Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression

Grandpa’s Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression

Some of my favorite times were sitting in my husband’s Grandpa’s kitchen and talking with him about the “old days.” Grandpa was born in 1928 and he was full of frugal living tips from the Great Depression that his parents had passed down to him.

He knew how to stretch a dollar. He was not a cheap man. He was a frugal man and he knew the value of spending his money wisely.

Old Fashioned Living

Grandpa understood old fashioned frugal living. Of course, to him it wasn’t “old fashioned frugal living”…it was just frugal living!

I remember one story he told about Grandma. They were a farming family and she would work out in the fields with him in the mornings. When it was lunch time, she would collect sticks on her walk back to the house so she could build a fire in the stove to cook.

frugal living tips from the great depression - old fashioned frugal living

Lessons from the Great Depression

Times were different back then. I think that is why I loved our talks with him and why I miss him so much today. Life was slower back then. Not easier, just slower.

They didn’t slide a frozen pizza into the oven for a quick lunch on a busy day. I don’t think Grandpa even had a freezer back then and even if he did, he would have known that homemade pizza was less expensive (and tastier) than a store-bought pizza.

I miss the winter nights we spent sitting in the living room of his country house. His reliable, white Ford truck would be parked outside near his old tractor. The cows would be bedding down for the night and the chickens were shut up into their coop to keep them safe. We would sit near the gas stove with a western turned down low on the TV because we were too busy “visiting” to actually watch it.

The only light on in his four-room house would be in the kitchen and it would spill over into the cozy living room.

There he would sit in his boots, overalls, and farmer’s co-op cap. Late into the night he would talk with us and answer our questions.

What did you do before you had a refrigerator, Grandpa?
How do you make your sweet potatoes?
What did Grandma say when you had to let a baby calf sleep in the living room on a cold winter night?
How did you train your horse to plow?
What kind of tomatoes do you plant?

There are many frugal living tips from the Great Depression that we could all stand to learn.

Man, I miss him, but before I start crying, here are frugal living tips with a big impact that we learned from Grandpa.

Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression

1. Cook from scratch

If you don’t know this already, then it’s time to learn. Cooking at home from scratch can save you hundreds on your grocery bill. Eating out is expensive and buying prepackaged meals at the grocery store will quickly increase your grocery bill and still leave you hungry. Buy staple ingredients, grab your favorite cookbook, and enjoy preparing a nice meal.

2. Eat at home

Eating out is one of the quickest ways to waste money. Restaurants are in business because they charge you more for your meal than what it’s worth. Cook at home and save money.

3. Plant a garden

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a gardener, but I do try! This year, I have finally managed to grow big, beautiful tomatoes for my family. I spent about $10 in small plants and they have grown and produced large “sandwich” tomatoes as well as several bushes of cherry tomatoes. Not only have I saved my family money, but they also taste better.

4. Grow your own fruit

Several years ago, we bought blueberry bushes and since then, we have harvested enough blueberries each year to make ourselves and our three children incredibly happy. Plus, I make delicious blueberry cobbler from our homegrown berries. These bushes have saved us a lot of money over the years because quality, pesticide-free blueberries are not cheap to buy.

5. Forage

We live on 5 wooded acres. We have wild blackberry bushes that grow on our property as well as dewberries and wild onions. Each spring and summer we enjoy homemade blackberry cobbler, dewberry leaf tea, and savory meals with wild onions.

Keep your eyes open, do some research, and you might find that there are many things you can forage for in your own backyard! When we lived in town, we would harvest dandelion leaves from our yard (because we didn’t spray it with chemicals) to make salads!

6. Eat less meat

Meat is expensive and if you prefer organic meat like we do, it’s even more expensive. So, when you are trying to save money or pay off debt, the best thing you can do to save on your grocery bill is to cut back on your meat intake in your meals.

We did this when we were paying off our first and only mortgage. We paid it off in 13 months!

Some nights, we would have vegetable plates and other nights I would prepare Mexican food and replace the meat with black beans. It was so tasty!

7. Make your own specialty coffee

If you’re like me and you like a good cappuccino every day or maybe even a few dozen Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the Fall, you have to come up with a more economical way to get what you want. Learn how to make your own coffee.

8. Pack your lunch

This is a big soapbox for me! I know so many people who eat lunch out every day instead of packing their lunch and taking it to work with them. And you know what?

They also aren’t set to retire early like we are. Harsh but true. Pack your lunch.

frugal living tips from the great depression

9. Buy your food in bulk

We have bought our food in bulk for over 10 years now. Our favorite company is Country Life Natural Foods. We buy bulk oats, rice, beans, lentils, coconut oil, etc. We save tons of money and we’re prepared for anything…even global pandemics (for example).

10. Cook with simple ingredients

This is basically a Great Depression Survival Tip. When you’re on your debt-free journey, it’s not the time for salmon and avocadoes.

Instead, buy inexpensive fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, pasta, etc. and turn them into something amazing! I’ll never forget what Grandpa could do with a few sweet potatoes, a little brown sugar, and a pat of butter.

Related content: Debt-Free by 25 – How We Did It!

11. Learn how to make birthday cakes

I see so many people ordering birthday cakes from bakeries for their children. You can make them at home and save a bundle!

My children and I enjoy baking their birthday cakes together, then they get to decorate it themselves. When we do that, we make memories and cake at the same time.

12. Learn the cleaning power of vinegar

There are so many uses for vinegar. Years ago, I did a little research to learn how to clean my house with vinegar. I wanted to rid my cleaning supplies of nasty chemicals.

