20 Invaluable Lessons From the Great Depression

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

I’ve often wondered just how much we could learn about frugal living from studying how people managed to get by during the Great Depression. How did they cook meals from essentially nothing?

How did they get clothing when they couldn’t afford to buy material? How did they cook and clean with no electricity? The idea of living on so little has just fascinated me lately.

I’ve been reading lots of books about Depression Era living, and have been soaking up every little tidbit of wisdom from this very thrifty generation.

We all know that people had livestock and gardens for food, but how did they manage other needs? Here are some really interesting things that people did back then:

Many of these lessons are ones that you could incorporate in your own daily life. Even if you aren’t struggling financially, being more frugal is a great way to reduce your household’s waste and to save a little bit more for the things that really matter!

Make Your Clothes Last

New clothes were practically unheard of for families during the Great Depression. Rather than heading to the department store when you wore out a pair of clothes, you would mend what you had – over and over again, in fact, until they couldn’t be mended anymore!

There are a few ways you can make your clothes last. For example, some people would make smaller clothes out of larger hand-me-downs. Others would use the backs of worn-out overall legs to make pants for little boys and even overalls for babies.

You could also mend worn-out socks with patches from other socks. Every scrap of material was saved for making quilts, and they even made things like underwear and diapers out of sugar and flour sacks.

Wear out your shoes before the year is up – or before there’s new money to buy a fresh pair? You go barefoot. I’ve even heard of people making patterned chicken feed sacks to make aprons, curtains, and dresses for little girls.

Use three full sacks, and you have enough for an entire housedress! Some people even saved string that came loose from clothing and kept it in a ball of string for tasks like quick mending jobs.

Use it ALL Up

Is there still a drop or two of toothpaste left in the tube? Don’t throw it out! Use it up. Still some shampoo in the bottle? Flip that thing upside down. During the Great Depression, people used every last inch of what they had when it came to food items, cleaning products, and personal care items. We throw out so much now that doesn’t really need to be tossed.

While you’re at it, use less of those products, too. We use way too much laundry detergent and soap, for instance – you only need a little bit to be effective. Using too much can not only be wasteful, but it can be ineffective (or even harmful, in some cases).

Make Things Yourself

We take the convenience of the local grocery store for granted, that’s for sure! DIY wasn’t a “trend” or a fun Pinterest board back in the Depression era. It was simply life. People made things from scratch, whether those things were cleaning supplies, breads, or other staples.

We actually have a major advantage over people back then – we have tools like the Internet to show us how to do things. You don’t have to rely on other people knowing how to do something and teach it to you!

There’s no shortage to the things you can make yourself. You can DIY everything from shampoo to cleaning products (which you can make out of pantry staples like vinegar and baking soda) and even lotions and creams.

Grow and Produce Your Own Food

As much as possible, try to grow and produce your own food. Gardens were vital during the Great Depression. Shortly after the Depression, as the economy revived itself, gardens became unfashionable and fewer people grew their own food (until the trend of “Victory Gardens” during World War II, that is).

Grow your own vegetables, at the very least, to help cut down on your waste. It’s also great for the planet – you’ll reduce the need for the fuel it takes to ship your food across the country.

You can also forage for food, which is a lost art that can help you lower your food budget quite considerably.

While you’re at it, try not to waste food, either. We waste a ton of food – up to 40%, in fact. Even if you aren’t letting produce rot in your refrigerator, there’s a good chance that you’re leaving money on the table.

Here’s an example – what do you do with meat bones when you cook a cut of meat (like a roasted chicken or a prime rib)? Do you toss them in the trash? If you’re not doing this already, you need to start making bone broth.

It’s delicious and nutritious and turns your waste to practically zero.
When you do buy meat, buy the whole piece of meat. For example, don’t buy chicken breasts. Buy a whole chicken. You’ll save a lot of money and it’s easy to cut up a chicken and freeze it, too.

You can use citrus peels to make cleaning solutions, while other kinds of fruit and vegetable scraps are perfect additions to soups or smoothies. Even “inedible” scraps can be composted so that you have soil for your compost or fed back to livestock, like chickens and pigs.

