What is a Necessity

by David Ning · 23 comments

Emma and her coworkers were at Costco the other day and a discussion brought up an interesting question – what actually is a necessity?

The conversation came up when one of them decided to buy trash bags. “Trash bags”, Emma said. “Why do you pay for something like that?”

It turns out that her coworker always treated it as a necessity, while Emma and I have never bought these bags before (and never plan to). We’ve always just used the left over plastic bags from grocery shopping.

What Do You Consider a Necessity?

From writing about money everyday, I think about frugal living more often than most people. Yet, I rarely think of ways to save on what I would classify an necessary expense.

When we run out of sugar, we go get some. When our car breaks down, we get it fixed. We seldom think much about paying in these cases, but perhaps there are some ways to use less sugar and maybe there’s a secret to making our car last longer too. If we think hard enough, there’s a chance that all those expense aren’t necessary anymore.

My glasses broke the other day and I wrote about getting it fixed. A couple of days ago, it broke again, so I taped it. By all measures, buying a new pair is definitely a necessary expense. I can afford it, and most people will buy a pair even if they couldn’t. “It’s my glasses”, they would claim. Yet, I still have it taped. It looks and works fine, I can still write and read without feeling any difference. Why is it a necessity?

Necessary or Not, It’s in Your Head

Many wonder how others survive without much income when they couldn’t keep afloat even with a decent salary. “There are just too many expenses to deal with”, they say. Child care, groceries, car payments, mortgages, student loans etc already eat up so much of the monthly expenses. How can you survive?

What to buy, how much to buy and when to buy is, when it’s all said and done, just a personal choice. Perhaps there’s no such thing as a necessary expense.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Leanna says:

    We eliminated one BELL CANADA line which cost over $90.00 per month and now use a “cell” which saves him an additional $450.00 per year….and use he has found something dirt cheap for long distance i.e. majic jack or something dirt cheap which serves our purposes…..

    We are still looking for ways since my husband is not as well as he could be and I only have 10 1/2 years before the age of 65.

  • Leanna says:

    We also ONLY buy “sale” items….and take the time to stock up in our freezer…..my husband is a diabetic so a real blessing came when after about 17 years of being part-time at the hospital where I work I moved up to full-time when my co-worker became ill and after 2 1/2 years was made permanent full time WITH BENEFITS……my husbands ONE Diabetc med over $145.00 per month…..and he takes THREE different DIABETIC pills! I am very thankful at what I have learned and am STILL learning.

    About 3 months ago my husband placed a “timer” on our hot water tank since we have peak, mid peak and low peak hydro rates…..the tank turns “off” at 7:00 a.m. and automatically turns back on at 7:00p.m. We poo pooed the idea at first but his brother said he was SAVING MONEY so we have tried ad IT WORKS!!!!

    We use ONLY COLD water to do our laundry

    We have everything in our home that functions but NOT a MATCHED anything and I am HAPPY

  • Witty Artist says:

    The way I see it the basic necessities are food, water, shelter, clothes. Then it all depends on each person’s needs and mentality. If your glasses it’s really necessary from medical point of view, then I say it turns into a necessity.

  • It is surprising what people view as necessities these days . . .

    Cell phones,
    Bottled water,
    Cable,
    Over-sized vehicles, . . .

  • FinanciallySmart says:

    Sometimes we see things as a necessities but if we really looked at it from a different angle then we will see that we can save more. You have highlighted the garbage bag but there are a lot of things that we deemed as necessities that are actually things that if we put our innovative skills to task with we will be shock to find out the things we can do without purchasing.

  • Play Games Win Prizes says:

    First of all, there are many things that you can think of.

    1. how big is the family
    2. how far is your trash disposal from your house
    3. how much can you withstand the stink and the bacteria growing right next to food you are cooking.
    4. lastly, what are you cooking?

    -Mike

  • marci says:

    @Steve – My grandkids arrive for their overnighters with clothes in plastic bags still 🙂 Here on the rainy coast, we just call it rainproof luggage. And, the nice thing is their dirty clothes can go back home in the same bags.

    I’ve had people comment on how small (1025 sq ft) my house is – and I tell them, but it is Big Enough for me…. and More than I Need 🙂 I am delighted in it. And Content.

    • sandra says:

      I wanted to comment on your house. It is not to small. I have a 1200 sq ft house and there is 2 adults, 4 kids, and 2 dogs living in it.

      Also wanting to comment on the garage bags. I may buy one box of garage bags a year. When I get lazy and people won’t take the trash out. We have burn barrels. I have a big trash can for the house(doesn’t look pretty in the house so put it outside if we have company). When it gets full we take it out to the burn barrels and burn it. When the burn barrels gets full then we take them to the dump. So we may spend about $20 a year for dumping the burn stuff. With a family of six we have alot of trash.

      • marci says:

        Sandra – Thanks. I totally agree my 1025 sq ft house is not too small 🙂 I will shortly be renting it out – as I have just bought an even smaller house 🙂 864 sq ft – which, due to the layout, seems larger than the bigger one. lol. It has more garden space and a double car garage…. hooray I can finally plant my fruit trees permanently.

        If you have a garden, the burn barrel ashes can be spread on it before tilling in, or added to the compost pile… altho, if there is a lot of newspaper ink in it, some folks don’t want that in their garden.

  • Steve says:

    Pretty much everyone agrees food, shelter, and clothing are necessities. But one of the wasteful tricks we play on ourselves is to use a true statement (like food, shelter, clothing) to justify something we can’t afford. We eat fast food (nutritionally poor and expensive compared to home cooked) by saying, “Hey, I gotta eat.” The housing debacle and current economic meltdown was driven in large part by people buying more house than they could afford. No doubt at some level they all said, “Hey, I gotta have shelter.”

