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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

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