Six Lessons Learned from Depression-era Frugality!

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

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4/18/09, 4:25 AM EDT Six lessons learned from Depression-era frugality
By Ashley Grimaldo

While I always poked fun at my grandma's creative use of leftover pickle jars, reuse of styrofoam plates, and water-infused hand soap, she had a point. Folks from the Great Depression Era were pros at stretching a buck. Despite the gloomy economic forecast we are still living in luxury, whether we'd like to admit it or not. Take the lead from seasoned thrifty seniors to waste not, want not:

1. Stop using credit cards

People who survived the Great Depression well understood that you never borrow money unless you have a clear plan on how to pay it back. This includes your automobile. Credit card poachers are ruthless and will take advantage of you on every dime you spend. Not to mention the cloud of worry about debt that follows you everywhere. Avoid reward programs-you'll end up spending way more on the card to save for the "free" domestic flight that isn't really free. Always remember that the borrower is slave to the lender.

2. Never throw good food out

Keep the breadcrumbs, leftover chicken, and flour for other recipes. "Cooking With Clara" is a great Depression Era cooking resource with recipes and general frugal living tips via video ( Buy food less frequently so you reduce the risk of it spoiling. And it goes without saying-do not eat out. If you absolutely must, plan one day a month and make it a special treat.

3. Buy sturdy, long-lasting products

Avoid kid and baby toys that need batteries or only have one purpose. The most stimulating toys are ones that can be manipulated for various uses. Erector sets, wooden bocks, Legos, and the ever-trusty Radio Flyer wagon are superb and will challenge your child's creativity. Look to second-hand stores or garage sales for even bigger discounts.

4. Farm your yard

Grandpa grew summer squash, cabbage, carrots, and cherry tomatoes on a vine as long as I knew him. After moving into the senior community he managed to grow strawberries on the porch. Granted he did have a beautifully green thumb, but those were always the tastiest veggies. If you have a small plot of land grow food on it. Be smart though-chat with a nursery owner to find out what will sprout in local soil and take the time to plant it correctly. Homegrown vegetables can't be beat for taste and cost.

5. Spend time at home

In my city we don't have a huge variety of options for free activities. If we load up to go somewhere it will be to the mall or a restaurant, both of which radically dry the budget. Hang out at home family and friends instead. Children from the Depression Era remember having community dances, ice cream socials, and spelling bees to pass the time. All the mall walk will do is make you covet more junk you don't need.

Living simply will grant you a sweet appreciation for what you have. Rather than viewing the recession with a but-I-wanna-buy-it attitude, use this time to pare down and live within your means. As the saying goes, "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."


(For more savings tips, check out's "Go Frugal" blog at

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Thanks for posting this! Wonderful information!

Auburn, AL(Zone 8a)

While I understand not accruing more debt using credit cards, if done correctly is not a bad thing. We put just about everything we buy on our credit cards and pay them at the end of the month. We pay not fees nor added charges since the balance is paid in full, we use two different cards one gives up points in which we convert to hotel stays etc the other can be traded for cash or gift certificates that can be used anyplace from Amazon to our local Kroger's.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I agree, nothing wrong with credit cards as long as you use them responsibly. I put all my groceries, etc on my Discover card, get the cashback bonus on all my purchases, and then I pay my bill in full every month and never pay a penny of interest. No annual fee on the card, and I make a few hundred dollars a year in the cashback bonuses. But you need to do it responsibly...I think the key piece of that particular advice is not to use credit unless you have a plan to pay it back. I know how much I can spend on the card every month and still be able to pay it off at the end of the month.

Janice~ Gulf Coast, MS(Zone 9a)

**As the saying goes, "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."**

Love ♥ that and it makes perfect sense.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Got this in a forward this morning:

I’ve always been a great believer in using what we already have before we buy more. It’s a good policy in our pantry and refrigerator for the obvious reason that we don’t want spoilage, but how does this apply to the stuff we clean with?

