One of the biggest difficulties with maintaining a frugal lifestyle is related to what we consider “needs.” It’s very easy for luxuries to progress to the level of “needs,” even though they aren’t actually necessary for survival. Consider some of the items that, in modern society, many people consider “needs”:
- Cell phones (and even smart phones)
- Computers and Internet access
- A larger home with individual rooms for each child
- Gaming systems and other media equipment
- Cable/satellite TV
- A large number of extracurricular activities for children
It’s true that some of these items might be considered needs. If you don’t have public transportation readily available, it might be necessary to own a car in order to get to work and earn the money you need to live. However, do you really need two cars? Or do you need a car with the bells and whistles?
I know that I need a computer and Internet access. I work online, earning money from home, so without Internet access our family has a hard time meeting its obligations. But there is no need for me to buy a new computer each year, or pay for really expensive service.
When Luxuries Become “Needs”
Even though some of the items that people decades ago would have seen as luxuries are occasionally needful, the majority of items that we have come to accept as “normal” are luxuries. Indeed many consumer items have slowly threaded their way into every day life, and many of us can’t imagine life without them. But that doesn’t make them truly indispensable. In fact, if you really thought about it, you might discover that many of the items we consider essential to maintain an “acceptable” quality of life are actually the products of lifestyle inflation.
Before you buy the latest electronic gadget, or decide to “upgrade” to a bigger house, it’s important to consider your true needs. Many young people might think that a smart phone — with its expensive monthly service plan — is a need. However, the truth is that a smart phone is really just a luxury. Most people find that a regular cell phone (or even no cell phone at all) is sufficient.
The problem with turning former luxuries into current needs is that it obscures the realities of frugal living, and it can lead you to believe that you are cutting back everywhere you can, even if you truly aren’t. If you view three household televisions as “needs,” you are going to have a hard time cutting back. If you think that you “need” cable TV in order to live the good life, that’s between $40 and $200 a month (depending on your package) you are spending each month. Sell some TVs, get rid of the cable, jettison the smart phones and data plans, and consider downsizing. You might be surprised at what you can live without if you just cut the cord.
There are so many aspects of modern society that we just accept as “needs,” even though they aren’t. Take a closer look at your spending, and consider how you could live the good life without succumbing to consumerism.