Coffee. Meat. Milk. Cheese. Everyday foods like these were all strictly rationed during World War II, which made cooking a bit of a challenge. But housewives of the 1940s rose to the occasion wonderfully. They became pioneers of thriftiness, learning to do a whole lot with a whole little. So here are their best tips you can still use today for bossing beauty, housekeeping and entertaining on a tiny budget.
20. Line-Dry Your Clothes — And Make Sure They Last Longer
To be fair, the housewives of the ‘40s didn’t have tumble dryers. But they might not have used them anyway, since they had gentler methods for drying their laundry.
And, for people who wanted their clothes to last for as long as possible, gentle cleaning was the name of the game.
We all could benefit from taking care of our clothes with the same degree of care. All you need to do is hang your garments out to dry, rather than relying on the tumble dryer.
Your wardrobe will last longer, which saves you money. And naturally you’ll save you on your utility bill, too.
19. Sate your sweet tooth wisely
Even though circumstances required ‘40s housewives to ration their resources, they still indulged in desserts. And they found ways to whip up their favorite confections without using all of the sugar that a recipe would normally require.
The overseas troops had dibs on the sweet stuff, so families on the homefront got very little of it.
For example, an apple pie recipe from this era called for only one teaspoon of sugar and the same amount of honey. So, take this tip for your next baking batch.
Rather than dumping a ton of sugar into the mixture, try swapping it out for whichever alternative you have on-hand. Or, cut down on the sweet stuff and keep your pantry fuller for longer.
18. Why buy when you can borrow?
Women in this era had learned the decade before — during the Great Depression — that they had to use less and save more. One great way of doing so was to borrow from others wherever possible.
You might be wondering, “Why would I bother borrowing anything when I can get anything I need from the internet?”
However, buying books and movies, for example, can be seen as a waste of money if you can check out the same titles from your local library. Or, you might need a tool or supply for a one-off project.
Again, picking up an item to use it once would be an unnecessary expense when you could just borrow it from someone you know.
17. Save big on trendy glass jars
Here’s a challenge — log onto your Instagram and start scrolling. How many photos do you get through before you see a Mason jar? These containers are particularly en vogue, especially the vintage colorful variety.
You can actually get a similar look by simply hanging on to your empty glass food containers.
Even if they don’t look too similar to Mason jars, there are so many ways to repurpose empty containers. You can use them to organize a toolbox, craft-supply closet or bathroom drawers.
Pop leftovers into glass containers, and you don’t have to buy Tupperware ever again. And, of course, with a bit of creativity, you can repaint and redecorate your saved-up jars to use as candle holders, cups… or however else you’d use a pricy Mason-variety cylinder.
16. Don’t foil the war — or recycling — effort
Civilians on the home front during World War II didn’t fight battles, but they did contribute to the country’s efforts. They gathered aluminum foil — right down to the shiny stuff wrapped around chewing gum — so that it could be repurposed.
They also came up with ways to use and reuse the foil sheets outside of wartime.
Rather than buying roll after roll of the silver stuff, try these hacks to save a few bucks. Inspect your aluminum sheets after using them — still-clean pieces can easily be stored and reused.
You can also ball up a bit of used foil and use it to scrub pans, rather than purchasing boxes of steel wool fluffs.
15. Hold the Front Page — And the Rest of the Paper, Really
Getting your hands on a newspaper in the 1940s meant you knew what was happening around the world. But it also opened up a slew of possibilities — there was much to be done with the pages after reading them.
You might not want to try all of the era’s go-to methods for repurposing the dailies. For example, they might have used it to insulate their walls, but we have better, safer materials for that today.
What you can do is deploy your newspaper sheets to clean glass to a streak-free shine or protect your fragile belongings before a move. Add it to your compost bin to bulk up your fertilizer.
Or leaf through and find the comics, then wrap your loved one’s gifts with the colourful artwork.
14. Save your stale bread
You reach for the bread bin and one touch tells you all you need to know — your loaf has gone stale.
Rather than tossing that hardened hunk of carbohydrates, though, you could pull out this ‘40s housewife hack and ensure the last of your loaf doesn’t go to waste. .
Housewives, of course, found ways to reuse stale bread. They had two main methods: breaking it down into breadcrumbs or cubing it and cooking up some croutons.
