12 Frugal Living Tips From The Great Depression

I remember first hearing about The Great Depression in my high school history class.  Even then, I found it hard to fathom what people went through during that time in history. Over the years as I’ve heard more stories, many of them now being told online, I was amazed at their resilience. By reading and watching their stories I learned many frugal living tips from The Great Depression.

We can use what we learned from them to know how to prepare for another great depression if we ever have to walk through such an unfortunate time.  The people who lived during that time learned How to save money with frugal living during the Great Depression, and we can gain wisdom from their experiences.   Tips from our grandparents and great grandparents are still relevant today.

frugal living tips from the great depression

While I grew up living below the poverty line here in Canada, I know that I am pretty fortunate to not go through the same kind of poverty many people went through during The Great Depression.   Depression era frugality was a necessity for these people.  The Great Depression era frugal living strategies were what kept many of those people alive in desperate times.


The Great Depression occurred between 1929 and 1939.  The worst years were 1932 and 1933, and after that things slowly started to improve, but it would take years until the Depression finally came to a complete end.

The effects of The Great Depression were severe.  Unemployment was at an all time high with more people losing their jobs everyday. Businesses closed. Banks were going bankrupt which meant even people who were thrifty and wise with their money lost their savings they had put in the bank they trusted.  People were evicted from their homes and were literally starving.

Even farmers who were growing their own food suffered in some areas due to drought.  The drought was so severe that it caused major dust storms that destroyed crops and killed livestock.  The severe dry period that triggered the dust storms was named “The Dust Bowl.”

farm drought during the Depression Era

It’s hard to imagine all these people went through.  I look at my kids and I try to picture what it would be like to not know how I was going to feed them.  I don’t know what I would do, but I can tell you that it would take everything within me not to absolutely fall apart.


The people who went through The Great Depression know what it’s like to live frugally in order to survive.  They didn’t make frugal choices to save up for a trip or pay down excessive debt.  No, they had to find ways to be frugal in an effort to just be able to put food on the table and try desperately hard to keep their homes.

A few years ago I stumbled on some cooking videos on YouTube by Clara, a woman in her 90s who shared recipes and told stories of her time living in The Great Depression.  I came across her videos because I was searching for insanely cheap meals I could make during a particularly trying time in our life struggling to make ends meet.

Her grandson started recording the videos and uploading them to share with the world.  Clara has since passed away, but her legacy remains.  Be sure to check out her videos HERE. You will fall in love with this woman and her frugal recipes from the Great Depression.

If you know someone who has been through The Great Depression, maybe a grandparent or friend, I recommend asking them to tell you stories of that time.  I think you will be amazed at the things they share and you will learn so much from them.

Not only that, but stories from The Great Depression have a way of putting things into perspective for us.  Those stories remind us to be grateful for all that we have.

We can learn a lot from The Depression Era, not only when it comes to perseverance, strength, and the will to survive, but also on how to save money.  These people didn’t fool around. They knew how to be extremely frugal.  Their survival depended on it.  Forget trying to live frugally on one income – many families had to learn how to live frugally on NO income.

1930s frugality meant living simply and frugally.  Below are some frugal living tips with a big impact.  Check out these old fashioned frugal living ideas you can apply to your own life.  The following tips truly is budget-friendly living inspired by The Great Depression.


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1. They foraged. 

Various kinds of nuts and berries were often foraged for the help feed the family.  Dandelions were often used in meals as well.  Even squirrels and rabbits were consumed .The people of the Depression Era were struggling to buy food, so foraging was a good way to help put food into their family’s mouths.

Of course, you have to be super careful when foraging.  There are plants out there that can poison you so you don’t want to guess when it comes to what plants you can eat.  Making sure you have a book to guide you like this one is a good idea.

2. They lived within their means. 

If they didn’t have the money, they didn’t put it on their credit cards.  They made do with what they had and if they didn’t have it they made do without.  They had to learn to stay within budget.  

They kept track of their finances.  They had a BUDGET.  If you don’t have a budget, be sure to check out this amazing workbook over at The Budget Mama.  

Jessi Fearon created this workbook with her own personal knowledge and experience of becoming financially free – and she has been very successful at it. Budgeting is a great way to live within your means.

Click here to visit The Budget Mama and check out the workbook for yourself.

