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The depression era was a long time ago so perhaps you are thinking those tips are now outdated and of little use.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

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.

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

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 things you can do 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 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 a lot.

Then, the following month, stick to you 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.

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 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.

2. 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?

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

3. Look for Sales and Buy in Bulk

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, and pastas keep for a 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.

4. 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. 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.

5. 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

6. Extend Your 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

7. Grow Your Own Produce

Find a spot in your garden to grow produce. 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.

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.

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

8. 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 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.

9. Learn How To Can Your Fruits and veggies

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.

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 to save 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.

10. 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 stores that are 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

11. 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.

12. 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 old clothes 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.

Fix 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.

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

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.


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 the library to attend free programs and borrow books and movies at no cost.

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.

Frugal living tips with a big impact

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!

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

Last Updated on 7th June 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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