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Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression

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The economic downfall of the Great Depression affected many families.  They had to learn how to live on less and still provide for their families.  These tips from the Great Depression for frugal living can help many families in today’s day and age save more money and be less wasteful.

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Frugal living tips from the Great Depression

UPDATE: Many of these tips may be useful for the next few months during the Coronavirus outbreak.  If you are now finding yourself in a tough financial situation, then utilizing these tips may help you get by these hard months.  We hope you stay healthy and safe.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald highlights the era of the “roaring twenties” in his popular novel, “The Great Gatsby.”  Those who read the book or saw Jay Gatsby brought to life on screen by Leonardo DiCaprio (2013 movie) or Robert Redford (1974 movie), could see that it was a time of great prosperity.

The hardships of World War 1 had finally ended and the economic growth of America was on the rise.  The roaring twenties is one of those decades that we can’t help but idealize as we look back on America’s history.

Then at the tail end of the 1920’s, the US experienced the stock market crash that led to the beginning of a new era, “The Great Depression.”  This turn of events and economic downfall wasn’t isolated to just the US, though.  Countries all around the world also experienced these hardships.

The Great Depression affected all families – the once wealthy, middle class, and poor.  The lifestyles they had become accustomed to from the 20’s were now a memory of the past.  They had to adapt to a new way of living, based on the motto:

“Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

'Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.'Click To Tweet

These frugal living tips from the Great Depression era helped them survive during the most hard economic times.

Now nearly a century later, those ways of living are almost obsolete as technology and other advancements have allowed the modern day family to live a life of convenience.  But as many families still struggle with debt, it could be beneficial to look back on those times and start to practice some of the same habits they did.

I spent a lot of time with my great-grandparents growing up and learned many of these money-saving habits from watching them.  Every time I was visiting my great-grandmother, she was always knitting, sewing, or crocheting something. They did most of these frugal living tips on a regular basis even though those hard economic times from the Great Depression had passed.

Here are some of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression:


Live within your means; Always pay cash.

Live within your means; always pay cash. Click To Tweet

Everyone always used cash to pay.  They didn’t purchase things on credit cards.  If you didn’t have the money to pay for something immediately, then you either wouldn’t purchase it, or you would save up for that item.

Today, we live in a world where everyone wants everything RIGHT NOW.  With resources such as Amazon Prime and Door Dash at our fingertips, we can immediately buy something online and see it within hours or a few days of making that purchase.

With the ease of credit cards, you can buy big ticket items such as a new TV or car, and pay it off slowly with interest.

But increasing your monthly bills and paying extra on interest is not saving you any money or helping your financial situation.  It is only making it worse.

We need to learn to only buy what we can afford, at the moment.  If you can’t pay cash at the time of purchase, then you should not buy that product.  Because you can’t afford it.  Save a little bit of money each month to pay the cost of the item in FULL.


Grow your own food (garden, etc.)

Those who lived in this time period didn’t have a lot of money, so they could only buy few items when shopping for food.  Because of this, many grew their own food.

Start your own garden in your backyard to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs.  Not only will you be saving money, but you will also be eating healthier.  Many fruits and vegetables that you purchase from the store have been sprayed with toxic pesticides.  Unless you are eating organic, or following the clean 15 guidelines from EWG, then growing your own food is the best way to know you are staying safe.

Meatless meals

To stretch their food budget to make it last, they made many meatless meals.  Many food bloggers share vegan and vegetarian recipes that could help you save money.

By making meals with staples such as beans, Tofu, Tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, soup, or eggs, you can make your dollar last.  Making soup or chili is also a great way to make one big meal that can feed your family for days.

We try to have two meatless meals a week, usually some form of pasta on Monday, and then we will have breakfast for dinner one night, such as eggs and toast, waffles, pancakes, or French toast.

The cost of meat will eat away at your budget quickly, which is why this tip from our grandparents has a real effect on saving money.

