What Can’t You Live Without?

by Miranda Marquit · 27 comments

living without
The pandemic forced many to make hard choices. We’ve been cutting back, and some found that lifestyle deflation isn’t such a bad thing. Much like the financial crisis, frugality made a comeback in many cases and became the new money-stylish thing to do. Instead of showing off gadgets, many of us are telling everyone how savvy and adaptable we’ve been during the lockdown.

But, even as we cut back, selling items to bring in cash or refraining from buying some creature comforts, there are some things that we can’t live without. I saw an article on this subject from U.S. News and World Report’s Rick Newman at Yahoo! Finance, and it listed some things that Americans have a hard time living without:

  1. Portable computers.
  2. High-speed Internet access.
  3. Smart phones.
  4. Education.
  5. Movies.
  6. TV.
  7. Music downloads.
  8. Pets.
  9. Booze.
  10. Coffee.

Some of these items on the list, like booze, coffee, pets, and portable computers aren’t really high on my list of must-haves, but I do need high-speed Internet access, TV, and, to some extent, movies.

What Can’t You Live Without?

I looked around my house and thought about what I wasn’t willing to sacrifice throughout this latest economic hiccup. Obviously, since I work from home, high-speed Internet is a must even after the pandemic is over. If everything else had to go, I would still need to get online. And I like to stay in, watching TV shows and movies from Netflix. In a pinch, we would probably cancel the satellite subscription since it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we waited a few months after each season of our favorite TV shows is over to watch them on DVD. We could also go online to stream them if we wanted to.

But there are things I can’t live without that didn’t make the list. I enjoy eating out. Since the pandemic, I want to go out even more now. In order to justify eating out once a week though, my friends and I switched from going to dinner to meeting up for lunch. Lunch costs much less, and I still get to eat out, which I love to do. I also love books and continued to buy them through not only the pandemic but also during the Great Recessions years back.

As a society, and as individuals, we have come to view certain things as necessities. Most people take for granted that television is required as part of life. Most of us even think of smartphones as necessities. Items that were considered luxuries a decade ago are now thought of as needs – things that can’t be lived without. But when push comes to shove, we could probably survive without many of these things. Other than the Internet, which is my source of income, nearly everything I consider necessary for my sanity is actually a want.

What you really need includes food, shelter, clothing, and a way to get to work. If you can provide those basic necessities for yourself, your needs are covered. But there are certainly a lot of other things that make living more pleasant, and that we rely on to help us maintain our sanity, stay connected with loved ones, or to just enjoy life. While there is nothing wrong with these material items and experiences, it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that nothing everything is a need. Prepare to let these “necessities” go if you have to.

Are You Tired of Living Paycheck to Paycheck?

I lived paycheck to paycheck when I was young, creatively looking for ways to make ends meet. In those days, I could take the checkbook to the store and let it “float” for a couple of days (today even checks can be immediately verified).

Later, as we learned more about money management and as we began making more money, I stopped living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not an easy process, especially if you are already behind, but it can be done.

Confront the Realities of Your Situation

Right now I live in Idaho, one of the states where people are least likely to live paycheck to paycheck because of the low cost of living. I first stopped living paycheck to paycheck after my ex and I moved from New York (one of the states where living paycheck to paycheck is most likely) to Utah – another state where it’s easier to avoid running out of money before running out of month.

Look at your situation. What are some of the realities you are facing? We couldn’t really get a handle on the situation until we made the move to a state with a lower cost of living. We probably could have made it work in a more expensive state, but it was much easier to learn what we could live without by moving. The pandemic gave all of you the same opportunity. Your lifestyle have changed in the past year. When things go back to normal, are you going to go back to that old life? Or are you going to continue saving more and foregoing some of that lavish spending you used to do?

What are Your Priorities?

