As I reviewed the budget yesterday, seeing if we could pare the budget down to $1,000 a month, I began to really consider the PF idea of “wants vs. needs.” It’s one of the most basic PF tenets — and for good reason. When people’s financial lives are out of control, they tend to have very skewed ideas of what is a “need.”
But how long should that last?
Is it really a good idea to keep this idea of things being either expendable or not? Of course, there are three basic needs: food, shelter, clothing. Once those are met, the rest are luxuries.
But are they, really? Obviously, my medications are not luxuries. If I don’t have them — or don’t have enough of them — I stop being able to function. I am either too exhausted to accomplish much of anything, or I am too severely depressed to cope with the world. Similarly, Tim needs his inhaler. And if he doesn’t see a doctor regularly, his skin tends to become so terrible that he can’t wear clothes. So, medical items, and medical services, should probably be added as necessities.
At the moment, that about taps out my ideas of absolute necessities. Anything else is technically a luxury. But aren’t there gradations? When people get rid of non-vital expenses, they tend to prioritize. Sometimes it’s based on cost — a weekly breakfast with friends is going to be more tenable than a weekly massage — but other times it’s based priorities.
For example, Tim and I pay $60 for Dish TV. It isn’t technically a necessity. But since we’re both home all the time, it’s a closer to the bottom of the “Expendable expenses” list. So, it’s not really a need, but our lives would be a lot worse without it. My energy issues prevent us from forgoing TV in favor of hiking or other sporty activities that offer hours-long entertainment. While Tim and I could spend more time online, it would mean more evenings of each of us doing our own thing and not interacting — not great for a marriage. It would also probably make us more prone to cabin fever, which can result in more outings (and, thereby, more unnecessary spending).
Whether or not you agree with this line of thinking, we all have things that we acknowledge aren’t actually “needs,” but are loathe to call “luxuries.” We think of them as things we “need” inasmuch as we can possibly find a way to afford it.
Of course, most of us have more than one luxury. Even the most dedicated PF bloggers aren’t going to go completely bare bones. Living that way tends to lead to frugal burnout. Most of us have a range of “wants” — some large, some small. Most of us also have prioritized them, in case fat needs to be trimmed from the budget.
So we have things we could give up relatively easily (if somewhat reluctantly) and things that we will cling to tenaciously until there is absolutely no reasonable way to afford/justify it anymore. But we have the same term for both. How much sense does that make?
Thus far, I’ve only come up with “needxuries” (or maybe “neexuries” but I think the former looks better). [Edit: Based on a reader’s suggestion, they’ll now be called luxureeds.]
Some of you may be wondering why such a distinction is important. There is an awful lot of comments in the blogosphere that cast aspersions on people’s budgets. While people have a right to their own opinions, they often have different priorities than the person who has to live with the budget. Wouldn’t it be nice, when talking about expenses, to have a kind of shorthand for “very important” expense? Rather than answering various readers’ suggestions that you cut the items most dear to you, they would know better what you could do without.
Granted, this isn’t a huge issue. But I know some bloggers deal with very judgmental readers. (I’m lucky to have escaped most of that with you awesome folks!) And there is simply the annoyance of having to listen to people tell you to cut the item that you want to hold onto the most.
So, yeah, we could all start laying out our budgets by priority level. But isn’t making up a new word more fun? Someone had to come up with “smores” and “blog,” right? So let’s brake some new ground here.
What words or terms would you use to denote the importance of your various expenses?