Amazing Money-Saving Tips From Frugal 1940s Housewives

People living in the 1940s experienced a lot of major changes during the decade. Not only was the Great Depression just ending, but the second World War was starting up. Housewives, already frugal, were forced to become even more resourceful as food and supplies were rationed and diverted to the soldiers serving overseas. From reusing everything they could to stretching their food supply and even some unexpected beauty tips, these money-saving hacks are still worth a try today.

Chicory Is Still A Popular Coffee Substitute (Or Addition)

Coffee drinking was a way of life for many Americans prior to WWII. But wartime rationing regulations cut the amount of coffee to about half of what people had been used to. The November 30, 1942, issue of Life gave housewives tips on making their coffee supplies go further.

Coffee Making
Keystone Features/Getty Images
American Stock/Getty Images

One way to stretch the coffee supply was with the addition of chicory, a woody herb that’s part of the daisy family. It tastes pretty close to a real cup of java but doesn’t have caffeine. Today, many people drink chicory root when they’re trying to cut back on their caffeine intake.

Grow A Victory Garden

“Victory” or “war” gardens were planted at private homes and in public parks to provide people with fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Patriotic US citizens were told that the produce they grew would help lower the cost of vegetables for the troops. Even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a victory garden growing on White House grounds.

Victory Garden
Harold M. Lambert/Getty Images
Harold M. Lambert/Getty Images

Interest in victory gardens has been rekindled in recent years, with many people interested in growing healthier food, saving money, and helping the environment all at the same time.

Natural Hair Treatments

Rationing affected more than food supplies; it also limited the availability of ingredients used in beauty products and cosmetics. As a result, some women got creative with their beauty treatments and many turned to natural alternatives.

Harold M. Lambert / Contributor
Harold M. Lambert / Contributor

Blondes would use lemon juice to brighten up their hair color, while brunettes would use vegetable dyes such as henna or rhubarb or enhance their tresses. A rinse of chamomile flowers, beer, or vinegar would add shine and bounce to any hair color.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Words We Still Live By

Aluminum was a key material in the war effort. It was used in the construction of ships, aircraft, and mess kits. As a result, aluminum recycling efforts at home got a kick-start. “Tin foil drives” offered incentives such as movie tickets in exchange for balls of aluminum.

Foil Recycling
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Women found clever ways to reuse their aluminum foil that are still practical today. For example, did you know that a wad of used foil can be an effective pot scrubber? Try it and you’ll never have to purchase steel wool pads again.

The Newspaper Is Useful For More Than Delivering News

During the war, it was especially important to be on top of the latest news from overseas. But once a homemaker was done reading the news, she knew better than to toss the paper away. There were dozens of ways to reuse newspaper, from insulation to dresser drawer liners.

Harold M. Lambert / Contributor
Harold M. Lambert / Contributor

Try using your old newspapers to clean your windows or as filler in your compost pile. Newsprint can also be turned into a cute collage, wrapping paper, or packing material.

Make Your Butter Last Longer With This Frugal Tip

Butter was yet another staple that was rationed during the war. In fact, there was a pretty serious shortage of it by Christmas of 1942. In response, frugal housewives found ways to make their butter go further.

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

As a bonus, with this wartime hack, you won’t have to wait so long for butter to come to room temperature so it can be spread. Mix 3/4 of a cup of oil, along with a pinch of salt, to a pound of butter. It’ll last longer and spread more easily.

Save Every Scrap Of Cloth

Just because an article of clothing got ripped did not mean that you’d toss it into the garbage back in the ’40s! Every scrap or strip of fabric was saved and reused. Larger pieces could be refashioned into different items of clothing (a large jacket could be turned into a skirt, for example), and smaller scraps were saved and turned into quilts.

Relief Worker Making Diapers from Flour Sacks
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

Keep that same frugal mindset today and see what creative uses you can come up with for your old t-shirts, jeans, or even bedsheets.

Don’t Toss That Stale Bread!

Believe it or not, there are uses for stale bread that don’t involve feeding the birds. Women in the ’40s knew that past-its-prime bread could be turned into breadcrumbs or baked to make croutons. Either one can be frozen for use at a later time.

Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

If you have a sweet tooth, put that stale bread to use in a delicious bread pudding. The bread will absorb all that gooey sweet custard.

They Turned To Unusual Cosmetic Ingredients

Despite a shortage of the ingredients used to make many beauty supplies, women were still encouraged to keep up their appearances as part of the war effort. Newspaper articles with titles such as “It’s Every Woman’s Wartime Duty to be Lovely” are cringe-worthy today, but at the time, many women heeded the call to look as glamorous as possible.

Woman Applying Lipstick
Bettmann / Contributor
Keystone View/FPG/Getty Images

In the absence of many common cosmetics, these patriotic ladies got creative with natural ingredients that are still used today. For example, they used beet juice to tint their lips a deep and rich hue. Curious? You can make your own moisturizing lip stain using a red beet and some coconut oil.

Preserve Your Garden Harvests And Try Canning

Just like gardening, canning food was presented in official promotions as a patriot act that people could do at home. In 1943, over 4.1 billion jars were canned in homes and community canning centers across the US, according to the National Agricultural Library.

