This Motto From the 1940s Will Help You Save Serious Cash

Woman holding money
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

How can a World War II slogan help you save money?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the phrase “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” entered the American lexicon. Some sources place it as far back as the Great Depression, while others claim it came into vogue during World War II.

No matter where it originated, the phrase is just as valuable now as it was 70 or 80 years ago. When you start using things up, wearing them out, making do with what you have or doing without, you start saving money, plain and simple.

Blogger (and Blogger cofounder) Meg Hourihan, for example, turned the slogan into a year-long project, only buying new items when she had used up or worn out stuff she already owned. Check out her site for inspiration, and follow these tips to apply the slogan to your own life.

Use It Up

Let’s say you come home after a long day of work and you’re ready for dinner. Your cupboards are pretty empty, but there is still some food left — maybe a box of crackers, some mayonnaise, a can of tuna and a bag of frozen peas.

Don’t order takeout! Instead, use it up: mix the mayo and the tuna together, add a dash of pepper, and eat it on the crackers. Then, heat up the peas! As long as there’s food in your cupboards, there is food for you to eat. Yes, maybe you are going to have some mismatched meals until you get a chance to go to the grocery store, but you are also going to save serious money by not dropping $25 or $30 on takeout every time you come home to a slightly bare kitchen.

Same goes for nearly everything else in your home. When your shampoo bottle is nearly empty, don’t toss it out; instead, turn it upside-down and use up every last bit. Some people go so far as to cut the bottoms off their shampoo and lotion bottles to get every drop of product inside.

Wear It Out

Our ancestors were masters of wearing things out. In the mid-1800s, for example, women would wear dresses until the fabric faded, then turn the dress inside-out and use the other side of the fabric (which wasn’t faded) as the base material for a new dress. Once the dress was no longer wearable, it would be cut up for a rag rug or a patchwork quilt.

You don’t have to turn your clothing inside-out, but it is a good idea to learn how to wear things out completely before you buy new ones. Take your smartphone, for example: did you buy your most recent phone because your old one was worn out, or because you wanted the latest upgrade? If you wait until your current stuff is fully worn out, you’ll save money.

There’s also another component of “wear it out,” which has to do with finding new uses for the stuff you have. If there’s any life left in your old stuff, figure out how to use it until it’s fully worn out and no longer usable. Turn old T-shirts into dustrags, old wine bottles into candleholders — upcycle and recycle your stuff until there’s no possible use left. Even though it seems like small change to use an old T-shirt instead of buying a brand-name duster, small change adds up.

Make It Do

Do you really need a new outfit for that wedding/date/work event, or will the clothes you have work just fine?

Do you really need to buy that new book, or can you check it out from the library?

Do you really need to go out to the movies, or can you have just as good a time re-watching a favorite movie you already own?

Chances are, your home is already full of clothes, entertainment options, exercise gear and a lot of the other basic necessities of life. If you’re tempted to buy something new to fill a need, see if you can make do with something you already have. You’ll save money every single time.

Do Without

Sometimes, the best way to save money is to do without. Skip the mid-afternoon vending machine snack, skip the shoe sale, skip whatever little thing you find yourself buying that doesn’t really add value to your life.

Or, if you really want to buy something, try the “30-day rule”: tell yourself you’ll check back in 30 days, and if you still want it, you’ll buy it. Chances are, you’ll be able to survive just fine doing without whatever it is you wanted, and after a month, you won’t be interested in spending the money.

When you use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without, you set yourself up for a lifetime of good financial habits and smart decision-making. This old-timey slogan is still as applicable today as it was for our grandparents and great-grandparents, and it’s a good motto for all of us to follow.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to apply this slogan to your life?