During the First and Second World Wars, people across Europe were urged to "dig for victory" by growing their own vegetables, and strict rationing forced them to find ways to scrimp and save. The current crisis may not be so bad that we have to eat whale meat or egg shells, but many of us are finding inspiration in the wartime economy. Christiane Warmbein brings you E&M's own tips and tricks for saving money and transforming leftovers into tasty lunches...

Image: Clarke & Sherwell Ltd/Ministry of Food (PD)
A British poster from 1917, when there was a serious shortage of wheat.

Over the last few years, crises of many kinds have dominated daily news. From the American housing crisis to the collapse of financial markets to the credit crunch to the economic crisis in Europe, stability of any kind seems to have become rare. Especially in financially insecure countries like Greece and Portugal, Italy and Spain, but also in other European states, people are struggling with salaries which don't rise as much as the cost of living, or with even job losses, and more and more face problems making ends meet. According to a study by the European Commission that was published in 2010, one fifth of EU households had problems paying their household bills, differing from country to country. In Greece, 58% of households had problems paying their day-to-day bills.

But, thanks to history and the internet, no one is left alone with those problems. People are rediscovering recipe collections and household tips from frugal times like the World Wars and the years after, and, spreading from the US, new frugality and minimalism trends are being born. The motivation to live a more frugal lifestyle is sometimes the result of a bare necessity, sometimes a conscious choice to live a simple or minimalist life in order to be less dependent on the state, or just to stop over-consumption. Bloggers and authors from all over Europe write about minimalist cooking, such as FT Bletsas in Greece, who wrote the popular cookbook Cooking Economy, and provides tips and tricks for saving money in the kitchen. But this doesn't stop at independent online authors: UK food expert Fiona Beckett named her new book The Frugal Cook and dedicated it to teaching people about how to eat well on a budget.

There is no need (yet) to be as strict as we were during the wars, when coffee substitutes were made out of bread crumbs and stinging nettle was an alternative for spinach.

Unless you are in a very difficult situation, there is no need (yet) to be as strict as we were during the wars, when coffee substitutes were made out of bread crumbs and stinging nettle was an alternative for spinach. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from the war generation and from the new minimalists about saving money on food, while still eating healthy and delicious meals. Here are the best tips and recipes that will help you face the economic crisis and still live like a king.


Wherever you go, bring your own food! There are tons of recipes on the internet for food to go, and some will be provided in this article.

Cooking yourself, and bringing your food to work, will not only save you a lot of money. You'll always know what you're eating, and can eat exactly what you like. The small amount of money which you will avoid spending each day will sum up over months, and you will notice the gap in your bank account shrinking. For example, a simple homemade lunch, consisting of a sandwich, an apple and something to drink, will almost never cost you more than €2. If you buy it, it will be at least €5. That's €3 spent mindlessly, every day. If you bring your lunch to work or uni during the week, this will be about €60 a month, or €700 a year saved. You can then have a nice holiday, which you maybe couldn't afford before.


Many people literally throw money into the garbage, because they do not plan their meals, but buy more than they actually need and throw the rest away. If you can sit down once a week and plan ahead your meals for the next week, this will save you a lot as well. Furthermore, you can add some of your favourite meals to the plan, and then already look forward to the next day, the next week and so on, because you know you will have delicious food, and never face an empty fridge when you get home. After some scepticism, I have run a field test on this. The result was amazing: planning meals ahead saved me about 40% of my grocery budget. This is even more money if you combine planning with brown-bagging.

Image: Wikimedia Commons (PD)
A Soviet poster from the post WW2 years. A shifty American is shown offering a Soviet worker food along with the North Atlantic Pact, which conceals a rifle. The worker (who is supported by the whole of Europe) refuses. The caption is a quotation from Stalin, reading "The peoples of the world do not want a repeat of the disasters of war."

Using leftovers

Never throw anything away, but get creative! Potatoes can become potato salad or mash, noodles can become fried noodles or salad. Almost everything is good as an ingredient of a frittata, an Italian omelette. Cold meat makes a splendid sandwich topping, and rice from yesterday can easily be transformed into rice cakes that you can take away for lunch. If you even manage to plan your leftovers, this is a great time-saver, too.

Become a (part-time) vegetarian

Meat is expensive. The production of cheap meats that you can buy in supermarkets is a cruel and unhealthy process. If, like me, you don't want to become a vegetarian, there are other solutions. In your meal plan, include some vegetarian days in the week, when you replace meat with lentils or tofu. This is not only good for your health, but also for your wallet and for the environment.

Image: Tomasz Sienicki (CC)
Danish ration stamps from the end of the Second World War, including butter, sugar and ersatz coffee.

Save on luxury

For many people, the daily beer or glass of wine or some cigarettes are the little pleasures in life that they don't want to give up. If you really enjoy your treat consciously and can afford it, then go for it. But ask yourself: is this really giving me satisfaction and pleasure? Does it calm me down after work and lead to a rejuvenating sleep? If your consumption doesn't bring you happiness, but is just a habit, your wallet will thank you if you think about cheaper alternatives. According to a study by Allianz Insurance and the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, smoking, alcohol and fast food consumption have decreased since the crisis, which will also be very good for the health of Europeans. But no need to deprive yourself, just try to find substitutes. I like my cup of tea before bedtime - but you could go for a run, make hot chocolate or walk a little.

Applying those frugal methods combined in daily life will have a great impact in daily household finances and many events and insecurities that might be coming won't seem so scary anymore, because you know you have the skills and tricks to get along with many situations.

IN -1713 DAYS