Save like Nana did. Rationing.

Last week a friend came to visit with her Mother and the conversation turned to the current Middle East conflict.   This led us on to the days of rationing in Australia and my friends Mum said she still has her ration books!    Since I have spoken to Mum about what she remembers.  She recalls Nana and her sisters swapping ration tickets for clothing.   

I started doing a bit more research and found that rationing in Australia began in 1942  and although things were very tight our rationing was not as severe as in some countries.   Most people reading here will have had Grandparents or Great Grandparents who experienced it.   In fact it seems that during times of war rationing comes in one way or another.    Along with that all kinds of extra efforts by each family to contribute including growing food in every garden patch available,  keeping chickens,  recycling clothing, rations in other areas like fuel.  

During the pandemic we did not have government rationing but instead another form where supermarkets set up rules where we could get two milk, one pack of toilet paper, two bread and so on.   We still have a limit of two over the counter pain medications in most places.  

It is very interesting to look at what were the most restricted/in shortage items in the past.   In 1942 in Australia rationing included clothing, tea, sugar, butter and meat and later,  to some extend,  also eggs and milk.   Eggs and milk were prioritised for the needy.    Soap and other items were also rationed in the UK.   If you know what was rationed in your country please let us know in the comments.  I do know that soap was highly valuable everywhere and so I have always kept a lot of soap in my home.  My linen cupboards and clothing drawers all have many bars of beautifully scented soaps hidden away in them. 

Since Nana lived through WW1 and the Depression they may have anticipated rationing when WW2 broke out.  But when war breaks out it doesn't have the name "WW2" at that time... we look back and try and identify when exactly did a long series of escalations become WW2?   When you do you that you are "in" a war?   Northern Australia was hit in attacks but we escaped direct conflict in the southern states.  We were still part of the war,  the war effort,  sending supplies to the troops,  helping other countries with food and supplies... everyone in one way or another was part of the war effort.  And the effort was massive.  Some time ago I shared how a friends Grandmother began to build up a supply of items that were in grave shortages in WW1.   She figured should there be another way these items would help her family.  She was one smart woman and her stockpile made an absolute world of difference to her whole family through the years of the next war.  And the items were mostly not expensive to accumulate,  had no expiry dates, did not deteriorate... and would have been used by the family anyway if no war eventuated!   But war was on the horizon.   When do you see the writing on the wall, what has to happen before you decide well maybe now is a wise time to get ahead?   

There were things that were not rationed,  just scarce.   Herbs and spices were scarce since a lot of normal shipping routes were no longer.   So if you had some in your supplies I guess you rationed them!  Many things would become scarce in any larger conflict, it is mind boggling to think we depend (in Australia) largely on China even for such vital things as antibiotics.

So... if you knew rationing was coming what would you do?   You already know my answer.

But, apart from war,  rations are called for at other times,  even given other names.   We might say we are cutting back,  limiting something or reducing the number or cost of Christmas presents this year.  In a time of job loss or illness a family might begin to seriously cut back on everything.   This is essentially rationing.   A lot of people now struggling with power bills, fuel prices, mortgage increases and the cost of food are essentially, to some extent,  rationing.   As fuel goes up more of us are rationing in the form of less trips in the car,  less trips to town.   Driving somewhere in order to save a few cents, well it doesn't make any sense! 

I mentioned recently that Vicky and I are working on a list to publish in the instance that we found "a storm" is upon us and what to do in the last remaining time.   On that list is to begin to ration IMMEDIATELY.   Measure each serve of food so there is no waste at all.  Use half the amount of detergents,  dish washing, shampoo, laundry power...   half the toothpaste etc.   We usually can make things go a lot further than we do.  

Ideally, we have already taken an inventory and know exactly what areas need building up most urgently. 

And ideally we have been working on our pantry and preparedness since I have been flogging this poor dead horse for so long.   

My next posts are going to be on the subjects of how to quietly introduce rationing into your house without anyone really noticing followed by how to implement serious and urgent rationing and get every one on board.   For whatever reason we need to decrease our consumption they are good skills to have.

