30 Best Frugal Living Tips From The Great Depression To Use Today

Are there any frugal living tips from the great depression that you can still use today?

The depression era was a long time ago so perhaps you are thinking those tips are now outdated and of little use.

I get why you would think so, so much has changed since then hasn’t it? Or has it?

During the great depression people had to be clever and resourceful in order to stretch every cent as far as it could go.

They came up with so many creative money-saving ideas and you’ll be pleased to know you can still use them today.

If you are living on a limited income and need to make every cent count, you too need to be clever and resourceful to stretch your money further.

These frugal living tips from the great depression era will really help you stretch your money and give you a solid base to save more money.

large milk churns on an old cart to signify frugal living tips from the great depression
Traditional milk churns from an old fashioned frugal living time

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frugal lessons from the great depression era

1930s frugality may seem a lifetime away, and it is, but there are still lessons we can learn and use to save money in the 21st century.

The mindset that came with many of these great depression survival tips was one of “how can I make ends meet?” It was a terrible time and many people suffered.

But through their adversity they still went about doing what we all want to do; to feed our families, pay our bills and (hopefully) have something put aside ‘just in case’.

Making your money work for you, however much you have or don’t have, is often more about your mindset than your bank balance.

“If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right”

Henry Ford

When you are struggling to make ends meet, it’s even more important to have a positive frugal mindset, one of can do, not can’t do.

If are struggling with continually trying to be frugal, I get it! It can be hard to consistently watch your pennies when others don’t seem to be. It’s called frugal fatigue, it’s very real and totally something you can overcome.

These are my favorite books on frugal living with countless tips, they’ll help you love being frugal and stay on track.

Best books to help you live frugally and save money

These books will help you learn more about frugal living and saving money. Packed with actionable advice and creative ways to save money.

FAQs for money saving and being frugal

How do you live a simple frugal life?

To live a simple frugal life is about getting back to basics. Enjoy what you already have, don’t look at what you haven’t got. Take enjoyment from simple pleasures like baking your own bread, the flowers in your garden.

How do you live like it’s the Great Depression?

Firstly, get stuck into the depression era tactics in this post. Start your thought processes with how can I do this without spending money. You might not want to live exactly like 1930s frugality because those were very dark times. And aim to do as much as you can yourself.

How do you become ultra frugal? 

The first step is to live below your means by spending less than you earn. Then ramp up your frugalness by following these steps. To become ultra frugal you need to think about never spending money just because you can.

How can I save money when I am already frugal?

If you’re already frugal then you can save money by turning up the frugal dial a notch. Review everything you think you are saving money on. Could you save a bit more? Could you buy it from a different store?

Did people save money during the Great Depression?

I’m not sure whether the fear of the banks failing caused the Great Depression or the Great Depression was one of the main causes of the bank failings. Whatever the cause, the reality was people lost almost all the money they had saved in the banks.

Once that happened money was so scarce that to save any was a luxury most people just could not afford.

The best frugal living tips from the great depression that you can and should use today

There are many money saving tips from the great depression era that are as relevant today as they have ever been. Money saving tips that some people might take for granted because they were brought up by parents who had a good understanding of personal finance and saving money.

We don’t all get the same education in our parents house so what I might take for granted might be news to you. And vice versa of course!

1. Keep Track Of Your Spending

Do you often wonder where your money went at the end of the month? You cannot talk about old fashioned frugal living without talking about keeping a budget.

Learning how to budget is one of the best money saving tips you can follow when you are on a tight income. Your budget is about you deciding how to spend your money.

Start by keeping track of the things you spend on every month. On a sheet of paper, write down how much money you get during the month.

Then, every time you spend money, write down what you spent it on and how much you spent.

Over the course of the weeks, you will get a fairly good idea of where your money is going. Look at your list and see if you can cut down on some areas where you are spending more money than planned.

Then, the following month, stick to your plan of spending less in those areas. If you can just shave off a few dollars in each area, you can save a lot of money.

2. Never borrow money

Borrowing money requires you to pay it back, with interest. When you are struggling to survive on only what you have coming in, you are going to struggle even more if you have repayments to make.

Credit cards didn’t exist in the depression era and only a lucky few were able to take out a bank loan. Everyone else, the likes of you and I, couldn’t borrow money so you HAD to make do with the very little money you had.

woman's hands holding a red open purse putting dollar bills into it to signify the great depression era.
Pay cash every time, like Grandma did

3. Pay cash

Cash was king during the great depression. The few who had checks couldn’t use them as businesses didn’t trust them not to bounce! Paying cash for everything means you always knew how much money you had left.

