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Frugal Living Lessons from the Great Depression

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Depression Era Bank

There are many useful lessons that can be learned from how people lived during the Great Depression. This is a guide about frugal living lessons from the Great Depression.


Solutions: Frugal Living Lessons from the Great Depression

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Tip: My Frugal Life: Great Impression

I grew up in a family who knew The Great Depression. They made a Great Impression on how I lived, as well. My Frugal LifeMy Grandpa raised his own hogs, and showed me how to make a ball out of a hog bladder early on. (You just tie up one open end, blow it up, then tie off the other end.) He and my Grandma both showed me how to garden, save the seeds for next year, and use leaves plowed under to fertilize the soil so no fertilizer ever had to be purchased for their farm. My grandma made most if not all my clothes, some from empty flour sacks and feed sacks.

Grandma also taught me to make my own toys and to play with nature's gifts. I used scraps of cloth to make doll clothes for paper dolls I had cut out of magazines and pasted onto pasteboard which came out of newly bought dress shirts, etc. I used scraps of soap to make my own bubble solution, and used her empty spools from thread to blow the bubbles. They work much better than today's bubble stuff, too.

Grandpa was thrifty with power and heat, as well. He sat by the fireplace in the evenings of winter, lights out, singing hymns with us. We loved it, and cherish those memories to this day. When it came time for bed, the fire died down, and out came the horse-hair blankets for our bed. We were plenty warm without any heat in the house, and Grandpa would be up and heating the house back up before we got up. We used a nice, fresh snow to make snow ice cream, rather than buy it, and would put extra in the freezer to make ice cream on July 4th every year.

Life was simple then - no cellphones to answer, no TV to mess with our minds as it does many today (I do not watch TV even now, though my hubby does). We made friends with farm animals, and had cats to catch mice, dogs to guard our house, a horse to ride, a mule to plow, and goats to milk and keep the grass cut nicely. Chickens laid our eggs, or became Sunday dinner. We even grew our own peanuts. The only way my grandma could keep me out of the peanut barrel (she thought!) was to tell me they would give me a belly ache if I ate green peanuts. I ate plenty and never got a belly ache! haha. A simple, frugal life can be very good, when one does not mind working at it a bit.

By Jacketbacker from Greer, SC

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Article: Lessons Learned From My Grandmother

My Grandma Smith (Opal was her first name) was the perfect example of what a Grandma should be. I feel very blessed to have had her for my grandma. I was the youngest of her many grandchildren and, until I was an adult, she always told me I was her baby. I can still hear her say that and see the smile on her face as I sit here and type this.

Grandma never had a lot of money. She lost her husband the year before I was born. She lived on the family farm with one of her sons that never married. She was one of the hardest working people I have ever known.

Grandma, in her younger years, was a school teacher. She had a love for children that I have seen in few other people. In her later years, she worked around the farm and, lucky for me, I got to spend a lot of time on the farm with her often helping with chores.

Grandma always had a big garden, and this is Iowa, so there was always good old Iowa sweet corn grown. She grew everything under the sun and she would can and freeze produce to get my uncle and herself through the winter. There were lots of fruit trees, apples and pears, in the back yard at Grandma's house. I remember the big chest freezer she had full of produce as well as the shelves of canned goods that lined her back porch. I remember when she had chickens and turkeys and the days of going to help butcher them. I can also remember gathering eggs from the hen house. Grandma also had a milk cow that provided not only milk, but butter and other milk products.

Grandma had a large family, 6 children and many grandchildren. I remember going for meals at Grandma's house. She made everything from scratch and it was the best food I have ever eaten. Between her and my mom, I have been blessed with many recipes and lots of experience with food and cooking.

Grandma also did her laundry on an old wringer-style washing machine for many years. It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that she actually got a regular machine. She used to hang her clothes out on the line in good weather to dry. She hung lines in the house or on the porch to get the clothing dry when it was cold out or raining. The heat from the big gas stove that she had would dry the things quickly!

The only heat the farmhouse had was from two old gas stoves, one in the kitchen and the other in the living room. Grandma was always very careful about gas usage as they could not afford to fill the big tank out in the back yard very often.

