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Rethinking Life’s Necessities, Wants, and Wishes

June 10, 2008

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I think a lot about our culture and how the virtues of frugality and simplicity seem to have been forgotten by many of us.

As never before, the popular media show us how ultra-wealthy athletes, entertainers, and business titans live, travel, eat, and dress. Combined with easy credit and a "want-it-now" mindset, we’ve started to lose sight of life’s necessities, wants, and wishes.

In reality — where we all actually live — we’re deluding ourselves when we blur the lines and turn everything into a must-have necessity. Wants and wishes aren’t necessities!

Jay MacDonald, a favorite writer of mine on Bankrate, wrote recently about 12 new “necessities” that drain your cash. He shared a point of view that really hit home with me:

… modern life has created a host of "new necessities" that many people swear they cannot live without — a daily latte, premium cable, a weekly manicure, a new leased automobile and cell phones for the family.

In reality, there’s a more accurate word for those pricey add-ons: entitlements.

If you want to significantly cut spending, it’s important to take a closer look at what you consider to be needs.

MacDonald opens the article by reminding us that the true necessities in life never change: food, water, shelter, and clothing. He then goes on to list 12 "necessities" that individuals and families should reconsider if they want to save some serious cash. It’s not my intention to take all the fun out of life and not all the ideas will work for everyone, but the list may be a good starting point to rethink some of your spending.

As you listen to the show, I’ll touch on some of these items:

  • Daily lattes: Topping $5 in many cases, these drinks can be 100 times more expensive than what you brew at home. Save by buying your Starbucks coffee at Costco and investing in a high quality grinder and coffee maker.
  • Cable television: How many channels do you really need? Could you watch your favorite shows online at Hulu? Consider dropping your premium channels or discontinuing cable altogether.
  • Weekly manicures and pedicures: Getting these done every week feels like a possible indulgence, especially if you can alternate weeks where you do them yourself.
  • Botox wrinkle treatment: Not my area of expertise, but consider letting more of your natural beauty show through. Like a fine wine, I’m letting myself age to perfection ;-)
  • Bottled water: A genius business model! You can get water out of any faucet and treat it yourself with a charcoal tap filter. Many refrigerators will even filter tap water for you.
  • Multiple cars: Your job and commute may necessitate multiple cars for your family, but a third and fourth start to feel excessive. Buying reliable used cars and maintaining the ones you have should always be part of your plan.
  • Cell phone: The savings opportunity here will depend on your personal circumstances. That said, prepaid plans can help cap your spending and avoid month-end surprises. Scaling back on expensive plans with music, television, and Internet access can also deliver painless savings.
  • Private school: Again, the opportunity here will depend on your circumstances. Public schools are certainly cheaper than privates ones, but you’ll need to feel comfortable with your decision. As I’ve done, you can get also involved locally to improve your school system.
  • Childhood parties: Have you seen MTV’s "My Sweet Sixteen"? We all love our children, but I don’t think anyone should be expecting a BMW or Ashton Kutcher just because they aged another year. Keep your parties simple and avoid the temptation to compete with other parents.
  • Pet grooming and walking: You can go online and learn how groom your pet with a $25 set of electric clippers. And who knows, maybe the daily dog walk will motivate you to cancel the gym membership you pay for but never use? :-)

In the show today, I also touch on some interesting new web services that help you find the cheapest gas in your area. On the web, check out GasBuddy or Mapquest. If you’d like an application for your mobile phone try out www.getmobio.com/learn/cheapgas. Stay tuned in future weeks to hear more about easy ways to stretch our budgets.

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Thanks for listening! If you enjoyed the show, please visit the Apple iTunes website and leave us some positive feedback. They often feature shows like this one that have consistently good feedback. If we can do a better job, drop me a personal email. See you next week ;-)

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PS – I’d like to try an experiment this week while I’m away on a long overdue family vacation. If you share my concerns about our culture’s materialism or if you’ve got more examples of unnecessary "necessities", share them with your fellow readers by using our comment submission tool (below). I’ll give a big shout-out to readers with particularly interesting and/or helpful ideas.

PPS – If, like me, you worry about raising grounded children in our consumer-centric culture, let me recommend a tremendous book by Juliet Schor in my site’s bookstore: Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.

… According to consumerism and economics expert Schor, the average 10-year-old has memorized about 400 brands, the average kindergartner can identify some 300 logos and from as early as age two kids are "bonded to brands." Some may call it brainwashing, others say it’s genius; regardless of how you see it, the approach is the same: target young kids directly and consistently, appeal to them and not the adults in their lives and get your product name in their heads from as early an age as possible. From TV shows and toys to video games, snacks and clothing, kids today, according to Schor, know too much yet understand too little, sopping up subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages of "buy, buy, buy."

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