That’s why the cash envelope system is one of the most popular money saving tips around today. It’s perfect for getting you reaquainted with your money. Paying cash feels more real and harder to do than a quick swipe of your credit card.

You can’t end up in debt if you never borrow money and always pay cash.

Related post: The Best Cash Envelope Wallet To Help You Love Cash Budgeting

4. Use up everything to eliminate food waste and all waste

Buying something, anything, was a big deal during the great depression era, because people had so little money. So you bet when something was bought, people made sure to use up every last drop and scrap of it.

For instance, vegetable scraps would not have been thrown away. They have some nutritional value and more importantly, can be made into a meal. In the depressoin era there was no food waste!

Make the money you spend go as far as possible by always using up what you have before buying out for another.

5. Reduce reuse recycle

This saying may have become popular with the eco friendly movement but it was what everybody did during the great depression era to try and make ends meet.

They didn’t recycle for fun, they reused things and recycled because they had to, because they had no choice. They didn’t have the money to replace or buy new. And it worked. Recycling wasn’t about separating your plastics and glass bottles.

Recycling in the depression era was about being self reliant, about making do by repurposing things as a way to get by.

Reduce how much you buy, reuse what you do buy and then recycle it into somethng else.

Related post: 20 Easy Recycled Gift Ideas Your Family Will Love

6. Make do and mend

The full saying goes like this:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

This mantra wasn’t confined to the 1930s and those difficult times, it’s an old fashioned living mantra that really has stood the test of time.

How often do you wear clothes until they are truly worn out? Having mended them a couple of times to keep going a bit longer? Exactly, me neither in all honesty, apart from my favorite jeans that really did fall to pieces!

Making do is about making do with what you already have. Don’t lust over something you haven’t got, because that’s how debt happens. Mend what you do have to make it last longer.

That way you don’t have to pay out for a replacement. It’s a frugal tip that will pay for itself very quickly.

vintage hearth and fire to show great depression survival tips
You can prep and cook food anywhere if needs be!

Great depression survival tips on reducing food costs

Food costs are often the most flexible part of your household expenses, yet they can still add up to a hefty sum.

If you do not want to spend a fortune putting food on the table, these tried and true favorite frugal living tips will have a big impact on your grocery bill. They will help you to live frugally on one income.

Some of them take a little planning but the time you spend is WORTH it, you’ll be saving money and that is what you need right now.

7. Cook More At Home

You can save a lot of money if you avoid buying any food items that are already prepared, like food from a restaurant or a prepackaged food from the market.

Instead, cook more at home. When you buy a prepared meal, you are paying for labor, packaging, advertising, and other costs.

The ingredients actually cost very little. Why not just pay for the ingredients and prepare the food yourself?

When you cook from scratch you get multiple times more food for the same amount of money you would spend on prepared meals.

  • Make your own coffee and take a hot drinks flask to work.
  • Pack your lunch.
  • Bake from scratch instead of buying mixes.

Related posts:

How Much Should I Spend on Groceries Each Month?

Budget Grocery List: The Best Cheapest Foods For Tight Budgets

8. Look for Sales and Buy in Bulk

Grocery shopping is another area where you can save money easily by planning in advance how you shop. Buying in bulk when items are discounted can stretch your budget nicely. Almost everything goes on sale at some point, and that’s the point where you bulk buy.

Meat does go on sale every now and then. When it does, buy it in bulk. Sometimes a roast can go as low as under a dollar a pound.

Buy in bulk, cut the meat into the size that you will use for each meal, wrap up the portions separately, then freeze them.

Defrost the portions the day before you plan to use them. You will have plenty of meat to feed your family for weeks to come.

Non-perishable items can also be purchased in bulk to take advantage of the sales prices. Grains, legumes, pastas and canned goods keep for long while and are good to buy in bulk.

Use Amazon Pantry to bulk buy and enjoy discounts and quick delivery when you combine it with Amazon Prime.

Collage of 2 homemade breads to show frugal living tips from the great depression era.
Homemade bread is one of the great depression era skills

9. Bake your own bread

You can buy really cheap bread from the grocery store but it doesn’t fill you up and has little nutritional value. The bread you bake at home is completely different. It isn’t full of air and nothingness. It’s hearty, it’s filling and it’s very tasty.

Home baked bread is of course standard depression era fare. Indeed bread was something that often made up the majority of your meal. When you had to live on very little money, bread was cheap and filling.