There was a time when I was hooked on foamy, fragrant cleaning solutions; sprinkling, spraying, and pouring them all over our household and belongings to make everything sparkle and shine. And, if you believe all the commercials, there is only one way to clean your house… with a mountain of bubbles; bubbles purchased at a premium price.

At the moment saving money became more important to me than all those expensive cleaning products, I knew I was on a mission. And, as every good Hillbilly Housewife knows, when looking for money saving ideas, think back. I recall my Mother and Grandmother getting their scrubbing buckets ready with stuff from the kitchen and started thinking about how to create my own collection of frugal cleaning supplies. I challenge you today to start thinking about what you can do to break your “fancy cleansers” habit.

To get you started, I’ll share my quick list of what I now keep on hand to tackle cleaning jobs, and even some personal care items.

Baking soda: You can buy big bags of baking soda, so you don’t have to stock-pile a whole bunch of those little boxes. Baking soda covers a host of cleaning jobs. It makes the perfect drain cleaner, shower, sink, and toilet scrub, as well as kitchen cleanser. My Mom also kept a small box in the bathroom to brush her teeth. It makes a gentle facial exfoliator, and if you’ve had one too many nachos, take a half teaspoon in a big glass of water to settle your tummy. Baking soda is a miracle product that costs pennies.

White vinegar: My Grandma always soaked her coffee pot and cooking pans in the sink in a solution of white vinegar and warm water. She didn’t measure, just poured some in there until it smelled vinegary and put the things in to soak, then rinsed and let dry. White vinegar is a disinfectant and a degreaser so you may want to consider soaking all your glassware, as well. They’ll really sparkle! She also used white vinegar as a “remedy for what ailed ya.” When she came in from her garden, she normally suffered a bit of pain in her shoulders. She dipped a washcloth in warm white vinegar and placed it on her shoulder and the pain would be gone. From washing windows to keeping bugs away, white vinegar is a frugal homemaker’s dream-come-true.

Vegetable oil: Everything from seasoning your cast iron pans to removing unwanted labels, vegetable oil is definitely something you’ll find a use for. When we replaced a window in our house, we didn’t remove the sticker right away and the sun sort of baked it on. The only thing that would remove it was vegetable oil. Try vegetable oil spray to remove soap scum from your shower doors. Nothing else works so well or for so little money. My Mom had the clever idea of dropping a little vegetable oil in her bird bath after seeing the county road crew spraying the ditches with an oily substance to keep the mosquitoes from hatching there. This method for mosquito control worked very well and it is not toxic for the birds, although you do want to use only a few drops.

Salt: I remember watching my Mom throw salt into the bottom of the oven as a pie was bubbling over making a sticky mess. When the oven cooled, she just wiped up the salt and the mess came right with it. Keeping a large container of salt next to the stove is a good idea not only for cleaning up spills, but for putting out grease fires, too. If a fire starts, you don’t have to panic trying to think of what to do; the solution is right there – grab the salt and pour it on. My Mom also took salt and poured it between the bricks in her garden path to keep the grass from taking over, which also happened to keep the ants from forming a line-brigade across the bricks. In the laundry room, I often saw stained garments left to soak with a little salt and sometimes a squeeze of lemon juice. And, of course, salt in a cup of warm water is the perfect solution for a sore throat. So many uses… so inexpensive.

With just these few pantry items, you can replace just about every expensive concoction that you’ve been sold on. After all, my Mom and Grandma didn’t have an arsenal of fancy cleaning stuff and their homes sparkled just fine.

My challenge to you is when you finally use up all those bubbly cleaners, don’t replace them. Instead, look in your pantry and see what you can find to use instead. When you need to restock those pantry items, include enough for your household tasks. You’ll be amazed at the difference a cart full of vinegar, baking soda, salt, and vegetable oil costs compared to a cart full of fancy cleaners. Give it a try… you have nothing to lose and only some of your hard-earned cash to gain!