Of course, life isn’t just about living on the bare minimum. But deciding on your priorities can help you make tough decisions about what to cut out of your budget, as well as where you might need to live. Think about what matters most to you, and trim other costs from your life. When we decided that we were tired of living paycheck to paycheck, we made it a priority to reduce our costs. We moved to a cheaper area and lived in a smaller place than we wanted. We changed our entertainment habits and focused more on getting rid of debt and building a cash cushion.

Because we knew our priorities, we had an easier time saying no to things that didn’t matter as much.

What things can’t you live without?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • steveark says:

    Idaho is a high cost of living state, try Arkansas, Mississippi or Louisiana if you want to live cheap!

  • McKay says:

    What we are “willing” to live without isn’t the issue here. The true issue is: what can we afford? If we’re financially stable enough to pay for all of these things with cash, more power to us, but getting any of these things on credit is just asking for trouble. If there’s one thing we should have all learned from the recession, its that we should never buy what we can’t afford (just because we can pay for it with a credit card or qualify for a loan doesn’t mean we can afford it).

    Finding ways to cut back on your expenses without making huge changes to your lifestyle can be fun and exciting.

  • marci357 says:

    Firewood and my woodstove, and a fishing pole.
    A clam rake and a bag or bucket for the clams.
    A knife, an ax, boots, and warm clothes.
    My cast iron frying pans and dutch oven.
    My sewing machine, thread and scissors.
    Toilet paper, cuz Sears doesn’t have a catalog anymore 🙂
    Canner and canning jars. Food dehydrator.
    My garden, a shovel, rake, bucket.
    And in this rainy area, a couple good tarps 🙂
    A friendship 🙂

    Things I can live without, but would prefer not to….
    Internet, cell phone, electricity, running water.
    My pickup truck – needed for hauling firewood 🙂

  • goodoldrebel says:

    All I need is about $4/day for food and $550/month for real estate taxes, electric, basic cable ($25/month) insurance and gas so I can live on about $8k a year and still enjoy working out (at home), bike riding, reading, writing, talking with neighbors etc. If I want to spend another $1k/yr I could probably get in about 70 rounds of golf with a late afternoon rate. You don’t need alot to be truly happy and free from all the constraints of money and status.

    It’s better to have stress free time than occuppy your mind around the greedy world of money, status and ego. In the end it doesn’t matter, we all die eventually, even if we have millions. That’s the dilemma that humans as a species cannot accept so they race around in their bloodless petro-burning piece of machinery huffing and puffing instead of truly enjoying the moment.

    You can still be healthy on less than $10k/yr. As Bill Holden famously stated said playing Commander Shears in Bridge on the River Kwai- “The only thing that matters is to live like a human being” All the status, rank, media hype etc. means nothing.

  • Elle @ New Graduate Finance says:

    My list may sound a bit weird, but here goes anyway:

    1. Warm bed
    2. Feeling safe in my house
    3. Health
    4. Computer
    5. Warm shower

    I am definitely a fan of creature comforts, but I also realize that as a human, I am meant to adapt to all sorts of situations.

    I have lived in well-maintained houses, and I have also camped out for extended periods of time. It does not make a huge difference to me.

    I think that a comfortable bed and proper heating-cooling can make a world of difference.

  • Bankruptcy Ben says:

    1.Good Knives
    2.Good frypan and pots

  • unavocis says:

    I tend to agree with the list, and I would be the first to say that if someone is trying to get rid of non-necessities and cut back in general, it would not be smart to attempt to adopt or rescue an animal or add to existing pets.
    However… pets that one already has and has already MADE A COMMITMENT TO, are nonnegotiable. They did not ask to be brought into the home, but having been given one, they deserve to keep that home and not be euthanized because someone can’t afford them. I would say _adopting_ a pet is perhaps a luxury, but _caring_ for one you already have is a RESPONSIBILITY.
    Of course there are always difficult situations, and in a truly, truly difficult one, I would recommend contacting any and all possible no-kill shelters and associated rescue groups (especially those associated with specific breeds) and to exhaust, I mean utterly exhaust, all options of surrendering the animal before taking it to the SPCA. The sad fact is, most animals, even those abandoned/surrendered by caretakers who cannot financially afford to care for them (as opposed to being surrendered for so-called “problems” or “defects”, such as inappropriate urination, etc.) ARE euthanized.

