Valuable lessons learned from the Great Depression
While we can never change history, wise people learn from it. A good example of this is the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. The stock market collapsed, and banks, factories and businesses closed their doors. What little money people had been able to save was gone.
It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Many people lost everything they had. Farms and homes were foreclosed on. Droughts and poor farming practices turned valuable productive farmland into dustbowls, and prices for food and other items soared. What little money that was available wasn’t enough to purchase what was needed. Jobs were lost, and there were no social services available to fall back on as there are today. People had to learn to be resourceful and frugal ... or perish.
Although times have changed—with some changes for the better and others not so much—this calamity could still happen to us today. These days, we rely too much on social programs to see us through the rough times. We are overly dependent on technology to do our work and on the government to get us through when things go badly.
The good news is that the principles learned by our forebears almost 100 years ago still apply today ... that is, if we are willing to learn from them.
My parents were children during the Great Depression, my father being born in 1919 and my mother in 1920. They came from two very different backgrounds, two different sets of circumstances and two different ways of dealing with them. My mother came from a family of four, and her father hunted and fished to help keep food on the table. My father came from a family of six, and, although nobody in that family hunted or fished, they were resourceful in other ways.
What both families had in common was that they used their determination, wits and skills to make it through. The lessons they learned the hard way were instilled in me as I grew up. Those lessons have served me well, and I continue to use them today.
THE SIMPLE THINGS
What would you do if your money were worthless? How about if you lost your job and had no money to purchase food, clothing or keep a roof over your head? How would you deal with the issues that we consider mundane today, such as darning a pair of socks or patching the holes in your pants or shirts? Could you make your own clothes if you had to? Could you whip up a meal out of almost nothing? These are all things my parents learned to do and, thankfully, they taught me to do the same.
My father’s mother taught him how to sew and cook, and while neither one was “his thing,” he could do them if he had to. My mother made it a point to teach me how to sew and cook;
ALTHOUGH THE TIMES HAVE CHANGED, AND THERE ARE MORE SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE, BAD THINGS STILL CAN, AND WILL, HAPPEN ON A LARGE SCALE. IF HISTORY TEACHES US ANYTHING, IT IS THAT SOME PEOPLE WILL BE PREPARED, AND SOME (PROBABLY MORE) WILL NOT.
this is knowledge I have benefitted from more than once. I don’t sew with a sewing machine. She taught me how to use a needle and thread, because what would you do if you didn’t have a sewing machine or the power to run it?
When I was growing up, I would watch my mother darn my socks and patch my clothes. We did not have much money, so she made sure she got the most out of the money we did spend. Her way of thinking was, Why spend the money to replace something if it can be repaired?
Why is something as mundane as sewing important? In today’s throwaway world, many of us have lost this skill. If we get a hole in our socks, we throw them away and buy a new pair. What would you do if you had no money to spare on new socks, or there were no store? When all the money you do have has to go to keeping a roof over your head and food in your stomach, you will have to fix what you have and make do.
The ability to sew is basic, but it has many other implications besides fixing clothing.
Your skill with a needle and thread could help in an emergency survival situation. Perhaps the strap on your pack lets go, or your sleeping bag gets a tear. Maybe you need to make a fishing net or sew up a wound. The principles of sewing apply in all these cases, and you just never know when this skill will come in handy. This is why I keep a small sewing kit in my bag at all times ... just in case.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Never waste an opportunity to acquire food and other important supplies, because you never know when you will get another chance. My father’s father worked at a little grocery store during the Great Depression. It didn’t pay much, but at least he had a job. One thing that he could do was take home fruit and vegetables and sometimes, meat, that were about to go bad and couldn’t be sold. He had no vehicle, so he would walk
home carrying these items.
My grandparents would go through the food and salvage what they could. Meat would have to be cooked right away, because there were no refrigerators as we know them today. They had an icebox, but it only kept things cool when they could afford, or even get, ice. Fruit and vegetables that couldn’t wait another day were made into breads or were eaten right away. Anything left over would end up in a stew or soup for the next day.
That was a rare opportunity my grandfather had; he took advantage of it, and my grandparents made sure nothing went to waste. Compare this with how much good food we throw away every day because we have had our fill or don’t like leftovers.
As mentioned before, my mother’s father hunted. Using an old shotgun, he would shoot grouse, rabbits and squirrels. He also taught my mother how to hunt. In turn, she taught me. Because shot shells cost money, and they couldn’t afford to buy shells, they had to make every shot count. Every opportunity was exploited to its maximum. My grandfather would get more shells when he could by either buying them—or, more often than not—by trading a nice, fat rabbit for a handful of rounds. A few more rounds meant
WE ARE OVERLY DEPENDENT ON TECHNOLOGY TO DO OUR WORK AND ON THE GOVERNMENT TO GET US THROUGH WHEN THINGS GO BADLY.
another meal or two.
Today, just as then, we need to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented. Unlike during the 1920s and ’30s, we have refrigeration available to us. I hunt and fish as much as I can, stocking my freezer with game and fish. I barter for those things I can’t get on my own. I keep my pantry stocked with canned goods and emergency food, such as Paleo Meals to Go, Mountain House and MRE Star. I purchase them when I have a little extra money. Buy these items when they are on sale, and keep them on hand. You never know when you will need them.