The best days of my whole life were spent on my grandma's farm, riding my horse and helping with chores, but the best part was Grandma. She would let me spend whole weekends with her and we never had to do anything big and exciting. It was always so nice just to be with her.

Grandma lived to be 98 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep. So thankful for all the things she taught me about frugality as well as so many other things way too numerous to count! So glad she was my Grandma!

By Robin from Washington, IA

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Tip: Relearning a Frugal Upbringing

Frugal this, frugal that. I have always read the frugal news articles and magazine tips about living frugal with not just a little disdain. I was raised by a grandmother, aunt and uncle who survived the great depression, where frugal was the way to survive without starving. That childhood ingrained in me the "frugal" mind set. Even though the depression was long over, my family still embraced a frugal lifestyle.

As years passed and I left their home to attend college and make my own way, these traits stayed with me, even though I developed some bad habits along the way. Skip down the road 20 years, I am married with a child of my own. Living the typical American family life, taking for granted everything I had and everything I wasted mindlessly. My husband had a tragic accident earlier this year and lost three fingers on his right hand. It happened on Valentines Day. We had been living paycheck to paycheck, mostly because of wasteful attitudes. All of a sudden, we were financially strapped, facing a severe cut in income.

Becoming conscious of what we had and how to stretch it out, kicked in my frugal upbringing. I now search the papers, TV, and magazines for ways to cut back. Stumbling upon this website was a godsend. It has only been a few days, but I have hope again. Scripture says something about training a child in right ways and they will never forget. Well, I guess I am living proof. I am very thankful for my frugal upbringing, and all you frugal contributors for helping me maintain a family.

Michelle from Labelle, PA

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Article: Take Better Care of Your Possessions

An antique chair being restored.My husband is a professional appraiser and furniture restorer. I am a professional antiques dealer and a "nosey parker", LOL. So I am often in his workshop being "nosey" while he is working to repair a piece of what was once lovely furniture. It struck me one day that we have become a very careless society. Often the pieces that come in for repair suffer from just plain careless handling and neglect. How many hundreds of dollars could be saved if folks took better care of their possessions .

I recall how my grandmother and HER mother always took care to gently fold their precious hand knit sweaters into the pages of scented tissue that were always kept in their drawers " so the moths won't have a hearty lunch". And I remember how the dining table was ALWAYS wiped down after every meal with a lightly oiled cloth kept in a tin in the sideboard. Doors were never slammed and chairs were never dragged across the floor. The good china was stacked with little doilies between the plates to prevent chipping and the silver lived in its own drawer lined with green felt.

Now, I am a realist and I know we live much differently than my grandmothers did, but I still believe if we gave a thought now and then as to how hard we worked to earn the money to buy our things AND how expensive they are to repair and replace, we could all save a huge amount of money. One thing is for sure, I am more than grateful to my grandmothers for caring for their lovely things the way they did. Now I have the pleasure of enjoying them and I hope I can be as good a steward of them so that they may be passed to my own daughter when she sets up house.

By PlumCottage from on the Beach in New Jersey

Tip: Here's To Thrifty Living!

My mother, raised in the Depression, passed down a lot of thrifty wisdom to me. It was a matter of principle not to waste and to get as much value as possible. Besides, that meant that you could spend money elsewhere, like on theater tickets and records! We looked for sales and I heard my mother say "I could make it for less than that myself!" and I learned sewing and other skills.

After leaving home my budget got tight and I discovered the world of vintage in thrift shops. Often you are paying for someone else's taste, so I have developed my own. Unfortunately not everyone appreciated this, so I also learned to keep it to myself. But now vintage is chic - so go figure.

For years I have lived by my wits. Knowledge can be power when living thriftily, and that's the best tip I can pass on to you. Keep learning! Just reading the daily newspaper has told me many ways to save money. It's more of a philosophy than just knowing what outlets to use. Keeping aware of what's around, you will find the best deals. Even in Germany while visiting my sister I found bargains she didn't know about!

This lifestyle's bonus is a degree of freedom from the stranglehold of consumerism. I have all I need to lead a full and happy life without selling my soul to the company store, and in that, I am a happy American freak! Here's to thrifty living!