No matter how you repurpose your rolls, keep in mind that you’ll still get all of the nutritional value that fresh bread has to offer.
13. S. O. S. — Save Our Soap
You may put bars of soap next to your sink to wash your hands. If you do, though, you know how annoying it is when it whittles away into a small sliver of suds.
You might be tempted to toss that sanitizing shard into the trash can, but a ‘40s housewife hack can help you get the most from your soap.
You’ll need an old pair of pantyhose or stockings and all of your little soap scraps. Stuff the shards into the foot of the garment, tie off the section and cut it off.
Then, pop the soap-filled tights next to any sink and rub it between your hands under the tap and voila – clean hands from soap you would have thrown away.
12. Don’t ditch your dull pots and pans
Your pots and pans were shiny when new but now, they’ve taken on a much duller appearance. Don’t go running to the recycling just yet.
Some pioneering housewives have a hack that can help you restore that sparkle, and it’ll cost you way less than replacing your kitchen’s cookware.
All you have to do is pick up some rhubarb and chop it into small pieces. Place it in the offending pot or pan and boil it for 10 minutes or until it morphs into a glue-like liquid.
After that, just rinse out the remains, and the bottom of your cookware should be restored to its formerly shiny self — all for just the price of some rhubarb.
11. Every shred of fabric can be reused
Nowadays, you might donate a garment you don’t wear anymore or toss a ripped piece of fabric into the trash. This wouldn’t fly in the 1940s, when housewives used and reused every last scrap of fabric.
Let’s say a men’s suit jacket got a tear in it. It might not be usable as a blazer anymore, but a crafty homemaker could use that fabric and remake it into a women’s skirt.
Any leftover scraps from a sewing project would get set aside and saved up until a housewife had enough material to make a quilt. She’d twist rags into rugs — and use larger chunks of discarded fabric to make rags.
You can do the same with your old towels and t-shirts today. In fact, many green-minded homemakers have transformed their inen into rags and use them instead of paper towels.
10. Let your garden grow
We’ve emphasized that many ‘40s housewives learned to make the most of their wartime rations — and that’s certainly true. But many of them found another genius way to supplement their daily diet.
They started cultivating gardens in their backyards so they could have more than just the food allotted to them.
This helped many civilians by reducing their need for canned fruits and vegetables, allowing those resources to go to American troops overseas. Gardening allowed housewives to slash their grocery bills, too.
The number of urban farms has increased rapidly in the last decade or so, which means that our generation has realized what a rewarding — and budget-conscious — hobby this can be.
9. Turn your wilting vegetables into Waste Not Soup
You might notice the sad-looking vegetables in your fridge… and then reach for something fresher to eat. A ‘40s housewife go-to can help you avoid wasting the produce you’ve already spent your money on.
They’d make what they called “Waste Not Soup,” tossing all of their soon-to-wilt veggies into a pot with beans, spices, stock and bits of meat, if they were lucky. Simmering it all together and adding a bit of spice turned these unwanted greens into a delicious, filling meal.
It’s not just your soon-to-be rotten veggies that would get put to use in a ‘40s kitchen. You might throw away vegetable skins that you peel off or the animal bones you don’t eat.
Turns out, there’s a use for those, too: throw them in a pot with water, herbs and spices and let it all simmer for a few hours. When it’s done, you’ll have meat or vegetable broth — a base for other soups or a very cheap, albeit nutritious, meal.
8. Butter Your Bread With Ease — And Save Money in the Process
Wartime rations allocated about a pound of butter per week to every family. That may sound like a lot, until you realize that butter served as the primary cooking and baking fat, as well as the go-to bread spread at the time.
So, 1940s housewives had to come up with ways to make their butter go farther.
You might want to try one of their methods, since it not only made a one-pound stick of butter grow in size, but made it easier to spread, too. No more waiting for your pats to thaw.
Instead, blend one pound of butter with three-quarters of a cup of oil and a pinch of salt, if you want. The resulting combination will glide right onto your bread, extend the life of your butter and taste just like the real thing — a win-win-win.
7. The original Meatless Monday
War-time rations didn’t provide housewives with a fridge and pantry full of ingredients. Instead, they had to make do on a suggested meal plan, which included ideas for 21 days worth of eating.
How many of those dishes contained meat, do you think? You’ll probably be surprised to learn that it was only one-third of them.