ACQUIRE A TRADE
During the Great Depression, your own skills were what got you through. You couldn’t afford to pay a roofer, plumber or a mechanic, so you needed to be able to fix things on your own.
My father learned very early how to fix anything mechanical. He learned the hard way—by taking things apart and then putting them back together. He soon became pretty good at it and was even able to make a little extra money for the family by fixing other people’s things.
In an emergency situation, you will need to rely on your own skills to get things done. Today, we have the advantage of many ways to learn how to do everything from electrical work to welding. There are literally tons of informational books, videos and online instruction on virtually every topic. I have a bookcase full of them in case I need them. I prefer books over relying on technology, simply because books are going to
MY FATHER’S MOTHER TAUGHT HIM HOW TO SEW AND COOK, AND WHILE NEITHER ONE WAS “HIS THING,” HE COULD DO THEM IF HE HAD TO.
be available and functional, and access to technology might not.
We all know that "money makes the world go around." But money, especially paper money, is only as good as the government that is backing it. Those physical dollar bills are not really “money”; instead, they are promissory notes backed by the U.S. government for the value printed on them.
What happens if there is a government failure? If the economy collapses, the value of that “money” drops, because the tangible things you need to buy become more valuable.
THE PHYSICAL DOLLAR BILLS ARE NOT REALLY “MONEY”; INSTEAD, THEY ARE PROMISSORY NOTES BACKED BY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FOR THE VALUE PRINTED ON THEM.
That is what happened during the Great Depression. Those who got by didn’t do so by amassing huge amounts of dollar bills. They did so by using gold and silver coinage. “Hard currency” is what it is called. It has its own value that is based on the metal it is made of. In a survival situation, gold and silver (from any country) will have more value than paper money.
In today’s world, this means we should all be investing what we can, when we can, in gold and silver. I’m not talking about purchasing gold and silver stocks. I’m talking about purchasing hard
NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY TO ACQUIRE FOOD AND OTHER IMPORTANT SUPPLIES, BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU WILL GET ANOTHER CHANCE.
... TAKE A LOOK BACK AND LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO CAME BEFORE US. WHILE THE TIMES AND SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE CHANGED, THE PRINCIPLES AND RISKS HAVE NOT.
coinage. You can buy gold and silver coins, specialty coins or even bars on the open market. Stay away from “clad” coins, because they are made from another metal and then plated in gold or silver. Purchase items made from as much gold or silver as possible.
After you make your purchase, don’t run around bragging or showing them off. Flashing your assets will make you a target—if not now, then later—when the SHTF and people become desperate. Store your gold and silver in a safe place, and then leave it there until you need it.
We have all heard about people who have dug up jars of silver coins buried by people looking to keep them safe. They did this because they didn’t trust the banks (remember, banks went under during the Great Depression and during the banking crisis 10 years ago). I don’t recommend doing that, but just keep them safe.
Although the times have changed, and there are more safeguards in place, bad things still can, and will, happen on a large scale. If history teaches us anything, it is that some people will be prepared, and some (probably more) will not.
In our age of computers, cell phones and government-sponsored social services, it is very easy to get complacent and forget the knowledge and skills needed to keep it together when times get tough.
This article discusses just a few of these lessons, so take a look back and learn from the people who came before us. While the times and specific circumstances have changed, the principles and risks have not.
Right: Because no one knows what tomorrow will bring, now is the best time to examine your finances and skill sets to see where you can improve your chances to thrive in an economic bust.
Below: During the Great Depression, lines at soup kitchens were common. Even as good as times are today, there is often not enough food at soup kitchens and food banks.
Above: The Great Depression was a worldwide event, as can be seen in this photo of a food line in France.
Below: Tough times cause immense mental and emotional strains on families and children. Make having healthy, supportive and positive personal relationships a top priority.
Left: When the credit cards are maxed and you're out of cash, you can still trade your wallet. Bartering, whether it's goods or services, is a key way for you to acquire necessities.
Do whatever needs to be done. In this case, it means gathering sap to make maple syrup.
Learn a trade that will be in demand— whether times are good or bad. Fixing cars and trucks could earn you some extra money; alternatively, you could barter your skills.
Left: Teaching her son to sew, this mother is giving him a skill that is very likely to come in handy in the future.
Below, left: With the right tools, a little help from a reference book and some patience, you’ll find you can address most basic plumbing, carpentry and electrical repairs.
Bottom, right: Hunting is just one way to put food on the table.
Below, right: Fruit doesn’t stay good for long. Learning how to can and to make jam will make that fruit last much longer and broaden your menu options. These are also great trade items.
Above: Never waste anything! This carcass is being boiled down to be turned into a soup or stew.
Below: Based on the metal it is made of, "hard currency” has its own value. In a survival situation, gold and silver (from any country) will have the same value. In today’s world, this means we should all have some investments in gold and/or silver.
Right: Even in today's "healthy" economy, many people live paycheck to paycheck. Whether or not you are one of them, look for ways to reduce expenses by doing things you usually pay others to do or make for you.
Above: Learn now how to cook and bake from scratch. In tough times, one of the first expenses people cut is eating out.
Above: Small gold and silver bars are harder than coins to exchange in common transactions, but they are a good way to preserve your wealth and can be effective for larger trades and purchases.