I recently came across an interesting survey about the recession causing necessities to become luxuries. One thousand and three people were asked to answer the question “Do you think this item is a necessity?” about twelve specific appliances and services. The answers turned out to be surprisingly different from the answers in a similar survey taken in 2006… “the year before the recession set in and marked the outer limits of America’s housing bubble.” It’s important to remember that for the previous ten years, the percentage of people who ranked these twelve appliances and services as necessities had been steadily increasing.

Not so in the more recent survey.

Those appliances or services that have already been around for decades or more… what the survey calls “old-tech” and “middle-aged” items… have all dropped in the ratings, with fewer people thinking of them as necessities this year compared to the previous surveys.

  • Microwave oven… decreased 21 percent.
  • Clothes dryer… decreased 17 percent.
  • Air conditioning at home… decreased 16 percent.
  • Dishwasher… decreased 14 percent.
  • Television… decreased 12 percent.
  • Cable or satellite television service… decreased 10 percent.

More of the road past our house

By contrast, the so-called “new-tech” appliances and services remained essentially unchanged (within the 3.6 percent margin of error) in the necessity ratings.

  • Home computer… decreased 1 percent.
  • Cell phone… stayed the same.
  • iPod… increased 1 percent.
  • High-speed Internet service… increased 2 percent.
  • Flat-screen television… increased 3 percent.
  • Automobile… decreased 3 percent.

The one exception to this trend was the very “old-tech” device… the automobile… which “retains its pride of place at the top of America’s list of everyday necessities.” Despite economic conditions, apparently Americans continue to see their cars as a necessary part of life, not as a luxury.

Surveys like these can only hint at what is behind these decreasing percentages. Has television’s ranking decreased because people are watching less television or because they are switching their viewing habits to the Internet and their smart phones? Is the decreased use of appliances like dryers, dishwashers, and air conditioners for economic reasons or part of an overall attempt to reduce energy consumption?

I’m thinking that if we had been interviewed for this survey, some of our necessity/luxury choices would seem to be influenced by the recession, when in reality we made decisions based on other, different considerations. We have never owned a microwave (I don’t like the concept), and we have always lived without an air conditioner, so there have been no changes there. We rarely use our clothes dryer and dishwasher now, not because of the recession, but because of our efforts this year to reduce our carbon footprint by lowering our energy consumption. We replaced our tube television with a more energy-efficient flat-screen LCD television because of the switch to digital broadcasting this spring, not because of the recession. When we discovered that the hills surrounding us blocked any reception of the over-the-air digital signals, we continued our subscription to a satellite television service… but now that we have broadband, we finally do have other options. We need several computers for our work, so computers are definitely a necessity for us… again, there has been no change except we have recently upgraded from desktop computers to laptops. And we have the same cell phone we’ve had for years… we have no cellular service here, so the only time the cell phone is used is to keep in touch when one of us is away from home. Nobody here has ever owned an iPod, but I do have an Android tablet which I mostly use for reading books. There is no hope of public transportation, so a car has probably always been our number one necessity because we live too many miles away from “civilization” to be without one. (So I guess only two of the twelve are real necessities for us, the computers and the car.) It surprised me, though, that most of our “answers” would make us appear to fit into the “reduced necessities” trend.

So how about you? Which of these twelve do you feel are still necessities… have any of these twelve become luxuries in your home because of the recession… and where do YOU fit into this trend?

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Comments

Meredith

I agree with you Shirley. Only the car and computer are necessities for me and like you it is because of work. The others I could do without although I do have most of them. The necessity perspective is interesting though. Thanks for this blog.

cricket

Well the dish washer is still me myself and I. The phone is the cells and work for me is the internet and a few other things. 1 of the 2 cells is a tax relief for us in my household. I do not watch much T.V. during the day if at all. Internet radio ruled out without a “sterio” in the household. And that was years ago. My Hippy will tell you that one. Even for while I was working. One care here and I can walk to most places. Ask the glasses I broke and lost at the same time……….lol. Walmart is 3 min on foot instead of a 15 min drive pluss walking. Now tell me where I was going wrong Please.

Megami

Wow, we don’t have
* Microwave oven… decreased 21 percent.
* Clothes dryer… decreased 17 percent.
* Television… decreased 12 percent.
* Cable or satellite television service… decreased 10 percent.
* Flat-screen television… increased 3 percent.

We have heating, so almost air conditioning. Not sure you would call our internet ‘high speed’. For many years we lived without a dishwasher and could do again. And our car is rarely used. And we are not really what you would call ‘crunchy’.

Tabatha

my car is a necessity b/c i don’t feel safe riding my bike to work at 2 am or 3 am in the morning. microwave i could live without but it belongs to my boyfriend and he won’t get rid of it. i could probably live without a computer or internet but i would have to drive out to the community college everyday to do school work or take the bus. we have a tv, a big screen but no cable so we just watch movies and play video games(mostly by boyfriend does the games). i could live without the TV though. we don’t have a washer or dryer, i use a small pressure washer and use a clothes rack to dry my clothes or i go to the laundry mat.
i just shut off my cell phone service. i do have an Ipod which i like having but i could live without it if i needed to.

