Old Skills Our Grandparents Knew
Frugal Living Homemaking Homesteading Natural Living

Old Skills Our Grandparents Knew (That Can Save You Money)

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Do you ever think about all the things our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had to do to keep their houses and kitchens running?

While we might see some of these things (such as knitting or gardening) as mere hobbies now, they were necessities of life for past generations.

Most (or all) of the things in this list have been replaced by modern machines or other innovations, but learning them can take us back to our roots, help make us more self-sufficient, and save money.

While many of these skills would be considered my most to be hobbies today, a lot of the time they were a necessity in decades past. Bringing them back is sure to bring a smile to anyone who remembers “the good old days” when pretty much everyone knew how to do these things.

1. Gardening

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you’ll know that I enjoy having a large garden each year.

While I could certainly just buy all my fruits and veggies from the grocery store year-round, I choose to garden 1) because I like doing it, and 2) because it saves me money.

For the cost of a couple packets of seeds or some plants, you could potentially have pounds of produce in return for a little work.

For our ancestors, gardening was a way of life if they didn’t want to be stuff with only meat and grain for their diet. While we don’t need to worry about that (thank you grocery stores), it is nice to be able to eat food you grew yourself.

2. Canning

I haven’t been able to do to much canning since I did some in high school with my grandma. Since then I’ve been afraid to do it because the long list of instructions seemed too daunting.
However,  after canning some pears by myself this summer (with my parents babysitting my 10-month-old), I’ve realized that once you get ahold of the steps, none of the individual steps take all that much time to complete. Plus, you can often do some of the steps while waiting for others to finish (such as sanitizing jars and lids while cooking the fruits).
Canning is a wonderful way of keeping your summer harvest so you can enjoy it year-round (especially if you’re like me and live in a cold enough climate that you can’t garden during the winter).
I also love the idea of being able to have shelf stable foods that I know I will still be able to feed my family with even if the power goes out or the freezer stops working.
One of my favorite canning resources is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (commonly known as the “Ball Blue Book” and the website based on it.

3. Preserving

Okay, so if we’re being really specific, canning would fall under this item. But since it has so much of a learning curve to it, I decided to make it on its own.

Other methods of preserving, though, such as drying and freezing are really easy and you can start them with few (if any) extra supplies.

I’m slowly getting the hang of canning (see above) and I will probably be incorporating it into my garden preservation in the future due to its shelf-stable nature, but I love freezing because it’s so easy.

For some vegetables such as peppers, onions, and whole tomatoes (to use for salsa later), you don’t even need to peel or blanch them.

For others, such as beets or carrots, they will require a few more steps. But hey, if you can boil water, you can blanch vegetables.

Drying is an awesome way to capture the flavor of herbs or aromatic vegetables such as celery and onions. You can also dry carrots, corn, and peas to add to soups during the winter.

You can dry fruits, vegetables and herbs in an oven, but my favorite way is to use my dehydrator. Here is my favorite one.

4. Mending

I need to get better at doing this when they do need it, but I must not be too hard on clothes because I haven’t really had many things to fix.
Mending a small hole or problem on a garment often takes very little time, and you can extend the life of the piece by stopping a hole or unraveling in its tracks before it can get worse.

Types of Mending

There are lots of types of mending, from minor fixes to patching a large hole.

Some of these types include:

  • Sewing on buttons
  • Fixing a hem before it unravels
  • Patching the knee on a pair of jeans
  • Fixing a seam that go pulled too hard

5. Sewing

I used to sew more when I was in 4-H, but I haven’t done it much since I was at college. In my defense, having a sewing machine that “eats” fabric by stuffing it into the gears doesn’t really do much in the way of encrouaging you to keep sewing.

My sewing machine is finally fixed (or so the guy who fixed it says. I haven’t tried it out yet since getting it back), so I’m hoping to get it set up and get back to more sewing.

I just got a bunch of fabric from my in-law’s place, so I’m going to see if I can find some good fabric to make myself some more winter skirts. Some of my favorite winter skirts (and the ones that currently fit me) are ones that I sewed as 4-H projects.

