No matter how many times I heard my parents talk about their lives during the Great Depression, I didn’t come to a full understanding of just how much wisdom they had until they passed on — and I could no longer ask them.
Still, I do remember a few of the lessons that they and my grandparents taught me, although some of them can benefit from a little modern-day hacking, if you will.
1. Find food wherever possible.
While we hope we never get to the point where we must cook tumbleweeds just to have something in our bellies (yes, people did this), there may come a time when we have to find food wherever we can.
This means we should learn about edible plants, berries and other food sources in our area. Think about what you would eat if you had no more canned or frozen foods and no grocery stores. Learn how to kill and skin animals, even if you only just read about it. (Only resources and physical books will help you in this area.) Nothing is guaranteed in this world, and being prepared is your best defense against starvation.
2. Scrounge and reuse.
My grandmother was famous for saving almost everything. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine why she would wash and refold aluminum foil. I mean, it’s not like it was expensive. Now that I am older, I understand why. Learning to save and reuse items can save you a small fortune. (Plus, it’s good for the environment.) I try to buy items in glass jars so I can reuse them for leftovers and to freeze extra food. I rewash plastic Ziploc-type bags until they tear. Imagine what you would do if you had to personally get rid of your own trash? Imagine how much money you would save by simply reusing everyday items as much as humanly possible?
“Scrounging” was a term that my grandmother used frequently. Scrounging, to her, was taking a few extra packs of sugar when she got coffee or saving all the crackers from a restaurant. I don’t think my grandmother ever had to buy sugar, creamer, crackers or plastic utensils because she “scrounged” them from someplace else. She wasn’t able to do this during the Depression, of course, but this was a hack my grandmother used in her later years.
3. Learn easy cooking hacks.
OK, you don’t have to go as far as fish gravy or Depression soup, but making the most out of cheaper items can save money and can be a lifesaver when you run out of other items.
For example, adding just a pinch of salt to your coffee pot will remove a great deal of the bitterness and also make your brew taste smoother. This means you can buy cheaper coffee, but not sacrifice taste. There are cake recipes that don’t need butter or eggs. You can make pie crusts out of graham crackers or Ritz crackers when you don’t have flour. You can literally find thousands of these ideas online. Keep your own recipe file box and amaze yourself at the ingenious ways you can “make do.”
4. Diversify your money.
Although we like to think that banks can’t really “fail” as they did in the Depression Era days, the fact is that they can. When this happened in the 1920’s, many people were simply cleaned out. What if all your assets were in one or two banks and those banks failed? Or the grid went down? What would you do for cash?
This is where having some cash or gold stored at home can make all the difference. Yes, I realize that for many people this seems like a dream, but any effort at saving is better than no effort at all. My grandmother often told me stories of using things other than cash as payment, such as eggs, chickens and rabbits. If you had no access to your bank, what would you use for bartering? Learning skills or having something on hand to trade never goes out of style, so to speak. No time for classes? Take an online course!
Bonus: Save money like grandma never did.
My grandmother never owned a cell phone, but you can use yours to save money on just about everything. Try an app called PushPin. You can scan almost any item that you are considering buying — whether it is green apples or a new Apple product — and find coupons, sales or the store with the cheapest price.
Almost every major store has some type of card or savings club. If you frequent one market more than the others, sign up for their app or card. Ralphs and Kroger, for example, offer a card that gives you money back at the end of the year, coupons during holidays, and other rewards, just for swiping that card whenever you buy something. My grandma and mother would have been all over these types of savings!
One last trick that my mother taught me; whenever possible, take your coupon savings and put that money away somewhere. One example: If you used a buy one, get one free coupon for an item costing $2.49, then literally put $2.49 in a jar or the bank. Keeping track with your cell phone or tablet makes this task all the easier. The amount of money you will have set aside after just one year will amaze you.