The lessons from the Depression that got us through COVID-19


The biggest lesson learned by the Ferrone family - Carol, Peter and their children Julian, Sienna and Olivia - during their TV journey, Back in Time for Dinner, was that circumstances can change very quickly.

Travelling through the first five decades of the 1900s, the family experienced disease (bubonic plague and Spanish flu), WWI, WWII, and the prolonged Great Depression.

Carol Ferrone says she was astonished how quickly an event can change things: financial downturn, eventual recession, and pandemic.

carole ferrone further back in time for dinner abc

"Your job is never secure and business is never secure, and I hope people learn the value of savings, because it's good to have that buffer and not live pay cheque to pay cheque.

"Australia down overnight with COVID-19 and that happened during the Great Depression.

"There was very minimal government assistance during the Depression and, as a family, we wouldn't have qualified for any help.

"We would have been in a lot of trouble, and I see it now, how some parents have lost jobs or closed businesses, especially in Victoria."

On a personal level, the hardships of the Great Depression didn't make a huge difference to the Ferrones' attitudes towards money because the family has always been prudent when it comes to spending.

"We've always practised good money habits - paying off debts, saving money and enjoying ourselves but within our means," Ferrone says.

Carol, whose real job is as a business coach, says that when the pandemic hit Australia, her family wasn't hugely affected but some of her clients were.

"I work with very successful female business owners. One had $500 in her account, a six-figure business, and two kids, and had to shut down temporarily overnight. I think someone like that, who gets used to living a certain way, finds it a shock.

"It made me realise that people don't plan for a rainy day. Peter and I are the children of migrants, and our parents literally arrived with the clothes on their backs. They instilled in us the need to save and have our own homes."

Ferrone says her kids all reacted differently to the Great Depression on Back in Time.

"We've always taught them to save at least half of their pay. They live at home for free so they can afford to save a lot of money".

It was good for them to experience the effects of economic devastation, she says.

In the program, her husband had to go door-to-door, on foot, to try to sell belongings to make some money. Many do the same today but from the comfort and privacy of their own homes instead, selling on Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace.

Carol's money lessons from the past

1. Own your home. This can be easier said than done, especially in Sydney, but you can rentvest instead by renting where you want to live and buying an investment property in another suburb. Even if the situation is so dire that you can't afford electricity, you will still  have a roof over your head.

2. Save part of your pay. My daughter only works four hours a week; she has to save $10 a week at least out of the $40 she earns. It adds up. You need a buffer.

3. Live within your means. If we can't afford something we don't buy it.

Further Back in Time for Dinner is now available on ABC iView

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.