And there was never any waste as stale bread can be turned into many other things like breadcrumbs or bread and butter pudding or added to stuffing.

Check out these fabulous bread recipes for inspiration

10. Save Money On Meats

If you enjoy eating beef, you do not have to buy expensive cuts. Cheaper cuts are priced that way because they are tougher.

However, you can tenderize a tough cut of meat by pounding it with a meat mallet. Another great way is to sprinkle some ordinary baking soda on the meat, let it set for around 15 minutes, then rinse the meat well.

Pat it dry before you cook it. You will sink your teeth into a tender piece of beef without paying for premium cuts.

Another way to make the cheaper cuts of any meat more tender is to cook them slowly. Slowly cooked diced beef is delicious, as is turkey leg and chicken thighs.

Cook whole joints of beef, pork or whole chickens in a large slow cooker and you’ll be amazed at how the meat falls part.

Check out my post on how to save money on meat for loads more helpful tips.

11. Use the inedible Parts

If you have bones left over from poultry or any type of meat, do not discard them. Toss the bones into a slow cooker with some water, and set it on low overnight.

The next day, you can enjoy a savory broth that you can make into soup or for cooking. Not only is bone broth healthy, but it costs almost nothing to make.

If you cannot use all of what you made, divide it into portions and freeze them.

Even though there is only the 2 of us at home now, I still have this 6.5l slow cooker. I cook whole chickens in it and make broth and stock afterwards. The chicken falls apart so making stock becomes so very easy!

2 pictures side by side of open sacks of various beans and pasta shapes to signify frugal living tips from the great depression
Frugal living tips from the great depression – go without meal, focus on cheap foods

12. pad out Meals With Other Sources Of Protein

A healthy meal should always include a source of protein. The protein usually comes from meats, which tends to be the costlier grocery item.

However, you can reduce the amount of meat you serve and supplement it with a cheaper, but high quality, source of protein, like lentils, beans, and eggs.

Peanuts are inexpensive and they are packed with protein. You can even have one or more days as a meatless day without sacrificing nutrition.

Related posts:

20 Easy Cheap Vegan Recipes Everyone Will Devour

21 budget meatless meals to save money

13. Grow Your Own food

Find a spot in your garden to grow your own food. Vegetables are easy to grow. For the cost of a bunch of leafy greens in the supermarket, you can buy some seedlings to start your garden.

You don’t need a large garden, you can grow many veggies in pots. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, climbing beans and salad crops are all successful pot growers. Growing and then eating your own fresh produce means tasty food and eating healthier.

Herb gardens are easy to start and maintain and can be as small as a few pots on your windowsill. You will get a harvest that is many times more than what you get at the market for the same price.

Dry your herbs and you then save money by avoiding paying out for expensive seasoning.

Grab yourself one of these herb garden starter kits and prove to yourself just how easy it is to grow fresh herbs.

Foraging is another source of free food and one of depression era living skills that made the difference sometimes between having something to eat or not. Forage what you know to be edible and steer clear of mushrooms unless you are an expert.

Related post: 21 benefits of having an allotment and growing your own

14. Start A Produce Exchange With Friends and Family

When you have a bountiful harvest of veggies and fruit, sometimes you can’t use all of it while it is still fresh, especially if you grow zucchini (courgette) like we do!

If you have friends and family who are also growing produce, set up an exchange system with them. You can exchange your veggies for something that another person is growing.

This allows you to enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables with just a small investment in your own garden.

We have often given away beans in exchange for cucumbers as we don’t have much luck with cucumbers no matter where we plant them.

basket of home grown vegetables against backdrop of veg garden
growing your own was on of the best great depression survival tips

15. Learn How To can Fruits and vegetables

If you grew your favorite fruits and you have a lot of extra, consider canning them. Canning preserves the goodness and taste of the fruits.

You don’t need to worry about wasting fruit that you just harvested, and you will be able to enjoy your favorite fruit all year round.

Canning can help you save a lot of money in the colder months and you don’t need to spend much to get started. All you need is a canner and a canning kit.

This 21.5 quart water bath canner is Amazon’s top choice and very cheap.

And you’ll probably want a canning supplies set like this one.

16. Alternative preserving methods

Canning is not the only way to preserve the food you have grown. You can make jams and chutneys from both fruit and vegetables. I love making bread and butter pickles using this recipe.

And the beauty of making preserves is they become the perfect gift for family members at Christmas time. One of my favorite money saving tips is to make homemade gifts.

Not only do you save tons but at the same time you are giving an extremely useful gift that you have made yourself. From your own food that you grew!

