14 Frugal Lessons To Live Like It’s the Great Depression

frugal living tips from the great depression

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When someone says frugal living tips from the Great Depression, that instantly paints a picture in your mind doesn’t it?

Saving money during the Great Depression, people really made living frugally into an art to get through their tough times when they didn’t have a lot of money– it was a time of immense struggle, but also one of great ingenuity and sacrifice.

My grandmother would tell me stories about her life during the depression era and how her mother got creative to make their money stretch just a little further.

Until her passing she would preach, “Use it up, Wear It Out, Make Do, or Do Without”. I didn’t appreciate her awesome frugal living tips until I got older and was paying my own way.

Let’s check out some of my all time favorite Great Depression Era tips to save more money (straight from my Grandmother!).

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    14 Frugal tips from the great depression


    chandelier made out of glass bottles

    If you are unfamiliar with the art (and science!) of up-cycling, it’s when you reuse (discarded materials/objects) in such a way as to create something valuable and of quality.

    A few of my all time favorite upcycle ideas are: turning an old ladder into a bookshelf, toilet paper rolls into cable organizers, and ways to reuse all those k-cups!

    Save Your Scraps

    Seamless background pattern from scraps of fabric. Vector illustration

    Whether it’s citrus peels (which you can use in homemade potpourri and cleaning products), scraps of ribbon, thread or fabric– there’s usually a way to repurpose or reuse your scraps.

    One easy way that I commonly “save the scraps” is with wrapping paper. If I cut a piece of wrapping paper to wrap a gift and there is a bit leftover, it get’s rolled up inside the tube in the event I can reuse it again.

    Grow Your Own Food

    Seedlings of different aromatic herbs in paper cups with name labels on white wooden table

    Who doesn’t love fresh produce?! One of the simplest ways to save money on food, is to grow it yourself.

    You don’t even need alot of space or time. Herbs and certain kinds of vegetables (like tomatoes) can do really well and not take up a ton of space.

    I’ve recently become interested in indoor gardening (did you know that was even a thing?? I didn’t until recently.)

    Sure, heading to the grocery store is super convenient, but it might not always save you the most on your grocery shopping bill.

    Making Your Own Cleaning Products

    Natural cleaning products, including sodium bicarbonate, invert jar, baking soda, lemon, vinegar,on grey table on old grey wall

    I absolutely love making my own cleaning products. Not only does it save tons of money, but I’ve got small children in my home and love knowing I’m not introducing a ton of chemicals into my house.

    One of my all time favorite DIY general all purpose cleaner is:

    • 2 cups of water
    • 2 cups white vinegar ( 64oz bottle is $2.52 from Walmart & makes 8 bottles of the all purpose cleaner)
    • Total Cost Per Bottle: = .31 cents

    $.31 cents, y’all. Boom. 

    You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil if you prefer something a little more scented.

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      Using Less

      pump soap dispensar

      There are so many opportunities where you can stretch things a little more by just using less. A simple trick I picked up from another Mom friend was to rubber band all the pump dispensers in my house.

      I just wrap a rubber band around the stem of the pump (keeping it from giving a full pump of soap, shampoos, etc) and then instantly we are using about 50% less.

      Kids are notorious for using way too much soap and shampoo on themselves. This little tricked has saved me hundreds every year between shampoo and hand soap for all my kids.

      What about considering a new way to dry clothes– like hanging them to dry (just like our great grandparents) OR one of my favorite tips from my grandmother is to throw a dry towel in with the wet things from the wash to shorten the overall drying time.

      Reuse Bacon Grease

      bacon in a pan

      This might be a little bit culturally specific, but it’s absolutely worth mentioning as it can be applied in other ways.

      Whenever my grandmother would cook bacon, she would save the grease and use it for cooking in other things as seasoning like in salad dressings, cooking vegetables, etc.

      If you are looking for more ways to use up bacon grease, Simple Most has a great article on 8 ways to use up bacon grease.

      If you don’t cook or eat bacon, the premise is still the same.

      If you get a rotisserie chicken. Instead of throwing the carcass out, you can use it to make your own chicken broth.

      The point is to use up what you have and minimize waste.

      Thrift Store Shopping for Serious Money Savings

      thrift store sign

      Thrift stores get a bad rap for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because when you think of thrift stores you think of a grungy old building that smells bad and are filled with broken and tattered things that have the faint stench of sour on them.

      But, I’m hear to let you know that, yes you can still find the kinds of thrift stores I mentioned above, there are awesome options for thrifting that don’t look anything like that.

