50 Tips From the Great Depression

C. Davis
By C. Davis August 12, 2016 11:53

50 Tips From the Great Depression

The Great Depression was one of the most traumatic events in American history. Following the stock market crash of October 1929, industrial production crashed, construction shrank to a fraction of what it had been and millions of people found themselves on short hours or without work. Until the economy picked up again in 1935 life was a real struggle for the average American.

To get through the economic collapse and the grinding poverty that followed it, people had to adapt and learn new skills – or re-learn old ones. For that reason, many people who lived through it looked back with a sense of, maybe not exactly nostalgia, but pride in how they managed to cope.

A lot of the things people did during the Great Depression still make a lot of sense today. With our own economy looking vulnerable, and the risk of a new collapse always lurking just around the corner, would we cope as well as our grandparents and great-grandparents did? Here are some of the ways they took care of themselves and those around them through some of the hardest times the USA has ever seen.

Work

  1. Entire families moved in search of work. By staying together, they could support each other while not missing employment opportunities.
  2. Migrant farm work was a life-saver for many. Different crops needed harvesting at different times, so it was – and still is – possible to find several months’ work.
  3. People were willing to try any job. They didn’t ask “Do you have any work for a…?” But, “Do you have any work?” They were flexible because they had to be.
  4. Everyone in a family was prepared to earn money. Kids could make a valuable contribution too. Families worked for a common goal – earning enough to survive.
  5. great depression1Almost anything had some value. Driftwood collected from the beach could be split and sold as firewood. Most any kind of metal can be collected and sold as scrap.
  6. Government “New Deal” employment programs provided jobs and taught skills. They also created a lot of new infrastructure, including many roads – and the Hoover Dam.
  7. There was no such thing as retirement age. Anyone who could work did When money is tight, everyone needs to contribute whatever they can earn.
  8. A lot of jobs became part-time as employers tried to save money. Many people worked several part-time jobs, often putting in very long days.
  9. Many of the jobless spent all day going round employers, looking for any work they could find. Even an hour or two’s labor would make a difference.
  10. People created jobs for themselves. Some women would wake early to cook dozens of meals, then sell them outside factories and construction sites.
  11. Flexibility helped. Someone who knew a little about several trades had a better chance of finding work than someone who was an expert at one.
  12. Farmers would take on workers they didn’t have the money to hire, and pay them in produce instead.

Housing

  1. Many people lost their homes. Often, extended families – grandparents, aunts, uncles – ended up living in one house.
  2. Others were forced to live in their car or truck, buying cheap meals and washing at public gyms or swimming pools.
  3. homseThe homeless often lived in tents – or shack or lean-tos they’d built themselves. Having a place to live, even a basic one, was better than sleeping rough.
  4. To save energy, walls were insulated with anything that would help keep heat in through the winter – mud, newspapers or tar paper. It all helped cut fuel costs.
  5. Homes were kept cooler than normal. Wearing more clothes indoors reduced the need to burn fuel, and that left more money for food.
  6. In summer people hung wet sheets over doorways and windows. As the water evaporated it drew in heat from the air, cooling the home slightly.
  7. Refinancing a home was one way to keep up the payments – and it could also free up cash for living expenses.

Related: Find Safe Refuge in a Container Cabin Made Just For You

Money

  1. moneyLife insurance policies were a safety net for those who had them. If money ran out the policy could be cashed in, helping keep the family afloat for a few more months.
  2. Many people rarely saw cash; barter economies quickly grew up. Small jobs might be paid with milk, fresh vegetables or fruit, especially in rural areas.
  3. With millions out of work, begging was common – and seen as desperation, not antisocial behavior. Outside restaurant was a favorite spot; only the rich could afford to eat there.
  4. People respected banks back then, but when banks started closing the trust soon faded. Nobody knew when their own might shut, so the wise kept cash at home.
  5. Many stores gave credit and let regular payments slide. They just kept track of what was owed and hoped it would be paid someday. Many stores went bankrupt because of this.

