4 Money-Saving Tips From The Great Depression

Money-saving tips from Great Depression

With news of bank failures and layoffs swirling, it feels like we may be heading into a recession. During times of economic uncertainty, it’s important to live frugally and set aside money for emergencies like income loss. When looking for ways to cut back, hard times like the Great Depression can be a good source of inspiration. People had to get creative to keep food on the table, so lots of frugal recipes and hacks came out of that period. To help you trim down your budget and pad your savings, here are 4  money-saving tips inspired by the Great Depression. 

Grow Your Own Food

During the Great Depression when money was tight, many people maintained a garden and grew at least a portion of their own food. Even city folks participated in community gardens to keep their families fed. Today, it’s easier than ever to start growing food—you don’t even have to do it outside thanks to modern grow lights. 

I have an indoor plant shelf with energy-efficient LED lights where I grow microgreens, herbs, and lettuces during the winter to help lower my grocery bill. I also use it to start my plants in the spring so they’re stronger and healthier when I transplant them into the ground in May. If you don’t have grow lights, you can even grow herbs like green onions right on your windowsill. 

You don’t need a large plot of land to start gardening outdoors either. You can grow all kinds of plants in pots (or upcycled containers like glass jars, tires, or metal wash tubs) on your patio, including herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, and potatoes. 

Even if you think you have a brown thumb, it’s worth trying to grow our own food because seeds are so inexpensive. I’ve gotten seeds at Dollar Tree for $0.25 per packet. Even though I don’t always get food from every single seed packet I plant, it’s a small price to pay for expanding my gardening skills. As I gain more experience and get better at gardening, I hope to be able to grow at least a quarter of my produce and can more vegetables to preserve them for winter 

Make Do And Mend

Recently, I threw away a bunch of old socks that had holes in them. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me to mend these socks even though I have a sewing kit on hand. Our culture encourages consumption and convenience, so it may not immediately cross our minds to hold onto what we have and try to repair it. 

But making do and mending was the default way of thinking during the Great Depression. People didn’t have enough money to replace ripped clothes or broken down tractors, so they learned how to fix them. It would probably do us some good to return to that mindset today so we can set aside extra money for emergencies like the potential upcoming recession. 


Here are some ways to make do and mend so you can cut down your spending and pad your savings: 

  • Adapt recipes to suit what you have on hand instead of always running to the store to get the missing ingredients. 
  • Find new ways to use food scraps you would usually throw out. For example, broccoli stalks can be turned into a delicious pesto. 
  • Research new ways to make familiar meals without expensive ingredients like meat and eggs. For example, Wacky Cakes that omit eggs and butter became popular during the Depression when those ingredients were too costly for families to afford. 
  • Learn to repair appliances instead of replacing them. You can easily Google the issue you’re having and find YouTube videos and forum posts that will instruct you on how to fix it. Even if you have to order a few parts online, it’s still cheaper than calling a repairman or buying a brand new appliance. 
  • If something breaks and you can’t fix it, see if you can live without it. Our dryer recently broke, so we’ve been air-drying our clothes while trying to fix it. We probably won’t even get a new dryer if we can’t get ours up and running again, because it turns out we can do without it!
  • Learn how to do your own basic home and car maintenance, such as gutter cleaning and oil changes. 

Upcycle Things Instead of Throwing Them Out

During the Great Depression, families didn’t throw things away. They’d keep old tires and use them to patch the soles of shoes. Flour sacks became clothing or diapers. Paper scraps were used to start fires or even served as makeshift toilet paper. I’m not suggesting you go to these extreme measures or start hoarding everything that comes into your home. However, we could all learn a thing or two from the resourcefulness of Depression-era families!

Before you throw out “disposable” items, see if there’s a way you can reuse them. Old T-shirts can be cut up and turned into rags. You can cut the top off a milk jug and use it as a planter in the spring, and turn egg cartons into seed sprouting containers. Those plastic cereal bags you usually toss can be used as makeshift Ziploc containers or piping bags for frosting. Get creative and research ways to upcycle things and make your household more sustainable. It’s better for your wallet and the planet! 

Barter For Things You Need

During the Great Depression, people often bartered for the goods and services they needed. In my rural town in the Upper Midwest, there’s still a strong bartering culture even today. 

For example, I helped tutor one of the kids in my neighborhood last year in exchange for his help with some household chores like digging a hole for my firepit. In another trade, my neighbor helped till my garden plot with his tractor and I milled some wood for him on my sawmill. 

Trade With Friends and Family

In my experience, bartering works best with people you already have a relationship with like neighbors, friends, and family. They trust you, so they’ll be more open to making a deal with you even if they don’t usually barter. 

To come up with potential trades, think about the things you need help with, such as handyman work or dog walking. You probably have a friend who’s skilled at the tasks you want to get done. What skills or goods besides money can you offer them that would make lending you a hand worth their time? 

When bartering, it’s important that both parties are satisfied with the trade. You don’t want people to resent you for always asking for favors without adequate compensation. Bartering is just a way to get what you need without money exchanging hands, not a strategy for getting free labor! You still need to provide the other person with just as much value as they’re giving you, so keep that in mind. 

What are some other money-saving tips that we missed? Share your frugal hacks in the comments below!

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