Jo

Well, let’s see….

microwave – used only for re-heating coffee or food. Certainly could do without it.
clothes dryer – yup, got one and consider it a necessity as I don’t want to hang out my underwear. lol
air conditioner – needed for health reasons.
dishwasher – I married mine. And he does a very good job, too.
television – we have a little flat screen not hooked up to cable. We never watch it except for me and my old (1930s – 1940s) British movies.
cable – yes, for internet service. A must have.
computer – I love it! I need it! I go into panic attacks when it is down.
cell phone – No. I need my privacy. And I don’t like to talk on the phone anyway.
iPod – just what IS an iPod anyways? Guess I don’t need one.
High speed internet – yup. I’m impatient. A necessity.
flat screen tv. Got a little one to watch old movies. I need my old movies.
Automobile – we hardly ever go anywhere except shopping but I really think it is a necessity. Snowshoes are out at my age.

Elizabeth

I spent the last 20 years of my life in New York where the public transportation is reasonably good. As a matter of fact, we have organized our lives around not having to have a car, and life has been simpler and much more pleasant as a result. Now we spend much of our time in Vienna, Austria, where a car is absolutely unnecessary, and many of the modern conveniences such as micro-waves and dishwashers are simply not used. Air conditioners are rare even though the last few summers in Vienna have been much hotter than average. People are willing to simply suffer more, and get through the day without. When I return to the United States I am simply amazed by what people consider necessities. On the other hand, we live most of the year in Moscow, in Russia. Here most of the population live with very few “necessities.” However, the automobile is considered a status symbol so you can simply imagine the chaos on the streets. Moscow has one of the best subway systems in the world, but people will sit on the streets in their cars spewing fumes into each other’s faces simply because it is considered higher status to own a car than to take public transportation. Pedestrians, unfortunately, have no rights at all. I have spent hundreds of hours waiting on the sides of roads for cars to let me cross. I have inhaled their fumes all my life without complaining. I have been splashed by passing cars and cursed by drivers. Doesn’t anyone care about the clean air? Doesn’t the thought of spewing CO2 into the atmosphere simply make people sick and horribly guilty? I see nothing on people’s faces – not the slightest concern. Since when is driving and even flying a necessity? We take trains everywhere because we only travel when we have time to spare (two days and nights from Moscow to Vienna). We forgo the long and short haul flights unless there is an absolute emergency. After all, we have chosen to live in Europe and that requires certain sacrifices. We simply give up a lot of convenience and we miss out on telling our friends about the absolutely amazing sky holiday we took over the weekend. But aren’t there more important things in life than convenience, and keeping up with the Jones’? We make do with computers and cell phones and that’s about it. Otherwise we read together at night and believe me it’s a great pleasure.

Stacy @ Moderate Means

This was a really interesting article!

The things in life that we have decided are important are:
~the car (no public transportation options)
~the air conditioning (no justification for this one except selfish ones – I hate being hot)
~the cell phone (child with a chronic health condition – staying in touch is very important)
~computer (I have an online business and need a computer to work)

I know that we’ve reduced our luxuries over the past few years and assumed that we weren’t alone because of the economy, but it’s heartening to see that other people are starting to move away from the ‘must have’ mindset.

Stacy

Jeremy

A lot depends on where you live, but here is my personal list:
1) Mircowave: no necessary, don’t own one
2) dryer: yes, despite having a clothes line, you can’t use it for much of the year due to weather.
3) AC at home. I have it, but don’t use it too often, so not really necessary
4) Dishwasher: nope, I can hand wash just as easily
5) TV, not at all, I really don’t miss it
6) Cable. I grew up without it.
7) Computer: for me it is necessary for work and staying up with my industry.
8) Phone, a necessary evil in most cases.
9) Ipod, nice but I could live without it
10) High speed is part of my phone and beats having to have a phoneline, so yes
11) Flat screen TV: unless you have blueray players and/or HD TV, I find the picture worse than the old tube TV. It will take me years to convince myself to get one.
12) Automobile: I def need this one. You just can’t transport things via public transportation if you have that option at all. Unless you live IN the city, you are hard pressed these days without a car (I speak of the US).

Jeremy

Amy

I have to say I was a bit shocked that anyone would consider a flat-screened television a necessity. It seems like a lot of people have trouble distinguishing a want from a need.

Our home has all of the items on the list, well, we have a TV, but not a flat screen. For me, not one of them is a necessity.

Microwave oven-nice to have to reheat, defrost and cook frozen veggies. Could do all this on top of the stove though.
Clothes dryer-I really dislike hanging laundry, but I could if I had to.
Air conditioning at home-we live in the south so I love A/C!
Dishwasher-we could do dishes by hand.
Television-tends to be a time waster for me. I could really do without this and would actually probably do better without it.
Home computer-I love my computer, but I use it for social networking, blogging, research etc. I don’t need it and could use the one at the public library if I did need it on occasion.
Cell phone-I have one that I use for emergencies only.
iPod-nice for working out. Could definately do without.
High-speed Internet service-I love, love, love my internet, but I don’t need it.
Flat-screen television-Still confused why anyone would consider this a necessity.
Automobile-I am a stay at home mom, so I don’t really need a car for myself. We do have to have one for my husband to get to work. Public transportation is too far from our home to be practical. There are some days I do need to go places, but on those days I could drive my husband to work, go where we need to go, and pick him up at the end of the day. So for our family, I would say yes, one car is a necessity. For me personally, I could make do without.

