9 Frugal-Living Tips From the Great Depression


mendingThis post originally appeared on POPSUGAR Smart Living.

Scrimping and saving was a necessity during the Great Depression, when unemployment in the US skyrocketed to 25 percent. Although we are seeing better times, we can always take a page from that era and practice some of those thrifty habits. Restart these frugal practices, and your wallet will thank you!

Making your own: There are plenty of items we can DIY and don’t have to buy, such as certain foods and cleaning supplies. Not only will making some of these items on your own save you money, but it’s also better for your health. There are fewer chemicals in homemade cleaning supplies and food.

Using it up: Use everything to the last drop before you toss it. This includes everything from bath supplies to cooking ingredients.

Going to the library: We often forget our friendly neighborhood library has plenty of awesome freebies in store for us, from ebooks to DVDs. Don’t forget: the library is also a great quiet spot to enjoy free WiFi without the obligation of buying a cup of coffee.

Mending it: Instead of throwing away your items or handing them off to a professional, fix them yourself. Thankfully, we have plenty of online tutorials that can take us through the steps without us blindly figuring it out on your own. Check out these home repair projects you should tackle on your own.

Using less: Not only do we need to use everything to the last drop, but we also have to remember to use less of what we have. For example, you can always dilute your hand soap and shampoo with water. And you can use less detergent for your wash.

Growing your own: If growing your own food sounds intimidating, you can always start small. Explore foods that you can easily grow in a small space, such as herbs.

Needing over wanting: Apply the stranger test to purchases. Picture a stranger offering you the cash value of the purchase or the purchase to you, and figure out which one you would pick. If you pick the cash over the item, then you should seriously reconsider buying and just make do with what you have instead.

Reusing items
: Don’t throw away items just because you can’t use it for its original purpose. For example, there are plenty of things you can do with an old t-shirt, books, mason jars, and even maps.

Spending less on entertainment: Didn’t you know the best things in life are free? Enjoy free activities, and learn how to entertain yourself at home without spending a dime.

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  • betty marie waldeck

    very good to know stuff.

    • Merrilee Slaton

      When I was young (a child) we always used about a tablespoon of Shampoo or Conditioner in warm water works great.
      When you cook, make extra and put in a bag in freezer for another meal. Costs less and saves on utilities to.

  • aggie-

    how about cooking at home, saves lota of money and should be better for you

    • Merrilee Slaton

      Yes I can make a good meal for about $10.00 for a family of 5 or 6, depends on the kids being here, if we go out, even cheap, would be at least $50.00 to $75.00.

  • Francesca

    I love the one about picturing a stranger offering the cash or the item. I tried it and it works. Francesca of http://tasmanianminimalist.blogspot.com

    • Merrilee Slaton

      You can also make it a habit to go home and if you still want it the next day go back.

  • Merrilee Slaton

    I save on most things but not detergent. That is one area that if you want your clothes to be clean and look good I don’t think is a good idea.

    • Greg Convertito

      I make my own detergent, and have for a while. It cleans just as well, if not better, and I never end up with irritated skin because there aren’t any random fragrances that some company decided to put in my soap.

    • Donna Musick

      I also make my own laundry detergent, called Mom’s Laundry Sauce…cleans better, the soap does not stay in the clothes, smells better, and is easier on the washing machine…I also take free packets of hair conditioner, mix with water, soak a sponge cut in 4 in the solution, and when I dry clothes I squeeze out the sponges and throw them in the dryer, and I throw in a balled up piece of aluminum foil (never needs to be replaced) to remove all static cling…easy peasy and my clothes smell great.

      • Donna

        I’m usung Mom’s Laundry Sauce too for about a year.. Love it and I find I don’t need fabric softener which is good since I have super sensitive skin.

        • brenda lingle

          Would you please share ingredients & instructions for the “mom’s sause?”

    • Debbie

      I found a recipe for homemade detergent that is quite inexpensive and really works. Use 3 Tablespoons of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda, 3 Tablespoons of Bora, and 2 Tablespoons of Dawn. Add this to a gallon of water and use a 1/2 cup per load. If you want a fragrance you can add a coupld of drops of lavender oil, although I’ve never done that. I still use Downy for the softener. My clothes come out smelling fresh and the stains are gone! And now that laundry detergents are so expensive it’s worth a few minutes of my time to make it.

    • Laurie

      I finally tried making my own detergent using castile soap, washing soda, borax, and baking soda. I make it using my food processor and it takes maybe 10 min total. Best detergent I’ve ever used! I’ll never go back to buying it. Was sure I wouldn’t “like” it as I’ve always been so picky, but I was amazed! I add a few drops of lavender essential oil. Sometimes, lemon.

    • Kim Bishop

      I buy a bulk bag of soap nuts online. They are the greatest! All natural and clean my clothes fantastically. I don’t need fabric softener anymore either. Very economical and ecological, too! I bought mine at Green Virgin Products.

    • Ina Antonio

      Make your own laundry detergent and laundry softener. There are tons of recipes on-line. I’ve been making my own for years.

    • brenda lingle

      The homemade soap that has been on fb and pint rest several times does a very good job of cleaning the dirtiest of clothes and smells great. I wash my hubby’s clothes that he lays in dirt & grease in working on race car and it does as good a job as wisk.

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  • Sc B. McKinney

    I have been making my own detergent for about 2 years and not only is it cheaper but if you have the right recipe your clothes are very clean and without all the chemicals. I tried some that I found online where I would agree but the one I am using is great. I also make my own hand soap without all the chemicals and am looking for a dish detergent recipe that works. I have tried several that were horrible.

