Everyone always has new hacks and tips on how to save money. But it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel to change your financial situation. Instead, you can look to the frugal living tips from the Great Depression that a lot of our grandparents used.
Table of contents
- 1. Make your own soap
- 2. Wear clothes more than once before washing
- 3. Keep warm with a hot water bottle at night
- 4. Learn a few sewing skills
- 5. Do all your errands one day a week or less
- 6. Track your spending
- 7. Make a herb garden
- 8. Cook with leftovers
- 9. Look through the pantry before going to the store
- 10. Purchase a whole chicken
- 11. Eat less meat
- 12. Buy reusable products
- 13. Start a vegetable garden
- 14. Invest in quality
- 15. Upcycle furniture instead of buying
- 16. Buy things second hand
- 17. Make your own cleaning products
- 18. Share with your neighbors
- 19. Learn how to store and preserve produce
- 20. Learn to DIY around the house
- 21. Use less electricity
- 22. Relax by candlelight
- 23. Just a dab will do ya
- 24. Use things up before replacing
- 25. Go to restaurants less often
- 27. Make payments in cash
- Expert tip
- Can you use these Depression-era ideas to save and still have fun?
- What is the best Depression-era idea to save money?
- How do you live frugally?
- Related articles on frugal tips
The Great Depression from 1929 to 1939, was the gravest economic downtown in U.S. history. The stock market crashed; the unemployment rate reached new heights; and industrial production was severely impacted.
During the Depression, everyone had to learn how to scrimp and save and there’s a lot we can learn from that era today. Even if you’re not in dire straits, following frugal tips from the Great Depression can help you cut your expenses and save money.
That said, here are 27 great depression frugal living tips and ideas we can all learn from:
1. Make your own soap
Nowadays, most people use liquid soap in the shower and at the sink. But liquid soap is actually a lot more expensive than bar soap!
Plus, you’re more likely to use up liquid soap (and have to repurchase it) faster than you would bar soap.
You can save even more cash by learning to make your own soap, which is one of our best frugal living tips from the Great Depression. The ingredients (like oil, water, and wax) cost just pennies, and the steps are very simple to follow.
Besides that, it’s a pretty fun activity, too! Discover how to make your own soap from Lovely Greens.
2. Wear clothes more than once before washing
You don’t actually need to wash all the clothes you wear after just one day’s use.
Of course, it’s a smart idea to wash things like underwear, socks, and gym clothes after every use. But your jeans, sweaters, and pajamas can likely stay clean and smell fresh even after a few wears.
In the end, by cutting down on how much laundry you do, you’ll reduce your electricity use and save money.
3. Keep warm with a hot water bottle at night
The Department of Energy explains that heating is likely the biggest monthly energy expense in your home. Want to make that bill shrink? Try using a hot water bottle at night as one of the frugal living ideas from the Depression.
This is an old-fashioned trick that not many people still do, but it can help you save a lot of money on heating.
In the evening, take a hot water bottle to bed with you. The hot bottle will help keep you warm, so you don’t have to use your heater as much and won’t have to spend so much on heat.
4. Learn a few sewing skills
Don’t worry-we’re not saying you have to start making all your clothes from scratch! But knowing a few basic sewing skills can definitely help you save a few bucks in the long run.
For example, start by learning how to sew a button on a shirt or patch up a hole in a sock. This way, you can mend what you have instead of having to run out and spend money on brand-new clothes.
5. Do all your errands one day a week or less
During the Great Depression, there weren’t 7-Elevens and Targets just around every corner. This meant people didn’t go to the store whenever they needed one thing (or whenever they were bored).
Instead, they went to the market and got everything they needed all at once in one trip for the week.
You can do this, too-and you’ll be shocked by how much cash it can save you.
First, it’ll help you save money on gas because you won’t need to go back and forth taking multiple trips to the store. Plus, it will help limit your impulsive spending since you simply won’t be at the store (and won’t be tempted) as often.
6. Track your spending
One of the most fail-safe ways to save money is to track your money. That means taking a look at where your money goes each month.
Remember: It’s not enough to just create budget categories and write them down; you also have to track your spending to see if you’re actually following that budget.
To track your spending, you can use a free app, a spreadsheet, or a spending journal.
First, figure out where you’re overspending. Then, find ways to make changes so you can cut out unnecessary expenses.
7. Make a herb garden
Herbs take up less space than vegetables, so they’re easy to cultivate even if you live in a tiny apartment. Plus, an herb garden will give you big cost savings! Just think about how expensive fresh herbs are at the grocery store.
8. Cook with leftovers
Today, people are too quick to throw away leftovers. Often, this is because they think it’s simpler to start over rather than to work with what they have.
But during the Great Depression, most people didn’t have a choice but to learn to cook with leftovers.
There are plenty of ways to reinvent leftovers to turn them into tasty, new dishes. And it’ll lighten your grocery bill, too.
9. Look through the pantry before going to the store
Similar to cooking with leftovers, learning how to shop what you have before heading to the store again will really cut down your food expenses.
It’s easy to find a recipe online and then go and buy all those exact ingredients-but it can also be expensive.
