Save Like Your Nana Did: Tips From Yesteryear


Photo: Carlin Joe

Most people would have parents or grandparents who grew up either during or just after the Great Depression and World War Two.  We’ve probably all heard and reheard their tales of how frugally they had to live and how simple their lives were.  However people around the world have recently been through the Global Financial Crisis – an event of similar magnitude to the Great Depression.  Although times are vastly different now, perhaps our parents and grandparents had a point all those years ago?  Now days the price of living and the cost of housing is much greater but wages are also higher and the range of goods available is much greater.  Perhaps by looking at the daily lives lead by our forebears we can get a few tips for living more frugally today.

Making clothes

Even in the 1960’s and 1970’s it was common for mothers to make all their children’s clothes in order to save money.  Using fabric sourced cheaply or by refashioning old adult clothes or those from older children, our mothers and grandmothers were able to cloth many children quite inexpensively.  Today the handmade revolution is taking place with the emphasis being on quality handmade children’s garments.  Fabric can still be sourced cheaply from large chains and pieces from adults or older siblings can always be refashioned.  Well made children’s clothing can be quite expensive, more than some adult clothing, and children still get it dirty and grow out of it just as quickly. Many families lived their lives having only worn homemade clothing, or personal items.

No heaters or air conditioning

Having air conditioning and even some heaters was unheard of for most families.  Instead the natural elements were embraced – windows and doors were flung open in summer and in winter warm layers were worn and blankets employed.  Heating and cooling costs make up a huge portion of today’s electricity bill but can be reduced quite quickly by switching off the heater or the air conditioner.

One or no cars

Many families had to make do with one or even no motor vehicles.  Cars were considered a luxury with everyone using public transport or walking to work and school.  Just imagine a life without petrol, registration, insurance and maintenance bills.  The multi-car family of today has become more of a necessity than a luxury for many people.  But by downsizing the number of vehicles you own you will drastically cut your costs and might even find yourself doing a little extra exercise as well.

Holiday at home

For most families the idea of an overseas holiday was unheard of.  Holidays were taken once a year and consisted of a short camping or caravan trip or a road trip to visit relatives.  A few trips to the beach over the Christmas holidays were considered a treat, rather than theme parks and other expensive activities.  By seeking out cheaper alternatives to expensive trips you can still relax, be entertained, and enjoy family time without the added stress of the cost.  Child development specialists say that it’s not the cost of the treat or activity that children benefit from – it is the quality family time.

Use the library

Purchasing and owning books was something reserved for special occasions such as birthdays.  Most families could not afford to have vast libraries of books in their homes.  Local libraries were and still are in nearly every suburb, easily accessible to most people.  Books are very important to education and growth, however they can be very expensive and take up lots of storage room.  By utilising the library you can read as many books as you like on a vast array of topics for very little cost.  Libraries also provide other worthwhile social aspects such as story time for children and adult social groups.


Pre-packaged biscuits and cakes were not widely available so our mothers and grandmothers, who usually baked several times a week.  Not only are fresh baked goods generally better for you, but they are usually much cheaper than store bought.  A simple cake or batch of biscuits can be baked at home for a couple of dollars today.  You would normally pay over this for a packet of plain biscuits from the shops.  Baking your own treats is a great activity to do with children, it will save you money and you can also make tastier, healthier products.

While some of the tips from yesteryear do require a certain amount of time to be invested, there are many things we can do such as using a library or not using the air conditioner which can also save us money.


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