30 Old-Fashioned Frugal Tips From Grandma

Check out this comprehensive list of money-saving ideas and old-fashioned frugal living tips from grandma and the depression era. If you want to learn how to save hundreds, then turn back the clock with me and see how past generations lived.

Red tea kettle and two white tea cups with red polka dots sitting on a wooden bench with a rustic wooden background.

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Old-Fashioned Frugal Living Tips

It’s no secret that past generations were made up of incredibly industrious men and women. They went through many hard times like the dust bowl, the great depression and multiple world wars.

These life-changing events shaped them in a way that our modern minds just don’t understand. They were forced to use what they had to solve problems instead of spending more money, because they simply didn’t have any extra to spare.

They produced way more than they consumed out of necessity and I believe that they were better for it.

I admire their frugalness and think that we, the younger generation, should learn to employ some of their work ethic and money saving tactics into our fast-paced modern lives.

We think we’ve “advanced” past needing to do such old-fashioned skills such as mending clothes or cooking from scratch, but that’s just arrogant in my opinion.

We were created to work with our hands and I think that we should learn to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak by doing things such as hanging our laundry to dry or soaking beans overnight to cook a simple homemade meal for our families.

These skills will not only save us money, but also force us to unplug, take a deep breath and appreciate the satisfaction of using our own skills to meet needs instead of just spending more money.

So today I’m sharing 30 Old-Fashioned Frugal Tips from Grandma in hopes that we can learn what it means to use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!

Save Old Containers for Reuse

Who needs to spend money on containers when you can use sour cream or yogurt tubs to store leftovers, pack a lunch or organize screws in the shed? Wash out glass bottles to make a flower vase or turn a 2-liter bottle into a bird feeder. The sky is the limit here and remember, any container that you save is money in the bank.

Line Dry Clothes

I just started drying my clothes on a clothesline last spring and I have to say that I love it. As a busy mom of four, taking a few moments to be outside, hanging clothes on the line is a pocket of peace and quiet in my otherwise, busy day. Plus, I feel like I’m doing my family good because it’s saving us the cost of running the dryer and extending the life of our clothes in the process. It’s really a win-win, so why not give it try?

Cook from Scratch

It goes without saying that women of past generations cooked from scratch out of necessity since they simply didn’t have a choice. We are blessed to have an abundance of ready made food at our fingertips, but it definitely comes at a cost to our wallets, the environment and our health. Simply put, the more you cook from scratch, the more money you will save.

Additional resources for cooking from scratch:

Bake Your Own Bread

Learning to bake your own bread deserves it’s own category because it’s so all encompassing. Just consider how many different kinds of bread you buy in a months time. Learning to make your own sandwich bread, dinner rolls, tortillas, muffins, donuts, hot dog buns, etc. can really cut down on the cost of your grocery bill.

A rustic loaf of bread wrapped in a blue plaid towel.

Mend Your Clothes

There are a lot of modern people out there that don’t even know how to sew on a new button. This is really sad in my opinion because it doesn’t take much time or skill to do and it extends the life of your clothes exponentially. Learning to do things such as mending seams, patching holes or sewing on a button will really save you money in the long run, especially if you have children or a husband who are hard on their clothes.

Woman in apron, hand sewing a button onto a pink cardigan.

Wear an Apron

This tip may seem really outdated, but the purpose of aprons are to protect your clothes. Women didn’t used to have very many dresses, so they would use aprons to protect the ones that they had to keep them clean, tidy and extend their use. It’s not hard to get into the habit of putting on an apron everytime you’re working in the kitchen, garden or any other dirty job. Doing so will save you money by protecting the clothes that you’ve already spent you’re hard earned money on. I like these pinafore style aprons.

Black and white photo of a woman in the 40s era rolling out dough while wearing an apron.

Make the Switch to Cloth

The amount of money that is spent on disposable items such as, paper products is staggering. Just think about how many packs of paper towels, napkins, face wipes, feminine products, diapers, etc. that you buy in a year. All of those costs really add up to a pretty hefty amount that could be money in your pocket if you switched to cloth. All it takes is a change of habit and mindset. So why not take the plunge and give it a try?