Quit Eating Out

On that same note, stop going to the restaurants. Your great grandmother could probably feed the family for aw eek or more on the amount you spent the last time you went out to eat. Ditch the weekly takeout and cook some meals instead.

If you can cook from scratch, that’s all the better. Convenience foods did not exist in the Depression era – if you were going to eat something, you had to make it from scratch. Even things like premade bread were very rare during these times.

Don’t forget all of those little expenses, too – like buying coffee at the gas station each morning or purchasing your lunch instead of brown bagging it to work. These things really help save money!

Meal Prep

Meal prepping, or “batch cooking,” is a great way to save money as well as time in the kitchen. To do this, you’ll do all – or most – of your cooking on a single day (usually Sunday). You won’t have to put much work into cooking during the week and you’ll save money because you won’t be letting ingredients go to waste in the refrigerator, either.

You can even meal prep your baking. You can make multiple loaves of bread all at once and then just freeze them for later.

Try to use every last bit of a food in your weekly meal planning. I like to play a game where I see how long I can make it before having to go grocery shopping!

Back in the Depression, though, this wasn’t so much of a game as a way of life. When there was nothing more to eat, they had lard sandwiches. You don’t need to be that extreme, but challenging yourself to go without instead of running to the store every five minutes is a great lesson in patience, creativity, and frugality.

Learn How to Preserve

Canning your own food can really help you get more bang for your buck! Buy fruits and vegetable sin bulk, when they’re at their freshest, then can them. You’ll have plenty of produce to get you through the season and you won’t have to buy quite as much at the stores, either.

On that note, keep a well-stocked freezer and pantry. Whenever you find a good buy on something, get a little more than you actually need and freeze it.

Buy in Bulk

When you do venture out to the grocery store, consider buying in bulk. When you buy in large amounts, you’ll save money on the overall price per pound. You don’t have to buy perishable items in bulk, of course, but nonperishables like flour spices, sugar, and other dry goods last a surprisingly long time.

Go Vegetarian

You don’t have to go totally vegetarian, of course, but cutting out meat every now and then can really reduce your grocery bill. You may want to substitute items like rice, lentils, mushrooms, beans, or oatmeal where you would normally have meat.

Borrow or Rent

Sometimes renting isn’t economical – I get that. But there are plenty of times in which borrowing something is a much smarter decision than buying it.

For example, how often do you go to the library? Would you rather just order a book on Amazon? Buying a book is kind of silly, when you think about it – you’re probably only going to read it once!

For things that you won’t get much use out of, like books and movies, consider renting or borrowing instead of buying them outright.

You can check in with friends and family to se what they might have to share or again, rely on the Internet. There are all kinds of resources where you can find things for free or cheap.

Even switching to streaming services, versus buying movies, is a smart choice. For instance, if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch television shows and movies at no added cost.

Do Your Own Repairs

YouTube is a godsend when it comes to teaching us how to do things! You don’t have to be a repairman in order to learn how to do a few quick fixes. Rather than hiring someone to change your oil, learn how to do it yourself.

You can figure out how to do just about anything with the help of the good ol’ Internet.

Reuse and Recycle

Did you know that, in the Depression, some people used newspaper instead of toilet paper? That might not sound like the most comfortable thing in the world, but it’s simply how people got by.

You don’t necessarily need to start saving the classifieds to do your morning business, but you can start reusing and recycling more items that you use on a daily basis. Save your junk mail as scratch paper when you’re taking notes, or use that leftover glass jar to store leftovers.

Wash Your Clothes Less Often

Did you know that every time you wash your clothes, you wear it out a little bit more? If it doesn’t truly need to be washed, don’t wash it – you’ll know it’s ready for washing when it’s soiled or smelly.

Line-drying your clothes can also help you save money (and it’s better for the planet, too).

Be Content With What You Have

One of the biggest flaws with our society is that we are always wanting more. We can’t simply be happy with what we have – we are always striving for more. Find better ways to spend your time than by going shopping for things you don’t need!

