The Great Depression-era: a time when saving or making money wherever possible was a basic survival skill that everyone had to have. Your grandma was probably around then, and maybe you’ve even been secretly amused by her habits of economy.
My grannies used to hoard treats like chocolates or even biscuits, carefully doling them out to us kids two at a time when we were extra good. As a result, a bar of chocolate, handed out two squares at a time would last for weeks. Since she raised us, we developed a genuine appreciation for treats as “treats” rather than something we could have anytime.
Perhaps your grandma used some of these Depression-era money savers. They can still save you money today, and although some of them may only save a small amount, every little bit counts!
1. Think before you buy
Do you walk through the supermarket grabbing goods that look as if they might be useful or are “looking nice” and start popping them in your shopping cart? It’s not just the big purchases you should be thinking about. Depression-era people survived by buying only the things that they absolutely needed.
So before you just do a slam dunk from shelf to cart, stop. Think. Do you really need this? How much are you getting for the price? Is another brand offering the same thing at a lower price? Remember to check shelves away from eye-level to get the full picture.
With bigger purchases, you have to think more. Get a good idea of market prices before you go in. Spend some time deciding if you really need whatever you’re thinking of buying and then go in informed. You know what you can expect to pay. Look for a lower price. It’s what your grandma would have done.
2. Check out the classifieds
In the Depression years, the classified adverts in the newspapers were considered by many to be the most important part. If you needed something, you could often get a bargain from someone who had a perfectly good one they didn’t need any longer. You’d certainly get a better price than you would get buying it in a store! And if you had items you didn’t want anymore, selling up made sense.
3. Free entertainment
Back in the day, keeping yourself entertained didn’t mean dashing off for a night on the town. You got books from the library to read, played board games together or suggested a musical evening or a game of cards. And if you did go out to enjoy yourself, chances were it would be a free public entertainment like a parade.
So before you decide you’re bored and need to spend money to combat that, consider your free options first.
4. Big chains don’t always offer the best value
We’ve been brainwashed into thinking the big chain stores offer the best prices. After all, they’ve got the bargaining power! But you may well find that smaller, local businesses offer better prices, especially when it comes to buying meat and veg, but even with items such as furniture.
Give your local businesses a chance. You may have to stop at more than one store to get everything you need, but the savings could be well worth your while. Mom ..and pop stores really can be cheaper!
5. Don’t pay more than you can afford on housing
During the Depression-era, those with big mortgages were among the first to suffer. Today, we may be tempted to rent or buy a home just because it’s beautiful, but the less debt we have and the less rent we pay, the more money we have left over for other things – including savings.
Do you really need a four-bedroom home with a swimming pool? Can you afford it even if things go wrong? Sailing too close to the wind is a recipe for disaster, so make your buying or renting decision with your head, not your heart. Leave space in your budget for the unexpected, because the unexpected invariably happens!
6. Leave your credit card at home
Nobody had credit cards in the Depression years. They used cash, and they only carried as much as they were intending to spend. So next time you have shopping to do, try this: leave your credit card at home! It just tempts you to spend more than you were planning (if you were planning at all). Decide how much you have to spend, draw the cash, and spend accordingly.
While you’re shopping, round prices up for easy calculation and keep a total in your mind, adding as each item is chosen. You might look funny muttering numbers to yourself as you go, but at least you won’t find you’ve overspent when your shopping is done.
7. If you can make money from it (and it’s legal), go for it!
With money in short supply during the Depression, nobody, but nobody would turn down a chance to earn a few dollars or even cents. Nowadays, you hear people saying something ‘wasn’t worth’ the effort, even though they may not have had anything more profitable to do at the time. Everyone wants money, but how many of us are willing to work hard for it? When you’re facing tough times, saying ‘no’ to money just because a task seems demanding is plain stupid!
8. Try mending things before rushing out to get new ones
Did your grandma darn socks? Remember that cute, mushroom-like thingy she used to do? Nowadays, we buy “pre-distressed” items because we like the look rather than letting it happen naturally and getting creative with mending.
True Depression-era story: people actually would unravel the wool from sweaters that had become too worn out to fix and knit new ones from the old threads!
As for bigger items like household appliances, we’re all too happy to dump and get something new. Yes, sometimes repairs can be more expensive than a new item, but it’s worth finding out first!
9. Save buttons and re-use fabric
When things really do get too worn out to patch up yet again, be as frugal as your grandparents were. A range of buttons is handy to have. So you popped a shirt button? Head for your treasure trove to see if you can find a match, and if you can’t find a single one, perhaps you could just replace all the buttons with a set you’ve been saving.
As for fabric, you can use it as rags around the house if the texture is right, sew up something ‘new’, or you could have fun putting together a crazy patchwork that looks amazing!
10. Re-use containers
Way back when, you took your old container to the store for a refill, but now there are few places who sell produce in that way. But you still can find nifty uses for used containers. Jars are fantastic things to hang onto. Use them to store food items like flour where weevils can’t get at it, keep your collections of nuts, bolts, nails and screws organized – whatever fits in a jar doesn’t need a new storage container.
As for plastic containers with click-on sealable lids, never throw them away! Ice-cream tubs are fabulous for freezing a pot of leftover stew, and even those little, lightweight food tubs can help you to keep things fresh. Only used half a tomato on that sandwich? No need to let it dry out in the fridge, pop it cut side down in a sealable tub, and it stays fresh.
11. Be seed-conscious
Pumpkin pips, the seeds we clean out from paw-paws or melons, even red pepper seeds: if you have a little garden space, all these seeds could become plants that produce free food for you. Yes, they won’t be as uniform as the F1 hybrids you can buy in a store, but do you care? You’re not taking them to sell at the market. You just want a good food garden!
If you don’t have a garden, try roasting up pumpkin pips as a snack – yum! Chili seeds are way hotter than the chili itself, so if you don’t include them in your cooking, dry them and grind them up as a super-hot spice. Ohhh! That’s hot!
12. Re-use gift wrap – and even gifts
You had to be careful what you gave your grandma at gifting time. If it wasn’t something she’d ordinarily use, it ended up in the ‘present box’. She’d keep it there, together with the card she got with it to ensure she didn’t accidentally give someone the same gift they’d given her a few months back.
Then there was the gift-wrap. Not for her the ripping open of gifts. She’d carefully undo each bit of tape so the paper came off whole. Then she’d carefully roll it up and store it in a huge mixed roll of gift wrap! With today’s gift bags, it’s even easier to store, re-use and save.
And the list goes on…
No, your everyday dishes don’t actually have to match, and nor does your cookware. DIY things from scraps. Grate the leftovers from bars of soap to make washing powder. Don’t use more of anything than you absolutely have to.
Use fabric nappies. Have a veggie garden. Use every last drop of everything, even rinsing the container to get at it… Our grandparents understood frugal living, and we can learn a lot from them!
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