What do you know about rationing that was in place in your country?  How did people get by?   I know that here everyone used every bit of garden possible for fruit trees and vegetables, chickens etc.  Some families formed co ops where one kept pigs and all families helped feed them.  Then the meat was shared. Lots of cooperation with families and neighbours!   The best indicator of the future is to take a good look at what happened last time.   Are we in a war?  I don't know.  We have sent troops.  Will the history books call now WW3?   I don't know.  But like my friends Grandmother I see now as a very good opportunity to be prepared just in case. xxx


  1. In the US, coffee was one of the items rationed. People would put a small spoon of coffee grounds on top of yesterday's grounds, and rebrew. This would go on for several days, or all week. Sugar was rationed and was saved for making a cake or jelly. We take so much for granted these days. Tea bags were used multiple times until no flavor remained.

  2. Here in the states there was a lot of rationing. Butter, sugar, meat, eggs, fuel, rubber and even some fruits. Besides having gardens and chickens the women in my family foraged to help supplement meals and stretch what they had on hand. Wild mushrooms and onions, berries, rose hips and grapes. They saved much of their sugar for canning and to make juices like grape, apple and cherry. People could get meat but depending on where they lived and the supply chain I read one lady said they ate alot of bologna and hot dogs. My granddmother said they only cooked meat on Sunday and used every bit one way or another. Lots of soup was made with very little meat as just for flavoring and bones saved just for soup making. They did like you said and shared a pig, but rationed their portion of it. Since gas was rationed they packed the car as full of people that would fit and took turns driving to save gas. They made do and mended clothes and shoes. They didn;'t let anything go to waste not even a crust of bread,
    I have cut back on the amounts of food at meals. Meaning not as many side dishes with each meal and simplifying the menu. A new recipe is great, but unless I'm sure it's going to be a win I am more hesitant to use up ingredients when there is so many meals we do like.
    Also to add to the larder besides foraging the family hunted and fished and traded. My grandmother always kept a lot of molasses and honey on hand so she would make treats for all the kids where she lived. A few cookies, a small slice of cake or pie and they just loved it. She was also a midwife so helped some of the women saving them the cost of a doctor or hospital.
    Christmas was mostly homemade and the meal and treats were the star of the holiday, not gifts. She said everyone was proud to do their part in the war effort so instead of bemoaning the situation everyone just got more creative.

  3. Yes when the future war in Israel unfolds into the Arab countries, fuel with go through the roof!! My parents lived in the U.K during WW11, and they chose to get marred on Christmas day in 1941, as that was the time there was more food around than normal! Regards to all Bluebirds, Robyn S.A

  4. Clothing was also rationed in the U.S. My brother was just a toddler when the war started and my mom said it took most of their clothing coupons to keep him in ever changing sizes of clothes, especially shoes. Of course, they also received and passed on outgrown items to help.

  5. I am in the UK, so I guess a lot of you are already aware of the rationing we had in place. One thing that isn't so well known is the community efforts to pick and preserve as much as possible. W.I. groups were given large allowances of sugar by the government and set up preserving stations where people brought their excess fruit. Boy Scouts were sent out into the countryside to pick rosehips. Despite the rationing of a lot of things, it is interesting to note that Churchill would not allow lipstick to be rationed as it was such a morale booster to women in the time of sacrifice!

  6. Rationing in the US was big during the war and families did all they could to make ends meet. We have had rationing since then, on gas during the 70's and the strangest rationing during covid.
    Both husband and I try to make everything stretch as far as possible, I have always used tea bags more than once and during lean times have made it to 4 cups. Mom use to have a ceramic honey bear on stove where she kept used tea bags to use over and over.

    We make meat last for more than a meal, usually 3, 4 pork chops will be one meal, then a stir fry for another and leftover into a omelet. Instead of cooking a cup of rise we now cook 1/2 a cup and we get 2 meals from it.
    With raising cost of food it only makes sense to make as much at home and make it last as long as possible, stretching it to it's max.

    I was blessed with a family that shared their knowledge, from repairs to sewing, canning and foraging, Mom taught me how to shop wisely and build a pantry.
    There are a lot of lost arts we need to teach the younger generation as I see rationing coming again, even now just the high cost of items has so many worried.