Jam Making
Val Doone/Getty Images
Val Doone/Getty Images

Today, many people who garden still can their fresh produce since it makes the food last longer. There are plenty of tutorials online about saving money by canning your own food.

Go Retro For Dinner With Casseroles Or Meatloaf

Next time you can’t find anything in the fridge that sounds appealing for dinner, why not try making meatloaf? This dish was popular with ’40s housewives who were able to whip together a meal using whatever leftover ingredients they had around. If there wasn’t much ground beef, it could be enhanced with ketchup, onions, and breadcrumbs.

Baked Bean Loaf, a Nourishing and Healthy Meat Substitute, October 1942
GHI/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Zoltan Glass/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The same goes for casseroles and soups– use what you have on hand and get creative with it. You’re using up food that might otherwise be tossed, and saving a trip to the store at the same time.

Learn How To Knit

Hand knitting was quite a popular pastime during the war. It was a way to repurpose precious material scraps into something useful, such as warm winter hats. Various organizations held knitting parties and participants made items for servicemen.

Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Today, knitting is as popular than ever among crafty people. If you know how to work a pair of knitting needles, try reusing the yarn from an old sweater that’s become unraveled and give it new life as a hat or mittens!

Some People Still Swear By Line Drying Clothes

This old-school laundry method is very much in favor with younger generations because it has so many benefits. Not only does line-drying your clothes save money on your utility bill since you’re not running the dryer, but it’s also much gentler on your laundry, which means your clothing will last longer.

Nevada 1942
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Drying laundry outside also gives it a freshness that fabric softener can’t achieve. If you’re worried about clothes being stiff after line drying, just toss them into the dryer for about 10 minutes on the ‘air dry’ or ‘fluff’ setting. It won’t use much energy and will keep your clothing and linens nice and soft.

Go Meatless For Some Of Your Meals

Homemakers had to carefully plan their family’s meals during wartime rationing, and that meant there were plenty of meat-free dishes throughout the week. “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Poultryless Thursdays” were promoted as ways to cut back on meat consumption, and cooks turned to hearty vegetarian meals instead. These dishes commonly featured beans and cheese in place of meat.

Lambert/Getty Images
Lambert/Getty Images

Today, many folks who aren’t even vegetarian participate in “Meatless Mondays,” which has financial, health, and environmental benefits. Have you tried going meatless for one day a week?

Even Their Hairstyles Were Part Of The War Effort

Just as some women opted to maintain their glamourous pre-war cosmetic routines, many others kept their hair care at the top of their to-do lists. A common way to style hair involved making curlers out of rag strips, which would create fancy waves.

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Pin-up styles such as “victory rolls” were not just beautiful, but they were practical as well. They’d keep the hair out of factory workers’ faces while they were working and also helped to cover up greasy roots when shampoo was running scarce.

Make The Most Of What You Have With Potluck Dinners

Today, potluck dinners are a staple of get-togethers with family and friends. But back in the 1940s, members of the community would pool their food ingredients to ensure that everyone got a full meal.

potluck / Pexels / Pexels

Women would bring all their various food ingredients and combine them into a variety of dishes that they couldn’t have made on their own. This also saved random leftovers in the fridge or pantry from going to waste – everything got used up.

Your Soap Will Last Longer With This Tip

Bar soap has been making a comeback in recent years, but there wasn’t much choice in the matter during the 1940s. And people really knew how to make their soap last long after it had been worn down into a sliver.

washing hands
PortLambert/Getty Images
PortLambert/Getty Images

This ’40s hack involves a pair of pantyhose. Simply put all your soap remnants into one of the feet, tie it off then cut it into a neat little bundle. It works just as well as any whole bar of soap!

Borrow Things When You Can

Housewives in the 1940s knew to borrow rather than buy whenever possible. This was a lesson learned during the tough years of the Great Depression, and there was no reason to give it up now! If there’s something you can borrow or barter, it’s so much more economical to do that than to purchase a new item.

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Your local library probably has tons of books, movies, and video games that you can rent for free. There are even tool libraries in some areas where you can borrow a hand tool for the weekend! Check with friends and neighbors, too, if there’s an item you need to use temporarily.

Steer Clear Of Disposable Diapers

For a healthier environment and a thicker wallet, many parents opt out of using disposable diapers today. Instead, they’re turning to reusable cloth diapers, swaddling their infants the same way that women in the 1940s did it.

School for mothers in Lucerne: change a babys nappies, 1941
RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images
RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Although disposable diapers were not commercially available during the war, it’s hard to imagine that parents would have opted to spend more for a product that was used only one time. As we’ve seen, these industrious people knew how to reuse everything!

Cut Back On Sugar The 1940s Way

Economic conditions meant that housewives in the ’40s were often forced to make do with less. This was very true when it came to sugar and other pantry staples since supplies were rationed during the war. Women found ways to stretch the sugar they were able to purchase by adding honey or other sweeteners to recipes. Fruit desserts became popular in this era because they taste great without much sugar.

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Today, many people avoid excess sugar for health reasons. If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, try alternate ways to liven up your sweet desserts.