Recession Sacrifices Only Go So Far

The February 2009 edition of Money Magazine shares the results of an interesting reader poll recently conducted.  The poll asked readers, “what won’t you sacrifice” in a tough economy?

I touched on this subject briefly when I recently wrote about not giving up my gym membership, even though it could save me about $30 a month, or $360 in 2009.  To me, the benefits of exercising (stress reduction, weight loss, improved health, etc.) far outweigh the annual costs.  Apparently, I am not alone, as the poll revealed gym memberships were the top response for things people were not willing to part with.  Here are the full details of the reader poll:

Not Willing To Give Up

48% Gym Membership
41% Eating Out
35% Extra Car
30% Premium Cable
20% Fine Wine and Spirits

Willing to Give Up

89% New Gadget
87% Sporting Event
83% Big Vacation
80% Expensive Clothes
78% Cultural Events

Source: Money Magazine, February 2009

For me, the amusing thing about this list was that the items people were “willing to give up” are things we gave up a long time ago. We don’t buy expensive clothes; we only have basic cable; we haven’t been on vacation in two years, much less an “expensive” vacation; we don’t attend professional sporting events because the ticket prices are outrageous; we have bought no new gadgets, except for my beloved BlackBerry, which I use at least half the time to manage emails and perform admin tasks for blogging on the road.

Maybe that’s why times feel less tough for frugal people – we already made these sacrifices when times were good.  That is not to say even frugal types are not feeling a strain in this economy, but I would venture to say the strain is a little less on us compared to the person with a house full of goodies and two new cars in the driveway.

What are you not willing to give up in a recession?


  1. We, too, gave up many “luxuries” a long time ago, but there is one thing I’m unwilling to cut back on: quality child care for my kids. I don’t believe that the most expensive child care is always the best — there are programs that are more expensive than the one my kids attend and some that are less expensive. I’m very happy with the quality of care, the facility, and the teachers where they’re enrolled now. While I could save some money by switching them to a cheaper day care, those I’ve visited have not compared with where we are now. It’s worth it to me to cut out some other things, if necessary, to feel good about where my children are. Great post, thanks.

  2. Like you, we already gave up a lot of those line items too: we just can’t justify the expense.

    A few things I won’t give up: good food. When we were ::really:: poor students, we ate a lot of canned chili, spaghetti, and frozen “budget gourmet.” Now we eat a lot of organic vegetables and whole grains. We NEVER want to go back to those constipated and farty days.

    If things got really bad, I would much rather sacrifice cellphones or internet (and we both work from home, so those things are rather vital) than sacrifice my health.

  3. Like you, we don’t have much to give up. No subscriptions, no cable, no memberships. We don’t buy gadgets or clothes other than replacing our socks and undies. We very rarely eat out, and we carry no debt other than the mortgage.

    In previous years, I would have said I wasn’t willing to give up high-quality food. These days that isn’t something I have to give up, since I garden extensively, keep laying hens, and I’m able to barter homemade organic bread for much of the pastured meat and dairy that we consume. So it’s not a normal line item in our budget. Most of what we eat comes from my labor in one way or another.

    What I haven’t been willing to give up so far is privacy. If things became dire, we have the space to take in a housemate. I really don’t want to do that, but it would make sense if our income stream failed.

  4. I wonder what “extra car” means. Are they talking about the family’s second car? I was thinking that I would certainly give up an extra car, but that’s only if I had a third one sitting around. I’m absoutely not willing to give up my car or my wife’s! Of course, not having car payments means it wouldn’t save me much anyway.

  5. The funny thing is the gym was the first item I gave up after college. $10 – $50 a month just wasn’t worth it for me, and I was making decent money. Instead I started running which costs me nothing but a pair of shoes every 6-9 months.

    I already had some weights at home and am really into push-ups, so my fitness hasn’t suffered at all. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t turn down an apartment with a fitness center, I’m just not actively seeking a gym anymore.

  6. Never had expensive clothes, my vacations are very frugal (drive, pack food in a cooler, stay in hotels using points my company allows me to accumulate), and I never was into sporting or cultural events. We have only one car because mine is a company car. I have no gadgets, don’t really do wine, don’t go to a gym, and only have basic cable.

    We do go out to eat but even that has a frugal component. We drink water and split entrees.

    One thing I won’t give up is insurance (life, medical, disability).

  7. I’m not willing to give my my internet access. My husband and I both work for an interactive marketing firm. I work from home – so it’s more of a need.

    I’m not willing to give up my satellite dish until the contract is up in early 2010.

    Hubby and I are also not willing to give up soda – we wish we could – but it appears to be the only treat we have at the moment!

