Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
World War 2 was a time of strife and shortages for almost everyone. There are many frugal living tips from that era that we can use today and during future shortages or supply disruptions.
What lessons can you learn from World War 2 and apply to your life today to save money or the future when supplies of critical items become scarce?
Frugal Food Tips from WW2
During times of shortages, meat was hard to find unless you raised it yourself or hunted for it. While not everyone can have chickens in the backyard, you may be able to link up with someone who does and trade with them for it.
- Develop relationships with those who do hunt to buy or trade for their excess meat. Build a relationship with farmers who can supply you with meat, dairy and eggs to get access to animal protein if prices at the store are too high or shortages occur.
- Pooling limited ingredients like eggs, meat and so forth can make larger meals prepared for a group similar to that with which people are familiar. Whether you share your own rations to make large volumes that are then subdivided or enjoy a potluck, coming together to cook can make what you have much more for everyone.
- Use less sugar in recipes to enjoy it without as much effort as trying new recipes.
- Stir sweetened beverages often so that the sugar doesn’t fall to the bottom of the cup.
- Serve fruit instead of traditional desserts. Or make fruit based desserts with a topping of whipped cream or sprinkled on sugar instead of a full pie or pastries.
- Subtle forms of rationing can conserve supplies tactfully. Removing the sugar bowl from all tables and requiring someone to go up to a single server with sugar made it uncomfortable and thus less likely for customers to go get sugar for drinks and meals.
- Use chicory tablets to add strength to weakly brewed coffee.
- Use alternatives to restricted items where possible, like honey, molasses and dates in place of sugar.
- When fuel starts to become scarce, focus on growing keeper crops that don’t require refrigeration like potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, garlic, onions and squash. Potatoes provide the most carbohydrates, while the others provide flavor and essential nutrients. Then you won’t need to use limited electricity to can produce, compete for limited stocks of sugar and preservatives for canning, try to consume a glut of produce that may be hard to dehydrate for preservation or freeze it while hoping the power doesn’t go out so long the food goes bad in the fridge.
- A plan to have a garden supplement food in case of shortages takes months to implement unless you’re growing sprouts in the window. If you have any concerns about food shortages in the near future, put the seeds in the ground or greenhouse now.
Shopping Tips from World War 2 for Today
Recognize that the current political themes will get used in advertising both to garner political points and try to get new business by customers seeking to look loyal by buying the politically correct products and services. However, you need to buy what your family needs and not much more, regardless of the branding. Be careful of buying as much as possible of an item, in case charges of hoarding become an issue.
Fashions in thrift can backfire, when they are promoted as patriotism. Cuffs were eliminated on pants to save on cloth during World War 2. To show their patriotism, some men wore the new style of clothing while pants with cuffs hung in the closet. A better solution is to wear what you have, use it up and wear it out – not buy the latest fashion per the current political movement and wear that instead. Mend stockings, get shoes repaired, sew holes in clothes instead of getting new garments.
It was not unknown during World War 2 for children to watch for hard to find items in the store, hide it, and then tell the parent where they hid it. The mother would then go to the store and pick up the item, hidden where other shoppers wouldn’t get it. This was legal. Theft wasn’t, and severely prosecuted when rationed supplies were involved.
Energy and Utilities Savings
Close off rooms to lower heating costs. Sleep together in one room when necessary. Privacy is a luxury, when you’re concerned about freezing if you run out of fuel oil.
Turning out the lights was a standard way of saving electricity during World War 2. Modern equivalents are turning off the TV and computer, and never using these energy hogs for background noise.
Coping With Transportation and Fuel Shortages
When gas and fuel are rationed, public transportation and ride-sharing become necessities. Modern apps for ride-sharing and private taxis are alternatives to less-safe public transportation. Employer provided transportation vans and van-pools are an intermediate option. Share rides with those who have the fuel to travel wherever possible.
When tires are hard to replace, drive careful to avoid pot holes and minimize the risk of a popped tire.