Food

  1. Having a vegetable plot made a huge difference. In 1929, 20% of Americans still lived on farms; most of the rest had big gardens, and the skills to grow their own food.
  2. Hunting and fishing were major sources of protein. Meat was expensive, but if you could harvest your own you had a better diet. Surplus was great for barter, too.
  3. Foraging was also popular. Nuts, berries, and wild greens helped put meals on the table, and kids and older people could forage as well as anyone.
  4. In the country, canning was an essential skill. A well-stocked pantry was both a source of pride and a life-saving reserve for the winter.
  5. foodPeople learned that you can eat almost anything if you’re hungry enough. Tumbleweed was used as fodder for cattle; then people found it could be eaten. Young plants are best.
  6. No part of an animal was wasted. Offal was fried, boiled or turned into ground meat. Even chicken feet could be boiled to add some taste to a broth.
  7. A little bit of bacon would add flavor to almost anything. The hard rinds or dry ends of a piece of bacon could be boiled – and butchers sold them for pennies.
  8. Communities divided vacant lots and parks into family vegetable plots. Housewives and kids spent much of their time growing extra food.
  9. To keep some variety in their diets, people traded the produce they grew with friends and neighbors.
  10. Meals were cooked from scratch – there were hardly any prepared foods in the shops. Recipes were usually simpler than today’s. That mean they were cheaper to make.
  11. Stores closed on Sundays, so fresh produce that would go bad by Monday would be sold off cheap late on Saturday. Shopping at that time was great for bargains.
  12. Livestock was a great asset. If you had a cow or even a few chickens, you were sitting on a wealth creator. Milk and eggs helped your own diet, and could be bartered.
  13. Meat and dairy products were expensive; bread, potatoes, and noodles were cheap and filling. People bulked out meals with carbohydrates. Lard or bacon fat added flavor.
  14. Soup was a popular meal. It filled you up, and the main ingredient was water. Almost anything could be made into soup – beans, potatoes, even stale bread.

Related: An Insanely Effective Way to Build a 5-year Food Stockpile (Video)

Clothes

  1. Shoes were mended over and over. Holes in the sole were patched with leather from scrap belts or purses. Complete soles were cut from old tires.
  2. Dustbowl MasksPeople learned to make and repair clothes. Any fabric could be used. Rural families made clothes from feed sacks. One woman turned a casket’s fabric lining into kids’ dresses.
  3. Fashion was canceled. People preferred to get more use out their old clothes and spend their money on food.
  4. When kids outgrew their clothes they were handed down to younger siblings or given to people who could use them.
  5. Really old clothes were cut up for rags to get some more use out of them. Why spend money on dusters and cleaning cloths when rags worked just as well?

Related: Waterproof Socks – One Step Further In Terms of Outdoors Living

Society and Attitudes

  1. Nobody felt entitled to be supported. People knew that they had to work as hard as they could to survive; if they didn’t, they could expect nothing.
  2. On the other hand, people were willing to help those who were trying but struggling. They knew they could be the ones needing help next, so most gave all they could spare.
  3. kids for sellCommunities became closer, giving mutual support and organizing donations of food or cash to those who needed them the most.
  4. Many towns set up welfare loan schemes. Money could be loaned to people who needed it, but it was expected to be paid back. Detailed records were kept of what was owed.
  5. Willingness to work hard, and to do what you could to support the community, was more highly valued than individualism and independence.
  6. People learned to keep a positive outlook on life. They learned that they could lose a surprising amount – almost everything – and keep going.
  7. Positivity was essential. There was no point complaining how bad things were – they were just as bad for almost everyone. What mattered was trying to make them better.

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C. Davis
By C. Davis August 12, 2016 11:53
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41 Comments

  1. Rick Fortune August 12, 14:18

    A person who buys zuchinni at the market, is a person without friends.