Pamphyila from L.A., CA

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Tip: Food, Prom and Gifts

My Mother was raised during the depression so being Frugal is a way of life for me. Mother would never go anywhere unless it was to work, she did all her shopping on the way. If a store was more than a block or two off her route she didn't shop there.

Our gifts were either from Gold Stamps or she rebuilt, repainted, and remade finds. To this day, I can't remember ever having a birthday party, they were a waste of money. Now that I have raised my family, I thank her. My husband and I have raised 9 children, 5 lived with us full time, without my having to work outside the home.

Here are some frugal things I do...

For gifts I rebuild, repaint, and remake finds. This includes children's birthday parties. I just can't make myself give them up. My youngest daughter has been planning for prom all her high school life. She has 3 dresses to chose from without costing me anything. The dress she is going to wear she got from our church. Our church had a barn full of clothes for any member that has a need and she fell in love with a dress they had. She has volunteered her time in exchange for the dress. I actually have 2 two children going to prom this year and have spent less than $100.

For My Son

I got his clothes at a thrift store:

  • Tuxedo... $20
  • Shirt... $4
  • Shoes... $7
  • His (Senior) ticket... free
  • Date's ticket... $35
  • Date's corsage... $12.50

For My Daughter

  • Dress... Free
  • Shoes... Free
  • Senior (Senior)
  • Her Ticket... Free
  • Corsage 12.50

That's a total of $91.00 and both kids look great.

When they were younger I could feed us all on $50 a week. A 5 pound roll of hamburger made 4 meals. We would eat 2 pound roast for Sunday night. A 10 pound bag of chicken leg quarters for the remaining meals. For just $16 we had meat for every evening. I would also buy 10 pounds of potatoes, some noodles, and 14 cans of vegetables. Any extra money went for soaps. shampoo, and snacks. They ate lunch at school and I ate leftovers for lunch.

Randa from Martindale, TX

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Tip: My Frugal Life - Depression Era Thread Tip

My Frugal Life LogoI wanted to tell you about how my mother was taught to be frugal. After graduating from high school during the Depression, she learned "make do, or do without".

When she'd purchase a new garment, if it had a loose thread, she'd thread a needle and save it on a bit of cloth. That way, if the item needed repair later, she had matching thread.

As a child, I always wondered why she did this. Her explanation was that she couldn't help herself, something inside was making her do this even though we were not poor by any means.

Her mother would give her the job of finding loose threads in clothing for the family. If none were available when needed. she learned to cut a strip off the hem, re-hem and use the thread from the strip for the repair.

Seems like a good idea, but very painstaking.

My version of this is to sew on extra buttons onto the side hem in an inconspicuous place so that if I ever need them, they are readily available. And after multiple washings, they are the same color as the rest of the buttons.

Holly from Richardson, TX

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Here are questions related to Frugal Living Lessons from the Great Depression.

Question: Living During the Great Depression

How did they do things (living) during the depression? This time in history is very interesting to me.

By Zoe from Staunton, VA


Most Recent Answer

By Tanya Johnson [4]06/13/2012

My paternal grandparents and maternal grandparents both lived thru the Great Depression. One was a farmer where they lived off the farm. Sewing, crocheting, knitting, and hand-me downs were the norm for my six aunts and uncles. My dad was the seven in the bunch, but not the youngest.

My maternal grandparents lived in the woods at the beginning of their marriage in a one room hand-built cabin with no electricity or plumbing. The whole family pitched in sewing all they needed to survive, gardening, hunting, fishing, and trapping. They were poor, but happy. They all lived frugally with home cooked meals from scratch. Their fun combined was story nights instead of game nights. Potatoes, chicken, and mush was mainstay food. Eggs were sold to make money to live off of with fur pelts for selling too.

I learned my frugal ways from them, and my mom when we were as poor as my maternal grandparents when I was a baby from a 16 year old mom, whom my maternal grandparents forced marriage, and my dad did marry my mom, but no one helped us, just like my great grandparents never helped my grandfather and grandmother. My great great grandparents helped us like my grandmother great grandparents helped them.

Thank goodness my mom and dad and I had help otherwise I would be lost in our current Great Depression on what and how to live. My family is generational frugal, and so am I with my family. The tradition lives on as we pass our knowledge down to our children and hopefully they will continue it.