Instead, one simple frugal living idea from the Depression is to check out your pantry first. See what you have, and try to come up with a meal with those ingredients.
If you’re stuck, you can always Google it to try and find a recipe to guide you.
For example, if you’ve got zucchini, tofu, and corn at home, just search: “Recipes with zucchini, tofu, and corn” to find some inspiration.
This Depression-era savings tip will help eliminate food waste and shrink your grocery bill.
10. Purchase a whole chicken
Today, it’s easy to go to the grocery store and find boneless, pre-cut chicken breasts neatly wrapped in plastic. While this may seem convenient, it’s hugely wasteful and, actually, a lot more expensive than it needs to be!
Instead, try buying the whole chicken. To make things easier, buy a whole roasted chicken.
This gives you: 1) dinner for tonight; 2) leftovers for lunch tomorrow (cold lunch ideas are great for this); 3) bones to make stock with.
Believe it or not, a whole chicken actually costs the same if not less than pre-cut, boneless chicken-and you get three meals out of it instead of one!
11. Eat less meat
Often, meat is the most expensive ingredient on your shopping list.
There are much cheaper ways to get protein in your diet.
For example, you could eat more lentils, beans, eggs, or fish. Plus, eating less meat is a more sustainable choice that’s better for the environment.
Not sure where to start? Check out these cheap vegan meals from The Green Loot.
12. Buy reusable products
Back in the 1930s, people didn’t have as many disposable products. Obviously, this is better for the environment. But it’s also better for your wallet, too, and it’s one of the best frugal living tips from the Great Depression!
By switching to reusable products instead of disposable ones, you’ll save money because you won’t have to run to the store to buy replacements as often.
For example, you can switch to cloth napkins and cloth towels instead of paper towels and paper napkins. If you’re a coffee drinker, consider switching to a reusable coffee filter instead of using paper filters and/or metal pods.
13. Start a vegetable garden
Growing your own vegetables at home is much less expensive than buying them. Sure, fresh vegetables may only cost a few bucks at the store, but it costs just pennies to buy vegetable seeds to grow at home.
Plus, home-grown vegetables taste a lot better than their store-bought counterparts.
Best of all, starting your own vegetable garden isn’t as hard as it may seem.
For one, you don’t even need to have a backyard. If you can place a few pots near a window, then you can start growing your very own tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and much more for a fraction of the grocery store prices.
14. Invest in quality
Slow fashion vs fast fashion was simply not a thing back in the day.
Instead of having three dozen cute but cheap outfits from Zara or H&M, people had fewer clothes that they re-wore more often. You can do the same today by investing in good-quality pieces that will last longer than cheap clothes that will rip or fall apart quickly.
For example, consider investing in a great pair of leather shoes. While good-quality leather shoes can be expensive, they can also be repaired. You can take your leather shoes to the cobbler, again and again, to get them reheeled and polished.
This means you can wear the same pair of shoes for years to come instead of constantly needing to buy new ones.
15. Upcycle furniture instead of buying
Even budget furniture can cost you a couple of hundred dollars.
So take a cue from frugal tips from the Great Depression and learn about upcycling and flipping furniture instead.
Back in the day, they didn’t call it upcycling; it was just what they had to do to get what they needed on a budget. But today, there are all kinds of fun tips and tricks to convert old furniture into like-new pieces.
Best of all, you can find old furniture to upcycle for very cheap or even free for a huge savings win!
Get started with this guide on upcycling for beginners from House Beautiful.
16. Buy things second hand
If you’re not a DIY kind of gal, you can still save by avoiding buying brand-new items from the store. What can you do instead? Buy things secondhand.
Today, the internet makes it even easier to find what you need secondhand.
For example, you can use Facebook or eBay to buy second-hand appliances, electronics, books, furniture, toys, etc. To save money on clothing, you can also check out thrift shops. And don’t forget about yard sales for a treasure trove of cheap finds to save you money!
17. Make your own cleaning products
Why waste your money on name-brand sprays, scrubs, and gels to clean your home when you can DIY everything you need instead?
You can use different combinations of diluted vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice to clean pretty much anything in your home-from sinks to toilets to countertops-and it costs just pennies.
Watch out, though. Some surfaces (like marble, for example) can’t tolerate these chemicals, so make sure you do your research before cleaning. Reader’s Digest gives a great guide on baking soda and vinegar cleaning solutions for your home.
18. Share with your neighbors
In tough times, it’s nice to know you have a community to turn to. Today, many people take a big sense of pride in being independent and owning everything they need. But it’s fine to ask for help.
In fact, when you can borrow from and lend to your neighbors, everyone wins!
For example, cooking a big meal for a dinner party? If you rarely host, consider borrowing your neighbor’s crockpot (that you’ll likely only use once) before going out and buying your own.
In turn, let your neighbor borrow your lawn mower. Or watch their dog while they’re on vacation.
If everyone helps each other out, everyone can buy less and save more money in the long run.
