Use these Great Depression Era tips to stretch your food budget and save money on groceries.
Living frugally is not a new thing even though it seems to be something that is taking off again. During the Great Depression Era, there was no choice but to live as frugally as possible. Families made clothing out of flour sacks, went without, and made do, and they were masters of stretching food budgets. Many people had large families and very little money to spend on food.
While some of the things they did during the depression may not be practical for today or they may even be more expensive to do now, it is a good idea to look back on this time and search for the practical tips that we can use today to save money. We can examine how large families were able to feed everyone with so very little and apply it to our own budgets. Here are some depression-era tips to stretch your food budget and help you save money.
Depression Era Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget
Keep breakfast simple.
There are a lot of foods that are cheap and filling that make an excellent breakfast. It’s alright to have lots of carbs in the morning in the form of oats if you are going to be using them. Here are 5 make-ahead oatmeal recipes.
While eggs and dairy were scarce in the cities during the Great Depression, they were available in rural areas. Keep yourself feeling fuller longer with cheap sources of protein like eggs, yogurt, or cottage cheese.
Pack your lunch.
Buying a meal at a fast restaurant is now over $10 in our area. That is $50 a week! Get in the habit of packing your lunch each evening when you are cleaning up after dinner. You are more likely to follow through on your resolution to pack lunches if you do it the night before rather than try to remember to do it in the morning. You can quickly pack a lunch by adding a container filled with last night’s leftovers from dinner to a brown bag and a piece of fruit. Not only will you save money by not eating fast food for lunch, but you will also reduce food waste, and eat a healthier meal. If you end up making sandwiches, here are tips to prevent soggy bread so you can make them the night before.
Bring your own coffee.
My Grandpa and Dad both took a thermos of coffee with them when they left for work. It is even easier to bring your own coffee today with travel mugs. Stopping for a coffee on the way to work is not only expensive, but it also wastes time. If you have a coffee maker, you can set everything up the night before, then just turn it on in the morning, and in a few minutes, you will have hot, inexpensive coffee to get you moving! Save even more by making homemade coffee creamer.
Make your own convenience foods.
There were very few convenience foods during the depression era. In today’s world, it is hard to avoid buying a few convenience foods here and there, but try to cut your use of convenience foods as much as possible and make your own. You will find that you can make larger amounts for less in most cases. Batch cook rice from scratch instead of buying packaged instant rice. Then store it in usable portions in your refrigerator or freezer for a frugal and quick side dish. Broil a couple of pounds of chicken then dice it to use in recipes instead of buying precooked chicken strips. Here are some batch cooking video tutorials to get you started.
Switch to less expensive cuts of meat.
Meat can be very expensive now, but you can make a few frugal swaps to save money. Buy chicken thighs instead of breasts. Or better yet, buy a whole chicken and stretch it for several meals. Brisket became popular not because it was a family favorite, but because it was an inexpensive cut. Look for chuck roasts instead of sirloin or other popular cuts and you will save money. You can cut up a roast into strips for fajitas or bite-size pieces for a casserole. Cutting the meat into smaller pieces yourself will usually save you at least 25% over precut meat.
Stretch the meat in meals with beans.
Beans are more than just great on a burrito. They have a wonderful texture and when added to recipes, they can stretch your meats twice as far. You can also substitute beans for meat in recipes, too. To really save yourself a good amount of money, buy them dry and in bulk rather than in a can and cook them yourself. If your family doesn’t like beans, then try lentils. They are smaller and work well when mixed with ground meat.
Grow some of your own food or forage.
You can garden and grow some of your own foods even if you don’t have a large yard. If you can hang a basket, you can grow salad greens in it. Grow herbs in jars on your kitchen counter. Potatoes can be grown in a barrel and many vegetables can be grown in containers on a patio. You can plant berries and fruit trees in your yard and have edible landscaping.
You can also forage for some things, too. Just make sure you know how to properly find edibles in the wild. Here are tips on foraging.
Make a pot of soup every week.
When people cooked during the great depression, nothing was wasted. Our grandmothers made broth from chicken bones, and used vegetables and small bits of meat and leftovers to create soups on a weekly basis. You can add a ham bone while cooking peas to make a flavorful pea soup or beef bones to beans while they cook to make a pot of delicious bean soup. No bones? Then make minestrone soup and add whatever vegetables you have available to you.
Learn some frugal recipes to keep in your rotation.
Knowing some frugal recipes to keep in your regular rotation was something many home cooks did during this time because there were very few instances that people could afford anything fancy. While it is true families often ate the same things over and over, it did cut costs dramatically. You don’t need to bore your family with the same 5-6 meals each week, but you should make sure you keep an arsenal of low-cost meals to keep in your meal plans. Here are some frugal depression era recipes that you can incorporate into your meal rotation.
Serve root vegetables.
Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets have fallen out of favor. But root vegetables are filling and inexpensive. If you are worried about the carbs in potatoes, cook the potatoes, then let them cool. This will transform much of the starch in the potato into resistant starch which functions as a soluble fiber. Batch cook potatoes or sweet potatoes in the oven on the weekend and store them in the refrigerator for use in meals throughout the week.
Make frugal Snacks.
Popcorn became popular during the Great Depression because it was a low-cost, filling snack. It can also be a healthy snack if you make it from scratch as Grandma had to do instead of buying microwave bags. Cook popcorn kernels in a large pot in a little oil or in an air popper, then add salt.
Look for other frugal and filling snacks such as apple slices dipped in peanut butter instead of reaching for expensive and unhealthy packaged snacks.
An easy way to save money is to drink water instead of juice or soda. Take a reusable water bottle with you whenever you leave the house so that you won’t be tempted to buy a soda when you are out doing errands. Not only is water so much better for you, it only costs pennies if you fill your water bottle up at your kitchen tap.
Do your own baking.
Baking at home will, not only, save you money but will also be slightly better for you because you have complete control over the ingredients.
Homemade Bread Recipes:
Irish Soda Bread (no yeast required)
Rustic French Bread (1-hour recipe)
Basic White Bread (great for sandwiches)
Even though baking supplies were in short supply, desserts occasionally graced the table during the Great Depression. Both of these cake recipes are made without using eggs, butter, or milk which were scarce during the depression.
Vanilla Depression Cake Recipe (sometimes called Whacky Cake or Crazy Cake)
Chocolate Depression Cake Recipe (sometimes called Surprise Cake)
Tomato Soup Cake Recipe (Sometimes called Mystery Cake)
More Depression Era Recipes