To make your own preserves you need very little in the way of kitchen tools. A big pan and sterilized jars are the very basics.

These are the only tools I use to make my jams and chutneys which are used during the winter months and gifted at Christmas:

You can also dehydrate food as a way to store it for longer. Fruit leathers, apple rings, strawberry slices are all easy to dehydrate with the right equipement.

In our grandparents time, they would have used a very low oven temperature but you can cheat if you want to.

Using a cheap dehydrator like this one will save time, very helpful if you are out working all day. It also saves energy as using an oven for 7 or 8 hours is a bit excessive for a few dried apple rings isn’t it?

Retro kitchen units and sink to signify frugal living tips from the great depression
A vintage hearth and kitchen space

best Frugal living tips from the great depression for saving money on clothing

Clothes are another staple that everyone needs. These frugal living tips from the great depression era can help you save big bucks on apparel and still clothe your family in style.

I have shopped at thrift stores/charity shops for more years than I care to mention and love finding bargains and the perfect outfit.

17. Shop at Thrift Stores

Your local thrift store has a lot of gently used clothes at a fraction of the original cost. The stores are quite selective when they select high quality items for their sales floor.

Sometimes you can find things for only a few dollars. It is a great way to buy clothes for your kids because they grow out of their clothes so quickly.

You can also find other household items at a really good price. Check back often because they usually get new stuff every week.

I’ve bought Christmas decor, gifts, furniture, games, clothes and shoes to name but a few things.

I find I get the best deals in the thrift store that is in the more well off areas, they also seem to charge less than stores in poorer areas – go figure!

Related post: How to stop spending money on clothes: 10 Simple Tips for Success

18. Make and repair your own clothes

Our great grandparents didn’t go out and buy new clothes every month. In the great depression era they were lucky if they had enough money to buy something from thrift shops.

Tough times meant they had to make their own clothing and repair them. Basic sewing skills were a must for every girl. Nowadays let’s not restrict this to girls only. Learning basic sewing skills means you can save extra money by extending the life of the clothes you currently have.

Simple skills like sewing on a button, repairing a zip, making an invisible repair on a small fabric tear. These frugal skills allow you to keep your clothes looking good and practical for much longer.

Go one step further and learn to make your own clothes. You could enrol in a college night class or follow a YouTuber.

Family of 4 in lavender field holding hands.
Clothes last longer when washed less – saving money!

19. Wear your clothes more often

In the olden days when all clothes were washed by hand, you bet they didn’t change their dresses, trousers and shirts every day. Or even every other day. Clothes were worn time and again and cleaned on wash day.

A day when the frugal homemaker (usually the woman) spent all day manually washing and drying clothes.

Use the sniff test rather than just your eyes to determine when something needs washing.

This a frugal living tip I encourage everyone to use, regardless of your current finances. Washing machines wear your clothes, so the less you wash them, the longer they will last.

20. Trade With Friends and Relatives

You can stretch your wardrobe by trading items with your relatives and friends. Find people who wear the same size as you, and see if they want to try this.

Throw a clothing exchange party and invite them. Not only will it be a lot of fun, but everyone will get something “new” out of it without spending a penny.

Kids clothes can be handed down between families through quite a few children. Kids don’t stay the same size long enough to wear their clothes out so go the old fashioned frugal living route and pass them on to a new home.

21. Repurpose Old Clothes

If you have old clothes that no one wants, find ways to use them in a different way.

Old pants with holes on the knees can be turned into shorts. Old shirts can be cut up into dish rags and cleaning cloths.

If you know how to sew, cut up clothes that have had it to make a “crazy quilt”. This can be a versatile bedspread or a throw for the home.

Alternatively you can make a memory pillowcase or quilt using old clothes and bedding. Having a memory pillowcase made from your childhood items makes a wonderful gift.

Related post: 20 Frugal Living Tips For Seniors

An old fashioned silver kettle against a wooden background
Got to have coffee or tea in your frugal life

Best frugal living tips from the great depression to save money on household items

Things in your house get used everyday and go through wear and tear. These old fashioned living tips can help you maintain your household properly on a tight budget.

22. repair Instead of Replace

If there are things around the house that have minor damage, see if you can fix them instead of replacing them.

For example, broken handles can be glued with the right kind of glue. If your chair has a torn cushion, you might be able to replace the cushion yourself.

A table that is all scratched up can be sanded and refinished. There are lots of tips online how to fix and make things. By learning the basics, you can become quite handy.