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

On the use of cc's for rewards programs---this is the ONLY reason I still carry a card. I love my Amazon credit :)

But on the horizon are new law changes that will affect that so just keep tabs on changes that might apply to yours:

Every American with a credit card will see sweeping changes in the market, with limits on sudden hikes in interest rates that drive consumers deeper into debt. Even cardholders who pay off their balance each month may face new annual fees or lose out on lucrative rewards programs. Banks, which oppose the legislation, will need to make up the cost somewhere, and cardholders who pay off their balance in full each month could see new annual fees and lucrative rewards programs canceled. Credit could become harder to come by too.

To avoid political or news talk I only posted a brief portion of the Associated Press article from SBC Yahoo.

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

Good messages here.

I grew up watching my grandmother wash out bread bags for reuse. When they got nasty, oh, and they did, she cut them into strips and wove them into rag rugs that were waterproof. I could go on and on about that lady. She was the Queen of recycle and reuse.

I think of her every time I throw away a plastic bag. When I was out of work for 2 1/2 years. I learned all the ways I was wasting money. After getting back to work (at a reduced income) I still kept my many of my frugal ways. And we are much better off financially than when I was making the big bucks and just as happy.

My boss teases me when I say I can't afford something. I mean I cannot afford the waste. (eating out at lunch, going to the fancy grocery store with inflated prices, buying packaged prepared meals) I have better ways to spend my money now.

Keep up the good advice. We can all use it.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

I've read you should emphasize not that you cannot afford something but that you chose not to buy it for whatever reason, just like you said.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I agree, good info here... and I'm here because I am always interested in learning more. I am my Mothers' daughter. She raised 9 kids on a shoestring and we never realized we were poor. Us siblings still don't think we were. In her 60s, my Mom (widowed & working) bought and paid for her very first home. Since then, she has bought and paid for two more. She is FRUGAL! I see her in myself in many ways to the frustration of my husband. LOL

I am always open to learning more. Cpartschick, please share some of the ways you have changed your frugal ways?

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

One instance in which it's good to say "I'm turning into my mother!" :)

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

DH used to buy his lunch out and buy snacks in the machine. He started to take his lunch and buy snacks to take to work. A 1.00 bag of corn chips makes about 12 of the 1.00 machine chips.

I used less prepared foods. I now use only real potatoes instead of instant fancy ones. I don't buy premade meals. Ex the chicken stir fry in the freezer section. I can make the same thing for less and it makes much more.

These things I still do even though I am back to work and it saves quite a bit.

We heat with wood cut from our own property. We hunt and dress our own venison and freeze it. We buy meat on sale and freeze it.

Another thing we have been doing is not buying things without thinking about it first. We would sometimes buy something and then not really need or use it. Not alot, but enough that it seemed wastefull.

Now we look at something and think, do I really need that? Is that something I would really get alot of use out of and make my life better? Is that cute blouse on sale something that fits my wardrobe and I can wear it lots of places? Are those hiking boots better than the ones I already have? Do I have a place in the house for that??? (that is a big one, LOL)

I just have to say, you can get quite creative cutting corners when you have to.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Cpartschick ~ Good ideas. I have always believed things happen for reasons. You proved that good things come from bad.

We always pack lunch but we are selfemployed and couldn't easily leave to eat. We rarely eat out. I prefer eating at home. We don't get to hunt but have lots of venison shared with us. Buying meats on sale to freeze it is good and on some of the meats, I take it a step further. I cook some of the meats before freezing. That is like having convenience foods when I come in dragging after a hectic day at work.

I have been hanging out laundry and although it probably doesn't cut much from the light bill, it makes me feel conservative. After following another DG thread, I have also began to make my own laundry soap and find I like it. Also thanks to DG, I am using less papergoods and more cloth... like handtowels.

My Mom turns off the water heater. My brother used to live with her and drove truck. He would call her and tell her to turn it on so he could enjoy a hot bath. I tried throwing the breaker on our water heater but think it is a false economy. Seems to need as much electricity to recover the water temp. At least as often as DH demanded it. LOL

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

I think you are right about the hot water heater. Extra insulation around it may help though.

There are so many good ideas here.

