Five Frugality Hacks Straight Out of the Great Depression

by Thursday Bram on 8 January 2009 20 comments

During the Great Depression, simple frugality was the only way to get by. There was a saying that everyone lived by: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." There's a lot we can learn about frugality just by looking at how folks managed during the Great Depression — and those old-fashioned ways are starting to come in handy again as we all face this financial crisis.

  1. Go In Together: If you can pool your money with someone else, you have more buying power. In many cases, that means you can get something cheaper. For instance if you can buy food in bulk, it's less expensive. If you need a tool or something else that you won't need every day, you can often go in together with someone else that needs the same thing, effectively halving the cost.
  2. Do It Yourself: Pretty much anything is cheaper if you do it yourself, from home repair to cooking meals. Of course, the trade off is time, but if you have the time, it's worthwhile to learn to do as much as you can for yourself. I've been working on this one myself — I still probably shouldn't be trusted with any car repairs, but I no longer have to call someone in to do some of my minor home repairs.
  3. Barter: Just because you don't have cash for a certain expense doesn't mean that you can't cover that cost. Instead, you can barter. Trade your skills for someone else's — maybe you need a babysitter and your favorite babysitter needs a professional haircut (or whatever your specialty happens to be). You can work out a deal where you both get you want without having to bring cash into the matter.
  4. Go to the Source: Buying anything from its source is cheaper — food is especially so. If you can purchase from a farmer or through a farmer's market, you often pay less for your food because there is no middle man getting a cut of the cost. Prices are even better if you can become your own source — if you grow your own garden, the cost of your food can be minimal.
  5. Reuse: We're used to throwing away all sorts of things that can be easily reused. From packaging materials to broken items, there's almost always some way that you can repair, reuse or repurpose anything that you're planning on sending to the dumpster. Clothing is a key example — it can often be repaired, handed down, altered, made into a quilt or even used as rags. There's rarely clothing that really ought to be thrown away.

There are far more approaches to frugality that were crucial not so long ago. There's plenty of room in the comments if you'd like to add your own.

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Guest's picture

I find it interesting that many of the tips involve the cooperation of peoples, are we living in a cooperative society now? Given the reluctance of people to do simple things like car pool for work I wonder??

Guest's picture

I keep seeing save money by buying from a farmer's market. But the farmer's market around here have produce at the same price or more than the grocery store. Beware that some "farmers" at them are actually resale companies and not actually farmers.

Guest's picture
lauren

i've always found my farmers markers to be so much cheaper. occasionally, its a wash - the price saved in trasport with local items is often made up for the of ability to sell in bulk - but my motives for buying local arent always to save money.

Guest's picture
lucille

Our local farmers markets run a bit cheaper to way cheaper than our grocery stores but our grocery stores have the market cornered and jack their prices. We did have the faux farm stands in town but as word got around that they were just selling grocery store produce from southern states they left town. I see more produce traded informally these days. The last two summers people would bring extra into work free to take. People would leave free to take produce on the table in the lounge area of the locker room at the gym and people would post extra on Freecycle.

I am hoping to plant far more than I think we can use so we have more to process and save and to also trade with people or contribute to the give away.

Guest's picture
Allie

Jim:

If you google your area and farmer's markets, it should bring up a huge list, complete with websites for each market. By looking through the market's webpage, it should be apparent if these are resale markets or true farmer's markets. Real farmer's markets generally have rules specifying the degree of "outside help" you can have in making the product, and the number of miles away from the market the product must have been grown/made.

This market in Houston, for example, requires everything be grown w/in a 200 mile radius of the market (http://farmersmarket.rice.edu/showvendorlist.aspx). This market in Austin states on the front page that vendors must grow 100% of what they sell (http://www.austinfarmersmarket.org/). Generally it's part of the application that you verify that you are really a farmer, etc. Some of these markets are also certified, which is another thing one can look for when verifying that it is a real farmer's market, as opposed to a reseller.

Guest's picture

Allie,

The main farmer's market here are run by the city. The city just wants a full lot so they allow anyone in as long as you pay up Over 75% of the vendors don't even sell food.

Ironically the others are run by a local grocery store. They have all farmers but they require that the prices be equal or higher to what the store is selling at. The only advantage is that you know it is local and fresh.

So in NE Wisconsin there is no savings.

Guest's picture
Guest

I know that farmer's markets here too are the same price as the grocery stores or more. Some of the places are pick-your-own, such as strawberries. They go for about $2.10 a quart. A trip to the farmer's market has the same farmer that I picked my strawberries at selling them for $4 while the grocery store as them for $2.50.

Be happy that your markets are less. It is not the case for everyone.

Guest's picture
Guest001

You probably wont find a good farmers market near a city or metropolises. The good ones are out near the towns.
I live in a town of about 50 thousand people, a bit out (15min drive) is a smaller town of about 5K people, where there is a market. There are real farmers who live there, and Mennonites.There are great savings specially on meat.

Guest's picture
Hannah

We're making plans to buy "#2" (irregularly sized) apples in bulk from a local fruit company and split the rather large boxes with a few friends. It should be $0.25 a lb. I hope it works out because I love apples!

