25 Practical Frugal Living Tips From The Great Depression

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Our grandparents had some serious money saving skills. They learned how to live frugal because they had to and there’s a lot we could learn from them about super frugal ways to cut back, spend less and save more.

To say the Great Depression era was hard is an understatement. Jobs were lost, businesses closed, even banks went bankrupt, meaning people lost their savings, their homes and struggled to eat.

We may not all be struggling in the same way, but there are many reasons we might be finding it difficult to stretch money as far as we need; living frugally can be essential, a necessity to get by, or a means to pay off debt faster or start saving up more money.

Here are some of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression to help cut down on spending and live life on a budget

Don’t think that because these tips are from the 1930s they are no longer relevant – some are equally as applicable today, and others can be tweaked to fit our own situations.

The main thing to take away from the frugality of the Great Depression era is that every penny counted. Spending was intentional, and each penny had to count, from larger purchases down to the smaller everyday items.

Read more: How to stop being broke: 25 tips >>

25 Frugal Living Tips From The Great Depression

One of the biggest regular expenses we all have is food. We have to eat, so it’s not something we can simply cut from the monthly budget! However, there are lots of ways to cut back on grocery spending and people who lived through the Great Depression became adapt at finding creative ways to trim down those costs.

1. Grow your own food

If you don’t have much space you can even start off with growing herbs on your windowsill. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden you can grow your own fresh produce at home by creating your very own vegetable garden. Organic food in stores comes at a high price, but home-grown organic food is a great frugal way to save money.

Read more: 11 easy ways to reduce food waste >>

2. Bulk buy/Batch cook

Cooking in larger bulks is a great way to cut costs. Buying in bulk often works out cheaper, and batch cooking means you don’t use the energy for the oven or hob as often. Plus if you already have meals ready you can save time when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have the time.

Read more: How to start meal planning to save money >>

3. Forage

Feed yourself for free with the plants that you find growing around your neighborhood (not in your neighbors yard though!). Before you eat the plant, make sure that you have correctly identified it first.

4. Preserve 

Freeze today’s harvest so that it isn’t wasted and make preserves and jams out of it. You can make the most out of the fruits and vegetables when they’re out of season.

Read more: 15 frugal food hacks >>

5. Cook from scratch 

Not only is cooking from scratch cheaper than eating packages or processed food, it’s also healthier.

6. Hand Mix

Save on electricity by using manpower to chop or grate the ingredients you’ll be using to cook.

7. Compost

The ultimate way to recycle and save money in the spirit of waste not, compost your scraps to add to your vegetable garden. 

8. DIY

Nowadays, we’ve lost the skills that we used to have back in the day. So the best way to gain back those lost skills is to do it the frugal way- DIYing. Learn to paint, to lay pavers or tiles, to hang doors or pictures, and so on.

The more we can do ourselves, the less we spend on having to pay people to do it for us.

9. Buy less

Stop the cycle of spending by spending less. At the end of the day, spending begets spending- so the more you buy, the more you think you need, but actually don’t.

Read more: 17 things to quit buying to save money >>

10. Buy second hand

You won’t only be saving money, but you’ll be keeping things out of the landfill and reducing consumption. There are so many places to look for secondhand items, it’s not just thrift stores. You can try Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Craigslist, and buy sell apps such as Depop.

Read more: 5 great reasons to shop secondhand >>

11. Reuse scrap paper, wrapping paper, and cards

The focus here again is to waste nothing. So, use scrap paper for writing your shopping list and reuse wrapping paper and cards for other gifts.

12. Have a designated wash day

Having a designated wash day will reduce your number of washes, even if it seems a bit out-dated. Instead of washing your clothes, towels, and linens on a daily- opt to wash them on your designated wash day instead.

13. Hang your clothes to dry

Instead of making use of a dryer, opt to hang your clothes outside instead and save electricity.

14. Repurpose and reuse

In the time of the Great Depression, nothing was thrown away- so everything had a second, and sometimes even third life. For instance, empty bread bags being used as garbage bags or freezer bags. Old clothes being DIYed into new clothes, or cut into rags to use around the house to clean. Boxes, jars, and containers can be repurposed for storage.

15. Use rags to curl your hair

Save on electricity and protect your hair by using rags to curl your hair, instead of using a curling iron.

16. Frugal entertainment

Instead of spending money and time on entertainment like theme parks, the movies, shops, and cafés- opt to experience frugal entertainment. Frugal entertainment includes playing board games, hanging out with friends, going on a hike, having a picnic, spending a day at the beach, telling stories, and reading.

18. Useful hobbies

Finding yourself hobbies won’t only keep you entertained, they’ll also save you money and make you happier- living frugal at it’s finest! Some useful ways to entertain yourself include sewing, tinkering, gardening, woodwork, handicraft, DIY, and so on.

19. Dress warmly

Before deciding to put on the heating, make sure that you’ve dressed warmly with enough layers of clothing during winter time.

20. Use a hot water bottle

Warm your bed in winter by using a hot water bottle instead of turning on the heating or using electric blankets. Extra blankets and layers help too!

21. Use your local library

The local library has more than just books, you can listen to music, use the computer, watch DVDs, borrow board games and puzzles.

22. Reusable female hygiene products

In this new day and age, you don’t have to use rags each month- but consider replacing pads and tampons with a Mooncup instead. It’s not only healthier, better, and more convenient… it’s also a cheaper alternative which will save you money.

23. Use every last drop

Whatever you’re using, whether it’s shampoo, soap, condiments, or toothpaste… use every last drop. Add water to your shampoo and soap bottles when they’re close to finishing, turn your condiments upside down, and cut your toothpaste tube to finish all the toothpaste- truly live frugal by not wasting a thing. You can also use these tube squeezers to make sure you get every bit out!

24. If you can make it yourself, don’t buy it!

A good example of this point is yoghurt. You can make it easily at home, and at a fraction of the price you would buy it at in-store.

25. Wear your clothes more than once when appropriate 

If you’ve been lounging at home all day, you most definitely can wear the same outfit again before washing it. Also, use jackets a few times before washing them. This helps reduce the number of washes you have to do, thus saving on water and electricity.

Saving on water and electricity, being savvy with your money, and reducing waste will never get old. These frugal tips from the Great Depression era will never go out of date and can still be used today. Being smart when it comes to your money will allow you to have more choices in your life.

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25 Frugal tips from the great depression

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