7 Money-Saving Hacks from the Great Depression

Dear Rich Lifer,

There’s a lot we can learn from our grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through the great depression.

For instance, did you know one zucchini plant yields about 10 pounds worth of produce? If the average price of zucchini at your local supermarket is $2 per pound, that’s $20 worth of produce from one plant.

The same calculation can be done for tomatoes and bell peppers. For just a few cents, you can buy seeds and grow these plants in your garden and save around $180 per year.

Planting a garden or growing some of your own fruits and vegetables is just one way to save money like our ancestors did.

While we can’t control what happens in the world, we can control how we respond to it. Here are seven more money-saving hacks from the great depression that are as relevant today as they were 90 years ago!

1. Use What You Have

During World War II, there were a lot of foods rationed, which meant you could only buy certain items if you had a government-issued coupon. The most sought-after foods were meat, cheese, sugar, coffee, canned fish, and canned milk.

Today, if you’re missing an ingredient, you run out to the grocery store and pick it up. However, those frequent trips to the grocery store cost you more than you know. How many times have you gone to the store for one thing and come back with three or five?

A great rule to follow is “use what you have.” This requires some creativity but if you learn a few substitutions, you’d be surprised how long you can go without having to shop at your local supermarket.

Here are a few substitutions you can follow when you’re missing one ingredient:

1 teaspoon lemon juice = 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup sour cream = 1 cup milk + 1 1/3 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup butter = 1/2 cup buttermilk + 1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup soy sauce = 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce + 1 tablespoon water
White wine = equal amount of apple juice or chicken broth
Red wine = equal amount of grape juice or beef broth
1 cup mayonnaise = 1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon dried herbs
1 cup sugar = 2/3 cup agave nectar
1 egg = 1/2 banana or 1/4 cup applesauce
1 cup buttermilk = 1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning = 3/4 teaspoon sage + 1/4 teaspoon thyme

When you use what you have, you save money because you’re making less trips to the store. You’re also not wasting as much since you’re forcing yourself to find creative ways to use up what’s left.

2. Google Depression-Era Recipes

Another way your grandparents used to save money was through the recipes they chose. If you Google recipes from the great depression, you’ll find several cake, soup, bread, and pudding recipes that cost a fraction of typical recipes today but taste just as great.

When times were tough and food was in short supply, people had to rely on these frugal recipes to feed their families. A lot of households would eat beans and potatoes instead of meat.

And when butter, eggs, or milk were in short supply, they’d find ways to make cakes and baked goods without these staples of today.

Taste of Home actually has a great list of 34 depression-era recipes. There’s also an excellent YouTube channel called Great Depression Cooking that was started by a 93-year-old woman named Clara Cannucciari who shares her Depression-era recipes. Clara has since passed away, but her recipes, stories, and wisdom live on through her videos.

3. Make Your Own Stuff

One hundred years ago, people made a lot of stuff simply because they had to. Today, you can buy most of the things you need online and have them delivered right to your doorstep. But knowing how to make vs. buy is a critical life skill, especially when money is tight.

For instance, most people who make their own laundry detergent say they save at least $0.10 to $0.20 per load. If you do five loads per week, that’s $0.50 to $1 in savings each week.

This might not seem like much, but that’s $52 a year in savings just by making your own laundry detergent. Imagine the savings if you were to make more household staples from scratch.

Kitchen and bathroom cleaners are another easy DIY project. You can clean most of your home with baking soda and vinegar.

If you really want to save some money, try building your own furniture. The website Ana-White has some awesome free DIY designs that use basic tools and supplies. Ana’s rustic X-console has been built over a thousand times by DIYers.

Learning how to make your own stuff not only will save you money but will make you a more savvy shopper too. Even if you make just one piece of furniture and can’t be bothered to make the rest, you’ll gain a different perspective on good craftsmanship, which will translate to you buying better quality furniture that lasts longer.

4. Enjoy the Simple Things

Not everything about the depression was depressing. In hard times, you can often find a lot of pleasure in remembering to enjoy the simple things in life.

Going for walks, hikes, and getting outside are free activities that are not only enjoyable but good for your health. Board games are another simple pleasure.

During the 1930s, games like Monopoly became popular because they gave people hope and allowed them to dream of a better life.

Think of some of the board games from your childhood, and try planning a board-game night with friends and family. Netflix and your iPad shouldn’t be your only sources of entertainment.

5. Use Less Energy

While our ancestors didn’t have as many electronics as we use today, there’s no reason why we all shouldn’t be able to use less electricity.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average monthly bill for electricity is between $95 to $150 or higher depending on the state you live in.

Some simple ways to reduce your utility bills throughout the year are as follows:

Unplug devices, like laptops, tablets, and wireless speakers once they’re fully charged
Use ceiling fans to keep cool in the summer and spread warm air throughout your house in the winter
Shut off the TV if no one is in the room watching it
Only wash clothes when you have full loads
Skip the clothes dryer and hang your clothes to dry
Shut your oven off five minutes before your dish is done, the residual heat will finish cooking it

These are just a few easy ways to lower your electricity bill. There are several other hacks you can look into that will slash your bill even more.

6. Don’t Waste Food

This should go without saying but using leftovers is a simple way to save money. Your grandparents likely never left any scraps on their plates, and neither should you.

There are endless ways to use up your leftovers. You can start by saving vegetable scraps like the tops, ends, skins and roots and use them in soups and homemade stock. Veggie scraps that work well for stock include:

Green beans
Corn cobs
Bell peppers
Beet greens
Fresh herb stalks from parsley, basil, and cilantro

Keep these scraps in ziplock bags in your freezer. When you have 4 cups of scraps, throw them in 2 quarts of water and boil them. After about 1 hour, you’ll have a nice vegetable stock you can store for later.

7. Don’t Pay Someone Else for What You Can Do Yourself

Can you imagine your great-grandpa paying a delivery boy $20 for a pizza plus tip to drive a fresh pie to his house? I don’t think so.

Companies are making millions off the laziness of consumers. If money is tight, don’t pay someone else for what you can do yourself. That goes for washing your own car, cleaning your clothes, mowing your lawn, cooking your own meals, and fixing broken appliances in your house.

You’ll save so much money by doing these chores yourself instead of paying someone for the convenience to do these for you.

A lot of lessons our grandparents and great-grandparents learned living through the great depression can help us live richer and fuller lives today. If you’re looking for ways to slow down and save money, either out of necessity or to reduce stress, try some of these money-saving hacks.

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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