Save Old Sheets and Towels for Rags

If you don’t want to spend money on cloth napkins or wipes, why not make your own using old t-shirts, sheets or towels? Once something like an old towel has reached the end of it’s life to dry you off, consider cutting it up for cleaning or using as shop rags. Make sure your rags are made from cotton because some of the cheaper synthetic fabrics don’t absorb very well.

Eat at Home

Our grandparents ate at home 90% or more of the time because eating out was expensive and reserved for special events. I recently read that eating out can cost over 350% more than eating at home. I’m not sure where that number came from, but with the cost of inflation these days it’s easy to believe. Feeding our family of six can cost upwards of $40-$50 easily at a cheap fast food restaurant, so why would I do that when I could feed us all at home for $5-$10 instead??

Grow Your Own Food

I’m a big advocate for growing your own food. I think everyone should at least have a pot of herbs or a tomato plant on their back patio. It’s an important skill that shouldn’t be lost, since our very existence depends upon it. Also, it can save you money, but the amount varies depending upon how much you spend on gardening and how much produce you actually buy in the first place. However, done carefully, growing your own food and cultivating a vegetable garden can save you a lot of money, especially on higher priced items such as berries and fresh herbs.

Additional Gardening Resources:

Learn to Preserve What You Grow

An extension of growing your own food is learning to preserve your own food. Whether its canning, dehydrating or freezing, food preservation is definitely a money-saving skill. Even if you don’t grow a lot of food, being able to preserve food that you buy in bulk or find at a discount will save you a good amount.

Wooden shelves lined with homecanned food.

Make Your Own Gift Cards, Gift Tags and Wrapping Paper

Buying these things is fun, but also expensive, besides when you take the time to create something like a card for someone that you love, it means more than store-bought. We keep a stack of paper grocery bags for wrapping gifts for free. You could also use them to make cards or tags. The sky is the limit with your creativity. I bet you could create something even more beautiful than you thought if you just give it a try.

Use Both Sides of the Paper Before Recycling It

This tip is so simple and yet how many of us actually do it? Paper is so abundant that we don’t even give it a second thought to just toss barley used pieces in the trash. I keep a stack of scrap paper for my toddler to draw on, that way whenever she wants to create something she knows where to get supplies.

Learn to Stock a Frugal Pantry

Learning to stock, meal plan and cook from a frugal pantry will save you hundreds of dollars each year. By learning to cook with healthy, frugal items you’ll not only save money, but be eating healthier. The best items to stock would be whole grains such as oats, rice, pasta, lentils and flour. You can also stock root vegetables that store well like potatoes, onions, carrots and sweet potatoes. Of course, it goes without saying that if you don’t actually eat these items, then don’t spend money on them. You need to decide which frugal items you should stock for your family.

Additional resources for building a frugal pantry:

Reuse Your Leftovers

What’s the point of cooking from scratch if you aren’t making use of your leftovers before they go bad? I eat leftovers pretty much everyday for lunch, but sometimes we have things leftover that no one wants. This is where your creativity comes in by remaking them into something new. Soups and casseroles work really well for this because they’re all mixed in together. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t because otherwise, how would you ever learn?

Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat

I’m sure you’ve bought many packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your day, buy what about the cheaper cuts of meat? Have you ever tried chicken thighs, drumsticks or leg quarters? These are often half the price with tons more flavor. Consider trying something new with a lower price tag in the meat department. You might be surprised at just how good it tastes. Plus, you can use the bones to make homemade bone broth!

Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Grandma didn’t buy expensive bottles of cleaner for every surface in her home because they simply didn’t exist. Instead, she used household items such as vinegar, baking soda, salt and borax to help keep a clean home. I use vinegar and water to clean countertops, mirrors and windows. I also use baking soda and water to clean grimy surfaces such as the stove top or bathtub. By creating your own cleaning products using cheap products you’ll be saving a ton of money.

