27 Frugal Living Tips

27 Frugal Living Tips From the Great Depression – and Pennies Styrofoam Cups

Frugal Living was a way of life for those who lived through the Great Depression. Many hacks used by our grandparents are still useful today. By following these tips, we can save money and live more sustainably. These Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression will show you how to be as thrifty as your grandparents once were, without compromising quality or style!

Growing up, I thought it was so weird, well – if I am honest, embarrassing, that my grandparents shopped at the “dented-can” and day-old bread stores. I also thought it was weird that in the spare bedroom of their little 2 bedroom house was a shelf full of canned goods and non-perishables “just in case.” Having a well-stocked pantry is now something I advocate regularly.

One of the best memories of my grandparents is related to their frugality and commitment to saving money. On my high school graduation day, my Grandpa handed me an envelope with a $100.00 bill in it. I immediately knew where that money came from. For years, I saw stacks of KFC Styrofoam containers with a slit cut into their lids filled up with pennies. There were towers of them on a shelf by the side door. I did not know what he was saving up for then, but when I received that crisp $100.00 bill, I knew it was those stacks of pennies he had been saving all those years.

What I wouldn’t give now to sit down with my Grandma and talk to her about their frugality. I know now, their frugality was born out of extreme hardships encountered during the wars before we were born. 

Saving money here and there all adds up; every little bit counts. Saving money – it’s like those pennies. One penny at a time. Every day. Turns into stacks of pennies that turns into something big without even thinking about it too much.

Here are 26 frugal living tips we learned from our grandparents:

26 Tips for Frugal Living

Grow Your Own Food

It’s great to grow your own food. You can teach your kids about where their food comes from and you get to save money on groceries. Plant vegetables in the back yard, like tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beans, and lettuce. Plant fruit trees or berry bushes so that they don’t have to buy them at the grocery store. Or, if you do not have a yard, an herb garden in your window or patio is worth trying.

Start Composting

Instead of buying commercial fertilizers for plants, use compost made using vegetable scraps, chicken manure, and cow manure. The more variety, the better.

For decades my Grandma faithfully put her kitchen scraps into a bucket on her back porch – which she periodically collected into a pile in her backyard, making sure that she always had rich compost to use in her flower garden.

A Well-stocked Pantry

Keeping a well-stocked pantry is something I learned from both my Grandma and my mom. We never ran out of cooking oil, flour, or sugar. A well-stocked pantry not only saves you money by allowing you to cook at home, but it limits the number of times you go to the grocery store.

Shop Discount Stores

Shopping at discount stores was something I learned from my Grandpa. He routinely would take us shopping to the dented-can store and the day-old bread stores. The equivalent for our generation would be discount grocery stores and dollar stores. There are many good deals to be had at the discount stores.

Reuse and Repurpose and Refurbish

Reusing and repurposing today is big. We see it everywhere. It is gratifying to give something a new life, from reusing jars for use in the pantry to repurposing and refurbishing furniture.

Offer-Up and Facebook Marketplace are great platforms to find used items at a much lower price so these items don’t end up in a landfill.

Make it for Less

If you can make something for less, the better off you are. Cross-stitch instead of buying a ready-made doily. Make your own holiday ornaments instead of buying them. Bake pies and breads instead of buying them at the store, the list goes on and on.

Keep a Rainy Day (Emergency) Fund

It is a good idea to keep some cash on hand for those rainy days. Your emergency fund gives you security; it is your safety net for unexpected expenses that would otherwise derail your budget.

Pay with Cash

Unlike the current generations, buying things on credit was frowned upon in my grandparent’s generation. Paying with cash was the norm. If you did not have the cash to pay for something, you simply did not get it. Consumer debt is a huge problem nowadays and many struggle with being able to make ends meet due to debt. The habit of always paying with cash is the best way to save more money and stay out of debt.

Learn to Sew

You don’t need to be able to sew like a seamstress to use this tip. However, knowing a few basic stitches can help you repair clothing and other items to prolong their life instead of getting rid of them.

Cook at Home

Eating out all the time, whether fast food or casual dining can be expensive. Eating at home is definitely cheaper. A few simple recipes and you are good to go. There is a multitude of resources out there to find simple and inexpensive recipes. In our grandparent’s time, having a church or family cookbook was common. Nowadays, we have Pinterest, YouTube, and the Interwebs where we can source quick and easy recipes free.

Use the Whole Chicken

When you buy a whole chicken, it is often cheaper than buying the same amount of parts. Instead of throwing away the bones and skin, break them down into pieces to make stock for cooking rice or soup.

