10 Money-Saving Tips from the Great Depression To Use Today

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It’s true that history often repeats itself. And with the precarious financial times of 2022, many have understandably felt there might be a repeat of the Great Depression, the decade from 1929-1939 that was “the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world,” according to The History Channel.

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Today, there are strong similarities to that time nearly a century ago. The volatility of the stock market this year ranks among the worst, with several others of similar poor performance occuring during the Great Depression. There’s also the fact that almost 50% of Americans between 18 and 29 years old are living at home with their parents due to financial pressures, which is a figure not seen since the Great Depression, according to Morgan Stanley, citing data from the latest U.S. Census Bureau.

However, there are still some key differences between then and now; in 2022, we still have a healthy job market, which has prevented America from going into a full-blown recession. Plus, there are modern advances and more governmental intervention that have made coping with the harshness of financial stress a bit more doable in this day and age.

Of course, regardless of the severity of economic hardships today, there are many things we can learn from how people lived during the Great Depression, including a number of key money-saving takeaways:

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1. Buy in Bulk

For anyone who shops at Costco, this is already part of your regular practice. But buying in bulk goes back to the Great Depression — it was an era of “feast or famine” in which planning ahead was essential. Even today, money experts say it’s a “recession-proof” idea. Per CNBC contributor Ann Kaplan, “Anything that is a cost savings today that you’ll need and use in the future will save you even more money later on, if inflation continues.” She suggested focusing on non-perishable items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and canned foods.

2. DIY Cleaning Supplies

Some essentials you really can make at home, and save the cost of paying premium for established brands at the store. For example, a great cleaner can simply combine vinegar and hot water with a splash of lemon juice for a fresh scent, blog The Homespun Hydrangea recommended. Do a 50/50 mixture of vinegar to water, add a dash of lemon and you have a cleanerr that can work on countertops, sinks, floors and the bathroom.

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3. Use Everything in Your Pantry

Before you head to the grocery store and buy more food, one vintage tip is to use absolutely everything in your pantry first. If you take a good hard look at what’s lining your shelves, you’ll likely find some cans of beans, rice and sauce, all of which can make some kind of casserole. Shopping your own pantry before buying more will not only help you save money, but it might force you to get more creative in the kitchen.

4. Grow Your Own Food

There’s no time like a recession to get resourceful, and one way to pad your food budget is by growing your own. Whether it’s vegetables, fruit, fresh herbs or even getting some chickens that will provide fresh eggs, there are simple ways to do so and more ways to ramp up your own food production. The Homespun Hydrangea stated, “Seeds cost just pennies a piece and even a less than green thumb can have amazing results.” Americans during the Great Depression also became great at canning and preserving foods like vegetables, which is a practice you may want to look into, as well.

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5. Upkeep Clothes Yourself

Dry cleaning bills can really add up over the course of a month — but this was a luxury that wasn’t exactly available during the Great Depression. To keep up with those times, you can tend to your own clothes. Air-drying on a clothesline can make them feel fresher than using a dryer, and you can invest in your own garment steamer to take out any wrinkles. Grab a sewing kit at the store and you may find how easy it is to make your own fixes.

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6. Use Every Last Scrap

There’s been a big movement in the food scene that harkens back to the era of the Great Depression: “nose to tail” cooking, or using everything in animal products including muscles and organs beyond just traditional meat. According to the wholesome Texan supplier Nose to Tail, “look in any cookbook before about 1950 and you’ll see these organ meats and odds-n-ends included in normal fare.” Rather than buying choice cuts at the grocery store or butcher, you may want to buy the whole, such as a full bodied chicken. If you like grilling chicken breasts, you could use the thighs for chicken nuggets for the kids. This also applies to using leftovers — no scrap should go to waste.

7. Find Depression-Era Recipes

What worked for Americans during the Great Depression may work for many people now. Go to the source by finding recipes from that era, suggested Money Crashers. “For example, families often made bean soup because you could throw a wide variety of different foods in the pot and still come out with a nutritionally dense meal that lasted for several days. Meat was scarce, so they relied on beans and potatoes instead.” There are also suggestions for baked goods that skimp on eggs and milk, which were in short supply in the ’30s.

8. Use Less Energy

According to the latest Consumer Price Index, the cost of energy was up 13.1% in 2022 over the same time in 2021, including piped gas, electricity and fuel. To save money, do what Americans did nearly a century ago: Use less utilities. Turn off the lights and put on candles, turn down the heat and grab some blankets and conserve car trips to just a few days a week when possible. And that applies to all the gadgets we use, too — no one had those during the Great Depression, so do like they did a grab a good book, play a family game or simply enjoy time together.

9. Pay for Everything in Cash

There’s a strong rationale for this. Cash is liquid money that you know you have available. Simply put, if you don’t have the cash, then you know you can’t afford something at the moment and will need to wait until you have more dollars. This will avoid you putting any items on credit cards and tack on more debt while you’re trying to save money. Of course, in emergencies and/or for monthly necessities, this may not be possible. But where applicable, only use cash to buy what you need so you don’t overshop and stay on budget.

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10. Learn How to Upcycle

We are fortunate to live how we do today — usually when something breaks or looks worn, Americans buy a replacement. But back in the Great Depression, this wasn’t possible. People then were ahead of the trend of “upcycling,” meaning refreshing what you have. Maybe it’s a new coat of paint on an old dresser, reupholstering the fabric on a couch or any other DIY touch that helps you salvage what you have rather than buying new.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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