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13 Depression Era Money Saving Tips

13 Depression Era Money Saving Tips
Tracy Stine Mar 26, 2018
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

Many of our grandparents and older relatives lived through the 30’s “Great Depression”. This happened after the Stock Market Crash in October 1929 and lasted until World War II started in 1939.

We supported Europe and started manufacturing jobs for military supplies and then we got involved in the War after Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The unemployment rate during this period was around 25% and many families lost homes and possessions due to foreclosures and repossessions.

Even though our families have recovered financially since then, many did not give up the life hacks they learned and we should adopt them for a frugal lifestyle ourselves.

Here are 13 of them:

1. Save on Ground Beef

The average cost of Ground Beef is about $3.55 per pound. That’s pretty expensive for a large family. Here’s a great tip – replace some ground beef with cooked lentils.

A pound of dried lentils only costs $1.39, but prepared and rehydrated makes about 2.7 lbs. of lentils. 1 Cup is about 30¢.

So instead of making a homemade meal with 4 pounds of ground beef (that will cost about $14.20), make it with 2 lbs. beef and 2 cups of lentils – that’ll be $7.70 to make – a $6.50 savings! The lentils have the same texture as the beef and will take on the flavors of the meal and no one will notice.

2. Make your Own Products

Many of the cleaning products, beauty products, pantry items and a lot more can be homemade instead of bought.

For example, the average price for toothpaste is about $2 – $4, but you can just buy one box of Baking Soda for $1.79 that will last a very long time. But if you want your toothpaste to taste better (like the store-bought ones), here’s a recipe:

All Natural Toothpaste

  • ¼ Cup Coconut Oil
  • 5 Tablespoons Baking Soda
  • 10-20 drops Peppermint oil (or other flavor you prefer)
  • A pinch or more of Stevia powder (optional)


  • Melt the coconut oil
  • Add the baking soda and mix well with a fork until it forms a paste
  • Add the peppermint oil & stevia (if using) & mix well again
  • Store covered in a glass jar

The ingredients are usually on hand in your kitchen. Stevia is a popular sugar substitute. If you had to buy these products it’d be about $16 on Amazon, but considering that you’ll only need a little bit for this recipe and the rest can be used elsewhere in the house, it’s a great deal.

All those prepackaged mixes, flavor packages, and everything boxed can be homemade, store in jars or canisters and easily scooped out for a recipe.

Pinterest has a large selection of homemade product recipes as well as some listed in this book. Be sure to do the math on how much ingredients cost vs. the actual product and see if it’s actually worth it too.

3. Reuse Everything

We’ve become a “throwaway” society these days. We toss the boxes items come packed in, we toss the jars, Ziploc bags, and plastic items.

The saved jars can be reused for the homemade products mentioned above. Boxes and Ziplocs can be used for storage and organization. All those “name brand” plastic tumblers we get with our takeout can be cleaned and used again.

We also throw out a lot of stuff that breaks down too. In some cases, getting a new item is cheaper than the repair bill, but if you can barter with friends or a neighbor who knows how to repair it, you’ve saved some money there.

4. Grow your own Herbs & Vegetables

It doesn’t matter if you have a small backyard, or if it’s a rental house, you can still grow a garden without digging anywhere. You could do container gardening, or what we’ve been using that last few years, “Rain Gutter Gardening System”.

This is an above ground system using rain gutters and containers that “self-water” and takes very little maintenance to grow a lot of vegetables.

You can still grow your own herbs and veggies in an apartment or condo with small container garden system.

Did you know that many of the vegetables you buy can re-sprout if you plant them? Try it with a celery base – stick it in a shallow cup of warm water on a window sill.

Change the water daily and when it starts sprouting new leaves and the outer layer starts breaking down, plant the stalk in soil and watch the new celery grow.

5. Keep a Soup Stock Bag in the Freezer

Any time you’re preparing vegetables for a meal, save the peels, ends, and odd pieces in a Ziploc bag and store in the freezer.

When you have enough stocked up, boil it all in a large pot until cooked through, strain all the pieces out and you now have a rich stock base for any future soups.

You can also save all the bones and meat you couldn’t scrape in the freezer too and make a meat stock, such as from the whole chicken I will talk about later.

Doing this saves money in the long run (and in my opinion, a lot tastier), than the store-bought stocks. A vegetable stock costs about $3 for 32 fl. ounces, but you need 2 containers – $6. So, why not save a little money and reuse product you’ve already bought, or even better, grown?

6. Save on Coffee

Is the reason you’re buying those expensive coffees at the drive-thru is because you cannot find a great brand for home brewing, or that they’re expensive?