Colleen G.

Microwave oven… Got it as a wedding present 10 years ago not planning on replacing if it quits
Clothes dryer… Must have, large family plus chronic illness, not enough physical energy to do without, although have gone without short term when we could not afford the propane to run it
Air conditioning at home… never had
Dishwasher… it broke, cannot afford replacement, kidss bigger can start helping
Television… mostly used for watching dvds, outdoor attenna broke could not afford replacement
Cable or satellite television service… Recieved a two year gift subscription from a relative wanting to give us something fun due to our income losses, not planning on continuing once gift lapses
Home computer… if it dies, cannot afford replacement, we use them until they go
Cell phone… only have a pay as you go for when hubby needs it
iPod… not even interested
High-speed Internet service… too rural besides too costly
Flat-screen television… bought on with tax return before latest set of job craziness kind of a grown up reward for doing so well with finances
Automobile… must have but we never buy new and then run them until the quit

Sue in Atlanta

I find most of these things to be luxuries not necessities. I think modern life has left a good portion of us with little understanding of what truly constitutes a necessity. Food, shelter, clothing, clean water and clean air those things are true necessities .. everything else is a luxury. People have become very jaded and tend not to appreciate how many wonderful things we have now. Considering those wonderful things to be necessities is a sad comment on our current civilization in my opinion.

Jenn in Michigan

Everything is really a luxury, except a car for many. In most areas of Michigan public transit is not a viable option if you work on a regular basis. Dial-A-Ride is available for the elderly & those with disabilities, but to use it on a daily basis to commute to work for the average joe is not possible. I have tansit available where I am, its just not convenient (add at least 45 min to every trip end if I don’t transfer) and it is limited where I can go. It really exists to serve the large university population.

I have almost all these luxuries x 2, many of which I purchased years ago when I bought into the “More is Better” Philosophy, It was quite apparent when I started writing where all my time and money has been disappearing. Of all these things, if they died I would replace only the car & AC:

microwave — did without for years, can’t remember how I ended up with one.
clothes dryer — use it all the time. My “justification” is the long winters and lack of sun in my back yard.
air conditioner — this is both saftey & health reasons. It helps the asthma but also, I live alone in a one story bungalow and I can’t leave any windows open at night.
dishwasher — I may not be quality but I am free
television — I have a small one in the basement I borrowed a couple of years ago from a friend I watch when I work out.
cable — nope
computer — I have three, an old laptop, I haven’t recycled yet, my current desktop and a netbook.
cell phone — Pay as you go in case I breakdown somewhere and need to call a tow
iPod — Love my iPod, I spend more time using it than anything. I download news Podcasts and listen to them at work and walking the dogs. I also download guided meditations.
High speed internet — slow DSL
flat screen tv — I have one, its plenty big and I don’t watch it that much. But at the time I was disappointed I couldn’t afford an even bigger one, silly me.
Automobile — I have a 10+ year old car that I’ll use till it can’t be repaired. Then I’ll get a cheaper used.

C.C.

I think it depends on the person’s lifestyle, and how much help the person in charge of the household chores gests. I’m a StayAtHomeWife and my sister lives with us. Both her and my spouse work full time. Our kitchen in our house is small not much counter space. There was no D/W when we bought the place I thought I could live with out one. I thought that everyone could pitch in with the kitchen chores… Well I was wrong! It was just me up to my elbows everyother day in dish water. I went on strike(the dishes just got discusting). So hubby bought a D/w and had it installed. My life is somewhat easier now. just rinse and load I do the pots and pans by hand so we don’t have to run the d/w all the time just 2-3xwk.

The dryer is a necessity for us in terms of drying our heavy items such as jeans and items that get a lot of use(hubby’s work uniforms). Everything else I hang dry because our dryer is over twenty years old and its on its last legs and we can’t afford a new appliance right now due to the recession.
The washer is also a necessity going to the laudry to do your clothes when you live in a slightly rural area can be a pain not to mention scrounging around for laundry money.

Our area is ruled by cable so we have our phone service thru the cable, we ditched the cell because it was to expensive. We have internet,cable, phone all rolled into a “bundle” pack but due to the stagnant economy we are considering cliping out the internet to save us $30 month.

We have a flat panel TV that is a few years old it was not bad for the price. That to me is not a necessity though I’d much rater listen to the radio, but hubby thinks the syfi chanel is an absolute must. So i oblidge him because he works like a dog all week.

The car is a nessacary evil, the thing is used, and we are still paying on a loan for it and the car is starting to have some major repair bills but we can’t afford another car payment right now so we will fix it and hope it can hold out until our finances can suport a better car.

I think if folks start looking at their finances and their jobs they will see what is and is not needed. now if i could just get my family to see that cable and internet is not needed we’d be saving ourselves 30 bucks a month to put towards a savings…humm saving what is that ?