Flagler Beach, FL(Zone 9b)

I've been lurking and following advice I've read on here, and here is what I've found in my own home. I make my own laundry detergent, and find it to be better and cheaper than what I buy in the stores, ( gain was my favorite) and I used 2 dryer sheets per load, and am now using vinegar, and I have been hanging my laundry out on the line, even though I live 3 blocks from the beach. You'd think with all the moist air, and salt coming from the beach, my clothes would be gritty, and stiff, NOT, they smell so good, especially the bed clothes, that I can't wait to wash my sheets for the week and than climb into bed at night, it's like heaven! And I'll never buy detergent or softner again, and when I started using a cloth line instead of the dryer, I saved us $100 a month, for real, I have 2 dogs and i like to cover my couch and chairs with sheets so I can keep my furniture clean from them, they're small dogs, so I tend to do laundry more than some folks, so my savings surprised me. The other thing I just learned here, I have severe pain in my hands, due to cervical spine injuries, and I refuse to use pain meds, just your regular over the counter meds, and after reading one of the above post about vinegar on painful areas, went and got some vinegar on a cloth and rested it over my hand, and as I type this, it's feeling very good! Thanks for the info!!! And I'm doing my best to cover my foot prints here on our mother earth, and will follow this thread faithfully.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Well said Jamibad! I feel the same way about all the things my DG friends have inspired me to do.
I agree also on the line dried sheets. Wish for a maid to have clean sheets daily! LOL

Questa, NM(Zone 5b)

I'd love to learn how to make my own detergent. Can anyone direct me to where I can find that info? Thanks!

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

Here you go

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

MIL told me a tip for frugal use of fabric softner.

Buy regular sponges (no fancy ones with a scrubber grit side) ones.....Cut each sponge into 4 parts.

Soak the sponges in fabric softner mixture (as follows). When your ready to dry a load toss one well drained sponge piece into the dryer. It makes the fabric softner last much longer with equally if not better results---MIL said her clothes smell better because the liquid softner went into the dryer vs rinsing out in the wash.

Mix: 1 part softner to 8 parts have a container handy or jar that can hold 9 cups.

(I believe this suggestion is accurate..I've not yet tried it....if anyone else has heard it different or better, please post).

Questa, NM(Zone 5b)

Thank you Dutchlady and TirNaNog!

Lenora, KS

"Vegetable oil: Everything from seasoning your cast iron pans"

NO!! Do not use vegetable oil to season cast iron because if the pan is not used regularly, the oil residue will go "sticky". The best thing to season cast iron with is old-fashioned lard. If lard is not available, use shortening.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

hey thanks for that tip! i've to many pans that are sticky and wondered about this!

Flagler Beach, FL(Zone 9b)

i use olive oil, a very few drops, but haven't had any problems because we use our pans regularly! Where would i find lard, as in bacon grease? I just loving new things so fill me in on what to use for my cast iron pans, I have 4 different sizes, and I also found a newspaper clipping telling me how to care for them , and they say to use rock salt to clean them, rinsing under warm water, no detergent, afterwards to put a drop of olive oil and warm the pans up in the oven?

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I started out years ago using mineral oil and was told to do that as it had no salt in it. Now I use olive oil. I also heat the pan before I add the oil. The pores in the metal open up and absorb the oil better.

I have seen lard at the local grocery. Used to make my own bacon grease in the less healthy days. I still have some in jars of it in the freezer but rarely use it for cooking.

Huntersville, NC

re: three words on credit card use:

while i do understand ones ongoing faith in their system of credit card use, there are additional facts to be considered.

- suggestions such as these are generalizations and prove to be helpful for MOST persons.

- even those who plan not to pay interests or fees, there are volumes of complaints of similar minded individuals whose payments arrived / were credited several hours later than a designated time - that WAS changed without the cardholders knowledge. Such still leaves the cardholder with fees and often severe increased interest rates too - through no fault of their own.

- there is catastrophic scenario and rendered unable to satisfy the current end of months charges.

which then returns one to the original idea of minimal to no credit card use.