Guest's picture

My grandma was the most frugal person I've known. I remember going to her house after dark and thinking she was already asleep but then I'd see the lone bare light bulb in the kitchen where she spent most of her time. I wish I could have seen her electricity bills, they were probably $25 a month.

Guest's picture
Guest

Mrs. Accountability, you make me smile. We have the same situation at our house now. Our house is usually so dark people think we aren't home or in bed. But we're up with lights on only where we need them. Sometimes it's been that three or four people are in one room reading, not each in their own room with a light on in each. We all have mastered using the bathroom with no light--not even a nightlight. I have been in houses where, after dark, every room on the first floor is lit, whether or not anyone was in it. My parents grew up during the Depression and I took away a lot of valuable lessons from them. What I see passing for 'lifestyle' these days makes me depressed.

Guest's picture
another Hannah

The reason farmers' markets charge the same prices as grocery stores is that there are costs for running the market, staffing it, business taxes, etc. The farmer/producer is also the middle man. This allows small local farms to survive. It also costs more to produce food sustainably: cultivation and labor-intensive work instead of chemical weed control and huge fuel consumption. If you want a local, sustainable food supply, then don't expect it to be cheap.

I realize that there *are* some trendy markets that are ultra expensive, like 'food boutiques'; my comments above refer to the ordinary farmers markets that are simple, not fancy, and where you can buy big bags of local produce for a fair price.

Thursday Bram, another great reason to Do-it-yourself is because you don't have to pay tax on money you *don't* spend on these services. If you earn more money in order to hire the service, you will pay income tax on those earnings, plus any taxes on services (GST here in Canada = 5%). They haven't figured out a way to tax us on the work we do for ourselves!

Guest's picture
steve

My sister tends to leave lights on in all the rooms (her sons do too) and has two large screen TVs, a set-top box, and an Xbox, and Wii for the kids.

And she wonders why her electricity bill is $170!

Seriously, if you change all your bulbs to CFLs, turn them off when you aren't in the room (I use an led flashlight when I'm walking around the house at night, until I get to a place where I'll be staying, then turn the light on in that room only) and turn off your computer when you leave the room (I set mine to hibernate when it is untouched for 10 minutes, or when I press the power button--that way it only takes 20 seconds for it to come back on, plus all my apps are where I left them), you can probably drop that electricity bill to Grandma's $25.

Guest's picture
steve

don't forget to put all of your appliances and electronic devices on power strips to save the phantom energy. My computer alone sucks about 25W when turned off (including the monitor). So after it is in hibernation, I click off the power strip and now it's using *nothing* while off, which is how it should be in the first place.

Guest's picture
Ele

Here the farmer's market is usually more expensive, but given that this is nyc that is to be predicted. Just the cost of getting into the city from upstate (where most of the farms in my market are) is enough to raise the prices.

I'm planning to look into CSAs for next summer.

Guest's picture
Guest

My plan this year is to grow a vegetable garden, with just a very few veggies, since it will be my first attempt in 25 years or more. But tomatoes, peppers, green onions, and possibly some potatoes (in an outdoor garbage can http://www.almanac.com/garden/vege/potatoes.php ) for this first year, and we'll see from there...I could feed my family all throughout the autumn. Almost free food.

Guest's picture
Shona

I fully agree with the comments posted here. If we could all learn to reuse/repurpose what we have, we would save a lot of money, as well as environmental resources.

I have also embraced the frugal lifestyle, and feel a lot better about myself, knowing that I am keeping waste to a minimum.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you use power strips to shut off every thing to save, what about the clocks and the channel settings that every time you turn it back on you would have to reset. When i unplug the tv, dvd i have to reset everything. Will it be the same with the power strip

Guest's picture
Guest

MY GRANDMA HAD TWENTY KIDS AND THEN WE GRANDKIDS ALL ENDED UP LIVING WITH HER AND LET ME TELL YOU IT WAS THE GREAT DEPRESSION EVEN WHEN IT WAS LONG OVER. WE ARE BEANS, TATOES AND TORTILLIA 3 TIMES A DAY 24/7 FOR ALL OUR LIVES. I DID NOT KNOW WHAT OTHER FOOD WAS UNTIL I GOT TO PUBLIC SCHOOL AND THEN I WOULD NOT EAT IT AS I DIDNT KNOW WHT IT WAS. EVEN MILK IN A CARTON WAS WIERD TO ME. WE ALL HAD MILK IN A CAN MIX WITH WATER. POWERED EGGS AND GRANDMA TOOK GOOD CARE OF US AND WE WERE RARELY ILL. EVERY SRING AND FALL W ALL KIDS LINED UP FOR A SHOT OF BLUE CORNMEAL. FULL OF ZINC AN C AND I GUESS ALL KINDS OF OTHER GOOD STUFF. GRANDMA MEDICINE CABINET (HA) bAYER ASPRIN AND PETOBESMO AND ALKA SELSIER. THATS IT.

Guest's picture
Carrie

When I was laid off from my job I discovered just how much money I was wasting on food every day. Now that I'm starting my own home-based business I've saved hundreds every month by not buying that morning coffee, pastry, or quick sandwich at lunchtime. Not only that but I'm eating a lot healthier by making my meals at home and enjoying doing it. Only downside is that the pile of dishes seems to grow exponentially every time you turn around.