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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: 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.