If you have to get out of the house, consider free opportunities for entertainment. For example, you can grab a few free movies from the library or you can go to community events, like festivals or concerts. Volunteering is a great way to spend your time, too!

Avoid Credit

Building credit is important, but you should avoid relying on it more than you need to. Buy only what you can afford, and when possible, pay for it with cash. Save for the things you want rather than relying on plastic to get you by.

Rethink Your Heating and Cooling

Rather than cranking up the thermostat in the winter, put on a few layers and a thick pair of socks. That’s all you need to stay warm! And in the summer, rather than relying on the air conditioner, why not hop in the lake for a refreshing, cooling dip?

Embrace the Odd Job

Today we call it “side hustle,” back then, they called it “being a Jack of all trades.” Either way, there are plenty of ways you can make money in addition to a regular job.

We’re lucky now, because we have more resources available to us (like the Internet!) to help us make money. Consider mowing lawns, washing dishes, or anything else on a part-time basis if you’re struggling to make ends meet.

You can even work from home! There are plenty of ways you can make money online, ideal if you have kids that need to be watched.

You may also want to consider various skills you have – you can teach others those skills and make a bit of money on the side.

Sell What You Don’t Need

Ideally, you won’t have too much to sell because you won’t be buying things you don’t need! But sometimes, you accrue things that are useful at one point and then lose their usefulness over time.

One example would be baby items. You definitely need a crib for your little one, but once he grows up, it’s just going to be taking up space.

Don’t let clutter collect dust! Sell whatever you don’t need. It’ll help you feel more relaxed – and get some money coming in, too.

Try Bartering

Bartering is one of my favorite frugality tips. You may have bartered for goods before, but did you know that you can also barter for services?

For example, you could offer to help someone with a job at their house if they come over the next day and help you at yours. This is a great system, especially if you have certain skills that are difficult to come by.

When there was nothing more to eat, they had lard sandwiches.

My favorite Depression-era tip?

During these challenging times, people they gave what they could to those in need, shared their meal with a starving stranger, and neighbors helped each other out.

Truly, this is the biggest lesson we could learn from such an unfortunate time in history. When times got hard, they stuck together.

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43 thoughts on “20 Invaluable Lessons From the Great Depression”

  1. My dad said he once saw a picture of a soup line in New York. He’d never seen so many people in his life time. When he asked my grampa what they were doing, and then why were they doing it, he was told that city folks didn’t have room to grow their own food. My dad couldn’t understand that as a possibility. Where he lived, you couldn’t see a neighbors house, let alone a group of people, and everyone he knew always had a garden and a milk cow.
    Not only did I wear clothing made of flour sacks, my grannie would sew them into sheets for all the beds. OH how I loved them in the winter time, soft and warm! I still have a very few tea towels grandma made and embroidered made from flour sacks. They’re prob 60 to 70 years old.
    After corn was shelled, they would save the cobs in a lard bucket, and I would watch grampa just sitting there by the wood stove rubbing his hands over the cobs, over and over and over, when it was too dark to be working outside. It softened them up, and if they ran out of sears catalogs, guess what was used as toilet paper! Those are a few of my memories or stories I was told by my dad.

  2. I remember my sweet Grandma saving cottage cheese containers, rubber pants, plastic bags, etc. Growing up in Minnesota, we all wore ‘snowmobile boots’ in the winter, as they were the warmest with the nice liners. To keep our feet from getting wet on the long days of sledding, she’d have us put a saved bread bag over each foot before we put the boots on!! And we’d line up our mittens, hats, & scarves along the baseboard heater to dry them out nice. We girls wore long johns (they didn’t have cuddleduds then)underneath our dresses, and I did that up until I graduated highschool. She always had a container in the freezer in which she put the tablespoon or two of leftover vegetables after dinner. When it was full, she’d add that to her chicken stock to make vegetable soup…a habit I have adopted as well.

