My mother was born in 1928. She was just a baby on October 24, 1929, “Black Thursday,” when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. I remember stories she would tell of growing up during that time and how the stress of economic collapse destroyed families, homes, communities, and individual lives. Many of the stories she told were sad stories of families who lost their businesses, farms, and homes, including the small diner that my grandfather and grandmother had built.
Of course, as a kid, especially having no knowledge of the historical significance of the Great Depression, I didn’t fully comprehend many of the stories she told, but looking back I can certainly see now some of the reasons that she was such a hard worker, willing to do whatever to took to survive in very difficult circumstances, and why she was so distrustful of people. But I didn’t know that back then . . . I really wish I had learned more from her experiences. But now I appreciate many of the lessons that I learned from her frugal lifestyle, and I do remember many of the things that she said and did as I was growing up. And I realize now that many of those things were a result of her life as a child and young teenager during an extremely difficult time in American history.
I’ve come across numerous other blogs and websites with recipes from the Great Depression that sound remarkably similar to the things that my mom would cook when I was a child. And the advice offered for “frugal living” that I read now just seemed like normal life to me when I was growing up. Looking back on my own childhood, I realize that I also grew up with a frugal mindset about not wasting anything, making the most of what you have, using what is on hand to solve the immediate problem, and saving every scrap of everything “just in case” you might need it another day.
(This is similar to the garden at my great-grandma’s house that I recall vividly from my childhood)
So my interest in frugal living and learning about the lifestyles of ordinary people during the Great Depression is not new, but I have decided that it is time to focus in on a bit of my heritage and discover more ways to bring some of these life lessons into my own family. Of course, I already realize that my passion for “making new stuff out of old stuff” comes from the way I grew up – and my cooking style has always been to see what’s on hand and then make something out of it – but I’m thinking about other ways that life in the 21st century might be simplified with some intentional “frugal living.”
Which is not to say that life during the Great Depression was “simple.” Far from it. I know that it was a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute struggle for most people just to get through a day, keep a roof over the family’s heads, clothes on their hungry little bodies, and some kind of food on the table. I know that there are so many lessons we can learn about being grateful, humble, and thankful for what we already have and minimize our endless quest for “more, more, more” of just about everything.
Perhaps it might be that as we get older we long for connection with those who have gone before us. It might be a searching heart to understand those who survived challenges beyond anything we have yet known. I’m not sure why, but I have always been interested in how people of different days lived their lives, and now seems like the right time to do a little bit of digging to discover what made my mama and my grandma who they were. This investigation might shed some light on questions I’ve had in my heart for a long time.
The first lesson in frugal living that I remember hearing on a regular basis from my mama was “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without!” So that’s what we did most of the time, and that might be why I’m pretty good at making whatever we need in a pinch. There’s nothing simple, easy, or “romantic” about frugal living, but it might get us through some difficult days.
Recipes and household tips are next on my list of Lessons in Frugal Living.
“You see in the old days there was mighty few things bought on credit. Your taste had to be in harmony with your income, for it had never been any other way.
I don’t reckon there has ever been a time in American homes when there was as much junk in ’em as there is today… everybody has got more than they used to have, but they haven’t got as much as they thought they ought to have. If we could just go back the last two or three years and do our buying a little more carefully, why… we would be O.K.” … Will Rogers
PS That’s kind of like my financial philosophy . . . “when the money’s gone, stop spending it!” Works every time and I didn’t need Dave Ramsey to teach me that!