Flagler Beach, FL(Zone 9b)

50glee, what are you chatting about, this is frugal living, not abuses on credit card usages or whatever, create your own thread, thanks, someone who only wants to read things " I want to" as a paying member of daves garden, sorry if i'm out of line, but I don't think I am ! Jami

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Jami, I admit I was baffled about the credit card post above at first to so I reread through the whole thread again and I see I referenced credit card use at the beginning myself: talking about how a reason I kept a cc was to earn points towards free stuff.

But 50glee, as far as ever being "through no fault of their own" if one does choose to use a cc the user really must assume full responsibility (less fraudulent charges of course) in any action the cc company may take in imposing fees etc by way of using a card, it's part of the game. As is, for us, DH canceled my Amazon card *sniff sniff* because we mis-read a statement insert citing an increased fee (we currently pay 0 in fees) and thought we were going to be charged those. But even as DH commented---we still make more money (kinda) vs "earning" free rewards because we now won't ever be making those misc add-up impulse purchases.

Jami, thank you for the suggestion of a new thread geared towards cc use/abuse. You are the first daver I've met who would remind folks to keep on topic or create a new thread. Very kind of you :)

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Ah, I see cc use was mentioned even earlier than my post I linked above. :) It does have relavence, debt/consolidation/earning points etc. All a part of the out-go and becoming more frugal. I find even with "earning" less in points, I still spend less cash with NO cc now (even though I was a pay it monthly person). We find we are still saving more than we'd been paying off on that cc monthly. And that's a good feeling :)

Flagler Beach, FL(Zone 9b)

Tir, I went back and read some of the older post's, and your correct, I apologize,To 50glee, if I offended you,I'm so sorry, I really don't have it in me to be argumentative, just sensitive in the fact that " we/me as people trying to save money with no credit cards" I was wondering where this fit in, and Tir explained someone brought it up earlier here, as you saw the post and knew about it (,before I opened my fly trap, mouth) ( oops, so sorry)Yes I agree, CC's are for emergency's only, and We don't have one( CC) due to the fact we're in Chap. 13, we pay back all the bills we dug ourselves into, (not crying here)and we're learning to live on our own means, I'm disabled at 51, and my DH is collecting a pension, but when things start going down hill, we now have to figure out how were going to get by, I have been following this thread, to help save money, and am loving the life, the more i keep my own money in my pocket the better I feel, and it's an awesome feeling since I don't depend on CC's to get me through the rest of the month when I'm out of money. We're learning , we put us here and we'll get us finished and out of here, 2 more years, but we're learning a lot, what do we need, and what can we do without, that's the question everyday! But I just wanted to say I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend any one here, ( peeps tend to sneak in, and pose as members, thought i caught an advertiser, So Sorry 50Glee Peace?:)

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

I remembered some more ways I saved money being layed off. How did I remember? Last weekend it was rainy and we went to Wally world to stock up on supplies. Ha, that was a mistake. We had a half of a cart and it was double what it used to be. The cart also had snack items in it (that I used to bake) different chips (I bought the cheaper type local). I see this store no longer carries store brand of many items we used to buy. That also increased total cart price.

Another note. I did see they had the yarn marked down and bought some for a winter project. When I got to the checkout, the lady told me that they are going to sell out of their yarn and fabric, and no longer carry those things. YIKES. Is this nationally or just this store? I do not know.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Nationally I would bet. One of our local WM stores just rearranged the whole store and I can't find the fabrics/notions at all. Great! Now they quit after they have put all the other fabric stores out of business... that figures!

Belmont, NC(Zone 7b)

Live Frugally, and still have FUN. Oh Gram, I remember the mason jars full of food, the vegetable garden out the back door, baking bread together and the wonderful home cooked meals. Every Sunday we'd come to your house for a game of croquet. Yep, I followed in your footsteps. I'm also a woman of my day. I do use credit cards, pay them off at the end of the month and reap the rewards! We've travelled to Eastern Europe, across Asia, and thru Eastern China after attending the Olympics! The flights were free thanks to the cc companies reward programs! We don't travel with tour groups. I suggest where I'd like to go and what I'd like to see. My wonderful DH spends millions of hours researching the travel between cities, and the hotels we'll stay in. We travel for pennies when compared to the tour groups. AND we meet people from other countries, have time to chat with them, go to the places they recommend, and have a better understanding of the world outside of our beloved USA.

