Growing up on a farm during the early 80’s I was privileged to watch my folks try and make ends meet through the farming crisis. Luckily, my parents weren’t alone but had my Grandparents only three miles away to help each other out.
My Grandparents, who survived the Great Depression, knew a thing or two about survival and making it through the leanest of times. Whether they realized it or not their daily example spoke into my life of small ways to save money. It really wasn’t any conversations that showed me but through daily example. Things that I thought were normal, but were anything from it.
So, in the 18 years of being around my Grandparents (and Great Aunt & Uncles), here are 12 tips to save money that I learned from people who survived the Great Depression.
- Make Your Own Soap – my grandparents would periodically make giant blocks of soap in their basement. These blocks of soap would be cut up and packaged to last the entire year. The savings were small, but they were able to save money regardless.
- Use a Clothes Line to Dry Your Clothes – very rarely did my grandparents use their clothes dryer (especially during the summer), but would hang all their clothes on the four clotheslines they had in the yard. I specifically remember how hard our bath towels were, and thought this was common. Again, the energy savings during the 80’s was small from this but was another small step in pinching every nickel and dime.
- Reuse Old Socks and Shirts for Dish Rags – my grandparents didn’t own a single store-bought dishrag, but every rag was made from reused old clothing. Even if their clothing was no longer fashionable or worn, then it could still be used as a dish or oil rag.
- Eat Everything on Your Plate – no matter what meal Grandma served they would both lick the plates clean, and then mop it cleaner with a slice of bread. Also, whenever we’d go over to my Great Uncle’s house (Grandpa’s brother), then he’d do the same thing. Grandpa and Norman always reminded me the importance of eating all that is served, because of how they went without during the Depression.
- Repair Everything – Grandpa always worked to extend the life of everything he owned whether it be with duck tape, welding, or modifying. It was always a matter of taking care of what you own through general maintenance or getting a few more days out of an old part.
- Make Your Own Clothes – my grandparents always talked about how they would make their own clothes, and to my surprise, they’d even reuse old flour bags. Ya, in a recent conversation with my Great Aunt they would reuse 50-100lb flour bags to make dresses out of them. I doubt they’d use them for their “Sunday best”, but provided another set of clothes to wear around the farm.
- Reuse – Grandpa always told me how during the depression that there was a shortage of tires. My grandpa and his brother would always go to the local landfill and scour for old tires to repair and reuse. They always did what they needed to in order to just get by.
- Buy Wholesale – whether it was buying seed, flour, or parts, Grandpa always explained to me the benefits of buying wholesale, and how much money he’d save doing so. Grandpa spoke of how his parents would buy wholesale bulk items from town and store their large purchases in the attic.
- Helping Your Neighbor – unlike the times we are living in today, the years of the Great Depression forced a lot of people to help their neighbors out. Frequently, neighbors would share the produce in their gardens, assist in field work, assist with repairs, and lend machinery to one another. All of these steps would help people save money and make it through the Great Depression.
- Make It Yourself (versus paying retail) – after the Depression, I saw how often my Grandpa and his brother would make their own hog troughs, modified wagon parts, or combine parts. By making parts themselves they’d typically save 50% off what the local implements or parts dealer would charge. It’s again another reminder of how resourceful the Great Depression generation lived and another way they saved money.
- Detest Debt – for most people today a majority of their income goes toward paying interest on loans and credit cards. My grandparents always talked about how people got swamped by their debt payments as farmers headed into the Depression. As a result, a lot of farmers and families lost their farms due to this burden. In addition, Grandpa always talked about how certain folks would get swamped by credit cards, and how detestable that was. Grandpa always felt like debt was a disease or virus that needed to be avoided at all costs! He talked first hand about how his Dad lost a farm due to too much debt. The bitter taste of debt remained with him his entire life.
- Purchase (Don’t Rent) – Grandpa always loved the pride of owning his own land, machinery, or car. He always talked about how renters are just making someone else rich. Plus by purchasing things, then he was able to live debt free the last 40 years of his life. This philosophy helped save his family a lot of money over his 90+ years of life!
- Paid Cash for Everything – if they didn’t have the money physically in their hands, then they wouldn’t buy it. Often times they weren’t allowed to pay by check because a lot of checks would bounce. Much like Dave Ramsey talks about, they wanted to feel the money leave their hands. It often made it harder to part with the money when you paid with cash.
- Buy used – because of how quickly assets would depreciate, my grandparents would always seek to buy used first (or even get it from the local landfill) before going to the store to buy it new.
From growing up around Grandparents, these are a few of the small things I picked up about how the Great Depression shaped their life. I saw in their lives the small money saving tips that they believed in passionately. I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up around Great Depression relatives. I’d be interested in hearing how some of our readers witnessed their relatives save money as a result of the Great Depression. What money saving tips do you have to share?