    We all do it. The frugal mind simply adds a dose of reality to the self talk. “Yeah, but if I pack my lunch (reusing the plastic shopping bags 8^) I can save some money and eat better.” BTW, we used to send our kids on overnight trips with clothes packed in plastic bags. My wife called it hillbilly luggage.

    About half my wardrobe comes from Goodwill. My wife found 3 Jos A Banks shirts ($100 each new) for $3 each. Whom ever donated them had just picked them up from the dry cleaners, they still had the tags on them. I just hung them up and wore one the next day. It is definitely possible to be frugal and still have nice things.

  • Jerry says:

    I guess I’ll comment on the grocery/garbage bags, too. I buy garbage bags. I view them as a necessity. However, I’ve also reused grocery bags, as well. I believe in recycling and think that it is insurance for our earth. And, it also leads to spending less, too. That’s a bonus, too. But, if there are some things like garbage bags that enhance your standard of living by a small margin, why not? The grocery bags were never deep enough for me 🙂
    Jerry

  • Best Savings Account Girl says:

    glasses are a necessity because it’s necessary for you to see. buying garbage bags are necessary because grocery bags are sometimes way too small for all the trash that accumulate. but i agree with marci – the basic necessities are food, felter, water, and i’d add in warm clothes 🙂

  • marci says:

    Re: Garbage in bags – I can actually take the garbage myself in any old container to the dump (transfer station) and just dump it on the tipping floor without being in a plastic bag, and keep my container. (But then I have to waste water washing out my container…) Maybe if you haul your own garbage to the dump you’ll find you can do that also.

  • marci says:

    I think the basic necessities are food, water, shelter, warmth, oxygen. But – not all are necessarily an expense if you can find a way to do any of them without spending $$, which can be done partially or in whole on some of them. I think to classify it as an actual “need”, one should go back 200 years and see what the actual needs were then – if something didn’t exist 200 years ago, it is probably not an actual “need” now. It would be more of a “want”. At least that’s how I distinquish between wants and needs – go waaaayyy back.

    I’m with you on the garbage bags question. While I do use the canvas bags at the store as much as I can remember to take them with me and thereby get a nickel of credit off my bill, my total household garbage fits in less than two little grocery sacks per month. But then I compost, recycle, and burn some of mine also. That might not work for a large household.

    Obviously you are not a homeowner with large deciduous trees in your lawn – the large garbage bags are nice if you want to get the piles of leaves out of your yard and aren’t allowed to burn them and have too many for composting. Well I guess one could actually sew up sheets for sacks if one was going to dump them oneself, but if they are set out for gargage pickup, they’d have to be in a garbage sack.

    • Steve says:

      Around here we can buy large paper “lawn bags” for yard waste. They are bio-degradable and I can take them to the city composting station. 5 bags for less than $3. I have 6 large oak trees on my property and my back yard is a city park with 30-40 more large trees within 100 feet of my property line. In the fall the leaves don’t respect the property line and all seem to wind up in my yard. Way to many to bag or compost myself. Luckily, if I rake or blow them to the curb in front, the city comes around a few times in the fall and early winter to pick them up and take to the city composting station. No charge, other than taxes. In the spring I can go back and pickup compost for my garden, for free.

  • Craig says:

    Most things aren’t really a necessity, all depends on the person. What becomes a necessity determines on the standard of living you want to have for yourself.

  • I totally get your point. I think need to look at their spending as a pyramid of priorities. The things at the base are the things that need to be paid for in order to make it to tomorrow: the very basic food to eat, water to drink, shelter. On the next level, things that allow you to work or earn more money: transportation, clothes for work, etc. It moves up the pyramid from there, and everyone’s pyramid is going to be different.

    What you’re talking about are things that seem like they are near the base of the pyramid, but they might not be. And then there’s things like debt repayment – where does that fall in the pyramid?

    • Steve says:

      I think debt repayment undermines the pyramid. It usually takes something higher up on the pyramid and pushes the cost down threatening necessity. Even though cars and houses are low on the pyramid, and usually come through debt, the AMOUNT of car and house want to buy is something higher on the pyramid. I wish I knew 30 years ago what I know now about debt.

  • amaranta says:

    What do you do if you have big stuff to throw away?

    • MoneyNing says:

      When there’s something big to throw away, aren’t you supposed to find a trash disposal service to get rid of it?

      Another point to consider is how often does that happen? Are you going to buy something excessive to accommodate an event that happens once a month (or maybe even once a year)?

      • amaranta says:

        I meant a greater quantity than fits in the plastic grocery bags from the store. I would think it better to buy one big bag to put as much waste in and use reusable totes for the grocery store than using lots of little bags. But that is just my preferance. The fact that you are using the bags instead of just throwing them away is better than nothing.

  • Steve says:

    It seems garbage bags are a necessity. You’ve just shifted from buying your own to paying the overhead to the store to use theirs (albeit using twice, once to bring the items home, and again to throw the item away). We take our own canvas bags with us when we grocery shop to reduce the number of those plastic bags in the landfill. But we do buy garbage bags. In fact our local trash hauler requires garbage to be in bags in the garbage can.

    Unfortunately not enough people use their own cloth sacks to impact the Wal-Marts of the world; we still pay the overhead for Wal-Mart to supply those plastic bags for everyone else. So, I guess, we pay twice. Once for our garbage bags and again at the store for the markup I’m sure they have to cover the expense of supplying plastic carry out bags. Does that mean using your own bags is not frugal?.?

    • MoneyNing says:

      You can still be frugal and buy garbage bags. Frugal living is more about not being wasteful than trying to save every cent I believe.

      Everyone does different things because they choose to. No one in the world will do EVERYTHING there is to be done but it doesn’t mean that people aren’t frugal.

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