Learn 5 Ways To Live Frugal from The Great Depression

By Mike Peterson
In June 16, 2016

Perhaps you have an older family member – a grandparent or a great-grandparent, maybe – who can remember life during the Great Depression. If so, you’ve no doubt heard stories about how tough things were back then: People struggled to find work. Finances were tight. Budgets were tighter. You didn’t spend money unless you absolutely had to – and when you did, you paid cash.

If you’re looking for a few ways to save money, live more frugally, or reduce unnecessary spending, you can’t go wrong with these tried-and-true Depression-era tips:

  • Learn to make basic repairs. During the Great Depression, most people couldn’t afford to pay other people to do things for them, which meant that nearly everyone became a do-it-yourselfer. People did their own home repairs and improvements – and if they didn’t know how to do something, they learned.

Even today, you can still save a few bucks if you learn how to make basic repairs and improvements yourself. Your local hardware store might offer free classes that teach you how to make basic plumbing repairs or install new flooring, and YouTube has tons of step-by-step instructional videos. Just make sure you keep things realistic: If you think a job is too big or too complex, it might be smarter to call in the experts (otherwise you run the risk of making a costly mistake!).

  1. Know the difference between needs and wants. Today, it’s all too easy to spend money on things you want, but don’t really need: a latte, takeout food, a new gadget or an article of clothing. If you want to save money and cut unnecessary spending, channel your Depression-era relatives and take the time to ask yourself, “Is this a need, or a want?” And if you don’t need it – and I mean really need it – don’t buy it.
  2. Don’t carry debt. Folks living through the Great Depression were wary about debt. They were too concerned about their future financial situations to be tempted with offers to buy now and pay later. They paid cash, or they didn’t buy it until they’d saved the money to pay in full. Kind of amazing to think about, considering that the average American carries thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

Follow the example set by our frugal Depression-era forebears. Don’t carry debt. Pay your credit cards off in full each month. Your great-grandma would be proud.

  1. Reuse and repurpose. “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” may sound like a modern concept, but the truth is that this earth-friendly catchphrase would have been just as appropriate during the Depression. Back then, people found useful second and even third lives for nearly every product you can imagine: Jelly jars became drinking glasses or found homes on workbenches holding nails and screws. Worn-out clothing became dust rags, dish towels, or pieces of quilts. And it wasn’t unusual for people to make new clothing out of old cloth flour sacks!

So, maybe wearing a flour sack is taking things a bit far today. But you can turn your old T-shirts into dust rags. You can reuse plastic food containers and you can use paper or plastic grocery bags as trash can liners. In fact, you probably have dozens of disposable items in your house right now that you can repurpose. You might be surprised at the uses you find for things you might just throw away – and you’ll be even more surprised at how much money you can save.

  1. Trade or barter instead of spending. Instead of paying money for goods or services, people living through the Great Depression often bartered with each other for things they needed. If you lived on a farm back then, you might trade a dozen eggs or a gallon of milk for, say, a gallon of gas or even a visit from the local doctor!

While it’s unlikely that your family doctor will accept eggs – even farm-fresh ones – as payment for services, you can still find ways to make the old-fashioned bartering system work for you. For example, you can swap gently used clothing, books, or DVDs with friends. Or you can offer your next-door neighbor a couple hours of babysitting in exchange for a minor home repair.

There’s no doubt that times were tough, during the Great Depression. But the amazing thing about the folks living back then is how creatively they responded to the challenging economic times. And although a lot has changed since then, many of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ frugal living hacks have stood the test of time.

And speaking of time, there’s no time like the present to get back on track if you’re struggling with high-interest credit card debt. And you don’t have to do it alone. You can contact the Debt Guru team today for a free debt relief consultation.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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