  7. Rationing is one of the questions I want to ask my mom about, before her memory gets any worse. What I do know is that my great-grandmother and grandmother made patchwork quilts from scraps of flour sacks that had been used to make clothing. We found unfinished quilt tops in one of g-grandma's dressers, after she passed and then finished them. I still have mine tucked away in the closet for safe-keeping. I also just received some of her crocheted tablecloths -- one made from pieces of butcher's string. It's beautiful, but in need of serious repair. My great grandparents and grandparents were farmers and I'm under the impression that they did better than most during the depression.

  8. The easiest way to save on the food that we have here is to only cook exactly what we will eat at a meal. I cook it and put it on the plates and that is it and it is enough. If I cook extra it is planned for another meal or the freezer. We also have a fully automatic expresso coffee machine that grinds and brews for one cup at a time so no coffee waste. It is surprising how long our supplies last because we don't over cook on a daily basis.

  9. I heard lot's of stories from my grandparents when I was young about the rationing that took place here in the UK, I remember there was even an old ration book that they kept from that time. They always made it sound so matter of fact, and their answer was always, we'll just get on with it, we won't starve, grandad even went out rabbiting when meat was scarce.
    I thought you may be interested to take a look at this BBC series 'Wartime Kitchen Garden'

  10. My mother kept for years the ration coupons left by wars end to buy shoes for me. She often talked about sugar, flour and eggs being rationed. We lived in a small town so could walk to the stores with me in the pram. Most of the pram was made of wood as metal of any type was used for the war effort.

  11. My dad was born in 1905 so he lived through the Great Depression & both World Wars. My mother was a teenager during WWII. Neither of them really talked about rationing though my dad died when I was 17 so I may not remember if he did. My mother lived such a hard life that she didn't talk much about hardships of the past....she had enough in the present!

    But I do remember them saying that they did not struggle like many people because they had big gardens. They lived in a rural area & had pretty much everything they needed on the their own land. And my mother always kept a very deep pantry & my dad never threw anything away. I'm in the US, not Australia.

  12. Rick from Florida and Donna from N Indiana

    Hi Annabel,
    This subject is a favorite topic with you but so necessary, especially today. We’re so used to “unlimited” in the US: “all you can eat” buffets, BOGO items at “super”markets filled with huge choices, etc. They say it’s because of previous rationing and people wanting their “post WW2” children to have all they missed from the Depression thru the war and after.
    My Mom lived in Detroit, across the river from Windsor, CA. One bad time, she took a bus to Windsor and bought a whole Canadian bacon loin, unavailable in the US. Meat was more available in Canada then. Anyway, it was forbidden so she wrapped it in a blanket like a baby. She was in her teens. An inspector said to her: “I don’t remember your having a baby on your way IN to Canada.” She thought that she’d be arrested or at least lose the meat but he said: “Don’t let me see you here again.” A kind soul.
    She mentioned mixing onion with lard in place of butter (as they had none) on bread and “day old”besides. I’m always questioned by my kids about out of date things I still use. Hasn’t killed me yet! My elder daughter worked at a food bank and was told that the “best by” date means that after that date, the nutrition is less but the food is good for 6 or more months if can or packaging is intact!
    Restyling old clothes was also a big thing. Old magazines and newspapers have adds to send in coats, etc to be “updated” and DIY articles for dresses and such! My wife, when we were dating, didn’t have a pretty dress for our Senior Christmas dance, so my Mom cut down a bridesmaid’s dress my sister had used once. Didn’t my “girlfriend” look lovely!! It was a pale blue chiffon number and a popular song that year was “Blue Velvet.”
    So many stories! So many reminders of the struggles our parents and grandparents had to provide a better life for us!!
    Thanks to you , Annabel, and all the Bluebirds’ comments and reminiscences!!

    Sending Love and Happy Times to all,
    Rick and Donna XOXOXO

  13. I absolutely loved this post...right up my alley, as they say. My hubby is 80 and I am 76. We no longer think we can manage a garden. (not that we were ever big gardeners anyway. ) But, I have always stockpiled food an have been aware of never wasting. My sons grew up on casseroles and soups. I always cooked from scratch. An infrequent drive through burger after the kids' soccer games was a real treat for all of us. Not a lifestyle.