Eat Simple Meals Such as Beans or Soup

Learning to cook with simple ingredients such as oatmeal, beans, or soup is a lost art in our society because we are used to so much abundance, but sometimes too many choices can be a bad thing. Just because it’s available and we can afford it doesn’t mean we should buy it. It all adds up on the grocery bill and sometimes its best to go without and eat simple food in order to simplify our lives and save money.

A brown bowl of cooked pinto beans.

Eat Simple Snacks

This one goes along with eating simple meals. Think about what kinds of snacks, if any, our grandparents ate on a daily basis. They had things like apples, nuts, cheese or hard boiled eggs to snack on instead of packaged granola bars, crackers or fruit snacks. By simply eliminating pre-packaged snack food we would all save a lot of money and be healthier for it.

Drink Water Instead of Soda or Juice

Grandma didn’t have special drinks around that cost extra money. She simply drank water, coffee or tea that she brewed at home. She kept it frugal and simple. We spend so much on bottles of water, sports drinks, sodas and specialty coffees that it’s a multi-billion dollar industry and yet why not just save the money like grandma did and drink water? Your wallet and your waistline will thank you for it.

Reuse Parchment Paper, Aluminum Foil and Plastic Bags

Women from the depression era reused everything including things like parchment paper, aluminum foil and plastic bags. You know they didn’t throw anything away until its life was completely gone. To reuse plastic bags simply wash them out and turn them inside out to dry. For parchment paper and clean aluminum foil simply fold them neatly and store them in a drawer until you’re ready to use them again.

Make Your Own Groceries

We have almost unlimited access to just about any convenience item on the market, but these items can make our grocery bill go way up, if we’re not careful. By learning to make things like tomato sauce, applesauce, pickles and pancakes you’re reducing your grocery bill and preserving old-fashioned cooking skills at the same time. It’s really a win-win.

Additional Resources for Making Your Own Groceries:

Learn to Substitute Ingredients

Being flexible in the kitchen is a great way to save money. First of all, try to choose recipes with ingredients that you already stock, but if want to try one that calls for expensive specialty items, consider leaving it out altogether or finding a cheaper alternative. Recipes are great, but you have complete freedom in your own kitchen to change things up whenever you need too.

Make Your Own Natural Remedies for Medicine

We all know that grandma didn’t run to the drugstore for every little symptom, right? She likely had a store of knowledge that was passed down to her about natural remedies that worked just as well or in some cases better, than store-bought. In our modern culture, we are quick to medicate every symptom, but I think we’d be better off to use more home remedies as our first line of defense, don’t you? Check out my recipe for Instant Pot Elderberry Syrup to get started!

Barter with Your Friends and Neighbors

Bartering is a lost skill in our day and age, but one that could save us a large amount of money if we just used our creativity and our surrounding community. Bartering was common in the depression era because people simply didn’t have the money to buy every little thing, but they did have a strong community that they could lean on and exchange goods and services with. I’ve used our extra eggs for bartering several times and it’s always a little thrill when I can get something that I need without having to spend money on it. So why not look around and see what you could offer for trade with your neighbors. You might be surprised at the response.

Exercise for Free

Exercising as it’s own activity is a modern concept. Past generations stayed in shape simply by staying active in their day to day lives with activities such as gardening, cleaning, walking to the store, etc. Find ways to get more exercise without spending money by naturally getting more movement in creative ways. Can you park in the farthest spot every time you go to the store? Can you take the elevator instead of the stairs? Mow the yard? Take the dog on a walk? These are all great ways to get free exercise while also accomplishing another task.

Black and white photo of 40s era woman vaccuming her living room.

Grow Your Own Flowers for Bouquets

Fresh flowers cost a pretty penny at the grocery store, but they can easily be grown on your own in the garden. You can also go on a walk and gather wildflowers, where permitted, to create your own rustic bouquets. Use your imagination and see what types of plants you can find in your own backyard including flowers, vines and branches.