  • Slackerjo says:

    1. Daily showers
    2. Library card
    3. Granny grocery cart. It would take me days to haul my groceries up to my apartment.

  • JD says:

    I “need” my NOT portable computer, internet and my dog whom I adore. I could easily do without the others (especially smart phones, I don’t even understand them). I do watch TV shows, mostly online or on DVD but if those living with me would be willing to I’d gladly part with the TV.

    It is a mystery to me why people consider SMARTphones a necessity. Why are cell phones not enough any more?

    • Megan @ The Finance Geek says:

      I recognize that my smart phone is not actually a necessity, but it’s one of the last things I would cut from my budget. The reason is not for what it is, necessarily, but for what’s it’s replaced.

      It’s replaced:
      – my landline/ “dumb” phone.
      – my laptop, especially as a way to keep up with email, manage my contacts, and check my favorite social media feeds. (My laptop is now mostly used for note-taking, image manipulation, and updating/editing my blog. When it dies, I may not replace it, as I will be done with school and we have a desktop. That plus my smart phone is enough.)
      – my to do list, which I used to scribble on a notepad in my purse and was always losing.
      – my checkbook register (via apps like YNAB and Adaptu).
      – my e-reader, which is at the end of its life and I would want to replace if there wasn’t an app for my phone.
      – my digital camera, which broke several months ago and I would want to replace if I didn’t have my phone.
      – my hand-held gaming device, which I no longer have to buy batteries or games for because I can play games on my phone.

      My smart phone also has GPS, which isn’t replacing anything because I never owned a GPS device, but before I got a smart phone I was seriously considering buying one.

      So, no, I don’t “need” my smart phone any more than I “need” any of the things it’s replaced. But I know that if I didn’t have my smart phone, I would have at least some of the things on the above list, which would likely end up costing me more per month than my smart phone does.

  • Tiffany says:

    I too struggle with eating out. It’s so hard to find time to prepare a decent meal and even when I do I still crave the resturaunts. I also can’t see me parting ways with my smartphone or high speed internet…. let me work on this :-/.

  • judy dermody says:

    I couldn’t live without God, water, food, and shelter. These are the main things in life. Someday we all will be without TV, cell phones, PC, and lights. Only then will we know what people did in the past to survive as they said you can’t miss what you never had and the young adults of today will be in a lot of trouble when they have to think for themselves.

  • Robin says:

    Fortunately, I don’t have to make the decision on what I can live without–even in this pandemic. On the other hand, I live alone, so I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself if I bounce a check. (Not that I’m bouncing checks. I promise).

    I would add to your thoughts (which are all quite good, and I swear I’m trying to cut back on the amount of crap that I buy) that if you were to buy an ereader, most offer free samples of books so you can try them out before you buy them. So not only do you save the time and money driving to the bookstore, if the first chapter stinks on ice, you’re not out anything but the time you took to read it. I have an amazon kindle, and have found the sample feature to be most useful.

    In addition, there is somewhat of a cost savings to having an ereader as most (but not all) books are less expensive in an electronic format than in a paper format.

    And there is indeed less clutter associated with an ereader. I was also able to take lots of my old books to Goodwill and donate them. Who can’t use a tax donation/good deed/house cleaning triple whammy?

    • turnthepage says:

      I read some books online but my family–me, Mom, Dad, two sisters–enjoy sharing books and discussing them after a books has made the rounds and my sisters especially like what they refer to as my “annotations” in the margins. I write the definition to any unfamilair word and include wisecracks on occasion as well.