When a woman cannot guarantee that an ambulance is available to take her to the hospital in labor, it may be better for her to live in town where she could get help in time instead of living at home.
The distance from work becomes a determining factor in your life, affecting how far and long you travel, and thus how long you sleep and how much time for shopping and care-giving you have available. Don’t move closer to work if you don’t have to, but travel costs should always be factored into the decision when looking for work.
Conserve energy by using all available space in the oven, while providing enough space around the food for proper cooking of items in the interior.
Ensure that the vent from your freezer to your fridge isn’t blocked, preventing the cold air from properly circulating and driving up energy usage. Clean the coils to keep their efficiency up. Ensure adequate space around the fridge so that it can vent waste heat and run as little as possible.
When fuel is hard to come by, tourism dies. If you live in a tourism dependant area when fuel starts to become expensive or rationed, find other employment or leave before you’ll lose the ability to find work.
While an economic recession can force stay at home mothers to work to provide for the children, a lack of fuel can force them back home because they cannot afford to commute to and from childcare and employment. If you are concerned about having to re-enter the workforce due to economic stress, have childcare options that don’t add to your travel budget.
Stocking Up in the Face of Shortages
Have a supply of essentials like pasta, canned fruit and canned meats in your home that you rotate through already, so that you don’t face the challenge of trying to stock up when shortages start to hit. Where possible, stock up on foods that don’t require cooking so you save time and energy cooking as well. That’s the reason Pop Tarts start flying off the shelves before a hurricane.
Stock up on leather gloves, protective work clothes and protective shoes, since these will be hard to get a hold of during prolonged economic crises and yet essential to do the hard work others need done. If it is hard to find affordable food and necessities, it will be even harder to find quality medical care if you are injured on the job or afford necessities while you're recovering from an injury.
Whether due to fuel shortages or economic collapse, supplies become harder to get a hold of. Those who had fuel, fertilizer, seeds, medicine and other items on hand didn’t have to compete or scramble to find those items when notice came out that it wouldn’t be available later or was about to get rationed.
Charity During Challenging Times
If you cannot donate money, donate blood or other essential but non-monetary items. Alternatively, plan on volunteering at charities and religious organizations as a way to contribute when you don’t have money or items to give.
Let older relatives or reliable neighbors who can’t find work become childcare providers while those who can, instead of sitting at home doing nothing.
Find value added work for people to do for pay, instead of simply giving them money. Offering to pay someone to do yard work when they come begging for money will drive away many beggars, while giving the honest ones something useful to do.
Preparing for the Worst
Develop a taste for the low cost foods while you have the luxury of learning to like them. This could take the form of letting your family try unfamiliar foods like beets and squash, adding spinach leaves to the salad or sprouts to sandwiches.
Experiment with recipes using cheaper ingredients while you have the luxury of throwing away food you don’t like. Try adding Ramen noodle to your favorite stir fry recipe instead of the frozen egg noodles or diced spam to the beans to find what makes it taste good.
Practice cooking techniques while you can afford to discard burnt meals. Don’t expect to break out the rocket stove and whip up a gourmet meal the first time. It is better not to try to learn how to cook over a fireplace when that’s the only option you have for cooking.
A lack of fuel leads to a shortage of fresh foods and, eventually, frozen foods. A lack of metal leads to a shortage of canned goods. In both cases, freeze dried foods, dried soup mixes and shelf stable foods like rice and pasta are invaluable. Learn how to cook with these foods so that you can make good meals for your family if this is all that is available. Know how long you need to cook your favorite rice brand on the stove if the microwave is out. Figure out how to cook pasta in a slow cooker along with the vegetables. And come up with ways to make edible meals from the dried ingredients with a minimum of time and fuel.
Home canning requires precise knowledge on how to do it right to avoid getting sick. If you want to do this to save food for the future, learn it while you have the luxury of trial and error. And acquire the tools to do it right so that you’ll be ready to use them properly, whether it is after the next harvest or after another Great Depression starts.