I started to answer a question in the Dollar Stretcher forum "What They Did When Times Were Hard, but this is probably not the answer she wanted, so I changed my mind and decided to post here instead:
I can't remember a period when things were tougher than usual. Daddy worked on a ranch so we had the house and utilities free, but he made $300 a month (this was 50 years ago) and raised 8 kids. A 10 person household can eat a lot, but we never did without. Mom baked bread, gardened, picked wild food, canned, made butter and cottage cheese (we got real milk). We ate a lot of beans and potatoes, but they were good. A bowl of pinto beans, a pan of hot cornbread, homemade cottage cheese and wild greens is the best kind of meal.
One thing our family did, and many others did whether they "needed to" or not - and one that you very seldom see any more - is that we kids worked. Not only did we do our chores, which meant we carried in wood and water, fed the chickens, gathered eggs, helped with the garden, took care of the younger ones, we found ways to make money. By the time any of us graduated 8th grade (it used to go from 8th to high school at 9th grade), we were buying our own clothes and helping whenever it was needed. We felt a responsibility toward the family because we were it. Kids don't get to do that any more.
Mom was never a seamstress, but she could patch and make aprons, potholders, mittens from old sweater sleeves, rugs from rags and on and on. Not because it was a fun crafty thing to do, but because we needed those things and the money was not there to buy them. If it had been, she would have used it for something more important.
Daddy did all of his own mechanic work, of course, like everyone else we knew. Anyone would have been the laughingstock of the community if he took his car in to have an oil change and a lube job, or even to tune it up. It's harder to do some things like that now with computers in everything, but it saves when you can.
We didn't have a closetful of clothes. We had enough and no more. It really doesn't take 15 pairs of pants, a couple dozen shirts and a dozen pairs of shoes. We had three pairs of good jeans, five shirts and a pair of shoes. We wore the jeans twice and sometimes three times, the shirts twice. My sister and I had a couple of dresses, but since we didn't wear them often, that was plenty.
Mom washed with a washboard, and later on a wringer washer. We didn't have a water bill, but washing like that takes much less water and detergent that automatic wasters. Washers, I mean. She never owned a dryer, didn't need one. She hung clothes outside to dry, winter or summer and this was in Wyoming where they know what cold is. At one point, she had lines in the unheated second floor, but that was after most of the kids moved out, because that's where we slept.
Every morning, we'd put a large rock on top of the living room heater and every night Mom would wrap it with a rag so it wouldn't be too hot. We'd put it in bed before we crawled in... sheer luxury to put cold toes against a toasty rock, or to pull it up to huddle against until the sheets warmed up.
So what did we do when times were hard? We never noticed.