Vintage Homemaking Skills That Will Help You Save Money

Back in the day, people had resourcefulness and a strong sense for getting the most out of their money that newer generations have all but lost touch with. The abundance of today’s disposable consumer culture has obscured the reality that wastefulness is bad for the world and bad for our wallets.

By Robyn Riley4 min read
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

We’re a generation addicted to the quick dopamine rush of a shopping spree and showing off our new hauls on social media. To add insult to injury, we’re mostly presented with low-quality products made abroad, which are designed to last only a season and be replaced. While our grandmothers were making clothes and cooking from scratch, we buy fast fashion and order take-out. 

By looking back to the creative and resourceful lifestyles of our elders, we can learn plenty of things about how to save more money today. The minimalism movements that are emerging and gaining momentum online have also done a great job at showcasing how more is not always more and how spending our money with intention the way our grandmothers did might be the key to breaking the cycles of debt and impulse spending many of us are trapped in. 

1. Spend Money Wisely, with Intention and with Great Hesitation

The best thing you can do to save yourself money, more so than any other piece of advice you will read here, is to stop spending money purely for the good feelings. When we spend our money on something new we should first do our research to make sure that we’re getting a quality item, and we should ask ourselves Is this something I really need? Is this an item that will add to my life by giving me more time, helping me live more comfortably, or possibly even save me money in the long term?

Back in our grandmothers’ time, most people simply didn’t have the money to spend frivolously. Money was spent intentionally, with purpose, and with great hesitancy. Wasting money was less common, and, by virtue of necessity, people didn’t often buy things on a whim, simply for the pleasure of getting something new. Many young women today are still hooked by “haul-culture,” where whole YouTube communities are dedicated to buying the latest trends in fashion and home décor and showing them off online. The never-ending cycle of accumulating the next cool thing is one that can do serious damage to our finances.

Ask yourself: Do I need it? Is it going to last? Is it worth the money?

There’s also the element of social media that produces in us a kind of fantasy spending where we think if we just had this one item, renovation, or outfit then we would be like that influencer we adore. Then we would be happy, then we would feel complete. The dopamine hit of spending this way is always fleeting and perpetually required to fend off the feelings of missing out. Avoid spending money in this compulsive and unconscious way. 

When you buy something it should pass this three question test: Do I need it? Is it going to last? Is it worth the money? If yes is genuinely the answer to all three questions, then it’s likely to be a purchase you won’t regret making.

2. You Can’t Afford To Buy Things That Are Cheap

Back before everything was produced in China with the cheapest quality materials available, people bought things that were made in America. Crazy, I know! These things were made by hand or at least with quality materials and often were manufactured locally. People also made things themselves when they had the skills to do so. Many of the items now sold in antique stores still exist because they were made to last. 

When we buy things cheap, we may think in the moment we’re saving money, but in reality we’re spending more in the long run because they will need to be replaced. Our grandmothers and grandfathers made a significant amount of the things they needed in daily life, from clothing to building their own homes and furniture. These things were made to last and last they did. If they broke, then people would simply repair them themselves rather than going to Walmart and buying something new. 

When items broke, people would repair them rather than buy something new. 

When we spend our money on things that are made to last, we not only end up surrounded by objects that are more beautiful (because design always follows function), but we also end up saving lots of money in the long run.

3.  Marry a Handyman (or Become Handy Yourself) 

Some women are very lucky to have fallen for and married men who are handy around the house. Some women maybe are even handy themselves, but having a husband who is also a handyman was much more common in our grandmothers’ day. It’s an often unconsidered benefit that can save your household a small fortune when repairs are needed. 

Being handy can save your household a small fortune on repairs. 

By being able to do work — from electric to plumbing — on your home yourself, you can avoid the risk (and it’s always a risk, and often an inconvenience) of hiring someone do to this work for you at a premium. This includes car maintenance too, which is almost always overpriced. For those women who don’t have a handyman around, you can always buy books on how to do home repairs and learn, either on your own or with your significant other as a fun hobby. YouTube is also a great source for this kind of information and for tutorials! 

4. Reuse, Innovate, Maintain, and Up-Cycle

This is a big one. Knowing how to be resourceful with what you already own is a key way to save money that our grandmothers knew well. When I asked my grandmother about this, she mentioned always buying things in glass jars and then saving the jars to use for storage in the pantry or garage. 

Use an empty notebook to write down recipes you source from friends, family, or the internet (or create yourself) instead of buying expensive cookbooks. Buy a fabric shaver to remove pilling from clothing and upholstery that looks worn out but really just needs some TLC.  Use Castile soap and vinegar for all your household cleaning instead of buying expensive cleaners from the store.

The more creative and innovative you are, the more you can find ways to save. 

These are all wonderful ways to save a bit here and there. The more creative and innovative you are, the more you can find ways to save.

Finally, ever wonder why grandma always wore an apron? It’s because she wanted to take care of the clothes she had so she wouldn’t ruin them. Hard work still has to be done to run a household and things can get messy, so the apron provides not only the cute aesthetic so many of us would like to recreate in our own lives, but it’s also practical in allowing us to dress nicely without soiling our feminine clothes. 

5. Use Your Freezer

Having a deep freezer allows you to buy food on sale and freeze it until you’re ready to use it. You can freeze fruits, veggies, bread, and meats that can last 6-12 months in the freezer if stored properly. You can also freeze leftovers you don't want to eat right away. There are lots of meals that freeze well. It means half the cooking time if you've got homecooked meals to defrost at a moment's notice.

Fishing, foraging, and hunting for food are great for savings too.

Saving money on food also means cooking from scratch just like grandma did, and using every part of the animal or veggies for some purpose. If it can’t be eaten, then compost it! Fishing, foraging, and hunting for food are great for savings too. My grandpa still goes blueberry picking every single fall and comes back with many liters of berries which my grandma then freezes and uses in her blueberry pies all year until next season. 

Closing Thoughts 

We’ve been a little spoiled by the prosperity and conveniences of the last few decades, to the point where we don’t have a strong conception of what living in scarcity really feels like (compared to our great-grandparents and maybe even grandparents who experienced the Great Depression and its aftermath). 

But by looking back at the wisdom and resourcefulness of our elders we can emulate their money-saving secrets to our own benefit, and hopefully ensure our families and homes get the very most out of our income.