Don’t Waste Resources

Using energy-saving lightbulbs, taking shorter showers, using water-efficient landscaping, installing energy-efficient appliances, turning the heat down or the a/c up are just a few ways to conserve our resources and save money.

Make Gifts

Instead of buying gifts, make them. Homemade gifts are more personal and heartfelt. They can also be made inexpensively. Pinterest is a great place to find handmade gift ideas.

Dump the Disposable

Don’t use single-use containers. There are multiple ways you can put this tip into practice. Use cloth napkins instead of paper towels. Pack kids’ lunches in reusable containers instead of plastic/paper. Use glass jars instead of plastic or paper cups. You can also wrap gifts in newspaper or butcher paper.

Use a Freezer

Having a freezer is a great way to be able to stock up and store items when you either buy them in bulk or get them on sale. It’s also a great place to store foods before they go bad so they are not wasted.

Use Cheaper Cuts of Meat

Skip the T-Bone steak and buy cheaper cuts of meats. Using less expensive cuts helps stretch your budget so you can feed more people with less money. Learn ways to utilize these meats and cook them in ways that make them more appealing. Stew meat, for instance, is a tougher cut of meat, but has great flavor and gets tender cooking in a crockpot all day in your favorite stew recipe.

Eat the Left-overs

Leftovers are a great way to save money. They can easily be repurposed into totally different meals and you don’t have to cook the following day. You can also make large batches of certain dishes, divide them into smaller servings, put them in the freezer for later, and serve up your own frozen entrees instead of buying processed and already packaged dinners.

Barter or Trade

Bartering a product, skill, or service in exchange for a product or service you need is an excellent way to save money. For instance, you can trade your skill at decorating for someone’s cake decorating services, or perhaps trade pet sitting services with a friend for some home-cooked meals.


It’s not always necessary to buy something when you can borrow it and return it. Libraries have books for this purpose, but books are not the only thing you can borrow. In some cities, there are cooperatives where people share tools and skills, and everyone pitches in.

Second-hand and Hand-Me-Down Clothes

New clothes come with a high price tag. If you are looking to purchase new clothing, consider thrift shops, flea markets, or online auctions for your purchases. You can often find quality name-brand items for a fraction of the cost and still look fabulous!

There are local “Buy Nothing” groups on Facebook where people list free stuff to other members.

DIY Repairs/Maintenance

It’s much cheaper to fix something yourself than hiring someone else to do it. There are many tutorials online for every kind of project you can imagine, and most repairs only take a few tools and a little bit of time. You can also sell the items you repair/rebuild as an added bonus (and make some money, too).

Vacation Nearby – Roadtrip

Instead of taking a vacation far away from your home, consider planning one locally. You’ll not only save on airfare and hotel stays but you’ll also see more attractions and be able to relax better on a shorter trip. Find places where free activities are plentiful and enjoy them instead of spending tons of money each day at an amusement park or other family fun destination.

Downsize Your Home

Downsizing is an excellent way to save on one of the most expensive items in your budget. Imagine the money you will save on rent or mortgage and lower utility costs by going smaller. You’ll be able to save more money and still live comfortably.

Bulk Up Meals with Lower Cost Ingredients

Make more for less by bulking up meals with lower-cost ingredients like rice, pasta, and potatoes. Using bulk ingredients that are lower-cost can help reduce overall expenditures without sacrificing flavor or quality.

Limit Meals with Meat

Meat can be costly. One way to reduce this cost is to eat meatless. Consider making a few meatless meals every week to save on this expense.

Eliminate the Gym

Our grandparents did not get fit by using the gym. They were fit because they used what was free to stay in shape. I remember well the path my Grandma wore into the fields that surrounded my parent’s house. Every day, even into her 70’s, my Grandma would walk several laps a day to help her stay healthy. What are ways that you can exercise for free?

Save Your Pennies

Save those pennies. They all add up. One way to save is to have a jar for loose change. Leave it in your car, keep it on your office desk, but put all of that change aside until you have enough to cash in. A great place to put a coin jar is in the laundry room. The rule in my house is any change (or bills) left in the laundry now belong to me and are promptly put in my coin jar. My Grandpa would be proud!

Frugal Living doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, there are many ways you can enjoy frugality in your life without feeling deprived or frustrated. These tips from the Great Depression should help get you started on how to save money and live more efficiently by using what’s already available to you. Remember that it all adds up!

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