Also, while I don’t know how common coupons were back then, I would think it was safe to say if they had them they’d be using them!

Try Coupons.com or Redplum for some coupons you can use for groceries, or download the Checkout51 App or the Ibotta app for a cashback option that allows you to save money on groceries without cutting coupons.


3. Meat was replaced with cheaper food choices. 

They learned to make meals that didn’t require meat.  They would cook with beans or potatoes, pasta, or make cheap meals such as pancakes. 

If they did eat meat they would stretch it as far as they possibly could.  While I never had to eat things like “ketchup sandwiches,”  I do share some super insanely cheap meals to make when you are broke HERE.  When you don’t have much money, it’s best to eat less meat, at least for a few meals a week.

The best frugal living tips from the Great Depression

4. If it broke, they fixed it. 

Clothes were mended at home, not replaced with something new.  Most homes were equipped with sewing machines for these types of things.

If something in the home stopped working they repaired it. It would be unthinkable to just throw it away.  People didn’t take the easy way out when it came to replacing broken items.  

They often used items around the house to fix broken things, like using cardboard to fix a worn out sole in a shoe.

And if the item was absolutely unfixable, and they needed to replace it, people first looked at thrift stores so they could purchase items second hand.  

However, during The Great Depression, thrift shops struggled as well because they couldn’t keep up with the demand.  Most people couldn’t afford to buy new, but few people were donating items to the stores as well because they couldn’t easily afford to replace the items with new things.

5. They Bartered. 

It was common for people to barter during the tough times of The Depression Era.  Money was hard to come by, and so if they had something they could barter to obtain any household items they needed, they were sure to do it.  

If they lived in the country and raised their own meat, raised chickens for eggs, and grew their own food, they would head into town and barter food for items they needed such as gas for their car, kerosene for their lanterns, or other food items they could not produce on their farm.

6. They grew their own food. 

Backyard gardens, also known as a victory garden, became a necessity. The more food or fresh produce they could produce in their own vegetable garden, the better chance they had of keeping food on the table and they didn’t need to spend money at the grocery store.  

Food preservation was also something they did with all their own produce once they harvested the vegetables.  Growing and saving their own food definitely kept the grocery bill down.

Don’t let the fact that you haven’t gardened scare you away from trying.  I learned the basics from one of my favorite books, The Backyard Homestead.  

Because of that book I was successful at growing tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach along with an herb garden.  Your local library is a great place to see if you can borrow some homesteading books.  Consider getting your own library card to check out some books that can help you save money in the long run.

Victory gardens from The Great Depression Era

7. Nothing was wasted. 

When it came to food, it ALL got eaten and there was no food waste.  For example, when it came to something like a whole chicken, the feet and bones would be used for soup, the gizzards would be consumed, even the feathers would be used for featherbeds. Bacon grease was saved.  Stale bread was kept and used for recipes.

Fruit with bruises would just have the bad spot cut out of it before eating it.  Absolutely everything they could possibly eat was used to feed their hunger, every last bit.  Their food budget was tiny, and grocery shopping trips were few and far between and so they had to use up everything to feed their family members.

8. They took in boarders. 

Renting out rooms in their homes meant extra income to help them survive a difficult financial situation.  With so many people without work during The Depression, they looked for creative ways to make some money to cover the extra cost of things.  

9. They recycled.

Instead of throwing something out, it would often be used for something else.  Feed and flour sacks were used to make clothing, magazines were used for crafts, old scraps of clothes were used as rags or to make mops.  

Wood scraps would be used to make toys. They kept everything they could during hard times. Reusable products were extra popular.

10. They layered clothing to stay warm. 

During the depression, many people couldn’t afford to properly heat their houses and had to use less electricity.  To save on resources they often didn’t heat the house while sleeping.

They layered their clothing to stay warm and slept under horse hair blankets or feather beds made from chicken or goose feathers.  A hot water bottle is another way to stay warm during those cold nights.

At our house we layer clothing during the colder months, but I am thankful we do not need to sleep under horse hair blankets but instead use  a mattress heating pad at night which is one of the best items I have ever been gifted with! 

While it uses electricity, it can save you money because you can set your thermostat much lower at night.  It is cheaper to heat just your bed instead of the whole house.  If you are like us and heat primarily by wood in the winter months, a mattress heating pad makes nights so much more enjoyable long after the wood stove has died down.