      But this brings up another issue–whether we write in our books or not. Some people I know treat their books like museum peices. I, on the other hand have been known to rip a thick book in half at the binding for better portability and to be easier to hold in bed (hey, I like James Michener, and his books are THICK). I figure, I paid for the book, I can do what I want with it.

  • Lulu says:

    I love my high speed internet and smartphone so I would have to say that those are two things I would find it very hard to live without. I could live without them as I did fine before I had them but right now I do consider them to be very important.

    Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream icecream comes in next on the list…….so does chapstick.

  • Stephan says:

    i cant live without tv, and i have cut other expenses including my take out and dien out budget so that i can continue to watch live sports in HD on my tv. besides tv, im sure some sort of internet access as well as a cell phone are both pretty much necessary, but i probably could combine them all with a smart phone with 3G internet access.

  • financialwizardesss says:

    What I can’t live without:
    1. A computer. (not necessarily my portable one – I could live with a desktop if necessary)
    2. High-speed Internet access.
    3. I pod – which is essentially a smart phone without the internet access embedded. I can live with only accessing the internet via my home router. Another benefit is there is no recurring cost.
    4. Education – for my children – mine is done and paid for. Add to that enrichment activities for my children (music lessons, sports, etc)
    – I can easily do without movies. I would replace this with “date night” with my hubby – and it need not be expensive.
    – I can easily do without cable television (or satellite, etc) and wish I could cut more of my budget by eliminating it – but with the need for high speed internet, that’s not going to do much to my bill.
    – Can easily do without Music downloads.
    8. Pets.
    – Already do without Booze.
    10. I can easily do without Coffee, but my husband cannot, so this stays on the list.
    add to the list:
    – food (basic needs – groceries)
    – shelter (a safe home and a mortgage/rent that I can always afford – job or no job)
    – health
    – love for my kids and spouse

  • Olivia says:

    It’s amazing what you can live without if you really have to. I joked about it with my husband (then fiancee), that I moved to NYC to attend college with a cardboard box full of stuff, a poster and a pillow, and left in a small UHaul.

  • Shelly says:

    I would rather go without some of the basics so that I can have my wants. I don’t use a dryer, I hang all my clothes, year round. I put a timer on my hot water heater. I spend hours a week shopping for bargins and deals on groceries. A lot of other things, which are also “green’ so that I can afford to go to happy hour once a week, buy a new outfit at least once a month and keep my internet and cable.

  • DailySaving says:

    Well said. Reminding yourself of needs v. wants is a necessary shock to the system every now and again. Establishing priorities is critical to a solid plan and that can’t be done properly without revisiting what it is you truly need. Thanks. Brian

  • Mariana Levstek says:

    Needs are very important to me, such as food, a home, education and work, the internet and technology are also important for my activities. For me the priority in my life is my parents and having good healht.

  • Alejandro Daniel says:

    Economic income
    Internet and a computer

  • Pilar Fernandez says:

    I couldn’t live whithout my friends, family and pet. They are a lot for me.
    About materials things, I love my bedroom, my space is very important to me. Obviously my computer and cell phone are essential as well as my clothes that I loves.
    In addition, water, gas and electricity are very important. I think that without that I could not live.


  • Nerina Gómez says:

    Hello! I really enjoyed the article. I can’t live without my cellphone and computer and of course, the most important thing: High-speed Internet access because I work from home online. I can’t get rid of my responsabilities!
    Cofee and others drinks aren’t really important to me.
    I believe, just like you, that the most important things are the basic necessities and, luckily, I have them covered.

  • Ignacio says:

    While many of the things on the list aren’t really necessary for our lives, like booze, Music downloads or the TV, they still can make our life a little bit happier and enjoyable when we are out of work.
    However, the things like high-speed internet access for people who still have to work but can’t move, are the things we really need to focus on and consider them a must have.

  • Jesica Perez says:

    I can´t live without a few of thing, First my smart phone is one of the essential things in my life, because I work with it and the laptop too. And of course the high-speed internet access, that without it is imposible do my job. Jess

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