    We had at-home or at the park birthday parties. Picnic food and games was the fun part. They were all in sports, so our priorities were always good and safe equipment. And good bikes. That was a fun family thing to do on a nice Sunday. MIGHT end with an ice cream cone :)

    I look forward to you other posts on this. My grandma was born in 1900 and of course went through WW1, the 1918 pandemic, the depression, WW2, and was alive when my husband went to Viet Nam. I wish I had asked her more questions!! My mom was born in 1925 so went through the depression as a youngster---but she had no memories of a struggle. On the other hand, my father, also born in 1925 had 2 younger siblings and his mother died when he was 10. His father would give him a dollar to go to the store for groceries...for the family. One time, he lost the dollar. Not sure how that turned out---he never said. Oh, how I wish I could talk to them now---they have been gone since 2020 (just before the pandemic, thank God.) Sadly, the last 5 years of their lives their memory did not serve them well, so they were unable to tell us much. I am saying to all the younger folks---ask the questions of your elders!!

  14. Annabelle, thank you so much for another thought provoking post and remembrance of rationing. My grandmother and great grandmother never talked about the depression, i never even heard them say the words..great depression...or discuss rationing or the hardships, they just referred to it as "in the old days" or "in the old times ".

    I agree that we are already seeing limits, but the grocery stores are careful with wording... price, limit 2, limit 4...I think if Americans saw the word..ration..that they would panic and strip shelves again.

    I also buy quality detergent and dish detergent, shampoo and body wash, and then cut them with some water to stretch them. You can't do that if you already have a watery product to start with so i wait for sales of good quality products.

    Seeds are one of the wisest thing to have. I hope to find sales this Thanksgiving and Christmas for sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, canned pumpkin and other simple pantry items.

    I agree it is good to reduce the amount of money spent on Christmas gifts and we will also be more frugal with our Christmas Eve dinner and let others bring dishes to share. Its like weaning back now and getting the family used to being content with less.

  15. These are the things our grandparents told us were rationed during WWII in the US: sugar (until June 1947), meat, coffee, butter, canned goods, coffee, cooking oils, lard, shortening, dairy products, dried fruits, jams, jellies, tires, gasoline, shoes, automobiles, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk. Sugar was one of the first items rationed and the last to be to be dropped from the list.

    All types of farm equipment beginning in September 1942, which remained in place more than two years. This along with tires and fuel had a huge impact on farmers.

  16. hello annabel and all the bluebirds, it is really chilly here today 32 degrees when i woke up-the weather is crazy. 2 days ago it was 80. oh well, we are being frugal and rationing our wood supply this year by finding free wood, which is always good. a mens ministry at a local church nearby cuts firewood and keeps a running supply piled up for anybody who needs a load- we got a pick-up load. also today i am rendering fat for lard-which is something i remember using as a kid in the 50's. we picked up 1/2 pig from the local farm on friday and i told them that i wanted the fat- nothing goes to waste. my dad always did a lot of hunting of rabbits, pheasants and deer- i can't ever remember not having meat and we always had a big garden and my mom canned a lot., even the wild game. i've canned meat also, it's very delicious and tender. there may come a time when we have to ration here too. hope all bluebirds are doing well. bonnie in southern pa.

  17. Thankyou Annabel and others for thought inducing post and comments. We have had unexpected medical bills lately that have decimated my budget. I will be applying all I have learned as much as I can as I have been relying on my stocked pantry already but now feel I best be trying to stock up again at the same time. You have given me another way to think of rationing or stretching what I have. My Nana was very affected by the WW 2 and rationing, she kept every bit of string and paper. Love Clare

  18. Great post and comments! My husbands grandfather used to buy a set of pencils and run them through the bandsaw. The bottom end was then sharpened, and both girls in the family got a new set of pencils…. (Mind you, one of those girls was grateful to have new pencils and the other is still moaning about half size pencils!)

