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Grandma's Depression Era Survival Tips

Updated on August 5, 2012

Waste Not Want Not

Both of my grandmother's lived through the great depression. They were strong hard working women who wanted the best for their families. They did not believe in wasting anything. Clothing was passed down from one child to the next. If the clothes needed mended they would mend them. If mending wasn't an option the garment would be cut up for rags to be used for cleaning or as fabric for a quilt. Sometimes they would tear the fabric in strips to make a woven or crocheted rug.

During the depression era nothing was ever discarded. If one family member couldn't use it another one could. They also never bought anything that wasn't needed.

When Grandma peeled apples or potatoes the skin was pared so thin you could almost see through it. She thought it a waste if it was done any other way.

When staying at Grandma's house you learned to turn lights out when nobody was in the room to use them. If you wanted paper to draw a picture on, you used both sides of the paper. If you poured yourself a glass of milk it was expected to be drank. And at meal times your plate was to be emptied of what ever you put on it. So wasting anything was not allowed no matter what it was.


The fresh smell of homemade baked goods, such as bread, biscuits, pies, cakes or cookies filled the air of the old farmhouse Grandma called home. Homemade was not only cheaper to prepare but the taste was mouth watering.

Grandma always made pickles or canned fruits and vegetables. Often the vegetables she canned came from her own vegetable garden and the fruit from her own trees. Homemade jam or jelly on a slice of homemade bread warm from her oven was delicious.

Both of my grandmothers made homemade gifts for their family. Maybe a quilt or a crocheted rug would be worked on for months before an event such as a birthday, wedding, baby shower, or Christmas. They took pride in what ever gift they made for you. Fancy sugar cookies, chocolate or peanut butter fudge, with handcrafted potholders would be placed in a large basket or decorated box for Easter or Christmas giving.

The Old Ways Never Left

Grandma survived the great depression, but as many people that lived in those hard times the ways they did things back then stayed with them.  Many of the old ways can be very useful for people that are facing hardships today.

Grandma always said keep a bag of flour and dried beans on hand so at least you can have bean soup and biscuits if you have nothing else. This is a good idea for not only being down and out but also if there is a storm coming, making it impossible to get to a store.

Grandma was also a great believer in keeping a stash of money hid somewheres were you could use it for an emergency if needed. Even coins tossed in a jar can add up.

There was a lot of edible wild plants that people ate back in the old days.  I remember eating dandelion greens, milkweed plants, and wild leeks.  A lot of country folks still enjoy that still today. I'm sure there are a lot more and a Google search could help identify them.

Grandma also used vinegar for washing windows sparkling clean. She dried them with an old newspaper. She would use vinegar and baking soda to unclog a drain. Grandma had many uses for both of them.  It saved money on high priced cleaners.

Grandma never used her clothes dryer on a nice day. She saved energy by hanging them outside on a clothes line. A warm breeze made her wash smell very fresh.


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    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 2 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Thanks, CMcNairyWight1. Yes, clutter can be a problem. My storage space isn't always enough. I'm thankful for plastic totes.

    • C McNairy Wight 1 profile image

      Carol McNairy Wight 2 years ago from Provo, Utah

      My husband was a little kid in the depression. He still has the habit of collecting and saving. He brings home free stuff with great glee. The only down side to this is clutter.I have to sift the refuse from the good stuff or we would be inundated.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Thank you, HSchneider, for your kind comment. Although much has changed since those days, the ideas are still valuable information. The world is far too wasteful today. It makes you wonder what our grandparents would have thought about us.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      My parents also instilled in me an almost obsessive tendency to save and recycle old things. Shutting off lights when leaving a room was an absolute requirement. Leftovers stretched for days and we made do on less. They were truly great ideas especially now in these difficult economic times. Great Hub, Diana.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      I like cornbread, too. Thanks for stopping by, moonlake.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Your grandma sounds like my grandma. She said milk gravy and biscuits got them through lots of hard times. My parents were military and only got paid once a month by the end of the month mother would make cornbread and milk for our meal. I still love cornbread and milk.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 6 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      Marc Carillet 6 years ago

      This post contains useful information which helps us a lot. I have never seen such a great post. your wonderful post can inspire a lot and helps us. I visit your hub often and share with my friends….keep sharing..

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Your Grandma was a smart woman. Today there is an amazing amount of waste in most households.

    • Francesca27 profile image

      Francesca27 7 years ago from Hub Page

      I'm with you, Diana Lee. Everyone needs to stop being so wasteful. Before I discard anything, I take a good long look at it and try to think of something to do with whatever it is. Use it again, give it away or think of where else the thing can be used.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 7 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      I agree we need stop being wasteful.

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 7 years ago from Canada

      This hub is awesome. We need to go back to living this way. I like how nothing was wasted.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 7 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Thank you and thanks for reading my hub.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      What a heart warming hub. It's so nice and lovely to have so many things homemade - food, quilt, etc.

      I am not a grandma yet, but my family have been following some of these practice for generations. These frugal practice just passed down to us, and become something so natural for us.

      It gives me a homely feeling to see the same practice followed in another family.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 7 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      We can learn a lot from listening to our elders. God Bless them all.

    • nthdimension profile image

      Graeme Houston 7 years ago from Scotland

      Nice information. I'm sure these days there's a lot could be learned from the ways things were in the past, and avoiding just discarding otherwise good things as many do these days. I remember my grandmother being very similarly minded about not wasting things.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 7 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 7 years ago

      Diana Lee,

      With me retiring soon..I have thought a lot about the art of frugality. It is important not to waste, just because it is the right thing to do.Thank you for the reminder and ideas. Look forward to reading more of your hubs.

      God Bless,


    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 7 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      I am so glad you like it. I think a lot of people struggling today should remember things our elders told us.

    • Becky Puetz profile image

      Becky 7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Awesome hub. I remember my grandmother talking about the great depression often and like your grandmother, she never forgot it. Even many years later, she lived a frugal lifestyle despite the fact that she could afford anything she needed or wanted. She didn't believe in waste or "folly" as she put it. Thanks for an awesome Hub.


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