Frugal Living Lessons from the Great Depression

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.


August 23, 2010 Flag
19 found this helpful

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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Anonymous Flag
August 27, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you so much for sharing a life so special that, sadly, barely exists at all anymore!

I was very Blessed because even growing up as a city girl in the 50's and 60's I could spend a few days each year with both sets of grandparents who did canning and stored it and fresh foods in the cellar. Being able to feed the chickens and watch their eggs hatch and, eww to people these days but, being able to watch one grama ring a chickens neck and place it in boiling water to remove the feathers and bake for dinner. Among other old fashioned contraptions one grama had a washing board and wringer washer to do the laundry and hung clothes on the line to dry and the other had a wood burning cooking stove until she passed away in the late 1970's!

Even in the city neighbors helped each other with yard work and took turns taking the weekly trash to the old fashioned landfills and everyone watched out for each others children and felt safe to scold them when needed! TV was only watched after dinner or cartoons on Saturday morning as a treat before the expected weekly chores that were expected to be done and we children didn't sit around 24/7 on telephones or computers on our free time but rather spent as one on one, face to face time with family, friends and neighbors and playing outdoors.

My heart wrenches for the young ones of today who are not even aware of the most simple pleasures and everything that seems important now is technology and gadgets and, truly, most younger folk don't even know how to socialize because everything has become robotic. :-(

Thank you again for sharing your lovely memories!

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August 31, 20100 found this helpful

There's nothing I want more than to get back to a simpler way of life. Being 24, I'm in the midst of the generation of consumerism, and I can't stand it. All I can do is strive to change my own ways and encourage others.

Thank you for sharing your story.

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August 31, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you! I like the term for what you learned: The Great Impression. Somehow we think that love cannot be expressed without material goods, and being indulged. Your article showed that is not true. I have some lovely picture in my head of your life, especially of your firelit hymn sings.


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September 14, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you all for the kind words and encouragement. I sure hope some of what I said will sink into some of our youth so they can have at least a glimpse of the wonder of growing up in a safe, simple, hard-working world!

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Anonymous Flag
April 19, 20160 found this helpful

November 5, 2010 Flag
23 found this helpful

A cornfield in IowaMy 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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April 18, 20150 found this helpful

What a blessed woman you are. The best part is that you will pass on those blessings to your grandchildren. I hope I am lucky enough for my grandchildren to feel so loving toward me. Bless you.

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April 18, 20150 found this helpful

Your story sounds so much like my grandma and my mother. They both always made a big garden and canned everything they could. Mother even canned fish and chestnuts. Dad would help her after he retired. Mother is still alive and will be 99 if she lives until the 2nd day of June. My grandmother and mother also taught me about God and how good He is. I enjoyed your story very much.

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April 19, 20150 found this helpful

What a beautiful story. You were indeed blessed. Such a peaceful life that you had. I remember my grandma too and the cherry tree that she had on the side of her house where I would 'swing' on a low laying branch. The birds and sunshine were truly such a blessing to me.

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April 19, 20160 found this helpful

Written wonderfully Robin from Washington, IA... I too had two wonderful grandmothers that I learned many, many things from... I was blessed by having them in my life as you were yours also... Thank you for sharing this with us!

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Anonymous Flag
May 10, 20160 found this helpful

December 10, 2008 Flag
9 found this helpful

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.

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August 21, 2012 Flag
5 found this helpful

My husband is a professional appraiser and furniture restorer. I am often in his workshop while he is working to repair a piece of what was once lovely furniture.

An antique chair being restored.

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May 1, 2006 Flag
2 found this helpful

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.

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April 28, 2006 Flag

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.

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April 24, 2006 Flag
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I 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".

My Frugal Life Logo

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December 27, 2010 Flag
0 found this helpful

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

By Zoe from Staunton, VA

December 29, 20100 found this helpful

Senior citizens in their eighties lived through the depression. Many of them still have sharp minds and good memories. Call your local nursing homes and ask for the activity directors and tell them you are interested in this era. Take a tape recorder and interview the ones who are willing to tell their stories.

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December 29, 20100 found this helpful

My Mother made it through the depression very well, compared to a lot of people, with 3 small children and a husband that had been crippled by polio at the beginning of the depression, They lived on a farm and survived almost exclusively on the barter system. Cook a couple of old hens that had quit laying, make big thick chicken salad sandwiches, load up the model A with produce from the garden and home canned food and head to town.

People in towns were literally hungry so they traded her food for anything she could use. A bushel of of peas might get you a kerosene lamp, or another bushel a gallon of kerosene. Dozens of eggs to the local grocery store got you 25 lb of flour. A jar of thick rich home canned chicken/veggie soup mix would get you a dozen canning jars or a few sandwiches could get you a pair of pillow cases. Gallons of fresh milk would get you enough gas to go in the car. when butchering, even things like big meaty "soup bones" and a few vegetables were traded to people desperate for fresh food and meat. They got food for their families and mother got things that she could not produce herself. Cooking pots, buckets, printed flour sacks to be used for making clothes and quilts were all acquired without any money changing hands.

Unlike now things were used and patched and reused. If your boiler or dishpan sprung a leak there were washers designed to be screwed over the hole to patch it. If you had a crop to get in there were always men desperate for food and willing to spend the day working for a ham or big cut of beef and some vegetables to feed their families. They canned and preserved every scrap they could possibly lay their hands on. Bruised tomatoes had the bad spots cut out and made into stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce Corn fed the animals, was ground into corn meal for the family and made into huge pots of hominey to can for the family. Sour milk became butter and cheese. Chicken feathers became mattress' and pillows. Wild blackberries and plums became the winters juice and cobblers.

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December 29, 20100 found this helpful

As a child during the great depression, I don't remember much. I do have a habit of buying things when they are on clearance, still cooking with economy cuts of meat when I can actually afford more. When I was working some of the women complained about mothers-in-law who would put every bit of leftovers in the refrigerator. Their mothers are my age. I explained that some things were used to the last drop and that's what their relatives were doing. I continue to be frugal, even when it isn't necessary. So I have lasting patterns of behavior even though I don't have actual memories.

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January 2, 20110 found this helpful

If shoes were wearing out, they would do their best to repair them, cardboard insoles, for example.

Patches on clothes, hand-me downs, gunny sacks made into clothing. Salt sandwiches (yup, just salt on bread). Sugar and milk on bread. Lots of bread, oatmeal or pasta used as fillers in hot dishes and hamburgers or soups. Meatless meals. My Dad's family often had shortbread with strawberries and milk on top as a meal.

People walked a lot more then, too, than us grand-kids do.

They took in renters, too, to rent a room from them (just as I am now doing with my basement. Hey, it's well worth the $500 a month to lose my basement and have to be a little quieter). They also went fishing a lot and dug up their own bait. My dear Mom had to wear her three older sisters' hand-me-downs. One day in school, she stood up and nearly died of embarrassment when her old hand-me-down panties fell down as the elastic waist had lost it's elasticity!

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