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3 Ways Americans Used to Save That Can Still Apply Today

Posted by Rebecca Hellmann on Oct 9, 2019 6:45:00 AM


From 1929-1939, the Great Depression swept Americans into financial destitution. Slow consumer spending created lower rates of production, causing businesses to reduce in size, lay off workers, or close their doors for good. Millions were unemployed, and there was a rising number of homeless.

The Great Depression has left a lasting mark in US history, but it’s affects far outlasted the ten years in which in held reign. The people who lived through those rough times learned to place significant value in every bit of money they earned. Perhaps more importantly, they strove to extract that same value out of every cent they spent.

In the time that has passed since the days of the stock market crash and dust bowl, many Americans have lost some of the knowledge and skills required to make every dollar stretch.

Here are three blasts from the past that can help today’s Americans stay on budget.

The Home Cooked Meal

cost-of-vegetablesSome have made the argument that home-cooked meals end up being as expensive as eating fast food. But basic ingredients are not particularly expensive.

Standard staples such as potatoes, broccoli, and onions average less than $1 per pound. That equals around $0.25-$0.11 per serving.

Meat can be more costly, with ground beef sitting at $3.82 or $0.96 per serving. But a whole chicken runs $1.51 per pound ($0.29/serving), and eggs are $1.22 per dozen ($0.10/serving) (USDA).

Processed and boxed foods, on the other hand, are far more costly. Cold cereals average $3.09 per box ($0.26/serving). A box of macaroni and cheese runs around $0.98 ($0.40/serving).

The real cost of home-cooked meals is time spent. Most Americans work long hours and feel their work/life balance already suffers. Experts suggest ways around these issues, such as meal planning or creating crockpot (or slow cooker) meals.

The best part? Leftovers for lunch (or tomorrow’s dinner)!

Dispose of the Disposable

People suffering through the Great Depression didn’t have paper towels, plates, or plasticware. “We were trying to save money, so you didn’t buy things that you could throw away,” said Janet Giacoppo, a Phoenix resident born in 1929. They did not buy them because it would be seen as wasteful (earth911.com).

A pack of microfiber towels will cost a little more than that roll of paper towels. But they will soak up even more liquid, attract the dirt when you are wiping, and last a lot longer. The real question becomes, do they cost more than twelve rolls of paper towels?

But what about your paper plates and eating utensils? You can grab 140 dinner plates for $10 and assorted plastic ware for as little as $5.

Several generations ago, most households would receive at least some of their dining ware as hand-me-downs. While they may not come from family or friends, local resale shops often have a range of dishes that may not match but are most certainly useful. Don’t be afraid to have an eclectic set of forks, spoons, knives, and bowls if it means you won’t be spending another $15 once or twice a month.

There are new options, of course. This $6 set of silverware from Amazon could substitute, but it may not last as long as you would like, which brings us to our next point.

Quality Matters

“The reason that the rich were so rich…was because they managed to spend less money.” (Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms)

Similar to dinnerware, Americans used to pass down everything from clothing to furniture and more. They purchased items that were meant to last. Families only bought one coffee table, one couch, one bedroom set, one set of dishes. Yes, it cost more money at the outset to purchase or make a quality product. But the cost savings over time adds up.

Fortunately, it is possible to purchase quality products for less if you know where to look. Second-hand stores, garage sales, yard sales, and estate sales are great places to find quality pieces at a lower cost than you would pay new.

Many Americans have lost some of the haggling, hunting, and dollar stretching knowledge of the past. Fortunately, history (and the internet) can help us rediscover some of these time-worn strategies. While there are a plethora of options out there to help reign in your daily spend, following these three tips can help cut long-term household costs.

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Topics: consumer budgets, money management, household budgets, financial education


Written by Rebecca Hellmann

Rebecca Hellmann has been researching and writing in the payments technology industry for over six years. Prior to the payments industry, Rebecca developed marketing, branding, and content for businesses such as Bil-Jac, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, and Homestead Furniture. She currently works as Director of Marketing for FCTI, Inc.
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