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

Lessons from the great depression

Lessons that were learnt from the 1929-1933 Great Depression in Canada were instilled in many of us who are Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers, as children. Those same lessons have been gradually lost over the last 30 years.  We now live in a very “disposable and maximalism” society that generally does not use it up, wear it out, make it do and we certainly don’t like to do without!

As a Generation X’er I remember many frugal things that my parents had to do so that we could get by, especially when interest rates rose to the highest levels ever seen in Canada,  22.06% in 1981. As a kid, we did not go on expensive trips, we went camping (it used to be mostly free), we ate at home 99% of the time and rarely went to restaurants.  If was a real treat to get McDonalds or pizza brought home for dinner once in a while.  We ate left overs and did not have much food waste. We had powdered milk sometimes because that is what we could afford. We threw very little out, period. I even remember using newspaper to clean windows. We didn’t have big fancy new cars.  We drove our cars until they could no longer we fixed. We fixed a lot of things ourselves, I don’t really ever remember a repair person coming over. My sister and I wore hand-me-downs and rarely had brand new clothing. As kids we did not get the latest and greatest gadgets or video game systems. We made our own fun using sticks and leaves, toy cars, bikes and most importantly our imagination.  We had a couple channels on tv thanks to the “bunny ears” antennae. We had orange shag carpets and wood paneling on the walls and we made due.  We ” Used it up, wore it out, made do or we did without” .

It is kind of crazy to think that those of us who are baby boomers or millennials can say we have lived through the highest interest rates and lowest (-.10% Oct 2020) interest rates in Canadian history.

The life lessons I learnt back in the 1980’s sadly have been mostly lost in my own children and this generation.  We have fallen into the ways of today, keeping up with the Jones’s, buying more than we need because we want it, and very little of how simply I lived is part of my childrens life.  Everything today is so much more complicated and busy, certainly not simple and minimal.  Life today is one word: STRESSFUL. Most of us don’t stop and appreciate the simple things in life very often.

Millennials and GenZ and now the Generation Alpha’s have all grown up in a much more “entitled, complicated, technology-driven” society.  Many people don’t have much patience – why would they need to. We no longer have to wait for commercials, adjust the bunny ears for better reception, wait to get home to check the answering machine or make a phone call. We live in a very “instant” world with instant satisfaction as the expectation.

The Great Depression taught people of all social classes the value of economic security and the need to persist and do what it was needed to survive the hard times rather than to take risks with one’s life or money. With the financial stressors of today, it can be helpful to look back to how people got through the great depression and other past periods of financial turmoil.


How to save money on food:

Source: Readers Digest

  • Eat/cook your meals at home rather than eating out
  • Eat smaller portions of meat and/or have vegetarian meals (ie. meatless mondays)
  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat.  Ie. thighs instead of breasts, bone-in meats, chuck steaks instead of rib eye.
  • Preserve your food (can, freeze, pickle, dehydrate)
  • Do your research, shop around for deals, use coupons.
  • Buy less processed food * this one may or may not be the best option depending on your area, due to the high costs of produce in many areas.
    Consider buying frozen fruit and vegetables instead of fresh and when buying fresh purchase the discounted items/imperfect produce.
  • Join an urban/community garden or bulk buy option
  • Eat pancakes for dinner – pancakes are afforable and delicious and you can include so many healthy fruit toppings.
  • Substitute corn start for eggs: cornstarch can be substituted for one egg in any recipe that calls for more than one egg. Just mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with three tablespoons of water.
  • Use dried beans in your cooking. ie. chili/stews.  Dried beans are a very cheap source of protein and making a big pot of chili/stew can be a great low cost meal that will last several days.
  • One -dish meals – ie. Depression soup. throw everything in the pot. (potatoes, onion, celery, herbs and spices)
  • Cook once and eat all week – using up every possible edible part of any meat you cook. Ie. cooking beef one day and then turning it into stew/beef another.  Use bones to make broth.
  • Make homeade tomato soup – cook canned tomatoes in one pot, heat milk in another and add baking soda to the tomatoes to keep the milk from curdling whtn the two are combined.
  • swap out ingredients (ie. flour/corn starch, honey7 syrup for sugar, baking soda and baking powder interchangeably. )
  • Use dandelions in your meals (dandelions are free and are abundant – make tea, cookies etc)
  • Price out bulk vs buying in smaller quantities
  • Meal plan
  • Make your own dressings and mayo
  • Find recipes that use cheaper staple starch ingredients ie. beans, potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • take advantage of discounted items in the grocery store ie. day old bakery items, discounted produce or meat.  Flashfood app.

Other ways to save money:

  • hang your clothes to dry
  • make your own cleaning products using basic cheap ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
  • Enjoy the free and cheap pleasures in life. ie. crack out the boardgames,
  • Make your own coffee/tea before you head out for the day – avoid buying it at coffee shops.
  • turn old t-shirts and towels into rags
  • Use reusable over disposable
  • Invest in buying quality items (ie. paying $1000 for a table that will last you more than your lifetime will be better than paying $200 for a table that will only last you a few years)
  • Unplug electronics when not using them
  • Shop the discount racks -everywhere
  • Do your own yard work instead of hired help
  • Barter when possible
  • fix as much as you can, before throwing away and buying new

For lots of money saving tips be sure to check out all the other articles Modern Mama has put together over the years.

Check out these great videos from Clara, a 91 year old who had her own YouTube channel called ” Great Depression Cooking” .  Sadly she passed away a few years ago but her videos live on.  She talks about what it was like to live during the depression with lots of tips and tricks.


Tina Evans

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