I’d like to eventually be able to sew more of my clothes besides just skirts and to make some clothes for my son, but I’m going to start with some simple projects to get myself back in the sewing groove  before I move on to larger, more complicated projects.

6. Knitting

Whether it’s on actual knitting needles or one of my many knitting looms, I love knitting projects.

My favorite things to knit (so far) are hats, scarves, and blankets. Some day I’d love to be able to knit myself a sweater. Maybe I should start with one for my son so it’s on a smaller scale.

I’m amazed at all the intricate designs people can makeWith their knitting. All I can make are straight (or round, if it’s on the loom) designs that don’t include any increases or decreases.

I’ll admit, I’m lazy so I still haven’t moved past the knit stitch part. Like I technically know how to purl but haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

7. Crocheting

I tend to favor knitting over crocheting because I have a hard time keeping the number of stitches on my crocheting consistent, but I love looking at doilies or curtains or tablecloths that my great-grandma or here friends crocheted.

Crocheting sounds like a lovely hobby to pick up to be able to make heirlooms like these to pass down to my children.

8. Cloth Diapering

Just like gardening, if you’ve been around here for any length of time or read many of my posts, you’ll know that I love cloth diapering.

While we have a lot more options that are easier than what our great-grandmothers used (evidently disposables were around my the time my grandma’s generation had kids), you can still embrace creating less waste by using reusable diapers.

If you really want to go back to what they used, you can grab some diaper flats or flour sack towels and add some wool diaper covers. However, if you, like me, are scared of fastening actual safety pins on a wiggly baby, there are some more modern alternatives that are less likely to poke your baby.

If you’re looking to start cloth diapering and want to grow your collection on budget, check on my post on how to get cloth diapers for cheap or free.

For more resources on cloth diapering, I would recommend checking out Nicki’s Diapers for buying used diapers (they have a lot of different brands) and Fluff Love University for washing routines and detergent recommendations.

9. Raising Animals

For our ancestors, raising animals was a way of life. Before tractors and cars, having horses or oxen was the only way you could go anywhere if you couldn’t walk there.

Even in more recent generations, raising animals for food was still an integral part of most families as lots more families living in the country and farmed.

Depending on how much infrastructure and feed you’ll need, this one might not save you much money (at least not right away), but it can be really rewarding over time.

Chickens are some of the easiest animals to raise (and use the least amount of space). If you live in the country or your town’s rules allow for chickens, give it a go! Even if you don’t raise them for meat, it’s so much fun to be able to make breakfast with eggs you just gathered.

If you don’t have the time, space, or desire to raise your own animals, you can still grow some of your own food by having a garden (see point #1). You can also find a local farm that raises animals and purchase meat or eggs from them.

10. Baking Bread

Baking bread might sound intimidating if you’ve always just bought bread from the store. In reality, a plain white or wheat loaf doesn’t take much more than a bowl and a spoon to mix the ingredients, some time to let the dough rise, and a pan to bake the bread in.

While you can branch out to other types of bread such as sourdough after you’re comfortable with a regular sandwich load, don’t feel the need to dive in headfirst.

Start with a simple recipe like this one. The beauty about a plain bread loaf is that you can customize it by changing up the flavors. For example, you can make an Italian load by adding garlic and Italian seasoning. Or you can make a cinnamon raisin load by adding those ingredients.

11. Cooking from Scratch

Many of the things I have listed so far revolve around cooking for yourself.

Cooking from scratch doesn’t mean you have to start with the raw, individual ingredients for every single food you make, but it does mean making an effort to make what you can instead of buying it remade.

As you venture into the world of cooking from scratch, focus on the foods that are the easiest for you to make and that will nourish your family.



I hope you enjoyed my list of eleven skills our grandparents knew that can save you money!


What skills did you learn from your grandparents (or wish you had learned)?

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  1. I wish, i had learned sewing, In our area, we don’t usually buy readymade dresses, we get our dresses stitched from the tailor.. And now this is becoming expensive.

    1. Yes, handmade items when you’re paying for someone else’s skill and training can be so expensive. I think that can apply to any of the skills in this article. Which is why it can (sometimes) be so cost-effective to learn those skills ourselves. Good luck!

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