Frugal Friday: Necessity or Luxury?

by Mary O. Moss

Do I need it or do I want it? Is it really necessary? These are questions I have become accustomed to asking myself!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV).

Several years ago, my questions were about more expensive, less “necessary” items. My husband and I have always lived well below our means and it’s a good thing! About three years ago, we were caught up in the “economic downturn” and have never rebounded fully.

What this meant was that we needed to dig pretty deeply into our frugal living toolbox! It also meant—and continues to mean—we continually redefine what we need, what we want, what we can splurge on and what is absolutely non-negotiable in terms of how we spend our money.

Non-negotiable? No traditional family vacations. Non-negotiable? No new car. Non-negotiable? No new furniture. Non-negotiable? No cable TV.

Splurge? Birthday celebrations, eating out once in a while, going to a concert or other activity in the community, inviting friends over for a cookout or dinner and dessert.

We’re not the only ones in this situation! For so many of us tough economic times have eliminated—or severely limited—luxuries such as spa visits and satellite TV, vacation trips, backyard pool installation and perhaps even a college education. Those dreams have been replaced by more pressing needs: food, clothing and health care.

A Pew telephone survey, conducted in 2006 asked the “Luxury or Necessity?” question about 14 different popular consumer product. The survey was among a randomly-selected nationally-representative sample of 2,000 adults. Survey respondents placed the 14 items on a very broad range along the “necessity” scale — with a high of 91% describing a car as a necessity and a low of 3% saying the same about an iPod.

Age and income of respondents made a big difference in responses overall and specifically, in how they viewed home computers, high-speed internet access and cell phones. Income level also affected attitudes toward the dishwasher and the car air conditioner—more income equals these two items viewed as “necessities”.

Among respondents, and I suspect for each of us, there will be difference in our perception of necessity vs. luxury. The ages of our children or our stage in life or career can dictate that list sometimes—and often it changes over time. It’s a personal choice for each of us.

Life doesn’t come with many promises we can count on—no matter how hard we work, no matter how well we treat our neighbors. Even good, devout Christians can experience hardship and financial stress. (Consider Job!)

There is one promise, though that we can trust in completely and absolutely: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14 NIV).

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