We've been married 38 years. When asked by one of our sons friends, "what is the most important advice you'd give to newly weds?" I answered, take care of your finances. Live within your means.

Tir_Na_Nog, My Gram and Mom taught me well. I've practiced the five points you posted for years and it has paid off. Not only financially, but our marriage has survived it's ups and downs because we didn't have burden of debt breaking our backs. My advice; live frugally and enjoy this amazing world and the people that travel thru it with you!!!!

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

What an uplifting post!! Congratulations - and may many emulate your example.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

pod, they just redid our walmart to, looks much nicer but heck can't find a thing now! as far as them putting folks out of business--it was the frugality of folks wanting/needing the best price that did that, shopping walmart has become the core of America but if they do nix specialty areas likely the mom and pops will come up. notice though other major chains that specialize in things (linens and things, curcuit city) weren't able to sustain a specialty market in these times. bummer.

cparts, i wouldn't worry TO much about them not carrying fabric/yarn (though odd for a one-stop-shop store???) but our local Joann's rearranged recently to--used to have all the hobby and crafting things and redid the store and those items have only a couple SHORT aisles and the whole rest of the store, left-center-right is ALL fabric! it was like walking back into the 1980's joann's :)

jamibad, you are so sweet to apologize. sometimes i forget older posts are revisited in a thread and seems to not make sense to those who've followed a bit (i was confused to). i appreciate that you are so open to talking about your lessons learned and more so for you owning it (and "not crying about it" as you said). i wish we had more folks like you! best of luck in your situation.

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

Our local store that carried fabric just went out. I depended on wally world for cheap fabric and yarn. I am going to try to stock up. It is a drive for me but it will be worth it.

Some projects I want really nice fabric, or yarn and don't mind paying more, but for my retro aprons or some afghans that cheap fabric and cheap yarn are just want I want.

I don't do Joannes too much. Too big, too much stuff. I think it would be great if they went back to being just a fabric and notion store. (but I am a big old fashioned fuddy duddy) ha

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

The only other fabric we have available is hobby lobby ~ nice stuff but Ouch on the pocket book.

Benton, KY(Zone 7a)

You can go on Hobby Lobby's website to print out a coupon ...most times it is 40% off. I never go into HL without it.

Houston, United States(Zone 9b)

Melody, same here---I first check HL for their online ad and only go in when scrapbooking is 50% off. On this crafty note of frugality here is a cross thread:

Flagler Beach, FL(Zone 9b)

Tir, thanks for your compliments, we were trying to keep up with the " Jone's" LOL, and we didn't do a good job of it, but I can't blame the recession on our problem, it was us, and a very valuable lesson learned. Whew!!!! Again thanks, I'm a much happier person living the simple life, and it makes it easy having a wonderful DH in my life too, we didn't ruin each other, we were in this mess together and we kept our marriage strong and didn't place blame and misery on each other while getting back to the basics. I hope I can keep learning how to be frugal.

And to mightyscott, you make me jealous. LOL

(tish) near Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Walmart has been eliminating the fabric dept in their stores for a couple years..the only reason they kept it in some stores is they had to honor a contract with a fabric provider and when the contract ran out they would not carry fabric in any Walmart store. Shame. Very convenient to have it for crafty projects, etc and not have to go to lots of different stores. I will spend more $$ on spur of the moment things if I go into JoAnns fabric or Hobby Lobby for sure. When I was at JoAnns fabric counter one day, the lady said they accepted Hobby Lobby coupons too, so I usually print one out before I go!

I got a receipe book - Eating during the depression. Where people submitted receipes they remembered from back then. Things like ketchup soup...was wondering how old ketchup is, I would think most families made their own food back then.

I used to be more frugal, then got lazy. So I'm back now to try and be more frugal, if for no other reason, to be more responsible to myself. It feels good to do an extra step to not be wasteful.

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