Important Lessons in Frugality from The Greatest Generation

by heather

WWII-era poster

When my grandmother was my age, she had a lot more responsibilities than I do.

For one thing, she had 4 kids. And she was not only responsible for cooking for her family, but also for the field hands that my grandfather employed on their farm. They usually got breakfast and lunch as part of their pay.

On an average day, this means she cooked for 4 kids, and 4-6 adults.

My grandparents were not rich people. Far from it. They had to scratch and scrimp everything they had to hold onto their farm. And my grandmother, who great up during the Great Depression, learned some really valuable lessons about saving money, and making things stretch.

So, I thought I’d write today about some lessons she, and other people from The Greatest Generation, can pass on to us about frugality.

1. Grow What You Can

When my grandmother was younger, she had a large garden and fruit orchard in her backyard. I don’ t know where she found the time to tend it, with all those mouths to feed, but somehow she did it.

This food kept her and her family fed when times were tight.

2. Can What You Grow

Last time I was on the phone with her I told her I’d been teaching myself how to can my own food. And she got such a kick out of that!

Instantly she started telling me stories of making muscadine jelly and canning green beans. And although she admitted it was a lot of work, she said that canning what she grew in her garden helped them get through the winter months, when there was no income coming in from farming.

Canning is one of those essential skills that, I believe, we should all know how to do. It’s been such an eye-opening experience to learn about food preservation, and it’s definitely made me appreciate food more. I didn’t use to think twice before opening up a can of peaches or a jar of grapefruits. But I sure do now.

And to tell the truth, the stuff I’m canning myself is, for the most part, far tastier than anything I can buy in a store (well, except for those watermelon rind pickles).

3. Time Your Trip to the Grocery Store

My grandmother had a set weekly budget for food. She couldn’t go over it-period. So she, and other members of the Greatest Generation, would time their trip to the grocery store.

When would they go?

They went on Saturdays, as soon as the store marked down that day’s chicken, bread, and produce.

Back then, most grocery stores closed early on Saturday, and didn’t open again until Monday morning. This meant that many perishables wouldn’t make it until Monday, so they got marked down on Saturdays. Once you were “in the know”, you could go get fruit, veggies, bread and meat for a discount.

Even though most of our stores are open 7 days per week, we can still use this strategy today. All we have to do is simply ask the produce, meat and bakery manager what time they routinely mark down food. And, we go shopping then. Instant savings.

4. Cook From Scratch

My grandmother made everything from scratch. There was no prepackaged or frozen bag of biscuits. No brownie mix. No can of creamed corn.

Of all the things that wow me about my grandmother, the fact that she cooked for all those people, everday, from scratch, is what is most amazing to me.

My amazing grandmother!

5. Make Things Last

Just because you had beans and rice one night doesn’t mean you couldn’t have beans and rice leftovers the next night.

My grandmother knew all kinds of tricks to make dishes last. She’d add tomatoes, or sausage, or turn it into soup. She’d change the leftovers enough so that the next day, everyone thought they were having something new. But, they weren’t.

This is a knack I have never managed, and I wish I could find a site or recipe book that was wholly devoted to remaking leftovers into new things. If any of you know a resource, or have tips, about this I’d love to hear it!

Last Word…

I want to extend my sincere thanks to one of my readers, Bellen, who let me know about these amazing war-era US Dept. of Agriculture posters. Aren’t they fabulous? These posters helped inspire this post. If you’d like to see them all, head over here.

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Sarah July 30, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Great post. Reminds me of the stories that my grandparents would share. Any tips on purchasing copies of the vintage posters…a series would look great in my dining room. Thanks and keep up the great work!

indiana July 31, 2010 at 8:43 am

Your grandma sounds like an amazing woman. It sure feels like we are heading toward a self-sustaining era reminiscent of the one she grew up in.

The more we know about mass commercial farming, harmful chemicals and unnatural feed used for livestock, the more sense it makes from all angles to produce organic homegrown foods.

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