So you think life is tough in the 21st century

11 Mottos to Live By

Marjorie Kondrack  |  Apr 21, 2023

LIVING BENEATH OUR means is one of the best habits to develop if we want a secure retirement. Like many others, I learned this sort of thrift from my parents and grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression and, by necessity, had to avoid waste.

Not only did our forebearers survive the Great Depression, but also the Second World War came right on its heels. These were years of conserving materials—such as metal, rubber, paper and food—to support the war effort.

My mother saved a food ration book from the war that still had some stamps in it. When she shopped, she had to hand the grocer stamps when buying meat, sugar, butter, cooking oil and canned goods. The number of stamps handed over depended on the scarcity of the item purchased. For instance, if bacon was 35 cents a pound, you might have to give the grocer seven stamps.

Once the stamps were used up for the month, people couldn’t buy any more of that food until new stamps were issued the following month. I wonder how many young people today know that, in this land of abundance, food was once rationed, and that thrift in itself can be a source of remarkable household revenue.

Mom also saved a booklet from the war years that gives information about saving or conserving just about everything—food, clothing, house furnishings, appliances, utilities, cars, even insurance. People found artful ways to scrimp on just about everything. Nothing was wasted.

We could all benefit from the advice in this little booklet. Here are 10 of the more memorable passages that appeared at the bottom of the booklet’s pages:

  • Willful waste makes woeful want.
  • Waste nothing. Hoard nothing. Use everything.
  • Spend what you must and save what you can.
  • He that eats and saves sets the table twice.
  • Wear it out—make do—do without.
  • Respect pennies and the dollars will respect you.
  • Spend money and it goes. Save money and it grows.
  • Thrift is worth a lot of money, yet it doesn’t cost a cent.
  • What is worth owning is worth treating well.
  • And my favorite: Be penny wise… and pound wise too.

I’ll add to this list a quote from the 30th U.S. president, Calvin Coolidge, which seems apropos: “Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.”

Coolidge kept track of the grocery bills for the White House kitchen, and drove costs down over the years. He was also one of the few presidents who left office with a federal debt far smaller than when he entered.

A footnote: To get the flavor of what life on the home front was like during the Second World War, watch Woody Allen’s film Radio Days, which can be streamed free on the Tubi network. It’s worth watching for the tender and evocative songs of the 1940s, and it may be Allen’s finest movie.

Read more by Marjorie Kondrack

Originally appeared on


  1. If a picture paints a thousand words…

    I have seen scores of charts and graphs depicting income disparity within the U.S. and compared to other advanced countries, and posted a few. The U.S. is usually the outlier. I have also seen and scanned through several articles explaining why this inequality is economically and socially detrimental.*

    To be fair, I just came across this chart in which the U.S. is again the outlier, by a significant margin, for a different reason. I disagree with the majority of responders, but I don’t doubt the legitimacy of the survey. Maybe it explains why we are where we are.

    *Plus a few that disagree.


      1. Governments job is to eliminate unfair barriers to all citizens so they have equal opportunities to thrive to the maximum of their abilities AND to provide for those who are truly unable to do that temporarily or permanently. It is not to redistribute wealth once honestly achieved.


      2. “…once honestly achieved.”

        Disparity is a problem even if it is honestly achieved. Most Americans apparently agree with you, as per the above graph, where, again the U.S. is the outlier among advanced countries. I disagree, if as alluded to elsewhere, ;”…the system is flawed.” Capitalism good. Unrestrained capitalism, not so much. Government regulation, such as monopoly control, is necessary.
        I couldn’t give three whoops about multibillionaires, they can take care of themselves. Even the middle class can. But if ten to fifteen percent of the working population are unable to survive within the system, what other way is there to provide for them than to redistribute wealth and/or income?
        Inequality itself is good. Even necessary, but excess inequality is a killer.
        My analogy is an internal combust engine. Oil is everywhere, some places have higher volume and greater pressure, others much less, but even the lowliest moving part(s) must have at least enough to survive, or even to thrive. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, etc.
        And it is government’s responsibility. It benefits everyone, in economic and social stability.
        I suggest that those fiftyfive+ percent of Americans who do NOT believe it is government’s responsibility to reduce income disparities are like those who are born on third place and think they hit a triple.


      3. I think you mistake poverty for inequality. Poverty is bad, but can never be eliminated. But the super wealthy have nothing to do with poverty. In fact, the opposite overall.


      4. Poverty is inequality.

        “I couldn’t give three whoops about multibillionaires…” Or the millionaires. Or even the middle class. I don’t care how unequal those people are. But if you’re working full time, or can’t find a job, and can’t afford food, shelter, or healthcare, inequality is a problem, and should be addressed by the government. It’s as much of an endemic problem as a natural disaster.
        What’s the alternative?

        The U.S. isn’t one of the most unequal OECD countries because it has the most billionaires, it’s because we have the highest poverty rate. We can do better.

        And I apologize for being argumentative.


  2. “You can’t blame the guy at the bottom forever.”