    Reply to this comment
  2. GM August 12, 14:21

    I wish kids now days could experience all of this for a week or two; especially the teens. Maybe they would have a better respect for what they have.

    Reply to this comment
    • PB dave December 23, 14:11

      2 weeks wouldn’t be needed, 2 days would put most people under 40 into shock.
      Life skills, skilled trades, any technical trainings are not taught in schools anymore and haven’t been for awhile. How many 16 year-olds can cook, sew, saw a board, turn a wrench, tie a knot, solder a wire, deal in cash and count-back change, etc…..

      Reply to this comment
  3. MM August 12, 14:31

    We’ve sure learned how to cover up poverty since the Great Depression. Imagine how similar our country would look if we didn’t have EBT cards, public housing, and the like.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Mike August 12, 15:04

    And to think, 90 million people are out of work and willing to try anything. Except, H1b visa holders are already doing the work. And, none of the 90 million have the “right” skills. The primary skill being able to work for 1/3 less than Americans. Thanks Chamber of Commerce.

    Reply to this comment
    • JJ August 13, 17:17

      I really never understood CofC philosophy..yes, you are getting ‘consumers’ in your area–BUT, you are not getting revenue in so many ways that citizens provide.
      And most of those consumers are getting govt. checks which indirectly you are providing.

      Reply to this comment
  5. dougnicholson August 12, 17:51

    I’m afraid that if (when?) we end up in a similar situation, instead of pulling together to get by, most in this country will adopt a “me first” mentality. If so, it could get real bad real fast! I hope I’m wrong.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Vic August 12, 18:29

    Thanks to child labor laws the idea of everyone wirking is actually illegal. Having a shack outside town is too.
    It’s sad that people work two jobs and can’t afford rent or food. They are looked down upon for needing help.

    Reply to this comment
    • nh August 13, 13:03

      Oh yeah but I bet these people who can’t afford rent or food have tattoos, smart phones, piercings, daily dunkins latte, cable—-you get it–the NON ESSENTIALS that the complainers always have.

      Reply to this comment
    • Bohica October 26, 22:55

      Unfortunately, most of those working two jobs,unless they’re the minimum wage “class”, have the wrong priorities. They have to “keep up with the Joneses” so they buy unnecessary stuff like a big screen TV, an RV or other items they don’t need to live.

      Immediate gratification is also the plague of our society. When was the last time that you heard of anyone “saving up to buy” anything?

      Easily available credit was partially responsible for the “housing crisis” when people bought houses that they couldn’t really afford and didn’t really need. The same goes for buying a “fancy” new car when basic transportation would have worked just as well.

      If people would only buy what they really “needed” and saved up for major purchases like a car then they could live within their means and not need ADC or Welfare to make ends meet.

      Reply to this comment
    • PB dave December 23, 14:00

      In a family business situation ( farm, Quicky-mart, ) the child laws don’t apply the same. When many people under one roof pull together they usually do well.
      And most folks wouldn’t look down on someone who is working at trying to get a better situation. The difference is hand-ups vs. hand-outs.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Victoria Gibson August 12, 18:35

    Lord, we live like this now! Not totally, but food is not wasted, clothes are done over again and again and handed down. Clothes that are just too old or stained are rags or rugs athe my house. We have chickens and a garden. And yes, it gets canned or dehydrated. Hubby and sons hunt, and I even have traps set up on our property. We do have dogs and cats, but they pull their fair share. The dogs keep the coyotes away from our chickens (thankfully the dogs or cats have never tried to harm one, they’ll even sleep together, lol). The cats keep the place free of mice. Soap is made and used. Necessary items are bought for the cheapest I can find. When I do have to buy clothes, I head to the thrift store. Ours sells lawn trash bags full of clothes that might have a slight imperfection for just $2. And don’t get squeamish, but we do use rags here for certain times of the month (they’re washed and boiled each time). Everything is made from scratch, including the kids lunches. Boned are boiled to make broth or bullion, and even the peels of carrots and potatoes are given to the chickens. I work, so does my husband. But we still save metal, and even recycle because it makes less trash that we have to pay for. Wood is regularly collected during the year as is kindling for our wood stove for the winter. I even cook on it during the winter months. Clothes are hung out during summer, and hung around the stove during the winter. I do use a washer, but that’s because there is 7 of us, and no one has time to hand wash clothes, especially with both parents working full time or more. Still amazes me what people think of as hard work is really just how things was before all this technology.

