Senior Resources » 11 Time-Tested Thrifty Tips from the Great Depression That Still Work Today

11 Time-Tested Thrifty Tips from the Great Depression That Still Work Today

1930s blocks 11 Time-Tested Thrifty Tips from the Great Depression That Still Work Today

The Great Depression, one of the most significant economic downturns in history, may have happened during the 1930s, but its effects live on. It ultimately led to a reevaluation of several economic policies and brought about significant political changes. Not to mention, it had a pretty profound impact on an entire generation’s way of life – what they did and how they did it.


It’s no secret that recent inflation has yet again put quite a strain on the average American’s wallet. Now, Boomers who were contemplating their retirement are likely feeling the most tautness (especially those with nothing saved). But, in times of economic uncertainty, there’s wisdom to be gained from those who came before us. If nothing else, their resourcefulness, frugality, and ability to make do with less can serve as inspiration for modern-day thrifty living. It may not solve the inflation crisis, but there are some simple steps we can take to feel its effects a little less.

Here are 11 thrifty tips from the Great Depression that still work today!


1. Cook from Scratch

Asain couple cooking

We get it, takeout is convenient, especially if you’re a household of one. But, cooking from scratch is a healthier and more budget-friendly option. The average American household spends around $300 per month eating out. That’s well over $3,000 annually! Get thrifty with your grocery shopping and start making meals at home. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your bank account rebounds.

2. Repurpose and Reuse

recycle on a piece of paper

During the Depression, the concept of “waste not, want not” was key. Apply this mantra to your life today by repurposing and reusing items. Transform old clothes into quilts or rags. Turn glass jars into storage containers. Give new life to furniture with a fresh coat of paint. Get creative and save both money and the environment by recycling! Cut back on single-use items, opt for reusable alternatives like cloth napkins and shopping bags, and recycle whenever possible.

3. Grow Your Own Food

gardening shovel

Growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs not only provides fresh and organic produce but also slashes your grocery bill practically in half! If you have limited space, try doing some container gardening or consider joining a community garden (you can find these at recreation centers, senior centers, churches, or even by searching Facebook).

4. Start Fixing Things


We’re not saying you have to go to trade school and learn carpentry (unless you want to!). We’re just saying that instead of immediately replacing items with minor flaws, take the time to mend them. All you need is a little basic sewing skills to repair clothes, patch up holes in blankets, or fix broken zippers. Patch up small holes in drywall with a bit of Spackle. Not sure how to DIY home repairs? There’s more than likely a YouTube video out there that will show you how!


5. Buy in Bulk

grocery shopping senior woman

Buying in bulk is a thrifty strategy that still works wonders today. Stock up on non-perishable items like rice, beans, and pasta, as well as toiletries and cleaning supplies when they’re on sale. If you use a lot of something, why not buy it in bulk? Consider getting big box store memberships like BJ’s or Sam’s Club. You’ll pay an annual membership fee, but you’ll save money in the long run and maybe even reduce the frequency of your shopping trips.

6. Make Homemade Cleaning Products

cleaning supplies

Skip the expensive cleaning products and whip up your own DIY concoctions using simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. You’ll be amazed at how effective and budget-friendly these homemade cleaners can be, all while keeping harmful chemicals at bay.

7. Meal Planning

writing a checklist

Plan your meals in advance to minimize food waste and make the most of your ingredients. Take inventory of what you already have, create a weekly meal plan, and make a shopping list accordingly. This will not only save you money but also save you from the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” dilemma. Plus, a well-thought-out meal plan will save you time at the grocery store!

8. Use Cash Instead of Credit

hands paying money

Credit cards may offer convenience, but they can also lead to overspending and debt. Take a page from the Great Depression playbook and embrace the use of cash. Set a budget, withdraw the cash you need, and watch your spending become more mindful and controlled.

9. Experiences Over Material

planting with grandchildren

The Great Depression taught us that living with a little is possible and the value of experiences outweighs stuff. Instead of splurging on the latest gadget, invest in experiences like picnics, game nights, or outdoor adventures, especially with your spouse, children, and grandchildren! Memories last a lifetime and simply cannot be bought.


10. Secondhand Shopping

two senior women shopping

Thrift stores, consignment shops, and online marketplaces are treasure troves for the thrifty! Embrace the thrill of the hunt and score great deals on clothing, furniture, books, and so much more.

11. Get Energy Efficient

light bulb

Saving energy not only benefits the environment but also helps reduce your utility bills. Make it a habit to turn off lights when not in use, unplug electronics, and use energy-efficient light bulbs wherever you can! Also, adjust your thermostat wisely. You can save as much as 10% every year on utilities by turning back thermostats by 7 – 10 degrees for 8 hours a day!

Thrifty Tips from the Great Depression That Still Work Today

1930s blocks

The Great Depression may seem like a distant memory, but its lessons in frugality and resourcefulness still resonate today! By applying these time-tested thrifty tips, you can save money, reduce waste, and cultivate a more mindful and fulfilling lifestyle.

More Thrifty Tips

piggy bank in a vice grip

Looking to get thrifty? Start with these articles:

10 Budget-Friendly US Travel Destinations for Retirees in Summer 2023

10 Inexpensive (and FREE) Self-Care Ideas for Boomers!

13 Fresh, Fun, & Frugal Date Night Ideas for Retirees

7 Simple Thrifty Tips for Retirees Decorating the Patio This Summer

Originally published May 17, 2023

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