  3. My mom was a war era baby and my Granny tells of potty training her at three months old. Mom says she was born in September so it probably wasn’t that hard. She figures it was the cold breeze on her bare bottom 🙂
    My grandma made sure that all of us knew at least the basics of how to sew. And not with a machine either. I hand sew as much as possible. My mom reused everything that it was possible to reuse when we were growing up. We reused bread bags, froze tomatoes and other veggies, and we made use of our hand crank meat grinder. I never thought about why mom made sure each of us kids had a hand in it until I was older.
    When my girls were littler I was VERY thrifty and I am ashamed to say I got away from it for a very long time. Now I sometimes struggle to remember what once came so naturally.

  4. I am fortunate as both my grandmothers and my mother were farm/frugal ladies and I grew up on a farm, they were all so crafty and clever that I had no idea that I grew up poor till I went away to college. (then I was surprised not everyone was thrifty!) My Mom’s Mom is still alive and will turn 100 this Sept.
    I did not know that some of my favorite ‘comfort foods’ were depression era “stretches”. My family all put ketchup in homemade chicken noodle soup (from when there wasn’t enough meat for flavor to feed the group), and my grandma made ‘macaroni and eggs’– boiled noodles (eventually store bought macaroni) fried in a pan with 5 or 6 eggs and ketchup on them. (this seems to require growing up with it as those who marry into the family don’t like it but my kids apparently got warped and love it!) Both my grandmothers and my Mom sewed, canned, gardened, butchered (wringing necks vs chopping yuck!)and bought very few things at the store, we still do rag rugs from plastic bags for muddy shoes in the winter. To all homesteaders with young kids don’t overlook the value of 4-H for your kids too – I learned sooo much from my years in the club.
    Today my farm is just a half acre but it still keeps me from needing to go to the store very much and it is very gratifying to have the now grown kids call and ask how to do the things that used to make them sigh and groan. 😉
    Thanks for your lovely Blog I enjoy reading all the information, who knows when I will need to use those skills again!

  5. My parents were young adults during the Depression. There are many things I learned from them, but didn’t listen closely like I should have. They didn’t starve because they lived on a farm. They saved everything, old clothes, newspaper (which they mentioned putting in old shoes), rubber bands, string, on and on. The word “repurposing” wasn’t in their vocabulary, but they figured out ways to use everything. My mother canned 52 qts of each type of vegetable (green beans, corn, beets, etc) a different vegetable for each night of the week (365 quarts) to get her through till next harvest. And that was just the vegetables. She canned meat, fruit, jams, pickles. And today people make fun of you if you have 3 months worth of food. My father saved seeds for next harvest, milked cows, farmed, repaired everything, never sat idle. They went to town once a week – how far was town – 3 miles. She told me that people just were not “on the go” like they are now. Try staying home for 6 days…….then you realize just how different our lifestyle is from that of old.

  6. Yep, this was my Grandma Gladys and her family, right down to the lard sandwiches. She still canned food until she couldn’t get around anymore. She only had an 8th grade education, yet she was a sharp woman. When we were cleaning out the house after she died in ’03 we found canned food from the early 90s. She had stashes of items that she bought on sale. She had stacks of paper products in the back room, the only thing that was wrong with that was they were by the furnace! I wish she was still alive. I would have asked her so many questions!

  7. Wow! I’ve really enjoyed reading this post and all of the comments! Thank you! My grandparents were a young couple in the depression, but unfortunately they are no longer around to talk to about it. I didn’t see them very much when I was a kid except to stay with them a few times a year, and I guess it never dawned on my to ask them about it. My mom was born right after the war, but she grew up poor in the country so it seems like a lot of the frugal ways continued. She has talked about using a catalog for TP and such. They always had good food, though because they had room to grow food. My mom knows how to do many of the “old” things like sew, can, ect., but I wasn’t very interested in learning as a girl or teen and so I didn’t learn. I grew up middle class, but my mom was still pretty frugal. I guess though she didn’t think I would have to know these things. I turn to her a lot now days when I don’t know how to do something. I’ve already said to my husband when I get ready to learn how to can, I really want my mom there to guide me! I’m just glad she learned all of this stuff.