    • Abby Shen

      The detergent tip is great. I feel like my clothes last longer too when I’m not using the chemical-ridden stuff like Tide.

      I’d like to share some other tips that I saw posted elsewhere -

      1) drop the smart phone and get a “dumb” one. Save about $50 per month. Get a low-priced tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire) or use your old iPhone as a wi-fi only device. Wi-fi is available everywhere; you really don’t need to pay for cell-based data plans
      2) call your car and home insurance company and tell them you want to go through all your coverage because you found another carrier that is cheaper. They’ll probably help you “find” 10% off or more.
      3) speaking of car insurance – An expensive policy from GEICO, Progressive, etc. is not needed. You can find one usually for less than $25/month from a place like Insurance Panda. If you spend too much on car insurance from one of those big companies, chances are you are simply funding their expensive TV ads with cute animals.
      4) compare what your house is really worth to your assessment. Many assessments have never been properly adjusted down to reflect the market over the last 4 years. We cut our property taxes by about 20%.
      5) re-fi your 30-year mortgage to a 15. The interest rate will drop by at least 50-75 bps, more depending on your current rate. The payment may go up slightly, but it is because you are paying off your loan faster. If it’s possible, get the mortgage paid off before the kids go to college. At a minimum, have it paid off before you retire. if you buy life insurance (which you should), don’t overpay. you can get $15 policies from places like Life Ant or gnworth.
      6) review your credit card bills for all the things you are paying $10-20 per month for that you no longer need. I bet everybody has at least a couple
      7) drop all magazine (paper and on-line) subscriptions. If you look around, you can find comparable content for free.
      8) review your investment portfolio for ways to replace higher fee mutual funds or ETFs with lower fee ones. S&P500 funds/ETFs shouldn’t charge more than 0.10% in fees. Fees may be higher for specialty funds, but they are all coming down fast. If your company 401K uses high-fee funds, talk to the folks in charge. A difference of 25 bps in fees will mean a difference of about 5% in your portfolio value after 25 or 30 years.
      9) and of course the most impactful — never carry a balance on a credit card. If you can’t resist, cut up the cards.

      • Jennifer Starr

        Insurance Panda is a lousy, subpar company. Stop lying and spamming.

  • Mel

    I think its an Andy Stanley quote but put in your purse “I want is better than I owe” its true and very effective if its in the same pocket as your credit card.

    I love wikihow I’ve used it a handful of times already on household cleaning and general maintenance tips

  • Farmgal Val

    When I was single and still in my mid 20′s, living alone, I had to be very frugal. Now, since most people feel like their employment jobs are miserable hours wasted of their lives, I used to shop and seeing something like a very pretty $40 blouse but in my mind I knew I only made (back then) a bit over $5 an hour at my miserable job.
    If I wanted that blouse i would have to suffer almost 8 hours of work to buy it so it wasn’t hard to put it back on the rack and walk away.
    If you don’t work outside the home, think of everything you want to buy in your spouses work pay by the hour.
    Even today, my husband makes a bit under $20 a hour so if I want to buy something for $100.00 that poor man has to labor 5 hours at his job!

    • Picklepie6

      I do that too! But we should add 25% for income tax and sales tax –so make that 6+ hours.

  • http://www.frugalfroggie.com/ Beth@FrugalFroggie

    You have some great tips. Thank you for sharing.

  • Carolyn Parish Taylor

    I’ve done a variation of the stranger test except I weigh how much something cost vs how long my husband had to work to pay for it. There’s a lot of things that never passed that test.

  • Debbee Winegar

    I going to throw out our washer and buy a used one, because it cost so much for someone to come out and look at it, and then to come back and actually fix it, but I went online to YouTube, found out it was just the “dog feet”, it was a $5.00 part and I fixed it myself! Now we research everything on YouTube and have found so many tutorials to fix almost everything within reason.

  • Dan Tomkins

    The title says tips from the great depression..I don’t think they had free e-books and dvds and Wi-Fi at that time…

  • Thomas Sharp

    Common Sense is so rare, it is like a super power.

  • miguel thecreditor

    there is nothing new under the sun

  • ouvickie

    The use the Library as my personal investment counselor!
    Sharing Tips: * Baking Soda & Water makes a great cleaning paste – works better than Comet w/o the chemicals.
    * I put 1/4 cup of White Vinegar in the wash as a cleaning booster and fabric softener.
    *Pour Vinegar over citrus peels and soak for 2 weeks. Pour one cup into a spray bottle, squirt 1 tsp dish liquid in there, dilute with water, shake and you have a surface spray cleaner & a stain remover for laundry. Keep adding citrus peels and pouring vinegar over the top and you have an endless of base liquid to start with.
    * You can reuse old box springs as gardening/planter boxes. Strip the fabric off and reuse the wooden “box” – the fabric can be used to block weeds, you can stack them if you want to make the box higher, then fill with dirt. Lots of people send those to the landfill, w/o thinking of the wood inside.

  • Jenn Deloach

    I do a paid for surveys site and I make around $150 a month. It won’t make you rich but it covers my electric and water bill lol. It’s really not hard. Here is the link check it out,


  • Roxit007

    My parents both grew up in the depression and I learned a lot from them. It drives my friends crazy that I reuse or repurpose, grow my own food, squeeze the life out of something for the last drop, and the beat goes on. I make my own cleaning supplies also. Can’t see spending money on these things. They think it takes too much time but are amazed at the money I save.

  • Donna

    Doing most of these all my life and I’m still broke.

  • http://prudentblogging.com Prudent Blogging

    It was a simpler time. A lot of people could not handle this lifestyle.