5 Great Depression era skills that can still save you money


Do you stand in awe when it comes to your grandparents’ Depression-era money-stretching skills, but assume that their abilities are out of reach for today’s me generation?

Think again! Old fashioned resourceful skills have come full circle, but with the advent of the Internet, they’re now within reach for those of us whose grandparents are no longer around to pass on their wisdom.

Read more: Early January marks one of the best times to visit thrift stores

Darning socks

It may seem like a lot of work to darn socks, but really it’s quite simple. (If you can weave an over-under pattern, you can darn a sock.) An old fashioned wooden darning egg is helpful, but it’s easy enough to substitute a spent light bulb, small cup or even a maraca! YouTube videos like this one precisely teach the skill, or if you’d rather read a tutorial, this one from Zero Waste Home simplifies the process. High quality socks are worth saving, and can last for years with a simple mend every so often.

Simple meals cooked from scratch

Cooking from scratch has somehow become an elaborate and finicky endeavor, with either a variety of obscure ingredients or a glop of questionable pre-made components. The 1930’s were not a time for such luxuries. Larders were stocked with straightforward staples and decent square meals were served despite income limitations. Soups, biscuits and whatever could be grown in a backyard garden featured heavily on the dinner table. Resourcefulness was ingredient #1. And leftovers? They did not go to waste! If you didn’t inherit grandma’s recipe box or are unsure of where to start in your quest to prepare simple meals, start here or go to your local library for standard cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking or The Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Letter writing

The cost of a 1929 first class stamp was a mere two cents and within the financial reach of almost every American. Long chatty letters were cherished and written with pride and care. It’s no stretch to say that communication has changed. Sure we text, we e-mail, we write on each other’s walls and we tweet one another, but rarely do we take pen to paper. I hosted a very popular 52 weeks, 52 letters challenge on my website The Non-Consumer Advocate in 2011, although I probably only sent a couple dozen letters when all was said and done. Not perfect, but my letters were greatly appreciated. (No one complains about receiving real mail!) For the cost of a 49-cent stamp, you can still sit down and give your full attention to a handwritten letter that will focus your thoughts and brighten someone’s day. Just imagine how surprised your recipient will be to find something besides bills and flyers in their mailbox!

Fix instead of replace

With 2015’s cheaply made consumer goods, it’s almost impossible to find someone to fix your broken stuff. (The repair shops of yesteryear are long gone!) However, fixing something yourself is possible, and is almost always going to save you money. Plus it avoids wasting something perfectly good. (A concept your grandfather could get behind!) The era of the Great depression was before planned (and perceived) obsolescence, which meant that goods were built to last, and designed to be repairable. And even if the proper part wasn’t available, people still figured out how to rig alternate solutions. Even though you live in an era of ditch and replace, you don’t have to succumb to this wasteful mindset. Countless YouTube videos exist for the sole purpose of teaching you how to DIY your own repairs. From dishwashers to iPhone screens, screen doors to zippers, there’s somebody out there with the answer to your conundrum. So next time you’re tempted to pitch a broken item, sit down at your computer and find a repair tutorial!

Learn to quilt

No article about Great Depression resourcefulness would be complete without touching on the quilting culture that defined the time. Of course, 1930s women didn’t pop over to Jo-Ann Fabrics for their material, instead they pieced their quilts using flour or feed sacks and snipped squares from outgrown clothing and otherwise stained garments. And the inner batting? It was often just another worn out quilt! Depression era quilts were created to be functional items, but were also a creative outlet for hard working women. Works of art that kept families warm before central heating. If you’re interested in quilting in the modern era, look first at what you already own or can find second hand. A $1 thrift store dress can contain a couple yards of fabric and your outdated blanket can serve as the batting. Spending hundreds of dollars on fabric and quilting supplies? Your grandmother would never forgive you!


It may seem like the challenges and mindset of America’s Great Depression are a world away, but those useful skills are more welcome today than ever. The inspiring motto of ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without’ became quite popular during the Depression, and has made a comeback.

Whether it’s for financial or environmental reasons, fixing what you own and creating simple solutions to life’s challenges is a timeless endeavor…for your grandparents, and now for you!


Read more: Designer thrift stores can freshen your fall wardrobe on a dime

Want more money-saving advice? See our Money section.

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