    • Hi Lynn,

      So great to read your comment! Let me just encourage you to start learning to can and sew NOW. You may need those skills before you realize it, and unfortunately you don’t know if your mom will be there to teach you whenever you decide you are ready. Plus, these are skills you want to have BEFORE you NEED them. So get her to teach you now, lol!!

  8. My mama, who died 4 years ago at age 93, had very bad feet with toes crossing over others and the big toe going under them. She talked about putting cardboard in the bottoms of shoes when they got holes in them. Also told me that the reason her feet were such a mess was because she often had to wear them even though she had outgrown them and it was too cold to go to school without them. She lived on a farm and had enough food, but otherwise things were really tough. I can remember her making me a pair of shorts from a feed bag her sister had given her.

    At 71, I slowing down a lot and can’t always do as much, I still have chickens and a garden. I’ve had to adapt. I had raised bed garden boxes built 15 inches high so I can sit on the edges to weed and plant.

    I really have enjoyed your articles on Addie, especially about the spider webs and the skin under the egg shell. I remember my grandmother putting kerosene on wounds to sterilize them.

  9. My mother grew up during the depression and told me that if you take the pages from a catalogue or newspaper and crumple it up in a ball, then open it up flat, and recrumble it again you can make it quite soft and it’s not as bad as you would think… just saying! It’s all in the process!
    She also would cook us a ‘depression’ dinner for us (growing up in the late 50’s and 60’s) of the Navy beans and ham hocks. My Dad loved to butter his piece of ‘Wonder’ bread and spoon a generous helping of the beans and tiny bits of ham over it… and my favorite of the dinner was the side of fried sliced potatoes!
    Not good for one on a diet…. LOL

  10. My mother was a young woman during the depression. She was forever marked by it. When I was growing up she would have boiled potatoes for one meal and fried potatoes from the leftovers for the next. This was a daily occurence. On Sundays and special occasions we would have mashed potatoes. During the war years we didn’t have a car. We walked to the grocery store and only bought what we could carry. There were small neighborhood stores but often they didn’t have a complete selection like the grocery stores on”main street”.

  11. So I suppose that’s how decorating your kitchen with chicken stuff became popular. I always wondered that…I actually heard of the flour bags as diapers…and was just thinking the other day what we would use for TP if we couldn’t buy it I know what we “can” use but just never thought about it in the terms of planning it out…

  12. My father grew up in the ’40’s and his family was very poor I remember him telling us about eating lard sandwiches. When I was little we were also poor and my mother would make all sorts of things like meatball stew, potato soup (she didn’t know it was an actual soup) whatever she had (most of the time wasn’t much) so of course we learned to eat everything cause there wouldn’t be anymore. She and another lady would help eachother. My children sure don’t know that the crust can be the best part of a sandwich.

  13. In reference to… They used newspaper instead of toilet paper.

    My grandmother is 90. I have always loved to hear her talk of the ‘old days’. I know where she is from (Smithville, MS), it was very rare to have a newspaper. She told me that (when she was a small child (1924-1930), they would go find a private spot in or near the woods, dig a little hole, do their ‘business’, and then use a nice leaf (not a newspaper). Once they completed their ‘business’, they would cover ‘all’ of it up with the loose dirt that riginally came from the hole they dug….

  14. I love this post and all the wonderful stories others have shared. My grandparents both passed on a few years ago. My grandmother used to sometimes tell stories about her life in the 30’s and 40’s. I wish now I had listened and asked for more. She used to make potato sandwiches – a comfort food from her childhood. Slice a potato into very thin slices(1/8 an inch maybe) spread butter lightly on the slices and broil until they begin to bubble and blister a bit. Put between bread slices, add salt and pepper and eat. They sound weird but are actually pretty good 🙂

  15. I truly enjoyed your blog and some of the comments were a surprise to me..I lived during the depression but never felt it like some, I was very young and didn’t realize what was really happening! I was never hungry,and had warm clothes to wear…In those days we had “second hand stores”, “Rag bags”, and “wagon venders” Everyone used them so we never thought about it.
    A new item was at Christmas or Birthday’s..wish I could tell my mom thanks..I had more than I realized.