    Reply to this comment
    • mully August 13, 01:08

      Sounds just like my house. Seven people although a couple have now moved to the city for high tech jobs. they still know where they came from and love to come home to fresh eggs and veggies from the garden. They pull their weight when they are home helping to slaughter chickens for the freezer, mow the lawn etc.
      They have even introduced hanging clothes to roommates and recycling everything.
      Country bumpkins in the city!

      Reply to this comment
  8. Hidden August 13, 12:44

    ” A dollar looked as big as a barn door, but you couldn’t find one in the whole county”

    My Grand Father 1910-1998

    Reply to this comment
  9. Hidden August 13, 13:02

    “the only thing we had was each other, no one ever had any money back then.

    My Grand Father 1907-1982

    Reply to this comment
  10. JJ August 13, 16:49

    Kids today have no clue. While speaking to the girl next door I mentioned I was careful with what I threw in the field adjoining our properties because they bailed the field for cows.
    She said—-we’re going to have cows in our back yards??
    I explained that the grass/etc grown there was mowed with cutters, turned on both sides to dry, THEN bailed usually in squares to be sold for cow owners!!!!
    Unless you TRY to communicate with a young person, you don’t get it–she bought the most expensive door trim ($48)for a DIY project and has NEVER used a miter saw.
    Oh…she told me that enlisted military were really well-off financially. I guess she hasn’t read a large percentage are on food stamps.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Kim August 13, 17:09

    Not cool dude. I remember reading the majority of this article last year over at http://thesurvivalmom.com/survival-wisdom-great-depression/

    Reply to this comment
  12. d August 13, 17:37

    I grew up eating ‘garden sass’ (forage) and wild rabbits. we ate well, slept comfortably. and we lived simply. we also ate steak and every other good thing …but in moderation!

    those of today’s folks walk around with a cell phone stuck in their ear. then they demanding life serve them..

    I laugh, because I see that most folks today have no idea how to do much of anything except hold out their hand and demand.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Prepping granny August 14, 05:52

    Almost everything that you’ve written about would be illegal today. Tent shelters would be declared unsanitary, you cannot cook food for others without dealing with the health department, it’s illegal to remove driftwood from public beaches, The county extension agency cannot teach home canning because of the possible liability. Child labor laws keep children from contributing. Labor laws and unions restrict what both employers and employees can do. Regulations and tax laws strangle most home enterprises. Hunting and fishing are a rich mans sport now by the time you pay for all the various licenses, tags and permits. In our area the big timber companies are charging big fees for you to hunt their land and the places we hunted 40 years ago now have houses on them so you can’t shoot the deer there. I could go on and on. It is a changed world and I don’t think we can go back there. Not unless something breaks the entire system down, and even then it would be a world we have never seen before because people are not like they were in 1930.

    Reply to this comment
    • david August 23, 18:23

      If we ended up like they were back then, say the economy collapses or something just as drastic, the laws will be the last thing on peoples minds.

      Reply to this comment
    • JJ October 24, 15:36

      Today, yes, but when SHTF all these restrictions, regulations will be forgotten.

      You can’t jail millions.

