Thursday, December 6, 2018

50 Ways My Grandparents Survived the Great Depression

I saw this article today on how the writer's grandparents survived the Great Depression.  While these are general tips, here is a list of 50 specific ways that my grandparents, who were born in the early 1900s and were young adults during the 1930s, survived the Great Depression:

  1. They paid cash for everything.  They didn't have credit cards back then and taking out a loan was a HUGE deal, so my grandparents operated on a cash-only basis their entire lives (later they did get a mortgage for their last house).
  2. They always had a big garden and grandma processed everything by canning/freezing/pickling/jam making/etc.
  3. Their hobbies were hunting, fishing, clam digging, bee keeping, and sewing, among other things.  Their hobbies were fun but also useful for everyday survival, like putting food on the table on the cheap.
  4. They bought used whenever possible.  I don't remember my grandparents every having a new car.  Used cars, used trucks, used farm equipment, buying new was a really really rare thing.  Even grandma's prized hard-wood dining set was bought at an estate sale!
  5. They worked at whatever jobs came along.  Grandma worked at a sewing mill during the war, on the election board, as a local babysitter and house sitter, etc.  Granddad was a welder, a horse trainer, played in a band every Saturday night (grandma took tickets at the door), was a farmer, etc.  If there was a way to make money, they would jump on the opportunity.
  6.  They helped out people whenever possible.  Living in a rural area it was the norm to help other people out as you could, and they would bring garden produce and home-made baked good to the elderly, ill, and poor families in the neighborhood.
  7. They didn't go out and rarely left the farm expect for Saturday nights during and a little after the war to run a dance hall in town.  They didn't go out for dinner, go out for coffee, or go shopping unless they absolutely needed to buy something specific.
  8. All food was cooked at home--breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a thermos of coffee for granddad when he was out at work--every single day.
  9. They saved EVERYTHING.  Magazines, string, aluminum foil, reusing gift wrap and re-purposing cards (grandma would cut the front half of the card off and make it a holiday post card).  I didn't know there was such things as fancy glasses as we always used jam jars for drinking at their house.
  10. They bought things that held its value (guns, guitars, a sewing machine, farm tools) they didn't waste their money on things that would dramatically lose value.
  11. They saved a part of any money they received.  They always had money for an emergency because they didn't spend every dime they made!
  12. Clothes were made at home (this was before cheap clothing was common).  Clothes were also handed down to the next smallest kid multiple times.
  13. Their home security system was a couple of dogs.  But mostly the dogs were pets and back then no one locked their home or car doors.
  14. Fancy eating was a picnic with homemade food and family/community potlucks (also with all homemade food).
  15. The family had one TV which everyone shared and it took many years to get a color TV (bought used of course).
  16. There was no such thing as going to a gym for exercise since working in the yard/on the farm was more than enough exercise for everyone.
  17. The main way they kept the grandkids (us) occupied was to go camping (again, for the purpose of keeping the kids occupied and teaching them to hunt and fish).
  18. Entertainment was almost always at home--playing chess, playing Monopoly, playing music, cut out paper dolls, etc.
  19. I think the utilities they paid for were only the phone (a party line for years), oil for the furnace, and electricity.  They had a well, septic tank, used wood from their land for the fireplace, no cable or internet back then, and processed their own garbage so there was no charge for any of those things.
  20. Trading and bartering was a common way to get things back then.  Grandpa was an old fashioned horse trader (literally) and he bartered for lots of things instead of spending his hard-earned cash.
  21. They had one "good outfit" for church and funerals.  They didn't have nearly the amount of clothes and shoes that people have today and most of the clothes they had were farm work clothes.  If grandma wanted a new dress, she made it herself.
  22. They ate seasonally (no fresh tomatoes in January, only canned at that time of year) and worked seasonally (lots of farm work in the spring, summer, and fall; winter was reserved for fixing things and inside things like knitting/sewing/baking).
  23. If something broke, they fixed it.  Grandma would hop up on the (second-story!) roof to make fixes if the roof leaked.  Plumbing, electrical work, tool repair, car repair...they would fix it themselves or find a neighbor who could do the work for them (usually in trade for something the neighbor wanted).
  24. They didn't replace things until the item was dead dead.  Grandma's refrigerator from the 1940s was still going strong in the late 1980s!
  25. They didn't go to the doctor unless someone was literally on death's door.  Grandma used a lot of home remedies to fix whatever ailed the family members but she did make it a point to go to the dentist regularly for cleanings and check ups (she had all of her teeth with no cavities into her 80s).
  26. Everyone in the family from the youngest to the oldest had jobs to do.  Whether is was watching smaller kids, feeding the animals, mowing the (huge) yard, working at their U-pick stand...everyone had a purpose and responsibilities even at very young ages.
  27. They always kept more than enough on hand.  Unlike the people you see fighting over the last gallon of milk at the store before a snowstorm is set to hit, they always kept more than enough (food, water, fire wood, fuel, etc) on hand so that they didn't have to go to the store for last-minute necessities (then again, the nearest store was sometimes an hour away so shopping trips were well planned).
  28. They didn't travel like people do today.  If they had to leave the farm it was usually for an emergency (a close family member had a crisis and lived far away), and they almost always drove even if they needed to go across the country (I don't think my grandfather ever flew on a plane and grandma flew a couple of times in her late 70s to visit her brothers who lived on the other side of the country).
