10 Depression-era hacks to save money now

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

With a high number of unemployed people right now and limited financial resources for many families, it’s time to look for real ways to save money during tough times.

During the Great Depression, people used 1930s frugality and simple tricks to save money and survive the lean years. We can take a page from their book and start over.

Here are 10 Depression-era hacks and frugal living ideas that will save you money right now.

1. Grow your own food

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In the 1930s, everyone had a “victory garden” in their backyard, side yard, rooftop, or patio pots. You can grow staple vegetables, like tomatoes, from seeds or seedlings to supplement groceries that are becoming increasingly expensive.

You can grow herbs in your kitchen window. If you are new to gardening, you may benefit from help from your local garden club, horticultural society or university extension office.

Also, learn how to store your own food so you don’t waste the food you grow (or even the extra produce you buy). When you start canning and drying your own food, you’ll be the model child of Depression-era frugality.

Get started with the ultimate guide to starting a garden (at a low price).

2. Cook your own food

Happy woman preparing dinner at home
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During the Great Depression, people got creative by making meals from inexpensive, available ingredients.

Bean soups were a staple of Depression-era recipes because beans are a cheaper protein than meat, and you can throw whatever leftovers you have on hand into the pot. Rice and potatoes were cheap ways to fill hungry stomachs.

Even if you don’t like to cook, you’ll save money by whipping up simple recipes rather than relying on takeout or meal kits. Look for less expensive cuts of meat or add a few vegetarian dinners for a more frugal menu.

Descend your pantry and freezer to find the ingredients you have on hand and look for recipes that use what you have to lower your grocery bills. Who knows? These Depression Era hacks might lead you to discover some new favorite foods.

3. Switch to retro entertainment

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If you’re aiming for an old-fashioned frugal life, ditch the expensive subscriptions and go retro in your entertainment choices.

Ditch extended cable or any of your streaming site subscriptions. Cancel the gym membership you forget to use or the magazine subscription you rarely read.

Instead, dig up old electronics and watch a movie from the library. While you’re there, listen to some new music and some good books. Work out at home with free fitness apps or simple bodyweight exercises, or go for a run.

Play cards or board games, or listen to a podcast as a family, as if you were a Depression-era family listening to an old-time radio show. Dust off the guitar in the corner or the violin you haven’t touched in years and start playing music again.

Not only will you save money, but you might find yourself spending more quality time with your family.

Check out our favorite family games that won’t blow the budget.

4. Fix it yourself

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Do you have a leaky faucet? A leaking toilet tank? Some simple home repairs can be done by even the most inexperienced DIYer with instructions that come with the repair kit or video tutorials on YouTube.

Or ask the guy or girl in the right department at your local home improvement store for advice. You might not have to shell out hundreds to have a handyman come in for a 15 minute job.

If you embrace 1930s frugality, you know you always try to fix something before buying a new one. Put a fun patch on the hole in your child’s jeans rather than heading to Old Navy for a new pair.

Take your cracked cell phone to a repair shop before you get another iPhone. Repair costs tend to be much lower than buying the latest version of the broken item.

5. Do it yourself

A woman knits yarn that was a comfort buy during the coronavirus crisis
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Why buy it when you can make it? This Depression Era hack is not just for crafty people who can sew their own clothes. It’s easy to make your own cleaning products that might even be more effective than store-bought chemicals.

Decorate your home with things you already own or can reuse, or create your own gift wrap for holidays and birthdays. You can even learn to treat yourself to a pedicure rather than running to the salon and paying premium prices.

You might even find that you love making things, and suddenly you’re knitting sweaters or crocheting blankets instead of gorging on Netflix.

6. Use everything

Woman putting toothpaste on toothbrush
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Make your purchases last longer by using every last drop.

Scrape the very last drop of peanut butter from the jar, squeeze and roll that tube of toothpaste until you’re sure nothing can come out, and use up the last leftover makeup before you buy another eyeshadow or another mascara. Consider diluting juice or even cleaning products a bit to make them last longer.

7. Be friendly

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Neighbors who helped each other fared better during the Great Depression. Why not try to build common goodwill now to help everyone save? Don’t buy a chainsaw for a one-off job when your neighbor would gladly lend you his.

If your child outgrows their clothes, see if a local friend has some second-hand clothes to give you. Use online groups in your community to buy and trade used items or even get things for free.

If you can’t pay, maybe you could go old school and trade or barter; you can always volunteer to babysit neighbors’ kids for an hour or pick up their leaves.

8. Reuse and reuse

plastic bags
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Embrace your inner grandma and save plastic and glass containers, bread bags, and shoe boxes for reuse instead of buying new zipper bags and storage containers.

Turn old clothes and sheets into rags or home decor. Before you throw anything away, assess if you can reuse it in something else that will keep you from making a purchase. Think of it as a fun challenge!

9. Find a job

Woman looking at her insurance policy on a laptop
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People who lived through the Great Depression found work wherever they could. Men may have had to take jobs that were new to them, while women for the first time sought work outside the home as cleaners or teachers.

If you’ve been laid off from the restaurant, bar, gym, or workplace, you can get creative to find paid gigs available right now, from buying groceries for the locked-in to parcel delivery for online retailers.

You might even be able to work from home. Check the local job center for listings. You might be surprised at what’s available.

10. Go manual

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You can save on your utility bills by opting for the manual option instead of electric. Do like the housewives of the Depression era and dry your clothes instead of running the dryer and wash the dishes by hand instead of running the dishwasher half empty.

Turn down your heat a degree or two and pile up the sweaters and blankets. Walk or bike to nearby errands and exercise while saving on gas and car maintenance. These small savings will add up.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click on links in our stories.


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