Our grandparents were very creative and used what they had on hand to create meals.  Here are some example meals that they made:

34 Recipes That Got Us Through the Great Depression

And here are some more examples of great frugal recipes:

200 Meatless Meals for Families on a Budget


During the Great Depression, many families would save money by doing everything on their own.  If they had a broken appliance, they wouldn’t replace it or hire a repairman.  They would fix the appliance on their own.

Today, we are lucky because we have YouTube.  YouTube has thousands of videos that feature every sort of skill set you could need.  They will teach you how to cut your own hair, change your car’s oil, or even fix a plumbing leak.

By purchasing the supplies to do a repair on your own, you will save yourself the enormous cost of labor, and feel a great sense of accomplishment for doing it, as well.

Repair and re-use

One of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression is to repair and re-use items instead of buying a replacement.

If something broke, they would fix it.  If a shirt lost a button or tore, they would sew it, instead of throwing it out and buying something new.

Today, many Americans are very wasteful.  They will buy clothing constantly, and rarely wear the same thing again.  They will buy brand new items if their belongings are a little bit used or if they need repairing.

Buy second hand items instead of new

Buying brand new items was almost rare during the Great Depression.  Most families couldn’t afford to buy brand new products.

Instead they would purchase used products, or do without it.

Today, we have many stores that sell second-hand items.  With available stores such as Plato’s Closet, Once Upon a Child, Goodwill, etc. many families can receive money for selling their gently used clothing or toys.  They can also purchase second-hand items for well below the dollar value.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I purchased all of my maternity clothing second-hand through eBay.  Everything I purchased looked nearly new, and I spent 1/3 less than I would have spent to buy it brand new.

Buying children’s clothing second-hand will help curb your expenses quite a bit.  Children grow through their clothing constantly, and the cost of keeping up can get out of hand.  This is one of the reasons why shopping second-hand will save you enormously.


Make it yourself

Another tip from the Great Depression is to forego buying clothing at all and make it yourself!  Many women would knit or crochet.  They would make clothing, blankets, quilts, scarves, and more.

By learning how to create their own clothing, they were able to save tons, as well as make personalized outfits for their children and families.

YouTube can help you learn this valuable skill with many videos that feature how to get started.

Re-wear clothing instead of washing right away

This may seem unhygienic to many, but by re-wearing their clothing they were able to save more money.  Instead of washing their shirt or pants after one use, they would wear them a few times.

If you work indoors, and stay relatively clean, this could be something you start to do in order to save more money.

Cook from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged items

It goes without saying that purchasing already made meals or pre-packaged items costs more than cooking from scratch.  You are paying extra for the convenience of less work.

During the Great Depression, most families couldn’t afford many groceries so they would buy staples that could be used to cook from scratch.  By purchasing a few key ingredients such as flour, sugar, vanilla, yeast, etc. you can make your own bread, tortillas, crackers and more.

Besides saving money, you will also be eating healthier and can cook to your own preferences.  Make your food more or less spicy.  If you are sensitive to an ingredient, you can leave it out.

There are many great food blogs that show you step-by-step how to cook from scratch.  You will be amazed at how easy it can be and that it isn’t as time-consuming as you once may have thought.

Share with others

Another way our great-grandparents saved money was by sharing items with others. Passing down used clothing to a friend or family member’s children was common.  Borrowing a friend’s book  after they read it was the normal.  Using a friend’s sewing machine, or borrowing their bike would not only help families financially but also brought neighborhoods together as a community.

Nowadays, we can still save money by sharing with others.  When my kids have grown out of their clothing, I pass it on to my siblings’ children to use.

We also have the library where we can borrow books instead of buying them brand new.  With the wave of audiobooks now, we can also use our library card for apps such as Overdrive. Overdrive allows you to download the audiobook or ebook of any book in your local library, for free.  It is a great resource to encourage a love of reading and also save big bucks.

I hope this list helps you save money every month by following the guidelines of these frugal living tips from the Great Depression.  Do you have any other tips that you have learned from your great-grandparents?  Share them below!

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