In With the Old: 4 Vintage Frugal Resources


A lot of the frugal lifestyle has to do with self-sufficiency — cooking for yourself, repairing what's broken, and so on — skills that fell out of practice over the last several years. So it makes sense that some of the best frugal living references are from a time when more people practiced these skills regularly. This is by no means an exhaustive list; I only included resources I have personally used. (See also: Self-Sufficiency, Self-Reliance, and Freedom)

The USDA's Home and Garden Bulletin

Published between the 1950s and 1990s (yes, the 1990s is hardly "vintage" — no matter what teenagers already nostalgic for the decade say), the USDA's Home and Garden Bulletin covered everything from canning (not just fruits and vegetables (PDF), but also meat (PDF)) to tailoring a woman's suit (PDF) to budgeting for young couples (PDF). The first time I made my own cottage cheese (PDF), I followed the recipe from one of these bulletins.

Old Children's Books

While I watched my share of TV as a kid, I usually preferred to be doing something. These days, one of my hobbies is collecting old books, and some of my favorites are children's books, like The Boys' Own Book of Indoor Sports and Choice Parlor Games from the late 1800s. It teaches kids how to do everything from build a pig out of a lemon to perform plays with fantastical costumes to how to throw boxing punches (okay, maybe you don't want to teach your kids that one). Unfortunately, there isn't a copy of that book online, but there are several other old children's books digitized by Google Books, like Boys' Own Book; A Complete Encyclopedia of Athletic, Scientific, Outdoor and Indoor Sports. Your best bet for books like these, though, might be poking through your local library and used book shops.

Archive Films 

The Prelinger Archives at is one of my favorite sources for "found" footage when making comedy videos. It's full of classic informational films, newsreels, commercials, and even personal films of vacations and Worlds Fairs. A search for "thrift" in the archives yields plenty of movies, like this one showing how a young couple refinishes secondhand items:

Watch video

The Joy of Cooking

If you're saying, "Huh? That new book on my shelf?" it's probably because this classic cookbook is updated regularly. We had one of the older copies of The Joy of Cooking in my house when I was growing up, and its exhaustive desserts section was instrumental in my learning how to bake. While The Joy of Cooking is one of my favorite examples, lots of older cookbooks provide simple, tasty recipes with frugal, easy-to-find ingredients. Scout out yard sales, or try searching "cook book" (it used to be two words) on the Free Google eBooks section of the Google Books search.

What are your favorite vintage frugality resources?

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Guest's picture

Great frugal informartion! I didn't know about that USDA website. Thanks for sharing!

Guest's picture

Lots of good tips. Things were so much better back in the "old days"...

Guest's picture

ahhh, the Joy Of Cooking. My mom, who was a home economics teacher had that one on the shelf since before I was born. Great memories! Mom can still cook like a pro.

Kentin Waits's picture

So many great resources back in the day! Thanks for helping us remember the wisdom of our parents and grandparents.