What I learned from 1940s money-saving tips

4 min | 13 March 2024

The Chase team

How relevant today are money-saving tips from the 1940s? London-based copywriter Nikki (of the no-spend week) returns to put wartime advice to the test.

Described as a cookery book, survival guide and prose poetry, MFK Fisher’s 1942 'How to Cook a Wolf'offered practical suggestions on staying nourished amid wartime shortages. We share some of the advice that still applies today.

MFK Fisher’s 'How to Cook a Wolf' might seem something of a relic, but in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, her advice on keeping the proverbial wolf from the door still resonates today. Here are six of my top takeaways:

Be prepared

'Vegetables should always be washed if they are to be stored… and it is a nice feeling to know that they are there, ready for use, whenever you want them', Fisher writes.

A fridge full of crudites not only looks very fancy, but keeps me from running to the shop half an hour before closing for random snacks. I save at least £10 in a week and hours of asking myself what I really feel like eating.

Make meals multi-task

'This simple but surprisingly little-practised rule is true in using an oven: try to fill every inch of space in it', Fisher advises.

Choosing a main protein and vegetables to go with it, then roasting them on the same tray is a quick and easy way to make a balanced meal – and a few more throughout the week.

She also suggests that 'When you cook such things as rice, … cook enough for two meals instead of one.'

With a pot of rice, Monday’s tofu-and-broccoli traybake can see me through to the next day – and is all the tastier for saving me at least £20 on ordering in.

Savour simplicity

'Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace', Fisher proclaims.

Baked potatoes are not only perfect for chillier weather but cost almost nothing. Less than £1 and an hour in the oven later, I’m rewarded with a warming and delicious dinner, using toppings I already had in the fridge.

Find inspiration in unexpected places

The chapter on bomb-shelter cuisine, which I might have otherwise skipped, contains the useful suggestion: 'Probably the best way to stock your shelf is to buy two cans… when you need only one… Make a list of what you would like to have, and gradually accumulate it.'

I think about what I like to keep on hand, then pick up an extra tin of chickpeas on my next trip to the shop.

A few days later, I’m pleasantly surprised that I already have it in – saving me an extra trip out and at least a few pence.

Raise a glass to cocktails at home

'In comparison with bar prices, it costs very little to buy gin by the gallon jug [and] dry vermouth. These two mixed knowingly with a little ice make a mighty passable Martini', Fisher writes.

The price of my once-favourite Martini (£15.50) is almost as much as a bottle of gin (£18); add some vermouth (£11.75) and my total comes to £29.75.

I have enough to make around 16 5:1 Martinis – with zero risk of running into the bartender I once dated.

At just £1.30 each, I save around £14 per cocktail and my remaining dignity.

Embrace economy as a luxury of its own

About dinners she once attended at the home of a local eccentric, Fisher writes, 'It is not that she wandered at night hunting for leaves and berries; it is that she cared enough to invite her friends to share them with her.'

I may not have been inspired to forage in Brockwell Park, but I certainly took the spirit of the passage to heart – that nourishing both body and soul doesn’t have to come at an extravagant cost.

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