  16. I knew I’d seen your $ (with line thru) somewhere, and although I have your blog in my favorites, couldn’t remember where I’d seen it.
    This post about the depression, as well as the comments (the story about Oma is amazing) is really a challenge for us who have no idea what could happen. And still might possibly.
    I have been reading your posts about the difficulties you’ve experienced on your new homestead, and am thankful to glean from your modern day experiences. It is likely that our ‘homestead’ is not far off in the future, and I’m trying to learn what I can while still operating in our present situation.
    Many thanks- blessings on you and yours- Laura

  17. All I can say is WOW! I just started reading this blog and I’ve always been interested in how to save money and be frugal and the depression era. I’m 27 and totally self taught. I have taught myself how to cut corners and be thrifty. I have taught myself how to cook and manage my family on little money. Although, by some standards we live just below middle income, you would never know it by the vehicle we drive and the stuff that we have, yet we are never broke! Thank you so much for all these wonderful tips and I hope to read more!! 🙂 All my grandparents have passed away that lived the depression and I was all but too young to understand or even ask them anything. I wish I had been older. Thank you again for this wonderful blog!

  18. Yes, there are many things our parents did to stretch a dollar. My Dad and his brother’s and Sister didn’t wear shoes in the summer at all. They put cardboard on the inside of their shoes when they wore through to make them last a little longer. They also polished them to keep them looking and wearing better, and they got new soles and heels when they needed them, not new shoes. Shoes were passed down in the family as were other items of clothing, and clothes were patched. You had a good set of clothes, and work clothes, your good clothes became you work clothes when your work clothes wore out ( and in the depression you just might not get any good clothes). Collars and cuffs on shirts, dresses, and blouses were turned, so the good side was out, the worn side was patched. Pockets were put on to cover a patch and to make the garment more usable. Aprons were used to protect the clothing underneath. Sweaters that wore out were taken apart and the wool re-worked into other knitted items. People took pride in how well they could make a patch, and how neat it looked. Coats and other items of better clothing were taken apart when they wore out and turned and made into a new coat for a child. A man’s suit would be reworked and made into a ladies suit ( especially for a smaller woman) or a young boy.
    Mothers trained their children to the toilet much younger, even little babies would be held over a pottie after they ate ( or at a time they usually went to the bathroom) so that they didn’t wet or dirty so many diapers. ( after the second world war there was a large shortage of all baby items for a couple of years, that diapers were very hard to come by, disposable diapers were unheard of!).
    Up north, the Eatons catalogue was used as toilet paper, so was soap and water and a rag! you washed your own rag out after you used it so it was ready for next time!!.
    That brings me to water. If you didn’t have running water you had to haul it from a well, pump or creek, you didn’t waste it either, that used water went to the garden to help grow your vegetables! laundry water often was used to wash the floor.
    There were many, many ways to save not just money, but time and supplies as well. People got together to make their own entertainment, there just wasn’t tv, computers, disc players and on and on. Pot lucks were “dinner out”, socials. I remember a church putting on a Seniors afternoon, and they served raisin bread, thinlly sliced, and just a scrape of butter on it, and tea ( I just don’t remember coffee at theses events at all although it probably was, but my Grandma and Mom were tea drinkers.) I remember Mom saying for some of the Seniors that might be all they ate that day. ( we went home to soup for supper, cause my Dad was working!). Mom helped serve at the Church Seniors days, and Grandma visited many friends and had such a good time with them, her highlight of the week. I played with other kids under the table and no one got mad at us, there were allways kids to play with, and we just played, we didn’t have toys, we played all sorts of invented games, I spy, tag ( it the space was big enough and we could be away from the adults) hide and seek, we just had fun. I don’t remember any fights, If someone acted up their Mom or Grandma took them out and Lord help them, they actually got a spanking on the bum, or taken home and put to bed. Their parents weren’t mean, they were parents and commanded respect, as did the teachers, and preachers.
    Well, I’m going on too much. I miss those days very much, they were good days. I remember Mom saying she had 11 cents till pay day. She went to the corner store and bought some yeast and made bread, and buns and then rolled some bread dough out thin and put on some hamberger mixture she cooked up with onions, and veggies, then put it on the bread dough rolled it up and cooked it like cinnamon rolls. She made a gravey out of the hamberger mixtrue residue and poured it over the buns, served with mashed potatoes that was our supper and it was good. I remember Dad saying it was really good and could we have that again another day! Mom was just beaming with pride. This is memorable because my Grandma was a good cook, but my Mother wasn’t. Grandma lived with us and I never thought anything about it, everyone had their Grandparents living with them , sometimes their Aunts and Uncles too, but ours all live 1/2 a continent away. And that’s another item, you wrote letters, you didn’t pick up a phone ( you probably didn’t even have one) and phone someone.

