I love learning from the past, and frugality from the Greatest Generation is no different. Here are 10 tips on how to use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without – WWII frugality straight the home front!
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Use it up, wear it out: WWII Frugality
We live in an instant society. We want it now. We deserve it. This is the exact opposite of The Greatest Generation. The Greatest Generation was thrifty, patriotic, and it ended up paying off big time. It wasn’t about who had the most shoes – it was who could make a loaf of bread last longer. Imagine if our society tried – even a little bit – to copy them!
My appreciation of life comes from the Greatest Generation. They simply did with what they had to do with what they had. They lived with less so others (their soldiers) could have more.
They lived by the adage, Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without! If the Greatest Generation can live on what little that was available during WWII, can’t I live with as much as I have? I don’t mind sharing a room with my two sisters. I don’t need the newest trends. I don’t mind sharing clothes with my sisters. Leftovers are (usually) as yummy as the first night.
WWII Frugality Lesson 1: Use it up
Our society has become so wasteful! You know that last little bit of soap left in the soap container? That hard-to-scrape bit of jelly in the container? Many Americans just throw it away. The Greatest Generation was on a strict rationing system, and couldn’t afford to throw extra food or resources away.
Instead of throwing away a bad apple, WWII frugality encourages cutting off the good parts and eating those. To make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck:
- Scrape the last bit of everything – butter, peanut butter, jelly, jelly, parmesan cheese. If you don’t want to keep the almost-empty container, stick the last remnants of food into the new container. Normally new food containers are 75% full anyway.
- Shake ink cartridges to get a pretty decent amount more instead of throwing them away right away.
- Invest in Tupperware and eat leftovers.
- Take leftovers (from restaurants) home with you.
WWII Frugality Lesson 2: Wear it out
Sometimes, being money-savvy isn’t always getting the cheapest. A well cared for, but more expensive appliance that will last you twenty years is a better bang for your buck than a cheaper appliance that will last you only two.
To save money on fabric, many savvy women purposely made their children’s clothing a bit big, and then they would hem them. As the children grew, the women could then just make the clothing a bit bigger! And no one cared if it was three years old. Nowadays, most people don’t make their own clothing, and sewing your own clothes can be more expensive than buying a nice, name brand shirt at a garage sale or thrift store.
This remains a great example of making sure you get the most out of all clothing. Also, I’d recommend sticking with “classic basics” instead of fads, as they’re sure to last longer in both terms of style and quality. Being frugal doesn’t have to mean having unstylish clothing!
- Patch clothes
- Learn how to fix buttons
- Turn ripped jeans into shorts
- Stay away from fads
- DIY Dry Cleaner (we use these DIY Home Dry Cleaner Woolite sheets; all you have to do is throw them in the dryer with your handwash and dry clean items)
WWII Frugality Lesson 3: Make it do
This 40s ad says it all, and is a bit of a combination of the other three tips. Like in the American Girl movie Kit, women used to make dresses for their girls out of feed or flour sacks. When companies got word of this, they started using flowered fabric, and even designed the label to wash-out.
Dave Ramsey states, “If your old car still works fine, don’t go buy a new one.” Whether it be new clothes or better appliances, WWII frugality can help find creative ways to cut back and “make it do” with what you have.
WWII Frugality Lesson 4: Do without
During WWII, silk and nylon stockings were in extremely short supply by the summer of 1942. Most women had to find ingenious methods of dressing their legs. Some rubbed gravy browning or shoe polish mixed with cream on their legs. This picture is of a woman drawing in the seam-line on “Makeup” stockings with a device made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg clip, and an eyebrow pencil, 1942. (source: Bettman/Corbis)
Although this doesn’t have much practical use, it does give us something to thing about and apply to our own lives. Five outfits was a lot back then. Shoving your closets full of clothes you don’t even remember buying hurts your budget and causes more clutter. If you see a “must-have” pair of jeans and you already have five similar pairs, you probably don’t need another.
When you get creative, you can find a lot of unique ways to “do without” something, whether it be eating up the food in your fridge instead of going out or running out of a cleaner.
WWII Frugality Lesson 5: Carpool
Carpooling can save you time and money. Soldiers needed petrol in the European theatre more than Americans at home did. Be patriotic!
WWII Frugality Lesson 6: Can, garden, and scratch
Canned food for soldiers was top priority. What did our brave home front women do? Can and grow Victory Gardens, of course! Canning can save you a lot of money, and avoids pesticides and all that nasty stuff corporations put in your food. Gardening wasn’t a supplement, it was a main source of food. Despite having to clean, take care of kids, and having to cook everything they made from scratch, Americans MADE time for their gardens. Also, many families had small animals such as rabbits and chickens. They were relatively easy to raise and were a great source of food.
At the time, eating out was a luxury and pre-cooked food wasn’t an option. People made everything from scratch. Baking from scratch, although it may be more inconvenient, is the best way to pinch pennies. From homemade pizza, homemade meatballs, to homemade bread, baking from scratch is healthy, frugal, and a great bonding activity. Make it a goal to slowly start getting used to first making meals from scratch 3 times a week, 4 times a week, 5 times a week, etc. Pinterest is a great resource for finding nutritious, low-budget and easy to cook meals.
WWII Frugality Lesson 7: Leftovers
Leftovers have saved us so much money. This WWII era poster applies today just as much as it did in the 40s. Nobody can be too “good” to eat leftovers. Eating leftovers can save you hundreds of dollars on perfectly good food.
Freezer meals and crockpot meals (that can be made specifically for leftovers) are practical and frugal ideas for today’s family. Making meals in bulk and either eating off them for a few days or freezing them also saves time and money.
WWII Frugality Lesson 8: Paper
This Vogue ad states: “The need for paper is urgent. Vogue must help by cutting supplies still further. You, too, must help. First, by sharing Vogue with a friend. Second, by combing your home for every paper, carton, box, and every book which is not actively essential or completely unreplaceable. Don’t keep back whole numbers of Vogue because they contain some pages you can’t bear to part with.
Cut these out – make a Vogue portfolio of them-and scrap the rest of the magazine. One average issue of Vogue would provide 17 twenty-five-pounder shell cups, or 1 box for airplane cannon shells, or 13 cut-out targets for rifle practice…Every pound you can salvage does the same. Don’t waste a single sheet – tear our this leaflet, for instance, and use the back for your shopping list before it goes into general scrap.”
Firstly, can you imagine a modern fashion or gossip magazine telling their readers to share and throw away the magazine?
Again, we don’t need to save paper so our soldiers can have a box for airplane cannon shells. BUT, instead of buying paper for your grocery list, why not save scrap paper and use those sheets? Why not share a magazine subscription with a friend, or better yet, grab a copy at your local library?
My family has ditched napkins (we have a nice pile of cloth ones accumulated from garage sales) and paper towels. I’d also recommend using cloth pads or the less-messy diva cups for frugal menstrual cycles.
WWII Frugality Lesson 9: Raise rabbits
This one may not be very practical for everyone, but it can help save you money. During the 40s, rabbit meat was not rationed and ate frequently. Rabbits are a cheap, low-maintenance animal and provide yummy meat. (It really is good.) Not only is this meat frugal, but it also is quite healthy. (No, I’m not crazy.)
Lesson from the Greatest Generation 9: Misc.
Be sure to check out this great article about frugality. Remember the good ol’ days? When you borrowed books from the library and walked everywhere because gas was expensive?
PBS had a series called “House” and invited people from modern times to go “back in time.” They had an episode set in the 1940s “1940s House”, and I highly recommend it.
What are some of your favorite WWII frugality tips? I would love to hear them! Also be sure to share with the buttons below!