    “The conventional viewpoint says we need a jobs program and we need to cut welfare. Just the opposite! We need more welfare and fewer jobs. Jobs for every American is doomed to failure because of modern automation and production. We ought to recognize it and create an income-maintenance system so every single American has the dignity and the wherewithal for shelter, basic food, and medical care. I’m talking about welfare for all. Without it, you’re going to have warfare for all. Without a universal health care like every other civilized country, without a minimum level of income, this country will explode. You can’t blame the guy at the bottom forever. At some point there’s a reaction and we’ll see that the real criminals are those calling the tune, making the rules, and walking to the bank. We have the money, we have the brain power. The United States now has the highest measured wealth of any nation ever in the history of the world. We could rebuild our cities, we could create the kind of buying power and community well-being that will provide for peace. The guaranteed income is one way. Another way is to have always the availability of work in a nonprofit, in community service. A third is to start giving people training to develop skills where they can be self-supporting. You could come up with a cash supplement. Even conservatives have suggested a negative income tax to cut out the bureaucracy. If we were smart, we’d get rid of welfare and give people a family assistance like they do in Europe…

    The problem isn’t even a problem. Automation and technology would be a great boon if it were creative, if there were more leisure, more opportunity to engage in raising a family, providing guidance to the young, all the stuff we say we need. America will work if we’re all in it together. It’ll work when there’s a shared sense of destiny. It can be done! It’s all there! What isn’t there is the leadership to create the kind of social network, the safety net, the distribution that would truly create a just and equal society…

    We have to restore power to the family, to the neighborhood, and the community with a non-market principle, a principle of equality, of charity, of let’s-take-care-of-one-another. That’s the creative challenge. First, expose relentlessly the big lie that comes over the tube every night-that if you just go out and find that job, and work harder, it’ll all be fine. It won’t! There’s not enough work to go around and a lot of the pay is not fair. Unless you totally yank up that system and create a better one, unless the spirit changes, unless the heart opens, unless we confront power with the truth of our own unarmed but absolute fearless truth, we’re not going to overcome it. Evil is too embedded to be overcome by anything other than a spiritual challenge.”

    Jerry Brown

    “First, expose relentlessly the big lie that comes over the tube every night-that if you just go out and find that job, and work harder, it’ll all be fine. It won’t!”


    1. So, your point is? Nobody can get ahead? The system is rigged? Nobody is actually responsible for their own actions because the system is flawed? What?


      1. endemic;
        : belonging or native to a particular people or country
        : characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment

        As in: “First, expose relentlessly the big lie that comes over the tube every night-that if you just go out and find that job, and work harder, it’ll all be fine. It won’t! There’s not enough work to go around and a lot of the pay is not fair.”
        Jerry Brown.

        “Anyone can get ahead, but everyone can’t. It’s math.”
        Stephen Douglas

        Yes, SOME people can get ahead.
        Yes, the system is rigged.
        Yes, everyone is responsible for there own actions.
        AND, yes, the system is flawed…

        “There’s not enough work to go around and a lot of the pay is not fair.”

        There are dozens of studies showing the U.S. has, both before and after taxes and transfers, the (almost)* highest income and wealth inequality of all OECD countries. Also nearly the highest poverty rate.
        *Thank you, Mexico and Chile.

        Here is one suggestion, take everyone capable but not working, including the homeless, and put them in jail. Problem solved, three hots and a cot.


        It’s endemic. We can do better.


    2. “…if you just go out and find that job, and work harder, it’ll all be fine.”

      It’s kinda cruel, really, if you have one good job available, and ten applicants, to imply to the nine losers that they just didn’t try hard enough. No individual responsibility. Or a thousand applicants for a hundred jobs. It’s like musical chairs, nine hundred men are guaranteed to lose.

      No, it won’t all be fine.


  3. AKA: “It takes all kinds.”

    Today’s good advice doesn’t square with yesterday’s good advice. Making do with what you have, living within your means? Would logically lead to fewer goods and services produced overall.

    So why should welfare or other social services require the recipient to take a job? It is wasteful in the extreme, a total misuse of precious and limited resources. Until just recently, I had never heard of Popsockets®; petroleum based phone grip available in many colors or designs, for only $9.99 (when ordered on line). I’m sure they employ hundreds, (thousands?) for production, marketing, shipping, not to mention HR.

    Hey, it’s a job.

    Probably even more than the infamous Pet Rock. Here’s an entrepreneurial idea: form an LLC to produce Popsockets, then lobby Congress to pay me subsidies to reduce production, artificially inflating the price. It works (sort of) for agriculture.

    Jerry Brown famously said, we don’t need less welfare, we need more. We don’t need jobs, per se, we need food, clothing, medical care, education, etc. If we can produce those with fewer workers, we simultaneously reduce wasting of natural resources. Win/win.

    1. I remember the article well, but can’t seem to locate a source.

    2. While trying to locate a source, I see numerous articles about the same above mentioned Jerry Brown fighting to reduce welfare or institute work requirements.


  4. You take the world as you find it, whether it’s 2023 or 1953 or 1923. There are no medals passed out for those who by accident of birth lived in those times.
    I’m glad to be able to live at least a few years in this age. What I am disgusted by are the people who wish to tear us down with crazy ideologies and trample us down with unworkable schemes.


  5. Even before the Great Depression, people have been finding way to scrimp on everything. Maybe even more so. If the pioneers didn’t take it with them, they didn’t have it. Native tribes would use every part of an animal to eat, make tools, or clothing. Rocky Mountain oysters anyone? Even Europeans found ways to use all parts of the animal. Ever try black pudding? How about eating pig or cow brains?

    We have gotten too soft with our off the shelf products and easy availability. We don’t or can’t repair stuff like we used to do. Don’t forget the planned obsolescence of products. Give my a pair of work jeans that did not wear out in two months and I would buy them at any price. Yesterday, I assembled two casted aluminum outdoor chairs that stated in the instructions; “to obtain the longest lifespan of our products, avoid extended and lengthy exposure to rain, snow, and direct sunshine”. THERE ARE OUTDOOR CHAIRS!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s