, thus further adding to your savings.

13. Let go of the coffee shop

Finally, this one may be controversial, but it’s certainly a great money saver and an extreme frugal hack you’ll be thankful to have applied (eventually). Instead of spending $3-4 on a fancy-sounding coffee in a local shop, how about you go back to making and drinking your coffee at home?

Simple filter drip coffee machines are very affordable, and often include built-in bean grinders. All you need to do is add water and you can make 4-6 cups of coffee for the cost of just one in your local shop.

These extreme frugal living tips will help you look after the pennies, and from there the dollars will look after themselves. The art of being frugal is in the accumulation of savings. Every coin that you save may seem small and meaningless, but when applied across the plethora of your typical living expenses, it can start to make a meaningful difference.

While living in the 1930’s was probably way more challenging than it is living in the modern era, learning from the past will lead you to a bright (and financially stable) future.

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