  19. I grew up having to help my dad roll newspaper logs to burn during winter. I still do it today with my kids to heat the wood stove. We don’t get the newspaper so we collect the neighborhood’s papers and take them home and roll them into log sizes to burn along with wood to conserve. I just use a broom handle and feed sheet after sheet until it is the right size then use two strips of masking tape to seal it. I have seen newspaper log rollers from the 1930’s and earlier on ebay but have never tried those.

  20. Still looking for my “depression era” stuff, but I just read something I wanted to share. The Jan/Feb issue of AARP had an interview of the late Studs Terkel (love his name) entitled “Hope Dies Last”. In the interview, he recounts his own experiences during the Great Depression. He talks about how some people couldn’t cope, while others with greater woes could.

    The interview ends with this:

    “The lessons of the Great Depression? Don’t blame yourself. Turn to others. Take part in the community. The big boys are not that bright.” (meaning that those in charge don’t necessarily have all the answers)

    “Hope dies last–‘La esperenza meure ultima’ Without hope, you can’t make it. And so long as we have that hope. we’ll be okay. Once you become active helping others, you feel alive. You don’t feel ‘It’s my fault’. You become a different person. And others are changed,too.”

  21. Kendra, I luv this subject as well,
    i kinda like the newspaper idea.
    My great-grandma would save all her lunch-sized bags in a draw, it was so neat and tidy. she lived through the depression, but didn’t talk about it……although she would be the first family member to buy me whatever new trend was out, Jordache jeans, Nike shoes, etc..
    Then she would sew me toys, a baby banket for my doll, a life sized Raggy Ann, and she knit a babydoll puppet also.
    She would always have a slice of bread in her cookie tins, to keep them fresh.
    And she was wonderful !

  22. I’d love to know what books you’ve been able to find… my local library system seems to be a bit low on depression-era books and info (and I don’t think my 3 kids would sit still long enough for me to play bingo at the senior center to try and wheedle stories/advice out of folks).

  23. Loved this post!! I love the idea of making do with what you have-and try to live by it-although I’m not always successful 🙂 I think with the downturn in the economy more folks than ever before are re-thinking our American lifestyle of too much.

  24. My grandmother told me stories all her life about living during the depression. She was a young wife with three young children during that time. She saved flour sacks, bleached them and sewed them into the prettiest sofa covers. She hunted for “junk” furniture her whole life, refinished it, taught herself to recane chair bottoms, reupholster furniture, and when she passed away, she had accumulated the prettiest “antique” furniture you have ever seen. She sewed all her own clothes, and made uncountable clothes for her children and later her grandchildren. She saved everything, and never paid for anything that she didn’t really need. She always told me “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” She also had a way of cooking the most plain – by today’s standards – food, but making it seem like the best food on earth. Up until she passed away at 92, she always believed that another depression was possible, even if it seemed so unlikely at the time. She told me that if you had lived through it, you would also believe that it could actually happen again. I only hope that I can have the same spirit and ability to make life happy for my family the way she did for hers. A true faith and belief in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, like hers, is the basis for being able to cope with whatever comes our way.

