The Great Depression was one of the toughest times in United States history. Following a historic collapse of the stock market wages were low, and jobs were tough to find for just about everyone.
However, the saying goes “tough times make tough people”, and the Great Depression was no different. Families, friends, and communities banded together to support one another, and people got savvy with their savings and spending.
To write this article, I spent some time talking with my grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression. In chatting with them I learned some of the tools and tips that they and their families used to save money during this time of economic distress.
I thought it would be helpful to talk with real people who have experience in finding ways to make ends meet when things are tough.
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If we can use and learn from the experiences of those who came before us, then hopefully we are better prepared for the hard times that lay ahead of us.
Here are tips for saving money from real survivors of the Great Depression.
Live As A Family
While today’s world encourages young adults to move out as soon as possible, it isn’t the best way to save money.
During the Great Depression families stuck together, and moved together in search of work. Living under one roof cuts down the cost of rent, utilities, food, travel, and more.
By living as a family you can not only save money but have a trustworthy team around you to work through these hard times.
Insulate The Home
Homes today naturally come with some insulation, but the more you can insulate the better. Especially in the colder months of winter keeping the house heated can be challenging and expensive.
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My grandmother talked about using whatever they had spare, whether it be clothes, blankets, pillows, etc. Whatever material they had spare was used to try and provide an extra bit of insulation. By adding extra insulation you can find valuable savings on your heating.
Wet Sheets Over Entryways In The Summer
On the other side of things, during the summers of the Great Depression, they would hang wet or damp sheets over the doors and windows.
The water would evaporate during the day and in doing so it would cool the air inside the home some.
The less strain you can put on your AC unit means less strain on your wallet.
Buy Produce That Is Close To Spoiling
One tip my grandparents learned that they still practice today is buying produce close to it’s date of expiration. During the Depression, stores were closed on Sunday and the produce being sold would spoil in the upcoming following week.
As such, vendors would drop their prices on Saturday evenings in an attempt to offload all the produce before it went bad.
By purchasing produce on Saturday evenings their families were able to eat for much cheaper the following week.
Create Your Own Cleaning Supplies
Another tip for inside the home is to create your own cleaning supplies. With the adults in the family often taking on daily labor, my grandmother and the other children learned to take up the work around the home.
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Rather than spending on costly household cleaners from the store, mixing hot water and vinegar can be highly effective for scrubbing away grime.
Consider Cheaper Protein Options
Much of the protein we consume today is either beef or chicken, but during the Great Depression, these types of protein became scarce and expensive. As a result, my grandfather talked about finding cheaper protein options like rabbit, eggs, and even squirrels on occasion.
As kids, one of the my grandfather’s favorite meals was fried bologna because it was cheap and easy to make. Eating meals like these may not be ideal, but it was a way for them to keep an entire family fed on a budget.
Start A Garden
Vegetables and herbs are great additions to every meal, and herbs in particular were very valuable during the Great Depression as they could add flavor to otherwise bland meals.
The problem was that purchasing these vegetables and herbs was very costly during that period.
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This is is why you should consider starting your own garden. Just as it did back then, gardening can provide you with cheap, continuous, and sustainable access to vegetables and herbs.
Learn How To Bake
On a similar note to gardening, learning to bake was a fun way to save money. Bread can be costly to buy in-store, but it is extremely cheap to make at home.
Even now, my grandmother still enjoys baking from scratch. Along with saving you money on groceries, baking from scratch will probably taste better too.
Make More Soups
During the Depression, soups became extremely popular. They were warm, filling, and most importantly cheap because the main ingredient is water. Almost anything can be made into a soup and it makes great leftovers.
Cut Milk With Water
A tip that my grandmother used even with her own kids decades after the end of the Great Depression was cutting milk with water.
She mentioned that it could be done with other drinks like juices also, but she used to add water to their milk.
By adding water the milk would last significantly longer than it would on it’s own. It may not taste quite as good, but when times are tough every extra penny matters.
Look Into Learning To Sew
When times get tough, it can be very valuable to have some basic sewing skills.
As I mentioned earlier with the adults out working or looking for work, much of the housework fell on the children. This included sewing.
My grandmother learned to sew and patch clothing from her mother and older sisters, and she still uses a sewing machine to this day. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy a sewing machine, but if you can patch up clothes rather than taking them to a tailor or buying something new it can make a huge difference.
Hang Onto Scraps
A valuable lesson many learned during the Great Depression is that everything has value. Whether it is an orange peel or a scrap of fabric from clothing repairs, everything has value.
Related: Food-Stretching Tips From The Great Depression
Peels from citrus fruit can be used in homemade cleaners, and clothing scraps can be used in future repairs. Stockpiling excess supplies and hanging onto scraps can be a very valuable strategy.
Learn To Make Basic Home Repairs
While often the women would handle cooking, cleaning, and sewing, the men would be responsible for doing repairs around the house.
Everything will break at some point, so if you can learn to fix some of these things on your own it will help you and your family become much more self sufficient.
Moderation Is Key
Moderation can apply to just about anything whether it is food, cleaner, or anything in between. By learning to use everything in moderation you will find that everything you purchase and use lasts significantly longer.
A helpful rule of thumb to remember is “just a dab”. Even to this day, my grandmother always strives to use too little rather than too much of something.
Be Willing To Work
Last but not least, be willing to work, no matter the job. During the Depression, work was scarce, so people had to take on any job they could find.
Even as a child my grandfather would go around the neighborhood looking to find any sort of work available. Whether it was cleaning, running supplies, shoveling manure, or just about anything else, he worked whatever jobs he could find to help support the family.
The economy may not be in as poor of a state as it was during the Great Depression, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from those who came before it. These tips from real survivors of the Great Depression are a great way to increase your savings.
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