One thing I know for certain. Previous generations survived hard times because they chose to spend money wisely. The key was never spending more than you earned.
And now, as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that life has lots of challenges including financial ones. I’m not talking about the almost natural increase of inflation; that’s to be expected. No, what I’m talking about is the way that lifestyle choices make things more expensive. Things that are considered the “norm” today were considered luxury 20 years ago.
This has been brought home to me in a number of ways, mostly through my own, now grown, children. When my youngest graduated from college, she came home and bought a car a few months later. Now, that’s not unusual in and of itself, but she bought a Buick. When I was her age, we saw a Buick as being a rich man’s car, not one for someone working a low-paying job just out of college. Yet, that’s what she had to have, in order to get the luxury options that she wanted.
This same theme repeats itself over and over in everyday life. We carry around $600 cell phones as if they were nothing; and if it drops, breaking the screen, that’s OK. We wanted a new one anyway. We eat at fancier restaurants, and even fast food joints carry more elaborate selections than they once did.
I remember Dairy Queen being a treat, but today, it has to be one of the fancy frozen yogurt places. Everyone has big screen televisions and you have to have either satellite or cable to get the selection of programming you want. Yes, life has definitely gotten more expensive.
We’re so busy spending money on things that have become the norm in our society, not even realizing that we don’t need those things, or that we could get by just fine with much less. I mean, does anyone really need a $7 cup of coffee that much more than a dollar one?
My parents’ generation couldn’t even think of paying for many of the things we think are normal today; for that matter, the younger version of me couldn’t. But as we go back in time, we find that our grandparents and great-grandparents were even more frugal. Why? Because they had to be. They didn’t have the disposable income that we have today and what income they did have, they didn’t consider disposable.
We could learn a lot from our grandparents and great-grandparents; especially in how to live frugally and make our money go farther. Then, we might have more money to spend on the things that really matter, like giving our families some security.
Here’s how they saved money and survived hard times:
1. They survived hard times by asking, do I really need this?
Let me finish ranting about all the expensive stuff we buy today. The real question is, do you really need it? Do you need that $5 cup of coffee or will you be just as satisfied with the $1 one at the convenience store? Shoot, my convenience store even throws in the fancy, flavored creams, so you can have flavored coffee for a buck or a buck and a half.
It’s fun and special to go out someplace expensive or to eat fancy ice cream. I enjoy it just as much as anyone. But, I leave it to be something special. Rather than buying all of my ice cream from Marble Slab, I buy it at the grocery store. If I want it fancy, I throw some fruit, nuts and chocolate syrup on it at home. Then, I can save the trip to the fancy ice cream store for special times, making the trip special, rather than making the special ordinary.
2. They survived hard times by slowing life down
Henry Ford’s Model T was probably one of the most boring cars in history. Compared to its contemporaries, it had little to attract attention to it … except for one all-important feature: the price. You could buy a Model T much cheaper than any other car out there.
But the T lacked in some things that might attract buyers today. There weren’t a long list of “standard options” that you could order. For that matter, there weren’t any options. When you bought a T, that’s what you got. If you wanted something different, you had to do it yourself. You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black.
As cars became more commonplace, the automotive industry realized that they were going to have to do something to keep people buying their new cars. So, they came up with the idea of model years. Now, you can buy the exact same car, with a few insignificant but highly visible details that are different, and you’ll have the latest and greatest. You could snub all of your neighbors and friends who didn’t have the current model, like you do.
This is actually one of the greatest marketing victories in history. In fact, it’s been so great that everyone else is copying it. Everything from can openers to rocket ships now has model year changes. Electronics are the worst. Why do they do this? To entice you to buy the new model. That way, they get more of your money.
Let me ask you something. Does your old cell phone work? If it does, why would you need to replace it? I keep my cell phones for an average of seven years and then finally replace them when they break. But most of the people I know replace theirs every year or two. They just can’t wait to get the new model, with all the new whistles and bells.
Break the habit of replacing things so quickly and you’ll find that you have more money. It’s amazing how that works. Think twice, buy once.
3. They survived hard times by thinking twice before buying once
Impulse buying is another way that marketers have found to separate us from our hard-earned wages. If they can get us to buy it on the spur of the moment, we’ll probably buy it. But if we decide to think about it overnight, chances are that we’ll decide we don’t need it.
This is what our grandparents did, but it’s gotten lost in time somehow. I remember my parents telling me to always wait a day before making a major purchase. But you don’t see many people talking about that today. In our instant society, we want it now and we’re going to get it now, even if that ultimately hurts us. Let’s just say, that’s not the smartest thing we can do.
If anything, the Internet has made this worse. I’ve been offered countless items on Facebook, which I just looked at on somebody’s website, especially Amazon. They want to make sure I buy it, before I lose my desire for the item. If they can get me to do that, they win and get my money. It’s not about good customer service; it’s about getting you and me to buy.
Taking your time to make buying decisions is one of the easiest ways there is to save money. Not only that, but your home won’t be filled up with stuff that you don’t use. You’ll actually have things that you want to have, instead of things that someone else wants you to have. Reuse, repurpose, recycle.