  19. Thank you again Annabelle for this thought provoking article
    I m in my 60 s I know rationing effected my grandparents . I come from a agricultural background, unfortunately my mother s parents lived in the heart of the USA dust bowl, thus they were plagued with truly hard times loosing their farm animals, crops to drought and dirt. That grandma was very positive about federal programs that help women with children, she always said that the worse was having little food and babies My dad s parents stayed to the east where rain fell and were able to grow gardens and feed themselves year round with canning and various types of food preservation Grandmas made their clothes, flour sacks became sought after for shirts and dresses and fabric scraps , even worn out fabric was saved and made into quilts. Most impressive to me, as their creativity. Grandma, my mom and her sisters could do it all. They could knit, crochet, sew, cook about anything, bake, can, reupholster, grow gardens, raise trees from seeds…no need to order or by a sapling ! If one needed a piece of furniture, I watched my mom draw out a blueprint for a end table , go buy the wood, build it then finish it. They created art for their homes, decorated like a professional, changed their own oil (men were in the field, so it needed to be done, so the woman would do it). Grandma knew so much about raising chicken, geese, ducks, pigs, carrel and horses She actually attended college on a poultry scholarship, but didn’t graduate when her mother became I’ll and she stayed home then later married The sad thing is , she wanted a different life for her daughters, and granddaughters. So, much of these skills have not been encouraged to learn , practiced.

  20. Dear Annabel, your post is great!

    I will write about my life and rationing and maybe it will be too long.

    I was 14 years old at the 1989 Revolution.

    Under the communism regime the Romanian society was faced with dire food shortages as a result of Ceausescu*s desire to increase the rate of exports and to pay the external debt. At the beginning of 1980s, for economic reasons, N. Ceausescu decided to elaborate a program of scientific nutrition – it answered the needs of rationalisation and savings of the communism regime. At the end of 1989 the relation between the population and the leaders reached a critical point that ended in a tragic and violent Revolution, when many people were killed on the streets and the Ceausescu couple were sentenced to death and shot on a Christmas day. There were many hatred feelings all over the country after a very-very hard period.

    The ration allocated to each Romanian was as follows:
    - 300 grams of bread per day,
    - 500 grams of cheese per month,
    - about 10 eggs per month,
    - 500 grams of pork or beef per month,
    - 1 kg of poultry meat per month,
    - 100 grams of butter every month,
    - 1 kg of sugar,
    - 1 liter of oil,
    - and 1 kg of flour.
    - However, even these quantities could not be met due to the lack of food.

    Many of those who stood in line for hours had to return home with an empty bag because they could not arrive at the right time. The queues were organized already during the night or even from the previous evening. Romanians who couldn't wait in line all night left their bags in a row and returned in the morning when the store opened. The hand-off system was fully functioning, the knowledge of store managers, informants and members of the communist nomenclature being favored.

    Imported products such as coffee were replaced by substitutes such as *nechesol*. Food products for export were also replaced on the domestic market with surrogates (soy salami) or by-products with no export demand, such as pig's feet and heads, ironically called "sneakers and computers" by the people.

  21. The temperatures in the houses reached between 5-12 Celsius degrees (41-51 Fahrenheit) in the winter in the apartments of most of the Romanians who live in the block.
    Hot water was delivered less and less, about two hours a day, and often it did not reach the upper floors at all. We had in out neighbourhood only once a week.
    The light was interrupted every day for at least an hour, in the evening. From January 1982, the limitation of the distribution of electricity to the population began; until the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the supply of electricity to the population stopped several times a day, without any apparent program or logic and without prior notice to household consumers. At the same time, citizens were urged to save electricity by turning off refrigerators during the winter, by not using washing machines and other household appliances, or by not using elevators. Gasoline, although rationed, was hard to find. Energy consumption for the population was forced down by 20% in 1979 and 1982, then by 50% in 1983, and in 1985 by another 50% compared to previous years. Many of my homework was written at candles light.