An 11 oz. Starbucks brand roast coffee costs about $7, while a no-name generic brand costs about $4, but it’s cheaper to buy the 48 oz. can for $8, so you get 4x more coffee for another buck.

A great Depression Era trick is to throw in a pinch of salt in your brewer before you start. This reduces the bitterness and makes the coffee smoother.

7. Buy a Whole Chicken

No, I’m not talking about one still clucking on the farm. You can buy whole chickens at the grocery store (fresh or frozen). You can either learn how to break it down properly yourself for a variety of chicken parts.

Or, you can just do what I do and make the first meal with a whole chicken. I’d roast it in a slow cooker for meal 1.

For meal two I tear off what meat I can and make a chicken soup (the stock made from a previously saved chicken carcass), then for meal 3 I thicken up the soup into a thick gravy and use that for a chicken pot pie.

Now, I’ve gotten 3 meals, some slicked chicken for lunchmeat, and a carcass for a future soup stock.

8. Use Cash

This sounds like a no-brainer, but surprisingly according to –  40% of consumers use credit cards, 35% use debit cards, and only 11% use actual cash. Therein lies the problem with our finances.

Credit cards are alright ONLY if you pay the balance in full without incurring interest, but many of us don’t and whatever we bought ends up being costlier, especially with the average credit card interest rating being at 16%.

Using cash will help a lot with your finances and budget as it’s tangible – you can see what you have. As opposed to a credit card or debit card where we just swipe without really knowing our balance. So stick to cash spending.

However, for those who feel like they’re disciplined enough and can pay off their balance and full, using credit cards can actually yield some nice bonuses.

9. Be aware of your Utility Use

Back in the Depression era, people were keenly aware of how much electricity and water they used and limited it as much as they could to save money. We should do the same and be conscious of how much electricity and water we use in our household.

In my previous post I mentioned that having a programmable thermostat to have a lower temperature during the day while away at work, and during the night while sleeping, can save 15% off your electric bill alone.

10. Barter with Friends & Family

As I mentioned briefly in #3, you can barter with friends or family to repair something of yours. In exchange, offer to do something for them – mow their lawn for a month.

Whatever you’re growing, your skills, your profession, whatever – can be bartered with others in exchange for something you need. You can also look on local buy, sell & trade classifieds, on craigslist, or just keep it in the family.

Fix your folks computer in exchange for a few homemade meals; teach your neighbor’s kid guitar in exchange for a free oil change and tune-up. The ideas are endless and are a great way for everyone to save money all around.

11. Share your Space

Do you have a spare bedroom, spare space in your garage, driveway or backyard? You can make money renting those out.

Back in the 30s, whole families moved in together to save on rent and mortgages and pooled funds to feed and clothe everyone.

You don’t necessarily need to house 5 families together, but if you’ve got space – make it work for you. An extra driveway space can earn you about $25 a day in the larger cities.

12. Don’t get too Prideful

Too many youths these days graduate high school or college expecting to gain managerial positions or higher. Then they wonder why they are being turned down. They really need to start at the lower levels, learn the ropes and work their way up.

On the other end, those who have had successful careers may suddenly find themselves out of work and are competing for the higher status positions too.

Whatever the cause for unemployment, you need to be willing to accept any type of work to make ends meet. Be willing to take more than one job too.

My husband was a high earning computer technician when the company folded. Computing jobs in his field were scarce, instead he drove a cab, delivered pizza, a night shift desk clerk job AND a weekend cook aide job.

Some weekends he was working 36 hours straight, just so the four of us could eat and pay our debts. Don’t ever be too picky when it comes to earning money. Start a side hustle or two if you need money quickly.

13. Cook from Scratch

The average American spends over $700 a year on meals that require no preparation, and over $3000 a year dining out. Very little is actually spent on fresh food like vegetables (a little over  $200 a year).

You would save so much money by cooking your meals from scratch, not only that but you can flavor the food any way you want it.

If time is a factor for not cooking meals yourself, consider getting a slow cooker and prepping all your meals for a week, or a month in one day.

Freezer prep meals are so easy to throw together, thaw in the fridge the day before, and toss into the slow cooker before you head to work. A delicious meal is waiting when you get home, it’s that easy and healthier.

Cooking your meals from scratch will save you money not just from groceries as usually you can make more meals with the ingredients needed in a “prepared box meal”, but if you use your own home grown vegetables, your own homemade pantry items and stock, you’ll enjoy it more too.

The lessons that need to be passed down from the Great Depression are: save and reuse everything, do it yourself, help others, and stay humble.

Tracy Stine

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