4. Survived hard times by reusing and repurposing
Our grandparents and especially our great-grandparents were experts on reusing and repurposing things. They rarely threw anything away. Anything they had, including the packaging from things they bought, was reused for something else.
I can still remember my grandmother’s kitchen with its stacks of plastic storage containers. Only … those containers weren’t made by Rubbermaid or Tupperware; they were old margarine and Dream Whip containers. She’d clean them out and use them to store food in the refrigerator or any number of other things.
Back in the pioneering days, everything got reused. Burlap bags became towels (even though they are a bit scratchy), old clothes were either remade into clothes for children, cutting out the good parts of the fabric, or turned into rags. Barrels and casks were used for anything from storing grain for the horses to water tanks. If it would hold something, they’d find a way to use it.
We still see this in Third World and emerging countries. I’ve bought containers of candy to give to kids in Mexico, and had their mothers ask me for the container, once I passed out the candy. To them, that empty container was just as valuable as the candy that their children had eaten.
5. They survived hard times by asking themselves good questions
Here’s another subtle marketing trick that our grandparents didn’t fall for. Have you ever noticed how much of a product is typically used on a television commercial?
Take toothpaste, for example. There’s always a point in the commercial where they squeeze out the toothpaste onto a toothbrush. It’s a nice long line, covering the whole top of the brush, with a nice curl on the end. So, when we go to brush our teeth, we do the same. We don’t realize it, but we’ve unconsciously gotten the message that we need that much toothpaste.
But how much do you really need? Can you get by with half of that and still get your teeth clean? I won’t tell you if you can, because I’m not a dentist. But I will tell you this; I do.
We use countless products every day, without thinking about how much of that product we really need. That ultimately causes us to use more of the product and sends more of our money into those companies’ coffers. Why not figure out the least you need and use that?
6. They survived hard times by being willing to wait
Another result of our instant society is that we expect everything now. We can’t even wait one minute, once we decide that we want it. After all, why should we wait? We’ll just charge it.
I think my grandparents would have fainted at the idea of buying things on credit, especially my mom’s parents. Back then, if you wanted something, you saved your money until you could afford it. If that meant you had to save for years, you did it. If that item was really that important to you, you’d make that sacrifice and save. You’d also be willing to wait.
Do you have any idea how much of an interest rate your credit card company charges you? If you’re like most people, you don’t. Credit card debt is one of the most crippling things for a family’s finances.
Believe it or not, there are actually forms of debt that are worse than credit cards. Those payday loan places where you can borrow $1,500 for six months are murder. Their interest rate is so high, they don’t even tell you. That’s not a problem, as the only number most people want to hear is the monthly payment. Hock shops are worse, but that’s because they work with short-term, high-risk loans.
7. They survived hard times by doing things themselves
We don’t even have to go back to our grandparents for this one, although I’m old enough to qualify as a grandpa. When I grew up, a man taught his son how to do things for himself. Therefore, the average boy would grow up learning how to change their car’s oil, do common mechanic’s work, be a fairly good carpenter, know a bit about plumbing and maybe even know how to shoe a horse (if they lived in horse country).
This training for self-reliance has somehow gone by the wayside. When I look at my children’s generation, so many of them don’t know how to change the oil on their own car, let alone swap out a bad alternator. The average person’s understanding of plumbing is to look down the drain and say, “Looks like it’s time to call the plumber.” Somehow those skills haven’t been passed on.
Paying someone else to do everything is expensive. They need to eat, too, so you’re covering their life expenses. Don’t get me wrong; that’s fair. If someone works for you, you should pay them, and pay them well. But let them work for someone else and learn how to do it yourself.
Through the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of tools. Over half my garage is actually my workshop and I use the other half when I’m building large projects. But even with all the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on tools, they’ve saved me more than what they cost me. Buying tools becomes part of every project, and as I buy them, I guarantee myself savings in the future.
8. Survived hard times by repairing rather than replacing
Speaking of those tools, they also help with repairing things, rather than throwing them away. We’ve become a disposable society, but as I mentioned earlier, our grandparents weren’t that way. They would fix things and keep on using them as long as possible, not throwing them away.
This is another marketing ploy which is taking money out of our pockets. By making things hard to repair and parts hard to find, manufacturers ensure that we’ll throw things away, rather than repairing them. But that old vacuum is really just as good as a new one, if you can find a new switch and put it in.
I get annoyed about this, especially when I’m trying to find parts for things that I own which have broken down. Few manufacturers still offer replacement parts, except for things that are considered maintenance items. But if they can use the part in the factory, I can’t see why they can’t package some of them for sale as replacements. That’s usually one of the most profitable parts of any manufacturing business.
Fortunately for me, I’ve got an engineering background. So, I’m pretty good at repairing. If I can’t find the right switch for my belt sander, I’ll find one that will work (I did this). It may not be as pretty, but I’ll save myself a bunch of money.
By the way, don’t use the fact that you’re not an engineer as an excuse to not try and fix something. I’m a self-taught engineer, even though I worked at it professionally for 15 years. If I can teach myself, you can, too. After all, I didn’t have YouTube or the rest of the Internet to help me. My grandparents and great-grandparents survived hard times, and with a little effort, I know I can too.
What frugal, money-saving tips would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below: