Frugal Living Lessons from the Great Depression

Diamond Post Medal for All Time! 5,887 Posts
November 5, 2010

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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August 23, 2010

I grew up in a family who knew The Great Depression. They made a Great Impression on how I lived, as well.


My Grandpa raised his own hogs, and showed me how to make a ball out of a hog bladder early on.

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December 10, 2008

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

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

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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Silver Post Medal for All Time! 364 Posts
April 24, 2006

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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Gold Post Medal for All Time! 519 Posts
April 28, 2006

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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December 27, 2010

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

By Zoe from Staunton, VA


December 28, 20100 found this helpful : go to American Experience section of website, they have lots of episodes about life during the depression; I would also suggest you go to your local library and check out some period cookbooks and household management books. The reference librarian should be able to point you in a good direction.

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December 29, 20101 found this helpful

City folks had it very hard during the depression,soup kitchens and bread lines were the norm.
Poor rural general did not even realize there was a depression,life was a daily struggle,but at least they usually had a garden and some chickens or maybe a hog.One thing you may find interesting was the use of 'woodgas' to power cars trucks and tractors. this happened more in Europe than here and became very widespread during WWII. the 'gasifier' was mounted on the vehicle, filled with wood, and the engine ran off the gasses that were in the 'smoke' this consisted of H and CO so they were the first hydrogen powered vehicles.


this technology is being revisited now all over the world to run engines to produce electricity from generators. I am in the process of building one to use biomass as fuel to produce electricity and heat for home and greenhouse. While this may not be the 'great depression', if you have been out of work long enough you have to do many of the same things they did to survive.

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December 29, 20101 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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June 13, 20120 found this helpful

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.

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December 29, 20171 found this helpful

Flour sacks were very popular during the great depression and well into the 40's for making dresses with. The flour sacks had patterns on them. When companies realized how the flour sacks we used they designed the sacks so that they had prettier patterns and had precut patterns to make stuffed toys from. They had patterns and other toy patterns u could cut sew and stuff.

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April 26, 20190 found this helpful

This is so good. I doubt if companies would do that now!
Marg from England.

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