      Reply to this comment
  14. Ray Say's August 16, 00:46

    To All : We will in the not to distant future find out what and how people lived during the depression because we will be in one again very soon. I was born in 1937 my folks in 1904 and my grandfathers in 1865. I remember living in a one room tent ( 4′ up was wood and the rest was tent ) near Fireball, Ca. out by a river.
    Caught fish in a trap and shot birds and anything else we could for food. My folks picked fruit for a living to support 4 kids. 90% or more of people today do not have a clue that a depression is on it’s way very very soon and thousands probably hundreds of thousands will not survive. I can already hear people laughing at me for saying this. I will survive because I am ready. Gangs in the cities across this nation will be rioting because their free stuff is gone and checks and food stamps will be a thing of the past. People like myself that are on SS and with a retirement check will lose that income.( I have prepared for that also. ) I feel very sorry for people that have not prepared. Mostly the young that believe the world owes them a living. They will fall first. Many will be killed trying to take from others due to their foolishness. If you are able it is not to late to learn how to grow a garden and to learn all you can how to survive in the coming hard times. Not much time left so quit spending and buy some silver or gold and prepare folks cause very very hard times could begin by or before this year is over.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck September 6, 01:10

      It’s Firebaugh, California.

      I was also born in 1937. The year I was born my parents lived on blackberries picked from the open field next to their house, eggs from the chickens they raised and whatever food they could buy after they finished buying stuff I needed to survive. My father worked as a strike breaker, on the WPA projects and finally got a “good job” as a taxi driver in Philadelphia, necessitating a drive from Willow Grove to Philly back in the days when most roads were two lane and the speed limit was 45 mph and was rigorously enforced.

      For a while we had to live with my mother’s sister because her husband had a “good job” working as a bookkeeper for Scott Paper Company. Forty-eight hours a week, no over time but happy as a clam (how did that expression get started?) to have a job.And damned happy to have it because he got paid for all forty-eight hours instead of working free for half of them as some did.

      It wasn’t until the war started and my father got a job at an oil refinery near Philly that things started to loosen up, but with rationing during the war, oftentimes I wore cardboard in my shoes because we had no more ration coupons for shoe repair or the shoe shop didn’t have replacement soles because he couldn’t get them.

      If your folks had money your wore Keds all summer. If they weren’t you wore J.C. Penny house brand which looked like Keds and if you were really poor you went barefoot all summer.

      When Roosevelt talked about a chicken in every pot on Sunday he wasn’t talking about KFC fried chicken or El Pollo Loco broiled chicken, he was talking about a stewed chicken that cooked all day long to make it tender. That was a meal to look forward to because the rest of the week was either meatless or cuts of meat that aren’t sold in the markets any more. With the war AND being poor, beef was a very rare treat. When one considers that the presidential candidate is promising a stewing chicken for Sunday dinner, you can realize just how desperate the country was. I doubt that your local big chain grocery market even sells stewing chicken today. You would have to go to an ethnic market to find it.For those of you who don’t know what a stewing chicken is, it is an old hen who has stopped laying and is slaughtered because her value as an egg layer is over. Or a rooster who can no longer service the hens. The meat is tough and has to be simmered for several hours in order to be edible. Well, it is edible without several hours of simmering, but is quite tough. The carcass is usually quite cheap compared to other chicken. Usually one buys the whole cleaned chicken at around 40¢ a pound. The bones can be boiled further after the meat falls off to make chicken broth.You crack them so that the marrow comes out to enrich the broth.

      You might make a note of that for your prepper notebook. Always cook the bones to get the rich broth from the marrow. The only exception I can think of is venison that is infected with CWD. I would stick with leg bones in the case of CWD.

      Reply to this comment
    • Bill October 27, 08:20

      Best comment I’ve read in a while.

