Reassessing Luxuries

Amy Dacyczyn from The Tightwad Gazette:

Some people won’t abandon cable TV [when trying to get out of debt]. This may seem like a small point, but to me, cable TV is a sort of barometer. Anyone who is deep in debt and spends $25 a month for cable clearly hasn’t “gotten it.” A frequent excuse is that “we can’t afford any other entertainment, so we feel this one expense is justified.” Deeply indebted families should not only cancel cable, but might also sell their TV and use the time they free up for frugal activities or a money-making hobby. They must maximize their use of time to get ahead.

I love what Dacyczyn is saying here. Some people have come to see certain luxuries, like cable TV, as a necessity. Even in desperate financial situations, where people can’t pay bills or have huge debts, TV is one of the last things they cut from their budget.
Or, another example, the other day I was on a frugal blog and the woman writing it listed the gym under her necessities. “Health is important,” she explained. And she’s right, except that there are many ways to excercise without paying for a gym membership–take a walk, get weights from the thrift store, buy a jump rope, etc. The gym is not necessary for good health.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with luxuries. I have plenty of them myself–we all do. But if you’re deep in debt, or can’t pay your bills, or just want to buck up savings, the first thing you have to do is divide necessities (food, shelter, water) from extras. And the problem is that some people don’t seem to know what is and is not a luxury. We are so used to seeing extras as part of life that when it comes to getting finances under control, we keep paying for them even when we can’t afford them.
Here are a few luxuries people sometimes confuse with necessities:

    Cable TV–As mentioned above, TV is an extra that can really add up. People regularly pay $1,200 a year on cable.
    Cell Phones–Sometimes cell phones are a necessity, but judging by how much people pay for their iPhones, there are data plans and other extras that can be cut.
    Pets–I would never tell someone to give up their pet, but some people take on animals when they can barely pay their bills. Even a little furry creature can be a luxury.
    Soda/Junk Food–These things, while fun, are not part of the nutrition we need to live, and so are extras in the food bill.
    Alcohol–Much like soda/junk food, alcohol is far, far from a necessity in life.
    Gym Membership–As I mentioned, there are free ways to exercise.

    –Paying for two cars when you can get by with one, buying a gas-guzzler because it’s more fun or convenient, or leasing an expensive luxury car are all ways that a car (often a necessity) turns into a luxury.

What other luxuries do people confuse with necessities?

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4 thoughts on “Reassessing Luxuries”

  1. So, so true! I can think of some more things like books, movies, music….all things that some folks I know consider important and necessary all the while miring themselves deeper into debt.
    Then there are things like meat and cheese. I know that they are important and that we all probably want/need some of them. But growing up we didn’t have either one very often due to lack of money. When we did have them, it was usually in forms that didn’t take a lot. For instance, my mom would make a soup or other recipe that took meat and would only add half the amount of the meat. We lived and were healthy too! I love my meat and cheese but it is also one of the first things to go if things are really tight.

  2. Thanks! Lydia, you are right, meat and cheese are luxuries. So are coffee and tea. We all have it so good, we sometimes forget things like that.

  3. Clothing is another area that is sometimes late in being cut from a budget. Some people that can barely pay rent continue to buy only the latest fashion or best quality clothes. Or too many clothes (instead of making do with what they have). My mom often tells me about when she was young: typically they had about 3 sets of clothes. One for Sundays, and 2 for during the week. She tells me about how my grandmother would be creative in accessorizing (different scraf or broach etc) so that she still could vary what she wore. Old clothes were mended or recycled. Hand me downs were very much the norm. Whereas nowadays I know a lot of people who won’t touch a hand me down.
    Another thing I see around me are parents that buy expensive toys for their kids that they really can’t afford.
    A third area people could but often don’t cut costs is heating. Although some heating is necessary, we could put on an extra sweater and wear a pair of tights under our jeans to lower the heat needed. A Japanese lady I know went the entire winter with no heating to save costs. She hardened herself. I recently read a newspaper article about Russian primary school kids going outside in the freezing snow in their swimsuits to harden themselves. Their teacher gave them a bucket of cold water to throw over themselves while they were out there. It’s necessary in Russia because their winters are so incredibly cold that they must be able to withstand it to survive. (Link to a similar article in words: SiberianTimes dot com / healthandlifestyle / others / news / like-ducks-to-water-in-the-snow-keeping-kids-healthy-siberian-style/)
    And if they can do it, we can (with our much milder winters).
    I really loved what you wrote about the TV. It really IS such a part of everyone’s life. I don’t think most people are even aware of how big a role the TV plays in their lives (myself included).
    A close second to TV is the internet. If we’re not watching TV, we’re surfing or involved in social media or playing online games.
    And finally an often hidden cost: rent. Buying stuff on credit (basically borrowing the money to buy stuff) and then having to pay the amount of purchase + rent. Loads of people forget that it’s FAR cheaper to save up first and buy later, than to buy now with borrowed money (on credit).
    Up-side: no TV = less exposure to agressive marketing techniques that are sometimes hard to see through, manipulative and misleading – and all geared to talking the money out of your pocket. 🙂
    Love your diy money saving tips. Thanks!


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