Lessons From History: Real Frugality

by Kyle · 9 comments

in Online Coupons,Thoughts On Frugality

I think the best way to learn about the frugal lifestyle is to look back at what past generations did. Especially those that lived through the Great Depression. You want to talk about being frugal by necessity, WOW! So when my Dad gave me the book Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish I was very intrigued. It is a non-fictional story about growing up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. It is a great read. Here are some of the frugal things they did that you may be able to institute in your life at some level and save money in the process.

~ Baking Soda – Not just for cooking. Mildred’s family also used baking soda for indigestion, teeth cleaning, silverware polish, glassware cleaner, and on bug bites. That is a pretty useful product, and saved them a lot of money.

~ Vinegar – This was another incredibly useful item. It was used for canning, cleaning furniture, scrubbing floors, and as a copper cleaner. The idea of spending money on a commercial cleaner was a completely foreign concept.

~ Learn To “Make Do” – Most families during the Great Depression had to make do with that they actually had. A concept lost on most Americans today. This meant that almost everything had to be recycled. Bottles, jars, tin cans, and paper bags all had a very long life-cycle and were reused time and time again.

~ The Key Is To Improvise – Egg whites were used to cleanse and beautify skin. Apple cider was used in place of conditioner to shine hair. Red beets were used to treat boils. They used what they had and rarely spent a dime at the local drug store.

Please feel free to add your own favorite frugal habit that you do or you know your ancestors did. Also, I would be curious to know if you do any of the things that Mildred did growing up. I wonder if they would be considered extreme frugality today. I look forward to your comments.


1 Annie Jones June 25, 2010

I just put this book on request at my library instead of going out to buy it. Like my parents did/do, I always borrow books from the library instead of buying books brand new.

2 penguinlady June 25, 2010

My grandmother taught me that you only really need 4 things to effectively clean your house: baking soda, vinegar, salt & bleach (and, you really don’t even need the bleach). She would treat stains on whites with a combination of hot water and vinegar. To scrub a pot, it was salt or baking soda and water. I wash my windows with vinegar, hot water and a splash of rubbing alcohol, and it does a better job than Windex!

3 Carol June 25, 2010

Very good article! My 91-year old mother, who also lived through the Depression, has long lectured me on every point you mention. Don’t forget the part about watering down shampoos and other cleaners.

4 Starving Student Survivor June 26, 2010

I have also switched to only cleaning with baking soda and vinegar. I haven’t seen the book you mentioned but I just started reading the “Little House” books to my son. I think it’s along the same lines: you use whatever you have.

5 Kelly June 28, 2010

Books like the Little House series are a great resource for ideas on how to be frugal and live more simply- along with, of course, a great story! I also love the Anne of Green Gables series for the same reasons.

6 SimplyMe June 26, 2010

Great post and reminder of how easy life can be. My family is still making fun of me for this one, but I’ve been using (are you sitting?) baking soda as deodorant for the past several months! Its effectiveness is astonishing – better than any commercial produce I’ve ever used. In fact, I did a whole entry on it at http://lessisfabulous.com/2010/05/08/read-now-your-armpits-will-thank-you/ (Read now: Your armpits will thank you!).

7 Reserveitnowrental.c June 29, 2010

Great article. One of the things that I learned from my mom is that she always used fruit juices to cook instead of oils. Doing this, she saved a lot of money, and made foods much healthier. Thanks for your article!

8 finallygettingtoeven.com June 30, 2010

Now that I have switched to many of the above items that you mentioned it is great to open cabinets and drawers and not see all the ‘extras’ cluttering up my home. Another great advantage is this stuff is so much cheaper…YEA!

9 Kayla K July 3, 2010

I think people in the ’30s were, in general, more frugal than today, but the Depression really reinforced it. One habit I have picked up from Mom, who learned it from her mom, was to not be a picky eater, or a picky cook. We rarely follow a recipe exactly because it varies so much according to what we have on hand. We also don’t have designated “breakfast foods.” I am just as likely to have leftover pasta for breakfast as an egg for dinner. Mom said Grandma “invented” foods and would eat things like radish and butter sandwiches because that is what she had growing up.

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