19. Learn how to store and preserve produce
Whether you buy your fruits and vegetables (hopefully, on sale!) at the grocery store or you grow them yourself at home, don’t let a single thing go to waste. Notably, food waste isn’t just bad for the environment-it’s also bad for your wallet, says the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
So try out one of the frugal living tips from the Great Depression and learn how to store and preserve produce so you never let them go to waste.
For example, you can learn how to freeze, dry, jam, can, and even pickle different kinds of produce.
20. Learn to DIY around the house
Some people may have more of a knack for it than others, but we can all learn how to be a little handy around the house and use one of the frugal living tips from the Great Depression. And the more you can learn to DIY, the more cash you’ll save because you won’t have to always call in (and pay) a professional.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. But just picking up a few tricks here and there can give you some creative ways to save money.
For instance, you can learn how to paint your own rooms, unclog your own drain, shovel your own driveway, mow your lawn, etc.
21. Use less electricity
This is one of the frugal tips from the Great Depression that’s likely to save you the most cash-and it’s also the easiest.
It’s obvious that the average American household today uses more electricity than in the 1930s, so look to history for inspiration on how to lower electric bill costs.
For example, use natural sunlight more by leaving the lights off during the day. And remember that saving energy doesn’t just save you money; it’s better for the environment, too.
22. Relax by candlelight
To save money at home and use one of the smartest frugal living tips from the Great Depression, why not switch to candlelight after the sun goes down?
Of course, you don’t have to do this every day. But even switching to candlelight a few nights a week can really cut back your electricity use and your electricity bill.
Plus, it can actually be really enjoyable to relax by candlelight! For one, it’s easier on the eyes. If you spend the evening reading by candlelight before bed, you’ll use barely any electricity at all. Better yet, candlelight sets the perfect scene for a cozy or romantic evening!
23. Just a dab will do ya
We’re not saying you should give up toothpaste. But when it comes to lotions, potions, soaps, and most cosmetics and cleaners, you don’t need to use as much as you think.
Try sticking to the old motto, “Just a dab will do ya!” By using less of a product on a daily basis, you won’t run out of your products as quickly, and you won’t need to spend money to replace them as often. Win-win.
24. Use things up before replacing
Too often, we get tired of what we have and rush out to buy something new before it even needs replacing. That definitely wasn’t the M.O. during the 1930s! Back then, the Depression-era motto was, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.”
If you live by this motto today and only go shopping when you’ve actually run out of something, you can end up saving a lot of cash and use one of the frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
25. Go to restaurants less often
You can bet that not many people were going to restaurants during the Great Depression. While you don’t have to cut restaurants and coffee shops completely out of your lifestyle, reducing how often you eat out can significantly increase your monthly savings.
For example, do you buy lunch every day at work? Start by making your own lunch and bringing it to the office. You can also start making your own coffee instead of going to your local shop.
A good tip is to see restaurants and coffee shops as a once-a-week treat or even a monthly expense instead of a daily expense.
26. Entertain yourself for free
When you’re bored at home, getting ready to meet with friends, or preparing to go out on a date, it can get expensive-fast. This is understandable.
Often, the first thought is to just go out to eat or get a drink. But eating and drinking out on a regular basis can end up being really expensive. So can indulging in a shopping habit, going to the movies, and taking a weekend trip.
But there is always stuff to do at home (alone, with friends, or with your partner) for free! Here are some ideas:
- 40 Fun Things To Do For Free With Friends
- At-Home Date Night Ideas For Couples On A Budget
- 22 Fun And Inexpensive Ideas For Days Out With The Girls
27. Make payments in cash
Hear us out: You don’t have to ditch all online payments in order to be more frugal and save money. After all, online payments and credit cards can make it a lot easier to manage payments for rent, electricity, internet, car loans, etc.
But online payments and credit cards also make it way easier to start impulse spending, which is why switching to cash can be a good idea.
For example, try paying in cash for things like groceries, restaurants, and other day-to-day purchases.
By paying in cash, you’ll be more conscious of how much you’re spending-and you’ll be less likely to make big impulse purchases.
The key to saving money using these ideas without burning out? Try adding in a couple of low-maintenance savings ideas and then one that is a bit more challenging.
For example, you might use things up before replacing them and shop your pantry before going to the store (easy). But then also start making your own soap (more time-consuming but helps you save.)
Can you use these Depression-era ideas to save and still have fun?
Using some of these frugal living tips from the Great Depression will help with your savings goals, and you can still enjoy life! You can be frugal and have fun by making some of these ideas into habits and saving money without really noticing.
What is the best Depression-era idea to save money?
One of the best ideas from the Depression is to grow your own food. Start a garden, learn about preserving and canning, and find ways to stretch your grocery budget further.
How do you live frugally?
Living frugally means that you are conscious of the money you spend, and you look for ways to save often while still enjoying a high quality of life. You can use the tips here and find many more.
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A 21st-century lifestyle with Depression-era savings!
What’s old is new again! There’s plenty you can learn from these frugal living tips from the Great Depression. But we’re not saying you have to live like it’s 1931.
Instead, just try incorporating a few frugal tips from your grandparents’ era into your daily routine. They can really impact your motivation for saving money and how much you save.