Focus More on Relationships than Material Possessions

Shopping is a hobby for lots of modern people, but it would save us tons if we were to start spending time with our loved ones in nonconsumeristic ways more often. Consider playing cards, going on a walk or going on a picnic on a Saturday instead of going to the mall. I know it can be difficult, but if you’re feeling the need to shop without actually needing anything, then you can most certainly fill the void that you’re feeling in a different.

Live a Smaller Life

People in the 21st century seem to think that the world is their oyster with limitless amounts of money and possessions, but grandma knew better. She knew her limitations and made the best of them. She lived a small life in her (most likely) small house and community. She had deep roots at home and didn’t stray very often. She created a haven where she was and was content. Consider the different ways that you could live smaller by downsizing your house or car, canceling subscriptions, dressing and eating more simply or getting involved in your local community at a deeper level.

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do or Do Without

You might recognize this saying from the depression era. It’s a mantra that older generations lived by to make the most of what they had. They also often just plain went without. This is a strange concept in our debt ridden, instant culture, but it’s something that I think we could reap a host of benefits from if we were to put it into practice in our day to day lives. So the next time you run out of something or find yourself in need, try to come up with a solution without spending money and see how it makes you feel.

Be sure to check out these additional money saving resources:

What is your favorite tip? What would you add do the list? I’d love to know!


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This post was originally published in June of 2017, but has been updated for your convenience.

