9 Things Great Depression Grandparents Knew About Saving

Generational savvy can help today's Americans weather the downturn

SAN MATEO, Calif., Nov. 13, 2008 — Late 2008 has garnered plenty of comparisons to another year: 1932. Both years were election years, and both found America in the grip of a significant economic shakeup.

"While today’s situation does not necessarily imply another Great Depression, the economic downturn and those comparisons can encourage us to turn worry into a positive," said Ewing. "Consider the lessons learned from the Great Depression and apply some of your grandparents' financial knowledge to improve your own lot in life."

Ewing's suggestions include the following:

1. Live below your income. "We have said it before, because it is the most important financial lesson, especially in difficult times," Ewing said. Do not spend more than you earn. Those who are hooked on plastic can withdraw enough cash each week to cover necessities -- even groceries and gasoline -- and put the credit cards away. Ewing noted that a recent study by Visa found that people who pay for their food with a credit card spend 30 percent more on average than people who pay with cash.

2. Focus on needs, not wants. Ewing reminds Americans to understand their income and their necessary expenses, and account for these needs before spending money on any wants. "Think like your elders: A new shirt for the weekend, new home décor and a flat-screen TV are not 'needs,'" Ewing said. "Food, home payments, utilities and medical care are needs. To avoid confusing the two, put off purchases for at least 24 hours whenever possible to think about them carefully."

3. Stay home. In the 1940s, only about half of larger companies offered paid vacation time. With automobiles slower in those days and air travel not a given, most families seldom traveled on vacation. Save an average of nearly $2,000 per year by skipping the far-away vacation. Talk, play games, work on a project or watch a movie to relax instead of heading for the amusement park or the airport. Think "staycation."

4. Eat in. In 2000, Americans ate an average of 4.2 meals per week at a restaurant; in your grandparents’ time, an occasional restaurant meal was a rare treat. With the conservative assumption that each restaurant meal costs $7, the cost for 4.2 meals per week would mount up to $127 per month, or more than $1,500 per person, per year. For a family of four, costs could soar over $6,000 per year. Learn to cook a variety of foods and use convenient tools such as a slow cooker to save time, money and calories.

5. Skip the alcohol. Have dinner with your grandparents, and odds are good that they most often drink water, iced tea, coffee or soft drinks. At home, choosing iced tea instead of a cocktail will save 50 cents to a dollar per day. In a restaurant, the savings could be $5 or more.

6. Choose regular coffee. You will not find most children of the Great Depression slugging back lattes. Not only could it ruin their sleep schedules, it would cost twice as much as a cup of coffee. Your best bet is to make a cup of tea or coffee at home and take it with you. Second best is to forgo the coffeehouse cachet for a respectable -- and cheaper -- cup of Joe from a fast-food establishment or doughnut shop.

7. Do not shop for entertainment. Online or in person, it is all too easy to start adding items to a cart because you are bored. Read a good book (get an old-fashioned library card) or learn a useful hobby instead.

8. Keep the old car. A car is transportation, not a fashion statement. Better yet, carpool and/or own only one vehicle per family to trim transportation costs even more.

9. Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Do not throw out a bottle of shampoo simply because you are tired of the fragrance -- use it up. Keep jeans past their fashion prime. If your shape of your turkey platter is not perfect for Thanksgiving, does it matter? And do you really need color-coordinated, fabric-lined baskets for your linen closet, or would old boxes work? Think twice before spending by reciting this mantra of the frugal home.

"Saving is a state of mind, and there's no time like the present to get in the mindset," Ewing added. "If your grandparents are still living, give them a call (fortunately, phone calls are more affordable than your grandparents might think they are) and ask for a few more tips. Then put them into action and watch your personal financial security increase, even in worrisome times."

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