I learned that I could replace almost all of them with vinegar. I clean my floors, windows, bathrooms, kitchen counters, refrigerator, etc. with vinegar. It’s cheap and effective.

Now, when I shop, I only have to buy one thing instead of raiding the entire cleaning aisle.

13. Save plastic containers

If you open my fridge, you will find that I store leftovers in large yogurt containers. Why would I spend money on fancy plasticware when I already buy it from the store and it comes with yogurt in it?

Grandpa knew the money-saving power of reusing his plastic containers too. Except, Grandpa saved butter containers.

Tip: Don’t put these containers in the microwave because you should only heat your food in glass.

14. Wear an apron

My favorite apron is one my great Aunt gave me for Christmas several years ago. If you have ever watched the Andy Griffith show and noticed the style of apron that Aunt Bea wears well, that’s me. I’m all about some old fashioned living and my old fashioned apron!

I love it and it has saved so many of my shirts from being ruined. It’s much cheaper to replace one apron than it is your entire wardrobe. Plus, aprons don’t look bad with a few stains here and there but your favorite shirt does!

15. Buy used

When it comes to clothes, cars, toys, books, etc., we buy used. We let someone else take the hit on the full retail price. Then, we buy the perfectly good item from our favorite thrift shop at a fraction of the price. Except for our vehicles…we didn’t buy those there!

I would like to mention that even Millionaires buy used!

16. Hand-me-downs are a must

We have always bought our children’s clothes from garage sales or our favorite thrift shop. We buy quality, name brand clothes at a fraction of the price. We even buy their shoes at the thrift shop.

We can get an entirely new outfit for $5. Then, we hand it down to younger siblings when they grow out of it.

For us, we don’t do this because we have to. We do it because we’re smarter than retail stores want us to be. Did I mention that we’re debt-free and mortgage-free and set to retire at 45? This is one reason why.

17. Cloth diaper your babies

When talking about frugal living tips from the Great Depression, this one should probably be #1. This is definitely a frugal living tip with a BIG impact!

Currently, I am cloth diapering my third baby. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about the first one. I cringed the first time I put it on her because I knew I would have to wash it after she dirtied it.

But, do you know what? It’s not bad at all! A sweet friend bought me a diaper sprayer for a baby shower gift and that made the entire process so much easier.

Now, I know this is impossible for those of you who send your babies to daycare, BUT consider cloth diapering them in the evenings and on the weekends. We have saved so much money doing this.

Plus, I’m that nerdy mama who feels so accomplished when her babies are in cloth. I feel like I’m beating the system!

18. Learn how to make simple home repairs

Several years ago, we were getting ready to sell our house so we could start building our dream house and the garbage disposal jammed. I tried and tried but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.

It just wouldn’t work.

We figured it was toast but in a last-ditch effort, I Googled the issue. Sure enough, there was an easy fix. “Just loosen the bolt on the bottom, rotate it once manually, then tighten the bolt back.”

I was skeptical but I gave it a try. It worked! I saved us the cost of a new garbage disposal AND the cost of a repairman to install it.

19. Line dry bath towels

At the heart of Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression is not wasting energy. Bath towels take FOREVER to dry in the dryer and it takes a lot of energy to get them dry.

However, a towel hung outside on a clothesline not only takes NO energy to dry it, but it also smells like sunshine when you take it down. Tip: Kids love hanging towels on the line! (As long as they can reach it).

I used to line dry the baby’s cloth diapers and my daughter loved hanging them out for me. She would arrange all the colorful diapers until they looked like a rainbow blowing in the summer breeze.

Related content: Money Secrets of the Amish

20. Layer in the winter

When winter comes, we don’t crank up the heat until we’re comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. We wear warm pajama pants and soft fleece jackets. This allows us to save on our heating bill and still lounge comfortably.

21. Get rid of cable

No, Grandpa didn’t have cable in the 1930s, but we can still apply his frugal ways to this topic. I have been on this soapbox too many times to count.

Paying for TV service is a waste of your time AND money. Get rid of it today. You’ll have more money to put toward debt and your future. Plus, you’ll have more time to read, play games, cuddle with your kids, and cook those homemade meals I’ve been talking about.

22. Get a library card

Our library is our favorite place to shop. They have quality books, movies, and iPads for the kids as well as, CDs, movies, and books for us. What more could we ask for?

23. Make gifts instead of buying

A homemade gift means so much more than a store-bought one. When someone gives me a gift that I know they have invested their time into, it melts my heart.

So, when it’s gift-giving time, think outside the box. Get creative. Put some thought into it.

24. Make more memories

We like to spend time with our family instead of spending money on our family. We cook together, play games together, read together, laugh together, watch movies together, learn together, and create together.

This is no different during the holiday season. You will not find a Christmas tree overflowing with gifts at our house. That’s not how we do things. Instead, you will find a binder filled with Christmas traditions that we do every year.

25. Be content with what you have

One of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression is being content with what you have. Wanting what others have will only lead you into a black hole of debt and depression.

Look at what you have with an eye of thankfulness. Count your blessing because I know you have many.

Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression Wrap-up

We have used all of these old fashioned frugal living tips over the years and they have all made a big impact!

Old Fashioned Frugal Living helped us…

This type of old fashioned living is what helped us become debt-free and mortgage free by 25!

…and save our first (extra) $180,000 before we were 30.

…and pay off our first (and only) mortgage in 13 months!

If you have any more Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression, leave them in the comments!

Want to save money, pay off debt, and retire early? Start here.

All the best,