What is frugal? What we can learn from the Depression Era.


A while back my husband asked that I be more careful with the money. I laughed heartily. You see, we are on one small income and we live in Northern California. I want to make this real clear. The land of million dollar homes and high taxes. We live in a small old cottage that I found and bid on with a tiny loan during 2017’s skyrocketing housing market and I feed, cloth, and make do with around $2,000 a month. I don’t mean to get so personal and transparent but what do I have to hide? Our wealth? Hahahaha…eh hem. Anyway, this is what I’m working with.

Now, I do bring in some money with my YouTube Channel and the royalties on my books. Not a pile of gold, but enough to afford some luxuries like organic food to keep my family healthy, a health club membership for the family, and some programs that I donate to such as animal welfare and feeding other persons.

Other than these nice items, there are no pedicures, salon visits, Friday nights at the pub, Saturday night dinners at the local steak house, vacations at Disney land, lunch dates with the “girls”, shopping sprees, days wandering the mall.  I don’t buy anything new, I wait five months for popular novels through the library because everyone and their grandmother now use the library thanks to us frugal teachers. I also have a cheap antenna rigged up on my roof for local channels and I have a $15 Italian stovetop espresso maker to do my own lattes.

A vacation to me is visiting the godparents and bringing my Wok and a bag of groceries and cooking for everyone. Shopping sprees are at thrift stores.

Now, I will admit that I was trying to get really tight with the grocery budget and got a bit lazy with the convenience foods. Lord love that convenience food. Sadly, it made my family ill. We are used to quality and the preservatives and junk really took us down. I went back to scratch cooking and organics and I decided to only shop at the nicest stores; Whole Foods, New Earth, my beloved Briar Patch. I wanted to be surrounded by beauty and luxury.

That was when the money was going out a bit faster and I was reprimanded…or gently asked to be more prudent.

I retaliated in words but kept my actions in check. Then a community member on the channel pointed me toward this book We Had Everything But Money, a collection of photos and stories from those living and growing up during the Depression Era.

It was a heartwarming book, omitting the really hard stories. You could guess that times were brutal back then with the Depression being combined with the Dust Bowl and severe drought of the heartlands, influenza that wiped out half a million people, banks closing and people losing every penny of savings within a day, and all this sandwiched between two World Wars. Not a very nostalgic time. It was a hard, painful, terrifying time and some of the photos show the wear of poverty and stress on the parents’ faces.

But this book had the stories of open hearts and family strength, of people finding the true meaning of community and life. There were stories of mothers using such creativity and thrift it would put us all to shame.  It was life changing. I read stories of wives who made homes out of nothing; one woman started a business in a rental after losing their home while she was pregnant and had four children already. She was successful in these hard times and bought the boarding house and a second home at that. Can you imagine how hard the family worked and how good she was with money management? Another wife hauled clay from the river to plaster the walls of the drafty farmhouse they rented to keep them warmer and make the home more attractive.

These women worked with nothing most of the time and still came up with a loaf of bread and fried potatoes. They built furniture if they didn’t have it. They sold homemade jam from berries the children picked on the side of the paths to make money for salt and flour.

I suddenly felt upper middle class instead of the lower class the government guidelines say we are. $24K is the average poverty level, $34K is the federal poverty line. We are in between those two magical numbers. But after this book, I felt upper crust for sure!

We have so much, we eat such variety, we shop so often, even if it is thrift…and a health club membership?

I was inspired beyond boundaries. I did try to cancel the membership but it expires in August so we will just enjoy until then. It may be a hot summer after this wet winter.

However, I did get to work on other areas of this new use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without mantra. I made up my own saying to start…because I’m a writer and that is what we do, of course. Mine was “make it, bake it, sew it, or grow it”. Yay!

And I got to work. I purchased a small greenhouse with some of my royalties, stocked up on seeds and purchased another fruit tree ( I just bought another today, it’s sort of turning into an addiction). We dug up the front yard to make a second kitchen garden. I planted and researched, I emailed my master gardener friends in my neighboring zones. Bound and determined to grow, can, and cook every single, dingle thing from my yard and from scratch, I planted like a mad woman. A bit too early, but I’ll figure it out.

I have yet to bring in the sewing machine or start mending my torn linens…but I swear that is on the list. Learning to knit is second in line. I may not be a seamstress anytime soon, but I’m thriving in the kitchen! So, let’s look at that, why don’t we. Come on, let’s put down the yarn and go into my cafe.

Someone even sent a Cafe sign that I have hanging in there now.

I have been baking wheat bread, and loaves of Amish white bread, making tortillas from scratch, and granola bars for the kiddies. I’m slowly moving away from any premade or convenience foods and I’m stocking my pantries.

I still won’t compromise on organics because I don’t have to get that crazy, but I’m finding all the deals and stockpiling. I find that without buying any junk foods, premade meals, boxed or convenient dishes, I’m saving a bundle. I am buying canned and frozen produce and tomato sauce for now but when summer comes I will can my brains out.

Recently, I shared this on the channel and a woman came to my home and blessed me with an All American pressure canner, a huge water bath pot, another huge pot to simmer my spaghetti sauce this summer, canning tools, and a few more storage buckets for my bulk foods. I scored a deal on seven boxes of canning jars off Craigslist. I was also given links to the University of Sacramento Master Gardeners site and top tips on gardening from a pro.

I feel that God and this glorious Universe is supporting me in every way.