      Reply to this comment
  15. Ray Say's August 16, 00:53

    Ray say’s to Vic. I am not trying to embarrass you when I say: You don’t have a clue what your talking about. You will do what you have to do to survive. Wait till you miss a few meals and then you will understand.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Cat August 16, 02:31

    My mother grew up during the depression her family lived in a train car for a while I have a picture of her standing in front of it she said it was hard but they all worked and pulled together she taught us to be prepared and never take anything or anyone for granted

    Reply to this comment
  17. Hidden August 17, 00:53

    If things go bad, it will be a very scary time indeed.
    At 3000 to one, the police and sheriffs will be woefully out manned. I assume that the military will roam the streets and try to keep order, but will be in more of a position of trying to protect themselves than keep order. My only hope is we can keep it together till it passes, like a bad storm, then go on from there.
    I fear that the sick, disabled, elderly, and infirm will be the first to go. After that, who knows. The law is for civilizations, when that falls apart, anything goes…..
    Very scary time it will be.
    Personally
    Don’t want it to happen.
    There is nothing civil about a civil wars.

    Reply to this comment
    • billy October 31, 02:26

      During katrina the electricity was out for only 3 days in this area and a guy killed his sister over a bag of ice. You are correct in your predictions. Obama has got 90 million on food stamps, if that suddenly stops i wouldn;t want to be the security guard at walmart.

      Reply to this comment
  18. John S. August 23, 21:29

    Great article! Very interesting and though provoking. People did have to hustle for work and your right a ton of infrastructure was built because of the new deal.

    I mighty sound paranoid but I am of the belief that the great depression was manufactured so that the rothchilds could buy the market up for cents on the dollar and ushered in the birth of the Federal Reserve and our new terms of slavery.

    having said that, it wasn’t all bad because like your article said families had to work together and I am certain this struggle thrust many people right into the arms of God.

    Reply to this comment
  19. Mark August 28, 03:52

    I remember hearing about all of this from my grandparents. Oddly enough, I also heard about it from a young lady that is a member of the Cherokee tribe in OK.
    My grandparents and hers had one thing in common despite the distance.
    FDR’s government folks lined all the livestock up next to a pit they dug, shot the livestock, and covered the pit. Young lady’s parents raised milk cows. Government boys even poured the milk out on the ground.
    No compensation, jail time if you resisted the destruction of your property since it was government mandated.
    All in the hope of getting a screwed up economy back on track, despite having starving folks in soup lines.
    My tirade.

    Reply to this comment
  20. billy October 31, 02:23

    Many women now don;t know how to cook. Democratic plan to get 90 million people hooked on snap cards make for desperate people when the snap card doesn;t work or electricity goes out. Every welfare woman i see has tatoes and a nice cellphone. If tshtf happens there will be killing on a large scale mark my words.

    Reply to this comment
  21. Wannabe December 24, 18:16

    Love this site, it is so informative. Thanks to all who contribute

    Reply to this comment
  22. born-live.us January 21, 17:08

    This 100% preshrunk cotton t-shirt is positive to intimidate any foe whether or not it be
    Deutschman, Moth Mouth or Scantron.

    Reply to this comment
  23. Lucy February 20, 18:39

    The story goes that when my great-uncle Joe lost his train conducting job without notice, all he and Aunt Blanche had in their root cellar was 42 quart jars of sour pie cherries. Their son and daughter went to live with my grandparents in the city. (It does seem to me that, if you had 42 quarts of sour pie cherries in a fruit cellar, maybe you used to have more, but you ate it, and had run to the end of your rope.)

    You can still buy chicken and duck feet in Chinese markets. That’s what makes the tastiest soup AND — that’s one of the best places to get hyaluronic acid, plus chondroitin and glucosamine, all amazing for arthritic joints! Boiling the backs, ribs, and any bones long enough (ideally, with a little acid, like vinegar, wine, or even lemon juice to help dissolve the bone) that the bones break down and start dissolving into the broth makes these delicious nutrients available. Actually, I often find myself savoring the ends of the bones when I am removing the cooked meat from them. Must need the minerals. Or maybe they just taste so good!

    Reply to this comment
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