  25. Not just the during the Great Depression, but during the war years as well…..

    Some place around here I have a WW II era sewing book about making new clothes from old clothes….basically taking something that someone outgrew or wore out and making it into something different. I think many, if not most, women could sew, so making something out of something else was a practical way of extending the life of clothing. When I read your comments about children’s shoes, i smiled. I remembered a story about my grandmother going out to the movies during the mid-40’s (she was an adult)and it pouring rain when she came hoem. She took her shoes off and put them under her coat–they no longer had leather shoes, and whatever her shoes were made of, they would have fallen apart in the rain.

    “My people” lived in what was more or less county or small town back then, and everyone had a garden and canned. It must have been difficult for people in the cities.

    My one grandfather really lived the motto of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” all his life, even when it wasn’t necessary to do so. For instance, he saved his pill bottles and always had a use for them. After his death, we found one pill bottle that was full of little blank paper circles…..he had made labels for the lids of future empty bottles! He saved paper and cut it down to make note pads out of the blanks side. He was not by any means “cheap”….he just was a good steward of his resources and wasted nothing.

    It was not uncommon for more than one family to live under one roof, thus sharing expences and pitching in together.

    One thing I found fascinating when reading some of my grandfathers correspondence durig WWII was that it was common for families near military bases to offer good home cooked meals for a modest price to the enlisted men. My grandfather wrote very detailed accounts of what he ate and how much it cost him. Of course, i cannot recall any of it at the moment.

    I’ll have to go through my stuff tomorrow..I know I have some other things around here from the 1930’s and 40’s.

    I think one thing that is really sad, and concerning, is how many of those basic life skills that folks used to have (gardening, canning, sewing, home repair, etc) that many people no longer know how to do.

    • Debbie in PA-

      Thank you so much for sharing these stories with us! I’d be fascinated to hear more if you think of anything else. I totally agree that it is so sad that people nowadays just don’t have basic skills like back then. We’re so full of our book knowledge and technology, we are losing common sense and life-skills. I wish somebody taught me how to cook from scratch, sew, garden and preserve food when I was growing up. As a married adult, I shouldn’t be just learning how to do these things! I truly hope that I am able to teach my daughter more than I knew growing up.

  26. Kendra,
    I’m also in a research mode on The Great Depression. Please share what books you’ve discovered. My dear neighbor told me of living in Chicago in a walk up apartment – well it was 9 flights of “walking up”! She said they didn’t have a fridge, but she had a milk crate nailed to the edge of the window. They kept their milk and butter out there. Every morning, she had to open the window and wipe the soot off the milk bottle for her husband’s coffee. She has so many more stories, I’d love for her to write a book. What I find fascinating is how incredibly frugal she is. NOTHING goes to waste in her home. She has more ‘stuff’ than you could imagine, but it’ll all be useful ‘someday’ she says.

    • Melissa-

      Your neighbor sounds fascinating. I LOVE hearing personal accounts from those who lived through those days. I’d love to share the books I’ve been reading with you… unfortunately, they were books from the library that I have already returned, and I couldn’t tell you the exact titles of them 🙁 Sorry!! But I’d encourage you to check out your local library, they have tons of books on the subject. One of the books I borrowed was out of the kids section, and it was full of great info!

  27. Hi,

    I just found your website last week and I love it. I am also a California girl who is trying to learn how to be more frugal and self-sufficient by getting “back to basics.” I am learning thru websites, books and trial & error.
    My mom was a kid during the Depression and she told me a few things, but I wish I would have known then what I know now! I would have asked a lot more questions and paid more attention! She told me they ate onion sandwiches and her mom made soup with the vegetables that the stores gave away when they were no longer fresh enough to sell. They rented a house for $11 a month as long as they maintained the yard.
    I found a few videos on YouTube called Great Depression Cooking. The cook is a 92 year old woman who tells about the Depression as she cooks the recipes. They are cute and worth checking out.

  28. What a great post. Thanks for all the depression era how to’s! I do remember my mom and dad mentioning the lard sandwiches. Hmmm…don’t think that would go over well in this day, and I pray we will not come to that again, but you do what must be done.

  29. OH, so no wonder my mom always sopped up the grease with bread. I always thought that was so gross! The newspaper thing sounds scary, lol!


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