      I recently when thrift store shopping for a desk for my daughter and was able to grab a solid wood desk for $10. With a little sanding and some paint, it looked brand new!

      Consignment Shops

      woman holding dress in a consignment shop

      Consignment shops (which are very very similar to thrift shops, except they are usually for-profit while most thrift stores are run by non-profits in support of some charitable organization) are another great option.

      And, great news, there is now an online consignment shop that I”m obsessed with, called ThredUp.

      ThredUp offers tons of brand name clothes (Gap, Banana Republic, J Crew, etc.) for super cheap. If you are willing to take Final Sale items, you can get things for just a few dollars and everything I’ve gotten has been been in great condition.

       Bonus! If you sign up through my link above you get a  $10 credit.


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      Maintaining What You Have

      woman and sewing denim jacket

      When you’ve already invested money into something, it just makes sense that you take care of it to extend it’s use as long as possible.

      A few obvious examples would be your car, your appliances, your computer, etc.

      Some not so obvious things to maintain are:

      • Your clothing: wearing an apron while you are cooking to protect your clothing, patch and repair tears. Wash appropriately based on washing machine recommendations.
      • Your body: being healthy isn’t something that you can put a price tag on. So getting good sleep, eating well, exercising– anything you can do to maintain your health is optimal.

      Along the same lines of this would also be to fix it, before you buy a replacement. Youtube, Udemy and good ole Google are three great places you can check out to see if you are able to make the repairs yourself and how to repair your broken item.

      Dump Disposable Products.

      cloth napkin

      One of my favorite frugal tips is to stop using disposable products. Not only do you get to stop wasting money, but you are doing something positive for the environment. We’ve been slowly transitioning to more reusable products and here are my top 7:

      Wool Dryer Balls. Not only do they save you money on dryer sheets, but they reduce drying time by up to 25% saving you money on utilities and you skip the harsh chemicals rubbing off on your clothes!

      Huck towels. Ditch the paper towels and save yourself tons money with this pack of 25 white huck towels.

      ReUsable BeesWax Food Wraps. An amazing alternative to plastic wrap. It keeps food fresh and you simply wash with soap and water. They also come in a variety of sizes. 

      Reusable makeup remover pads. These are organic cotton and I’m absolutely in love with these little rounds. I use them up and then throw them in the washing machine. So simple.

      Swiffer Sweeper Microfiber Reusable Mop Pads. This is a set of two machine washable microfiber pads. Super easy disposable replacement and in my opinion, work better!

      Reusable K-cups. You can buy your favorite ground coffee in bulk and use these little beauties to save yourself TONS OF MONEY on regular k-cups. 

      Reusable food storage bags. A multipack of these extra thick, leakproof bags. Skip the plastic baggies and grab these!

      Cultivate Basic Sewing Skills

      sewing machine

      This could also be lumped in with maintenance and repairs, but having basic sewing skills is essential. Being able to make small repairs to your clothing, upholstery, etc can save you hundreds in replacement costs!

      Using a Rainwater Barrel

      rain water barrel

      Availing yourself of a rainwater barrel is a no-brainer when it comes to saving on the cost of water. While you probably wouldn’t want to drink from the rain barrel, you can still use that water to wash your car, water your plants, etc.

      If you are unfamiliar with a rain barrel, you can check out this one.

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        Making it from Scratch

        bread dough and a rolling pin on a marble counter

        Save tons of money and DIY.

        Whether it’s baking your own bread, making your own soap or spice mixes. With a little research, you could start saving yourself hundreds a year.

        Free Entertainment

        Stop spending money to entertain yourself. There are tons of great options that don’t require you to spend money.

        Start with your city’s website. Many cities have festivals, parades, etc, throughout the year and cost nothing to attend.

        Get a new hobby (like running or hiking) which don’t require you to pay to participate.

        Start spending time with your family and friends with game nights, or host potlucks.

        Did you know you can check out books on tape as well as movies from your local library? They don’t just have tons of great books– also a super awesome money saving tip that most people forget about or overlook.

        A little creativity will carry you far.

        Related Frugal Living Articles:

        Bringing It All Together

        If you are looking for ways to save more money, break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, or to simply stop having to rely on your credit card to cover monthly expenses, give a few of these great depression savings tips a try.

        It may seem like saving a little bit here and there doesn’t make a huge impact, but if you are able to just find $100 in savings every month, that’s $1,200 a year!

        Please comment below with your own frugal living tips, I’d love to hear them!

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          Kristen is the founder and content creator at Mom Managing Chaos where she teaches busy moms how to simplify and organize their life and finances. She writes about frugal living, budgeting, productivity and organization.

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