YouTube is a great place to find out how to do something, especially if you haven’t done it before.

23. Hand wash dishes

Dishwashers weren’t around during the depression era. If dishes were dirty you washed them by hand. No need for dishwasher tabs, rinse aid or freshener. A squeeze of washing up liquid and some elbow grease is all you need.

Hand washing means you save money not buying or maintaining that dishwasher. No electricity being used other than yoru hot water.

24. Washing machine

In the great depression a washing machine was a luxury many families could not afford. They made their own laundry soap and washed by hand. I’m not suggesting you wash by hand today but do make sure your washing machine is only used for a full load.

Couple with wearing your clothes more often this tip can save you money on both your water and electricity bills.

25. Ditch disposable products

Disposable products weren’t invented or certainly weren’t something most ordinary families had. I’m talking paper towels, wet wipes, napkins, paper plates and the like. Go back to the old ways, ditch the disposables and use what your grandparents used.

Fabric napkins, like these ones, that went in the wash and were reused time and again and crockery for meal times.

Cloths for wiping down, mopping up spills. Their cloths were often either handmade string ones or rags from worn out clothes. You could cheat a little (I do) and use microfiber cloths as they are extremely cheap and last for ages.

26. Make your own homemade cleaners

You don’t need half of the cleaning products under your sink. You really don’t. A standard household cleaner can clean a multitude of different surfaces.

You make your own cleaning products from thing you have in your pantry like lemon juice, baking soda and the like. My post on homemade cleaning products has 9 extremely simple recipes that will save you loads of money.

woman sitting on a yellow sofa having done household chores
Depression era cleaning was about making your own soap recipe

27. Ditch you dryer

Dryers are expensive to buy and expensive to run. Whne people ask me for frugal tips, ditching your dryer and going old school is top of the list. Using an outdoor clothes line is what our grandparents and their grandparents did. Fresh ari dries clothes really quite fast.

And when it rained they dried them indoors around the fire. And I do the same. I haven’t had a dryer for over 10 years which I reckon means I’ve saved myself the price of 2 driers plus all that electricity.

28. Maintain and Take Care of Your Things

When you take good care of your things, they last longer. That is true for practically everything you own around the house.

When they get dirty, clean them right away. Keep them clean and well maintained, and you will not have to replace them as often.

It also helps when everything has a home, that way you never lose things and have to buy a replacement you don’t need.

Related post: 12 Traditional Frugal Living Tips To Supercharge Your Savings

29. Buy Reusable Things Whenever Possible

Disposable items can only be used once, then thrown away. That is like money down the drain. Buy reusable items instead.

Paper napkins can be replaced by washable cloth napkins. I’ve chosen not to have white ones though – too hard to keep the whites bright!

Paper towels can be replaced with microfiber cloths. The more colorful the better.

Instead of using paper plates for a party, use inexpensive colorful plastic plates from the dollar store.

Instead of sandwich bags, use sandwich containers like these.

30. free entertainment

Who says you have to spend a lot of money to have a good time? Instead of vacations, do a “staycation” and explore your local area.

Pack a picnic lunch and have fun with the kids. Go to your local library to attend free programs and borrow books and movies at no cost. Watching videos, even the ones you’ve seen before can be fun and free.

Playing board games and card games can really roll back the years. Who doesn’t love re-living their childhood favorites?

There are so many free summer activities that actually you can do all year round, depending on the weather of course!

It’s easy to spend money to have a good time, but some of our best times have been when we didn’t have any money and had to get creative. I bet it will be the same for you.

31. Be frugal with your utilities

Your utility bills might feel like they’re set in stone each month but that’s not the case. Sure you’ll have the monthly payments but it’s down to you how much energy you actually use.

Your gas and electricity usage is down to you. You don’t have to have the heating on high or for hours each day. You don’t need to have 5 different lamps on in your living room. Do an energy audit and see what you can switch off.

Check out these posts for lots of tips on reducing utility bills:

How To Save Electricity Doing Absolutely Nothing

How To Keep Your House Warm In Winter And Save Money

Woman in sunshine head thrown back and arms behind her enjoying the sunshine.
1930s frugality can be enjoyable

Frugal living tips with a big impact from the Depression Era

These are some of the best great depression survival tips that have been handed down for generations.

People learnt so many different ways on how to save money in the great depression, not to always save money but to make the little they had last.

You can use these self same tips now, nearly 100 years later, and save money. These are tips that have truly stood the test of time.

Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!

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Pinterest image for article on frugal living tips from the great depression

Last Updated on 24th October 2021 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

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