So, hearty vegetarian meals became a staple during World War II, with cheese and beans standing in for meat. Obviously, this saved on resources, but it’s not just a wartime way of cutting costs.
Studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diners spend up to 40 percent less than their omnivorous counterparts, so it could be worth adding some meatless dinners to your plan for the week.
6. Use this vegetable for an all-natural lip stain
Housewives in the 1940s faced a conundrum when it came to their beauty routines. They couldn’t find lipstick anywhere as more and more non-essential items got rationed.
But the media kept pushing the message that they needed to continue to look their best. “Beauty is a duty” was one such popular refrain.
Luckily, ladies today can decide what beauty and self-care means for them. But women in the 1940s had their standards set — and they knew they wanted to keep wearing lipstick in spite of all the austerity.
So, they came up with a very cheap hack that you can try, too. They would stain their lips with sliced beets, which left behind a beautiful dark purple stain.
5. Disposable diapers? No way
We have to imagine that ‘40s housewives would be aghast at the concept of disposable diapers. These ladies would never have dared to pay for one-time-use anything, so it’s no surprise that they had a thrifty — and environmentally friendly — way to wrap up their little ones..
Cloth diapers required a bit of physical labor, since ‘40s moms would have to scour, clean and sanitize them before reusing. In the end, though, they made the most of limited resources — and provide modern-day moms with an environmentally friendly alternative.
Plus, you’ll find that reusable diapers end up being cheaper over time, especially if you have more than one child.
4. Testing their (pot)luck
Sometimes, surviving life on rations required ‘40s housewives to put their heads together and pool their resources. Rather than trading ingredients, though, the ladies decided to combine what they had.
They’d throw potlucks so everyone could have a full meal — if each person contributed ingredients, they could put them together and make all of the foods they craved.
We still have potlucks today, but they’re usually thrown by community groups. Most of the time, they’re scheduled as a way to make meal planning easy — if everyone brings one thing, there will be plenty to eat.
But consider pooling together with friends and having a 1940s-style gathering, where you combine your ingredients to make food for everyone. That way, your fridge’s contents won’t go to waste, nor will anyone else’s.
3. Making the most with meatloaf
You crack open your fridge, and you notice that you have a bit of ground beef left. But it’s not quite enough to make any of the recipes in your arsenal.
So, what are you to do? You could draw some inspiration from resourceful ‘40s housewives who solved this conundrum with one single dish: meatloaf.
In the 1940s, homemakers made meatloaf and casseroles as a way to stretch their resources or hide the flavor of otherwise unsavory ingredients. In the case of this ground beef-based standby, they used breadcrumbs, onions and ketchup to bulk up the meat.
And so many people enjoyed this combination that it’s still served, even in the post-rations era. Keep it in mind when your fridge is looking bare, and you could save yourself a trip to the grocery store.
2. From rags to ringlets
As we’ve learned already, ‘40s housewives would never throw away a ripping piece of fabric. Instead, they’d repurpose the garment, even if that meant shredding it up into rags.
Those pieces weren’t just used for cleaning, either — with a bit of practice, they could wrap up their hair in rags, let it dry, and pull out the cloth to reveal perfect curly hair.
If you have an old t-shirt, towel or pillowcase, you have everything you need to try this ingenious hair hack. Grab one-inch sections of almost-dry hair and hold a rag strip perpendicular to it.
Start by wrapping the ends of the strands around the fabric. Then, roll the fabric up the section of hair toward the scalp. Knot the ends of the cloth, then repeat ‘til you’ve done the same to your entire head. Sleep on it or use a diffuser — 21st century hack — then unfurl each piece to reveal an effortless retro curl.
1. Bulk up the last of your coffee grounds
If you really wanted to live like a ‘40s housewife, then you’d have to start rationing your coffee. This does sound tough and perhaps even impossible, depending on your level of caffeine addiction.
But, of course, these crafty women came up with a viable substitute, one that some people still drink today as an alternative.
Turns out, 1940s housewives would fold chicory root into their coffee to make the grounds last as long as possible. Chicory root has a similar rich flavor when brewed in a morning cup of joe.
There’s only one major difference — there’s no caffeine to be found in the bean-free alternative. So, if you need to cut down on your intake — or cut down on spending at the local coffeehouse — try this housewife hack.