Have Your Luxuries Turned Into “Needs”?

by Miranda Marquit · 3 comments

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)
  • Televisions
  • Cars
  • 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.

Bonus Tip:

Another way to save on your monthly Internet and TV costs is to find a current ATT U-Verse coupon code or at least a promotion to knock down your home service bill.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

hwertz October 31, 2012 at 10:05 am

First off, enjoy the site a lot! Thanks!

I’m dubious about most people being able to cut the cell phone entirely.

a) There’s no payphones to “call home” any more, and (since “everyone” has a cell phone) businesses are much less likely to let you make a quick call on their phone than 20 years ago.

b) Around here, the landline prices are so high that a cell phone actually costs less than keeping a landline anyway! (Landlines are over $40 a month somehow.)

c) If you DO have a car and it breaks down, people WILL NOT stop any more, they assume you have a cell phone and have called for help!

That said…

1) Smartphones ARE a luxury (in almost every case you don’t NEED constant IM and E-Mail contact.) The cell cos keep cranking up the price on data plans these days too.

2) DO look into prepaid and see if you REALLY need as many minutes as you’re buying. While the normal cell cos keep raising prices, among prepaid there’s a price war afoot! Unlimited voice and text has sunk below $30 a month. And if you keep your voice and text usage low (hour upon hour a month on the phone IS a bit of a luxury really…) then I’ve seen basic service down as low as $6.67 a month ($80 card for 2000 minutes, that lasts a year… that is still 167 minutes a month.) If you qualify (food stamps, housing assistance, etc…) then Lifeline gets you 250 voice minutes & 250 texts FREE, with a few bigger heavily discounted plans available.

Good luck saving cash everybody!

Joan B. in S. C. December 26, 2013 at 10:25 am

My husband is totally and permanently disabled. He can not drive and most days can not make it into the kitchen. I feel it is a need for him to have cable, internet, cell phone and a gaming system to keep him in touch with the outside world as I work full time, 20 miles away from home and he has no one to visit with him or call during the day.

Chris Milhouse January 22, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Families using shared plans, may want to have their children, Share the payment for cable, game systems,phones,etc.these items are not inexpensive. Families values should not be centered around material goods, Parents you have the Power!

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