    The social landscape was terribly similar to the one described by George Orwell in the novel 1984. People were driven in droves to demonstrations in support of the regime and the dictator. Pupils, students and soldiers gathered the crops through "voluntary-patriotic work" or "agricultural practice", euphemisms used for compulsory work. The whole country took on the appearance of a huge concentration camp, from which some brave people tried to escape by swimming across the Danube, fleeing in a small utility plane, or asking for political asylum if they had the opportunity to go to the West for sports or artistic competitions.

    How can I not appreciate freedom of speech, of knowledge, of open space, of friends like yoy, all over the world, now?

    And how scared am I now, when everything is threatening all these?

    Sending love and good wishes for everybody from far away. Laura_s_world from Romania,

    1. Laura,
      I understand your fears. I fell in love with your people when I visited Bucharest in 1994. They are a hearty but warm community. My heart hurts to think you all may return to dark times. I pray it won't be so!
      Love, Leslie

    2. Laura your comments made me cry. I was a carefree teenager when you were experiencing these awful conditions. Things like this can happen anywhere at any time if the conditions are right. Protecting our freedoms is so important. Our way of preparing and utilizing all that we possess will help us to care for and bless those around us. Thank you for sharing your story. Deanna in Michigan USA

    3. Dear Laura, Thank you so much for such good information. You have more recent experiences with rationing than anyone I know. We all need education in this. I agree with Deanna, we all should be reminded and be aware how easily these things can happen. Once governments view their people as less valuable, less human, once abuses of power kick in... there is such danger.
      I really appreciate you sharing all of this! With love

  22. Thank you so much for the post! I have already been rationing meat (adding less to recipes) and providing fewer desserts. Of course, I push more fruits and veggies to fill bellies up and to satisfy sweet tooths. I will be stocking up on soap, chocolate, sugar, and all-purpose flour. I am well stocked in meats, broth, canned goods, dry goods, and home canned produce.
    Anxious to glean more wisdom from other Bluebirds.
    Blessings to all,
    Leslie in Ohio

  23. I was born in February 1946, 9-1/2 months after VE day. My sister was born in September 1942, 9-1/2 months after Pearl Harbor. Do you see a pattern here? LOLOLOLOL. When we were growing up, every conversation began with, "Before the war..." "During the war..." and "After the war..." Anything that happened was dated in those terms.

    Shepherdess55's list of rationed goods sounds about right. My parents kept their old ration books, too! Many times, my mother mentioned not being able to get baby clothes for my sister. My parents sold their car in 1944 because they couldn't get tires. It had been jacked up on blocks for nearly two years. (They didn't get a car again until late 1953). My dad took the bus to and from work in the shipyard. To help heat the house, he would get off the bus on his way home and fill his empty lunch pail with coal that fell off the trains. I've heard this story before--it was apparently a fairly common practice.

    One thing no one has mentioned is Victory Gardens. Everyone was encouraged to grow their own fruits and veggies. My parents weren't much as gardeners, but they tore up the grass strip between the sidewalk and street and planted tomatoes. During the Depression, my father kept chickens in the backyard in the heart of Los Angeles. Meat and eggs!

    Anonymous, my sister would have been the one to complain about having only half a pencil! LOL Laura, I was very moved by your description of life in Romania during the Communist era.

    I'm so glad to have all of you in our Bluebird flock.
    --Maxine, aka mikemax

    1. Dear Maxine, Thank you for sharing this! My Nan was born in 1919. She certainly hit the jackpot there. My other Nan was born in 1900. Victory Gardens! I love the whole concept and we can have our own victory gardens! Many thanks, Love

  24. Dear Annabel,

    What a great post. And reading Laura's comments breaks my heart each time, as I definitely see the writing on the wall. We just don't get it. Besides pragmatic action, such as you advocate, I also take hope in biblical statements like James 5:16: "...The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." So I pray like mad! Thank you to you and Vicky for "flogging this poor dead horse" over and over...and to Laura, for helping us to see what most of us never dreamed was going on in those regimes. xx Jen in NS

    1. Dear Jen, Thank you. I also feel so many of our freedoms have been eroded and other warning signs. Yes I pray a lot too. We need serious wisdom and guidance I think. History is certainly a good teacher. It is a lot to digest! With love


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