My grandfather shoveled driveways for a penny apiece at an age when most kids today are still figuring out how to tie their shoes. As a teenager, he gave most of his earnings to his parents and saved every cent left over. He didn’t allow himself to buy a single Fudgsicle until he had saved $100 – and that man loved Fudgsicles.
If you know someone who grew up during the Great Depression, they’re probably the most frugal person you’ve ever met. They’ve been through the worst economic times the United States has seen and know that tomorrow is never guaranteed – even in the most prosperous country in the world. They’re not stingy – in fact, you’ll probably find they’re more willing to share their abundance with others than they are to indulge themselves – but they are very sensible with their money and don’t let anything go to waste. There’s a lot we can learn from them.
Here are just 10 lessons we can learn from survivors of the Great Depression.
• Save your money. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Experts suggest having at least three to six months of living expenses socked away and, depending on your age, putting 10 percent to 35 percent or more of each paycheck toward a retirement fund.
• Identify the necessities. We’re as bad as little kids when it comes to identifying what is a need and what is simply a “want.” We need wholesome food, clean water, warm housing and medical care. We want stylish clothes, late- model SUVs and the latest Apple technology.
• The Joneses are fools. Imagine seeing the Kardashians through the eyes of a Great Depression survivor? That kind of opulence would be an object of scorn, not something to aspire to.
Frugality was considered a virtue during the Great Depression and still should be today.
• Count your blessings. Don’t take anything for granted. True happiness comes from appreciating what you have, not acquiring something new.
• Waste not, want not. Reuse, repair and recycle instead of replacing. Sew buttons back on, get your shoes repaired, take dinner’s leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
I’ve never met a Great Depression survivor who didn’t save random screws and hardware in a jar, roll up pieces of twine to be used later or who would even think of throwing out a Ziploc bag after just one use.
• Entertain at home. Sharing a meal with family and friends is an inexpensive, fulfilling way to pass the time. Nurtured relationships are a true, reliable source of happiness that will persevere even in the worst economic times.
• Share and be generous. Remember that scene in “The Grapes of Wrath” where Ma Joad takes the last of the family’s food, makes it into a soup and invites all the hungry kids in the camp to bring a spoon and dig in? That’s what it’s all about.
• Do it yourself. I couldn’t imagine my grandfather paying someone else to cut his lawn or change his oil, even when he was 80 years old. Doing things on your own saves money and brings a thrilling sense of empowerment.
• Don’t buy on credit. If you can’t afford to buy something with cash, you certainly can’t afford to buy it at 22 percent interest. I dare you to try to explain the difference between “good debt” and “bad debt” to a Great Depression survivor.
• Enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Is there anything more beautiful than watching the sun set over the river while the autumn leaves are reflected on the water’s surface? Nope. And it’s free.
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