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  1. I am new to he site but I love what I've seen. I've lived the frugal life for 40 years and I still appreciate finding ways to cut the budget. So thank you for helping me.
  2. All of these are fantastic idea's that I've been looking for & can't wait to try them ALL! Thank you for sharing.
  3. My dear Mother did all these things, and I try!! Another thing she did was to actually WASH used aluminum foil! She would lay the used sheet out flat and wipe clean on both sides. Then allow it to dry. Fold and put away. I saw her do this on foil that was 'barely dirty' Not the one you used on mac and cheese :) She used the sheets over and over. She made quilts from her ragged clothes. Never threw any useful item out. Thanks for the post, makes me think of her!!
  4. Good post and while there are some I wouldn't bother with (make your own chicken stock, etc.), lots of great ways to cut your living expenses. Reminds me of all my old aunts and my grandma's habits.
  5. I'd add: find low cost entertainment, i.e., movie nights at home with friends, trade movies with friends and, family, free museum days, local festivals, library, picnics, fishing, low cost hobbies (or hobbies you can make money at). Find friends to swap babysitting nights with. The list is probably endless!
  6. My grandmother cut tissues in half when she opened a new box. A half was plenty to blow into. She used newspapers around her tomatoes to discourage weeds. She reused aluminum foil after cleaning it. Paper towels were not used in her kitchen. She used a manually pushed mower: no gasoline to power. Grandmother used old nylons to tie up her tomatoes. She placed her old coffee grounds and egg shells around her plants. Nothing was ever thrown away that had any life or use. I wish our millennials would learn and live the same way.
  7. Instead of buying expensive facecloths, I buy an extra bath towel and cut it into 8 squares. I turn the raw edges under once and zig zag stitch around all the raw edges. My mother had a bias binding attachment on her commercial sewing machine and used bias tape which was even better. I hit Kohl's when their Big One towel is on sale for 3.99 and for $12 I have 2 large bath towels and 8 face cloths!
  8. My mom grew up during the Depression and nothing was wasted. She "turned" her sheets, i.e., cut them down the middle and resewed the less worn outer edges to the middle. Never done it. But, I like lots of pillows on the King-sized bed. I get an extra double sheet and get at least 4 pillowcases from it. I use the top pretty edge first with the 3" hem, then make a bigger hem using the bottom half of the sheet. Thrifted sheets work well, too! If there is material left, it makes a good hem on a solid color pillow case or mamtching curtain tiebacks. 1 1/4 yards of clearance material or flannel on sale makes a good-sized pillowcase and adds much needed color to my rooms. Besides, I sew short, almost straight lines best!
  9. Happy that we already do a lot of the above tips. Bone broth is easy and so good for you. I freeze it in empty yogurt, sour cream containers and use it for making soup. They stack nicely. We compost a lot and use the compost to improve our garden soil. Cloth diapers and wipes have saved us thousands of dollars with four children. Trading extra things you grow or make for different items. I exchanged different jams, relishes, and veggies with neighbours this year.
  10. I hate to throw away anything that still has some use. Here are some of the things I do: cut the end off "empty" tubes. You'd be amazed at what is still left ---- old towels make excellent rags ----- don't waste your money on toilet bowl cleaners containing bleach, plain bleach works just fine; besides it has a multitude of other uses.
  11. I wash vegetables before I trim them, put the trimmings in a bag in the freezer and when I have enough, I cook them, drain them, and have an amazing vegetable broth. Toss leftover bones in one bag in the freezer and leftover veggies in another (only plain ones--no sauces). When you have enough, boil the bones and pick off any leftover meat, add the vegetables, ta da, soup. Sometimes I need to add something to round out the flavors but not often.
  12. Recycle what you cook, today's left over hamburgers can be ground up and become pizza topping or sloppy joes, leftover baked potatoes and pieces of meat become dinner hash, extra leftover veggies can go in an omelette or quiche.
    1. cake mixes are a good way ti throw your money away, Do them from scratch it takes 2 additional minutes but on top of spending quite less you avoid lots of additives they usually have
  13. I grew up in the50, s we were poor lots of kids.my mother did these things to save $.canning, knitting crochet& sewing.she used our older towels for face cloths. Just cut them to squares &zigzaged the edges if the were too thin she would double them & people would give use old but usable clothing& she would take them apart & make clothes for lil kids.her homemade bread was the best..she did all this without complaining. We learnt alot .im proud of her .Catholic of course.
  14. You forgot to say make your own deserts from scratch. Like blueberry breads. Anf how can I make my own butter ? Thanks
  15. Love all of these! And homemade applesauce is the best, but sadly it is not frugal unless the apples were free. A bag of apples will be around $4-6 and only make about 1 jar. Whereas I can buy a big jar of unsweetened applesauce for $2-3. We make it every year and it's so much better than bought, but not cheaper.
  16. Freeze fresh bread, muffins, & other baked goods in a freeze-proof container or bag. It will last at least a month. They will defrost at room temperature in 30 to 40 minutes if put in a basket wrapped in wax paper, or 3 1/2 minutes in microwave oven on low (2).
  17. I gather edible wild berries and wildflowers such as violets, honeysuckle, and roses to make jellies and wine rather than buying fruits.
  18. I love all of these old school frugal tips! It is crazy once we realize how being frugal is just common sense and natural, simple living. I really want to work on towards growing most of our own food and start composting. Great read!
  19. I grew up during the energy crisis of the 1970s. During that time, coffee and sugar were both in short supply. My grandmother used everything to the last drop by turning bottles of cough syrup, shampoo, dish detergent, etc., upside down to get all of the product out. She taught us to turn out lights when we left a room, use cold water to brush our teeth, close doors to keep heat inside, match pots/pans to the size of stove elements, buy on sale and stock up on things you use often. I can still close my eyes and "see" her guest room's bookcase stocked with coffee and sugar! She took me to "flea sales/rummage sales" and instilled in me a love of finding a good bargain. I am now age 53 and still practice all of these things, plus a few more I've discovered over the years. I cut the ends off tubes of toothpaste, lotion, and hair care products when most people would toss them. We often get 3-4 more uses of these things simply by cutting the tubes open. Most of my clothes are from thrift stores or garage sales. We recycle, re-use, repurpose, and donate to thrift stores whenever possible. My husband is not quite as frugal as me but he has definitely improved over the years. Waste not, want not...The little things really do add up!
  20. I certainly appreciate the frugal living .I have always recycled the leftovers which saves lot of money and also come out with better results .

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