As for my home, I’m scrubbing and rearranging and decorating with what I have. I’m so grateful for this home and the bit of land we do have. When I clean and nest I’m saying, “thank you.” I show love for my home with the work and making it as cozy and charming as possible. I have also been decluttering and giving toys, books, and items to others or donating. Less is better. I can clean quickly and easily keep the home tidy with less clutter. I’m cleaning like my great grandmother probably cleaned. Deep and thorough and with all that elbow grease.

I buy nothing. We pay the bills, mortgage and that is it. I realize with deep clarity that we really DON’T need ANYTHING! Whatever I “think” I need I can make, grow, sew, bake. I may have to omit sew…but we have so many clothes. I don’t need clothes for the next decade.

We are also back to homeschooling. I just didn’t feel the whole homesteading vibe with Arjan in public school, but that didn’t work out. He got his taste of it and now we can resume homeschooling through a wonderful independent program with a charter in Nevada City. I’m loving it. We spend mornings doing our studies, I sip coffee and plan my menus or more ways to save money and teach my little ones to read and write.

We have a full, vibrant life. And it’s fairly inexpensive. Our days have routines, music, chores, good books, mugs of coffee (not for the boys, obviously), gardening, baking, and writing. I look forward to all parts of my days and I am excited about each season now that I’m a master gardener in training with my two big kitchen gardens and greenhouse.

We don’t go out much but we certainly aren’t missing out on anything. We have rivers and forest to explore that are free, we have enrichment classes through the school for free, the library, and we have a home that is filled with activities.

For those of you who are now curious or just need to be reinspired after years of frugality and you want to take it up another level, here are some great blogs and books that will motivate you to a new lifestyle.


Rhonda Hetzel, Down to Earth

We Had Everything But Money

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

Mrs. Sharon White, Living on His Income

Connie Hultquist, Dear Kitchen Saint’s

Blogs to inspire:




gdonna.com generations before us



16 thoughts on “What is frugal? What we can learn from the Depression Era.

  1. I bought that book We had everything but money, WOW ! I finished reading it and it makes you soo Grateful for what you already have.. There is NOTHING I need!
    I was inspired by your kitchen garden Kate and I now have herbs growing in my kitchen and I just ordered some seeds.. I dont have a yard just a little grass area on the side of my apartment but I am going to plant some tomatoes, cucumbers and Loofah gourds out there and we will see if they grow!


    1. That sounds wonderful! And you can do container gardening if you have a patio? How about a community garden? Yes, that book is a game changer. I haven’t wanted to spend money since, I get that we are an abundant society with poverty conciousness now.


  2. I am so happy that you share your journey with us. I’m struggling with mine now. We raised our three sons during the 80’s and 90’s when money was not as tight. We we not rich by any means but we had more than we do now that we are semi retired. I work 3 days a week and my husband is retired on social security. We are also raising two of our grandsons ages 6 and 3 years old.
    When my boys were growing up we had a wonderful support system, my parents, sisters raising their children and friends raising their children. We shared ups downs and everything in between. Now that we are raising our second family, we don’t have that community. My parents have passed away, my sisters and friends are all empty nesters. Everyone has entered the next chapter of their life. I turned to you tube to find help and the Lord led me to your channel. You have taught me so much about frugal and joyful living.
    I just wanted to let you know how important you are and what an imact you are making on so many lives. Thank you!


    1. And I truly appreciate these sort of shares and love. I need to know I’m making the difference to stay encouraged myself. As you know, I’m older too and the other mothers are younger and I don’t think like they do anymore, I have no family support, and my friends are almost empty nesters are are empty nesters. I have found only one friend my age with two young boys and that has been wonderful. I love our community on YouTube and we all have each other. The love and support is there as we learn and follow each other. 🙂 xoxox


  3. You always encourage and inspire, thank you so much again. I always get a post or video just when I feel I have hit a rut and need some motivation. I would love to know more about how you make money on youtube. I am starting a blog, and want to try and earn some money from my writing, hope to do some teaching about my bees and my beekeeping methods and possibly turning some of my day care courses I used to teach into ebooks, Not sure where to start or how to do it. Guess just research? Thank you again so much


    1. Hi! I have a vlog on the channel about how to do a youtube channel or write books. I will make more on this. I think beekeeping would be very well recieved. So many are turning back to homesteading. There is a community out there for all who want to teach.:)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your ideas always come at the right time for me. I’ve never felt God as much as now whilst I am poor; it’s the happiest and richest I’ve ever felt. I have time to spend with my children, this week we’re making sourdough and banana bread and we’re lucky enough to live in the beautiful English countryside so can have lovely welly-walks for free. When I read your posts it helps me realign somehow (capitalism is rife in England) – I’ve been worrying about buying a vacuum cleaner but like you said before, you can just use a broom! Thank you for your inspiration, always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was remembering our poorest and simplest times in the country the other day and I was the happiest, calmest, best mother then. I’m returning to those days. You are blessed with wealth just in a lovely country side, trust me. Some people live in hideous cities with no beauty. And yes, you can always use a broom. If I could afford the shipping I would send you my other vacuum.:) Also, I know things are hard over there right now. Hang in there, stock the pantry and don’t fret. God provides and protects always.:) xoxox

      Liked by 2 people

  5. A wonderfully inspiring read, thank you Kate for sharing! As Spring approaches here in England I’m inspired to declutter the house and get planting up a kitchen garden too! I’m not ever so green-fingered so we’ll see how that works out!! 😆


  6. Kate, I wanted send you a VERY BIG thank you for all you have done to to encourage me to write. I watched several of your YouTube videos and I have always wanted to write but I was scared. You mentioned several times just do it and so i did it. It was a huge learning experience but I now have a book out. Thank you , thank you, thank you! 🙂


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