Bank failures. Bailouts. Rising unemployment. Stagnant housing market. Economic stimulus package. It seems that every day headlines contain stories about each of these subjects. If there was any lingering doubt before, there is none now. The economic news in the United States is not good.

I’m not going to speculate on how long the bad economy will last, whether an economic stimulus plan will help, or if we’re in a recession at all. None of that matters when it’s your family facing cutbacks and job losses. What matters is what we can do in the here and now. And instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, some of the best ways to survive a recession can be found from our ancestors, who often had very little, but made do with what they had.

Survive a Recession by Doing for Yourself

Our ancestors knew how to do things for themselves. If they needed vegetables, they grew them. When they bought their own patch of land in the wild west, they built their own homes. Meat? They butchered and preserved it themselves.

We’re not in 1800s America anymore, and it’s not even legal to build your own house, unless you’re a contractor. The point is, people in the 1800s were self reliant. They took the time to learn survival skills.

Survival skills today look a lot different than they did back then. Still, becoming a little bit more self sufficient can help your economic bottom line. Do you love organic fresh vegetables, but can’t afford to pay the price? Learn to grow them yourself. Is your grocery budget too high? Learn to cook from scratch.

Instead of assuming you need to pay for something, ask yourself if you could learn to do the job yourself. Sometimes the answer might be no. But sometimes the answer just might be yes. And if you learn, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for learning something new.

Survive a Recession by Connecting with Others

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of my favorite series of books. I still remember reading about Pa building the Ingalls’ house on the prairie, and he ran out of nails, but couldn’t afford to buy more.

If memory serves correctly, the neighbor offered Pa some nails in exchange for help on his own house. They ended up becoming good friends, and the two families helped each other through difficult times on the prairie.

In our fast paced, internet driven society today, we often lose sight of the fact that personal relationships with others in our community are important. But they are. When push comes to shove, and you need financial help, having a local support system can be a life saver!

For instance, if you need a car repair, but don’t have the money for the repair, you could barter with someone who knows how to fix your car. Bartering is a great way to get things you need, if you don’t have the cash. And at the same time, you can help someone who has a need you can fill.

Teaming up can also help in other ways. If you’re a busy family who is used to eating out when life gets busy, you can cut costs by teaming up with another family or families to cook. If each of you makes one meal, but triples the recipe, you can give portions to your friends and they to you. Then you each have three homemade meals, without the effort of making three meals.

With a few friends and a little creativity, you can make your resources stretch a long way.

Survive a Recession by Simplifying

We live in a fast paced world. Computers. Cell phones. Satellite TV. Multiple cars. Multiple televisions. Big houses. We’ve grown accustomed to all of these things, but are they really necessary?

Trent wrote a great post about this very subject recently at The Simple Dollar. He compared the bills we have today with the bills our parents had. And there’s no surprise here, but we have a lot more bills today than our parents had just one generation ago.

When times are tight, look to see where you can simplify. Satellite TV is nice, but is it necessary? An internet connection is convenient, but do you really need it? We lived for years without cell phones. Do you need one now? I mean really need one?

When your income falls or completely disappears, you need to get back to the basics. If you don’t need it, cut it out if you can’t afford it.

Survive a Recession by Using Your Resources

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. One thing that has always impressed me about my grandparent’s generation is that they didn’t waste anything. I never saw them throw food out. If a piece of clothing started to fall apart, they mended it, often multiple times, before they replaced it.

Kids clothing was handed down from one child to another. When it wasn’t fit to be worn anymore, it was made into rags, a quilt, or a rug. Yes, my grandparents’ generation knew how to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

When times are tight, we need to have the same attitude. If something breaks, ask yourself if you can fix it. Ask if you have something else that will work in it’s place. Ask if you really need the item at all. Ask if you can borrow it.

So often we convince ourselves we have needs, when those “needs” are really desires. The next time you say you have nothing in your house for dinner, ask if you really have nothing, or if you just don’t have anything that sounds good to you at the moment. See what I mean?

I know none of this sounds easy or fun. And you’re right. Sometimes it’s not either. But when you’re trying to survive tough economic times, when your income has been cut drastically, sometimes you have to do what’s not easy or fun. You’re in survival mode.

None of this is permanent. Once the recession passes (and it will pass), you can lighten up again, reveling in the fact that you survived tough economic times without going further into debt. You’ll appreciate your accomplishment on the other side. I know, because I’ve been there.

Photo by anyjazz65.