The 1970s were a transformative period in America, shaped by economic uncertainty and rapidly rising inflation. Middle-class households struggled financially and were forced to find creative ways to save every penny possible. Many money-saving tactics used in the 1970s are still relevant today but can be highly effective for families looking to live frugally. With inflation again rising, it’s time to reexamine some frugal wisdom from the Me Decade.
Implementing even a few old-school frugality practices can significantly lower expenses and help you thrive financially, even when times are tough. From planting backyard gardens to learning basic home repairs, people in the 1970s found ways to provide for themselves independently and reduce reliance on outside goods and services. They made do with what they had and took satisfaction in being self-sufficient.
In today’s era of instant gratification through Amazon orders and Uber Eats, we’ve lost touch with some core frugal skills. However, with a little effort, we can reclaim that DIY spirit of the 1970s and see significant savings. This article will explore easy, practical, frugal living tips used back in the day and how they can be adapted to modern life. With creativity and commitment, you can master the lost art of frugality.
Cook at Home
Eating out was a rare luxury for most families in the 1970s. Not only was it expensive, but homemade meals were considered healthier and better for you. Eating at home should also be a top priority for frugal folks today. Plan out weekly dinner menus, prep ingredients in advance, and cook large batches to have leftovers for lunches and future meals. For example, a homemade pot of chili can give you five or more portions for the week for a fraction of the cost of takeout.
Getting kids involved in meal planning and preparation teaches them valuable kitchen skills. Make cooking at home a family affair. Turn on some 70s tunes, sip Tang from retro glasses, and embrace the humble home-cooked meal again.
Maintain and Repair What You Own
In the 70s, appliances, clothes, cars, and more were built to last. Replacing items was expensive, so people learned to maintain and repair what they had. There was pride associated with keeping things running well past their expiration date.
It’s often cheaper to replace than repair, but those skills are still handy. Learn to mend clothing, replace buttons, polish shoes, and more to extend the life of your wardrobe. For appliances or electronics that need fixes, consult YouTube first for DIY repair tips before calling a professional. Handle home repairs like leaky faucets, squeaky hinges, and broken drawers yourself. Invest in an essential toolbox and save on repair bills.
Thrift and consignment shops were a mainstay for 1970s families looking for deals. Secondhand shopping allowed them to afford clothes, furniture, kitchenware, and more at bargain prices. Likewise, shopping thrift stores in wealthy areas can yield high-quality cast-off items today.
Vintage items are trendy again, so you may score cool retro t-shirts, funky decor items, or that shag rug you’ve wanted. Thrifting is eco-friendly, too, since it gives used goods new life. You never know what unique treasures you’ll uncover in a secondhand shop.
Do It Yourself
The DIY spirit was strong in the 1970s when people tackled various projects and repairs themselves rather than hiring others. Anything from carpentry to car maintenance to sewing clothes was seen as a valuable skill set to be financially savvy and a source of pride and independence.
What basic skills have you always wanted to learn? With YouTube, anyone can become a DIY expert. Replace a toilet, hang wallpaper, fix a bike flat, install a ceiling fan, retile a backsplash in your kitchen, build a desk, change your oil…the possibilities are endless. Pick a project and get to work channeling your inner hippie handyman.
Grow Your Food
In the era of rising food costs, Americans returned to gardening to provide fresh produce for their families. The 70’s ushered in a surge of interest in living harmoniously with nature. Backyard, container, and community gardens allowed people to access nutritious, affordable ingredients.
You don’t need acres of land or an expert green thumb to grow food today. Start small with a few vegetable plants, herbs, and fruit bushes. Learn techniques like companion planting and winterizing your harvest. If space is limited, look into local community gardens with plots for rent. Returning to the earth saves money on produce and is rewarding and peaceful.
Barter Goods & Services
Bartering for goods and services enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s. Bartering allowed people to get what they needed, whether trading childcare with a neighbor in exchange for handyman help or swapping a fresh apple pie for a haircut.
Bartering is a lost art worth reviving. Talk to friends, family, and neighbors about trading skills. The opportunities are endless – swap gardening help for baked goods, music lessons for dog walking, closet organizing for a couples massage. You can find bartering partners online, too. Rediscover the joy of bartering – it builds community and saves money.
The 1970s energy crisis turned conservation into a moral imperative. People lowered thermostats in winter, limited AC in summer, turned off lights vigilantly, drove less and purchased fuel-efficient cars. While the crisis ended, energy conservation remains essential today.
Small habit changes add up, like turning off lights in unused rooms, using insulated drapes, taking shorter showers, and unplugging devices not in use. In addition, walk or bike for errands when possible, combine multiple tasks into one trip, drive a fuel-efficient or electric car, and reduce your reliance on plastic products made from fossil fuels. Being an ethical consumer and conscientious energy user feels good!
Case Study: How Jamie Adopted 70s Frugal Habits and Saved $650 a Month
Jamie, a 33-year-old IT technician, was inspired to live more frugally after binge-watching That 70’s Show. He adopted some 70s strategies to save money on his middle-class income. Here’s how a few simple habit changes saved him $650 per month:
- Cooking dinner at home five nights a week instead of takeout and eating out – $300 savings
- Drinking tap water instead of buying cases of bottled water – $50 savings
- Canceling his streaming service subscriptions and using the library – $40 savings
- Shopping thrift stores for clothes and furniture – $120 savings
- Learning basic car maintenance and doing his oil changes – $80 savings
- Swapping services with friends instead of hiring out landscaping and babysitting – $60 savings
Jamie saved so much money he could start saving for a downpayment on a house. He also had extra funds for hobbies and time for gardening, thanks to his 70’s ‘s-inspired frugal lifestyle. Most importantly, Jamie felt a sense of pride in being self-sufficient and free from reliance on convenience services. Frugal living gave him a sense of purpose.
As inflation rises and economic times get more challenging, revisiting the pragmatic, waste-free habits of the 1970s can position us to thrive frugally again. With creativity and effort, we can master lost arts like maintaining and repairing belongings, bartering, and growing our food. A little bit of that scrappy, resilient attitude our grandparents and great-grandparents relied on can go a long way.
Frugality is empowering and liberating. Though consumer culture pressures us to spend and upgrade constantly, we can reject that mentality. Embrace the globes, shag rugs, macrame plant holders, and DIY ethic of the 1970s, and create financial stability even in uncertain times. Harness your inner frugal hippie, and discover the peace and pride of simple, intentional living.