*Strategies For Hard Times*
How They Lived Through Hard Times
By: Fairplay
03 May 2009

Utter the word “Depression” and there are a few still living that can tell you about one here in the US. I recently became interested in better understanding what life was like during those hard times and what people did to survive so I talked to people who lived through it. Most were too young to remember a lot of the details but their recollections gave me directions for further investigation using the internet. We haven’t had a lot of experience in this country dealing with hardship because we have been very fortunate, some would even say “Blessed”. Just take a look at some photos of third world countries and you’ll understand. Here are some ideas how those strategies can be applied today.

“We didn’t waste anything”. “Nothing was thrown away”. “We used everything”. I heard these and similar statements over and over again when talking to people who lived through hard times. Clothes were worn until they were threadbare then the rags were used to make rugs, quilts, patch other clothes and then the rags were used for cleaning. Durability established the value of an article of clothing more than the latest trend. While it would be undesirable to have my children nicknamed “Patches”, good sturdy clothes are available at thrift stores, yard sales, and Craigslist for a fraction of the cost compared to named brand retail outlets. They might not be the latest style, that’s OK. Let someone else be the trendsetter. Take care of what you have. For example turning pants inside out when laundering will preserve their new look longer as well as following manufacturers laundering recommendations. The adage of “A stitch in time will save nine” is true. Mend minor problems before a small tear or minor problem becomes a big problem. Stains will be much easier to remove effectively if addressed promptly. Rotating your shoes will give them a chance to dry and will extend their life.

Much of grocery cost is for convenience. A 25 pound bag of flour if stored properly will last me for a year of biscuits and taste so much better than the dough in the cardboard tube variety. For vegetables, buy local at the farmer’s market instead of paying inflated retail grocery prices for vegetables that have been shipped hundreds of miles. A small Victory Garden can supplement your fresh produce as well and is a great learning experience for children. Buy the sales. Do you really need fresh strawberries shipped from Chile for that recipe at $5 a pint when frozen strawberries will work? Can you substitute a different ingredient when the ingredient called for in the recipe is unavailable or too expensive? I was visiting an elderly lady and she was making cornbread but discovered she didn’t have any eggs. Instead she used a couple of big spoons of mayonnaise to substitute for the eggs and the cornbread was delicious. Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. I have made some delicious soups from “clean out the refrigerator” ingredients just to use the food before it spoiled. I was told by one elderly lady that during the Depression even the peelings from fruit were saved and made into jellies. While you may not want to go to that extreme I think the picture is clear. We all waste a lot.

Life may be easier now compared to then. Generally, the “good old days” weren’t really that good. One thing for certain is that things today are far more complex than they were.

Lots of our “must have” expenses today are related to entertainment and communication that didn’t exist a few years ago. Cable TV, Satellite TV, cell phones, land lines, internet, CDs, movie rentals and more add up to a very hefty monthly total. What do you spend to be connected and entertained? New plans are offered every day by companies competing for your dollars. Is there a better deal available? You won’t know unless you have a budget. The least painful way I have found to budget and manage my finances is using Quicken. Other software is available as well. Let your computer help you. Enough said.

Another common thread I heard frequently was, “We took care of what we had”. That probably applies more today than then because we have much more stuff to take care of and more stuff that requires regular maintenance. “Oil is cheaper than parts” applies. If you don’t know how to change the oil and filters in your car you can learn. The modest cost for the necessary tools can be recouped in a couple of oil changes plus you’ll get better acquainted with your vehicle and that can be a lifesaver if you find yourself stranded without a clue of what to do. Here’s where to start. Go to the auto parts store and buy a service manual for the make and model car you own. Actually on second thought, go to the library. They probably have that book. Take a little time and read through the maintenance section. It is easier than you think. Gradually you’ll lose that glazed look when you learn where the hood latch is and you may have the opportunity someday to impress your less mechanically inclined friends with your expertise. I think everyone at least should know how to check their oil, tire pressure, and be able to pop open the hood and spot those glaring about to leave you stranded problems.

While we are on the topic of filters and maintenance… what about those furnace and air conditioning filters. When was the last time they were changed? I can never remember either so I started writing the date I changed them on the filter. Problem solved. That way I can just go look at the filter and see if it is time. That also encourages me to make a visual inspection. Just get in the habit of doing it along with a scheduled monthly chore like bill paying.

Here’s a short list of things you can consider to help you get through the hard times.

1.Waste Nothing
2.Eat Well, eat local in-season produce.
3.Become friends with your car and how it works
4.Try recipe substitutions
5.Check those filters
6.Program that thermostat
7.Turn off/down the hot water
8.Become the handyman
10.Leisure Time – What leisure time I’m too busy with this list!

Good luck.

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright © 1996 - 2009 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.