11. They made things themselves. 

When the older generations wanted or needed something, their first thought was to figure out how to make it instead of running out and buying it. They were experts on how to figure out how to make it themselves long before the Internet was available with tutorials to teach people how to do-it-yourself.  

They made homemade cleaners, homemade gifts for holidays, or clothing with a sewing machine, or even by hand.   Even basic sewing skills allowed them to mend old clothes since buying new clothes was often not an option.  Making their own clothes was just another survival skill for them.

They didn’t buy things like paper towels, they made cloth napkins instead.

People sewed their own clothes in The Great Depression

12. They chose other modes of transportation instead of driving. 

Riding bicycles and walking were popular during The Great Depression due to their frugal nature.  If a person did have to drive somewhere, they did it as minimally as possible and avoided going out of their way in an effort to save on gas.

Even if it just saved a little money, they did it because every bit helped.



These frugal tips from The Great Depression are excellent ideas of how we can save money today.  While the people who lived through it were resilient and determined, there were many stories of heartbreak during this time in history.

Out of desperation some people were willing to steal and resort to violence to feed themselves and their families. Crime rates increased during this time.  We would be wise to take lessons from The Great Depression.

I can’t imagine being so desperate that you felt you had to resort to crime to survive.  My heart breaks for what these people went through. I hope it is an era that never repeats itself.

The truth of the matter is, while we hope we never have to suffer through a depression, we just don’t know what tomorrow brings.

The recession from a few years back was a small reminder of how quickly things can change, and it can be completely out of our control.  It doesn’t even have to be a recession or depression to cause financial distress for us.  An accident or illness, or an emergency or crisis, or job loss can instantly change our financial circumstances.

While we can’t always control outside factors that affect our finances, what we can control is the skills we continually learn to become more self-sufficient, should a crisis arise.  The more we learn to be frugal, the more we are able to be self-reliant, the better off we are in the long run if we don’t need a lot of money to survive.

My hope is that while more than likely your survival doesn’t depend on it, you might be able to apply some of the above frugal living tips from The Great Depression into your own, modern day life in an effort to to take control of your finances and save some money.

Even though times have changed with advanced technology and just a very different way of life, the same principles apply when it comes to saving money.  There’s a saying that’s been around for a very long time and it goes like this:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Those are excellent words to live by and it sure seems like the people who went through The Great Depression had to apply that saying to their lives, whether they were already living by it or not.

While I am sad that so many people had to suffer through the days of The Great Depression, I am thankful for the lessons they have taught us and continue to teach us through their stories. Frugal living tips that have stood the test of time.  

It is because of what they went through that we can learn the best ways to save money and be frugal.  The frugal living tips from The Great Depression are some of the absolute most successful ways we can cut our budget and expenses.

Surviving on a budget isn’t always easy, but the above frugal living advice from The Great Depression can help us!



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Frugal Living tips from the Great Depression
Article Name
Frugal Living tips from the Great Depression
The Great Depression was a time no one ever wants to repeat, but there is much to learn from those who went through it.

11 thoughts on “12 Frugal Living Tips From The Great Depression”

  1. My Mother lived In Louisiana during the Depression. The family was poor before the depression. Her daddy had a farm, there was 4 kids. She told some great stories. She was still in high school when she married my Dad. He was was 50. He had to leave school in the 3rd grade to work and help support his father, step mother and their children. When married my mother he has a large farm and worked for the post office.

    1. Wow, I imagine if they were poor before the Depression it hit them insanely hard. People who have lived through it know hardship that many of us will never know. The stories they tell are quite amazing.

      1. My grandma lived during this era as well on a farm in montana, they were poor to begin with. So much of what you say was in her stories. She told me some of the kids at her little school brought bread with lard spread in it for a lunch. Crackers with ketchup. She was the youngest of 12 kids. She also talked about having some kind of stamps for sugar and coffee and things like that. An applenornpiece of fruit was a cherished present. I hope to never go through this but try to stay humble and appreciate things.

        1. We can easily forget how lucky we are and these stories have a way of reminding us. I grew up poor, but I never had to eat ketchup on crackers or ketchup on bread because that’s all there was. The people who lived through the Depression had to go through things we can never imagine.

    2. Hello.
      Living in northern Minnesota during the Depression Era, my mother said her parents and siblings didn’t realize the depression because they lived that way all the time!

  2. Barbara Moshofsky

    My mother lived on a farm in the Palouse. They had no money, but enough food. Little wood in the Palouse, so there was ice on the inside of the windows. They had farmhands who were paid in food and a little money. The men would give the money to grandma to buy corn liquor for them when the moonshiner came by. My father, on the other hand, his father was a carpenter in the city, and there was no work. His lunch was a cold baked potato. Plenty of heat from wood, though, in the Willamette Valley. I think I would rather be cold than hungry.

    1. Yeah, I think I would rather be cold than hungry too, but man, did the people who went through the Great Depression know tough times! Thank you for sharing this story. I love to read these experiences.

  3. I loved the article and I have watched many of Clara’s videos and I checked out her cookbook from the library. Thanks for the all the helpful information.

    1. Isn’t Clara the sweetest? She has since passed away, but I’m so thankful that she shared her wisdom before she died. I am curious now if my library has her cookbook. I’ll have to check!

  4. My dad lived thru the Great Depression on a small farm in Missouri (86 acres) when I asked him how hard the depression was he said welllll we pretty much didn’t know a depression was going on , the rest of the country just had to live like they did for a while. Their hardest times were the drought years and dad said he remembered his father cutting down trees so the cows would have something to eat. My dad taught me the old ways and I’m sure I could write a book on how to live without money or means

  5. That is perhaps the best list I have seen, and I think it is much more like how it really was than other lists I’ve seen.

    I would add to that, that their shopping needs were kept simple. They tried first to provide for themselves (my mom grew up on a farm during the depression). The one store was miles away and it was further to go to get to other stores. They shopped infrequently, with a well planned list that might have been compiled over months, and they purchased several items like flour… in bulk… and used the flour sacks to make curtains, dish towels, or children’s clothes. They would buy fabric, and sew their own clothes and quilt. Batting for the quilts were combed wool from sheep. Laundry detergent and dish soap were both grated bar soap. They had an outhouse, and “toilet paper” were the pages out of the old Sears and Roebuck catalog. That they had the catalog, shows that they could order and for those of you too young to remember the two inch wide Sears and Roebuck catalog, you should look it up. They did not buy yeast but used sourdough, baking soda, baking powder, and made their own bread, biscuits, cookies, cakes, pies and candy. I don’t think they bought cooking oil, but used “trimmings,” rendered fats from meats, and butter. I know they bought vanilla because my mom said they had no cologne so they would dab a drop of vanilla behind their ears to go to a dance. I know they bought molasses, brown sugar, oats, and spices and some extracts like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, pepper, and almond, vanilla, and anise extracts. Farmers had food during the depression (at least some did, mine were in Minnesota), and I think flavorings were considered only a little money for what they gave in return, and they were easy to fit into a wagon to bring home because they were small.

    Christmas gifts included things like fabric, clothing, mittens, books, handmade items like wood carvings and handmade toys, combs, coats, shoes, skates, sleds, stockings, and in stockings they would get oranges, nuts, and penny candy. Sometimes youth would be given their own animal like a piglet or a calf, which they could raise and sell at a fair for “cash money.”

    The other thing I would add is they knew how to store food and their harvest without a refrigerator. My dad grew up in a city and they were better off and had an “ice box” with real ice, milk delivery, and they had electricity for lights and a radio. But my mom had none of that. They canned and had a “storm cellar” which was also their cold cellar for storage crops from their garden to eat over winter… potatoes, apples, corn, pumpkins, onions, turnips, carrots, things like that. They would smoke meats. They had their own pigs, turkeys, chickens, and cows. They would make their own butter, and use buttermilk as much as milk for drinking, pancakes, and baking. They did not eat cereal for breakfast, but oatmeal or eggs, toast, potatoes for breakfast and sometimes biscuits or meat or pancakes. Oranges and lemons were special. Nuts were usually foraged, but loved and used for cookies and cakes. Berries were also foraged.

    I realized only this year that on the farm where my mother grew up they had an electric fence for the animals. I know this because of the story she told me of a game they would play on the family dog (a little wicked). But I also have in my possession the kerosene lamp she used to study for high school. So I find it interesting that they had electricity for the animals, but not for themselves inside the house, and I think this is quite revealing about their priorities. I think many farms got incubators and electricity in their barns before their homes.

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