  29. Another main form of entertainment was visiting.  People would stop by to visit (the men would head out to the barn, the women would sit in the kitchen) and they would share gossip and news and grandma's baked good and that was considered entertainment for the day!
  30. They picked up a lot of things for free--berries from the mountains, cool rocks from the beach, ferns from the mountains, rose grafts from neighbors, plant starts and bulbs that were shared between neighbors, etc.
  31. Grandma grew all of her own flowers.  She had a beautiful rose garden, lots of bulb plants like daffodils and irises, and started her annuals from seed.
  32. All holidays were celebrated at home.  Christmas trees came from their land, Christmas tree decorations were made at home, birthdays meant a homemade cake and games for all of the neighbor kids, and Easter was a dinner made mostly from their home grown food and an egg hunt around their farm.
  33. They did without things that weren't absolutely necessary.  Then again there were not nearly as many consumer items to buy back then as there are today but they had to really need something before they would buy it.  For example they rarely bought paper towels because rags would work just as well and were cheaper.  And gloves for the kids during the winter were granddad's heavy wool socks which made pretty good mittens.
  34. They made their land work for them.  They would rent fields to other farmers if they weren't using them, had a u-pick section of their farm for years, grew grapes for local winemakers...if there was a way to make money from their land they tried it.
  35. They didn't feel the need to entertain the kids.  If the kids said they were bored, there was plenty of work to assign them so the kids usually went off on their own to play and make up adventures with local neighbor kids.
  36. Neighbors took care of each other.  If a farm animal was loose, all of the neighbors helped to coral it, all of the neighbors were armed and there was no crime in the neighborhood, if a family had an emergency the neighbors would help out watching their place while they were gone, etc.
  37. They never invested in the stock market and instead put their money into tangible things like land and tools (I think they saw what happened during the Depression and didn't want to get caught in such a crash in the future).
  38. They both liked to read a lot so they bought many books (again, used) at garage sales, thrift stores, and places you could trade in used books for other books.
  39. Gifts that they gave for birthdays and holidays were useful and practical--a sleeping bag for camping, a fishing pole, a gun (back then you could give kids guns for gifts and people didn't freak out), etc.
  40. There was a lot of social and religious pressure for everyone in the family to not mess up.  If you got arrested you shamed the entire family, ditto getting into trouble at school, stealing, etc.  Needless to say no one every end up in jail/court/needing bail/etc.
  41. During the winter everyone congregated in the living room which was heated by a fireplace.  Blankets were used to block off the open hallway leading to other rooms so as to keep all of the heat in one room.  They also used electric blankets during the winter as bedrooms in the house had no heating system.
  42. Families helped each other out.  Grandparents watched the grandkids while the parents worked, parents took care of their parents/grandparents when they got old, neighbors took care of other neighbors kids when needed, etc.
  43. They were much more concerned with privacy back then--they didn't discuss their money with others, didn't discuss their religion unless they were at church, didn't give their Social Security number to anyone, didn't talk about family matters with others, didn't "show off" such that you wouldn't be able to tell the millionaires from everyone else as they all lived pretty much the same (frugal) lifestyle, etc.
  44. Crafts were very common as they served as both a hobby and a way to make some extra money (by selling your work at the county fair).  Most people did some sort of craft like leather work, jewelry making, candle making, knitting, wood burning, etc.
  45. I think that because families lived so closely together (you were literally all together in one room most days in the winter) there was more of an emphasis on teaching kids manner and values and morals.  If you had to be around people all the time you at least wanted them to be reasonable socialized and civil!
  46. The work ethic was instilled early and most kids had jobs by the time they were ten or eleven--babysitting neighbor kids, doing work on other farms, bagging groceries at the local market, etc.
  47. Divorce was a rare occurrence back then.  There was a social stigma to divorce and probably economic pressure not to get divorced as well.  People learned to work out their problems instead of bailing at the first opportunity.
  48. Holiday traditions were very common and were pretty much the same every year--dyeing Easter eggs, a 4th of July picnic, Thanksgiving dinner for relatives near and far, decorating the Christmas tree...these weren't expensive traditions but were inexpensive activities that we looked forward to all year.
  49. There were several skills that were de rigueur for almost all kids at the time--learning to swim at the local swimming hole, learning to ride a bike on bicycles that had been handed down again and again, learning to shoot in the mountains, etc.
  50. People tended to volunteer a lot back then to help out their communities (as opposed to these days when some of our youngest EMT volunteers are nearing 70--young people just don't volunteer much these days.)  Men would volunteer as firefighters and EMTs, women would volunteer to help out the needy and hold holiday gift drives...this was an inexpensive way to help the community function and help those in need in the community.
Obviously things weren't all puppies and roses back then.  There was a lot of poverty and a lot of social issues like domestic violence and child abuse that was considered "normal", but people who lived through the Great Depression showed a creativity and resilience that I hope will show up in future generations during hard times.

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