    We are also not willing to give up homeschooling our children so I could work full time. Part time work is good enough right now.

  8. @Matt: I took “extra car” to mean a second car–as in one for husband, one for wife. Two car families are a relatively new phenomenon. My parents and grandparents only had one car growing up, but now they have two. We have two cars, but since they are paid for (one is 19 years old), we’ll keep them around.

  9. I cut out a lot of this stuff a long time ago, as well. Even when I was making great money, I fought my gym over a bogus cancellation policy and won!

    The one thing I won’t cut out, however, is my daughter’s daycare. Even though I work from home, if she stayed with me all day, I might end up on the 6 o’ clock news! Love her to death, but mommy needs her time too!

    I did, however, recently send off an application for daycare assistance since my income has changed since her enrollment. Hopefully that’ll save me at least $20-$30/wk. I could use it!

  10. Unless it gets really bad, I don’t think we’ll give up cable internet, cell phones, or eating out once per month or so.

    And we’ll never give up traveling (unless we just don’t have the money), though we’ve already downsized our spring break vacation to 1/4 of what it was going to be.

  11. I’m with Kate on this one. We could take in a boarder, particularly since we’re in a college town. But I am not willing to sacrifice privacy and possibly safety to help with the mortgage. We use our high speed cable for internet (both of our work situations depend on easy and quick access) and tv. We watch movies at home (much less expensive than going out) and we both like sporting events on tv (ticket prices to live events, plus travel and hotel make sporting events out of reach)and I love nature shows. We also have Soundscapes and on demand. In other words our cable, when it’s all said and done, actually saves money.

  12. I would not give up my cell phone. It really is the only non-essential bill I have (no cable, not internet at home, etc). I don’t have a home phone, so its actually rather essential. If I had to tighten my belt I could cut down on the package I have.

  13. I find it interesting to see that the things people are willing to get give up are one time purchases, vs. those things that are going to continually drain their reserves.

  14. I don’t think that there is anything I wouldn’t give up if times got tough. I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice my security for material pleasures.

    I’ve been in the process of scaling back as a result of a fundamental shift in my priorities and not because of the economy, so the way things are going has only impacted me in my 401(k). That may change soon, though, as my company continues to restructure. In the meantime, I will continue to put money away and pay down my debt so the day that happens I will be able to know that I can sustain myself for a good long time without a job.

  15. We do eat out once in a while — in this economy, I feel like it’s an investment in our community.

    I won’t give up my basic cable ($15 a month), which gives us a lot of entertainment value, or my gym membership ($25 a month) which makes yoga classes affordable. We plan to keep our daughter in her private school.

    We are not taking much of a vacation this year, and we have shelved plans to replace my husband’s ’94 Toyota with a newer vehicle. I’ve re-committed to buying more of our clothes and household needs at thrift stores — spending time searching to save money.

  16. My list is pretty similar, I agree not to give up on my gym membership or sport related activities because I enjoy doing them, and they help keep me healthy. I have given up on shopping and impulse buys a lot more. Still won’t give up my concerts though. Sometimes I feel even the expense is worth a great experience and memories.

  17. I agree with Cheap Like Me; we try to still go out to affordable locally owned restraunts. These mom and pops don’t have the corporate backing others do so they need it a little more.

    I won’t give up healthy food though. I’ll pay a little extra for grass fed beef, hormone free milk, organic eggs and produce. It will pay for itself in the long run.

    I gave up the gym, but have actually lost more weight than when I belonged. I use an old beat up elliptical we got from Wal-Mart and I Googled “prision workout” to find effective workouts you can do at home with little or no equipment.

  18. i couldnt agree more. i had often said to people… ‘i live like i’m in a recession anyways’. this whole ‘recession’ thing never even felt like anything new to us until my husband was laid off for 5 weeks over the holidays. even then we made it through because of the way we live.

  19. I’m not going to give up my cable TV and Tivo because it is basically my only form of entertainment. I don’t go out to see movies. Don’t eat out much. Don’t go to sporting events or concerts. I am in grad school and pretty much the only thing I do is work on my PhD dissertation, and after a long week of teaching, reading, writing, conducting lab analysis, and dealing with snotty students and departmental BS, sorry to say, I need my Top Chef/Real Housewives of the OC/insert bad TV show here.

    Also, beer! I’m not giving up beer. In fact, in these economic times, I might drink more of it!

  20. I will not give up the vacation. Our best family time and memories we can give our children is vacation. This is the time that everyone is happy and worry free. This is the time you get to spend a whole week with your children and the kids are doing thier best and you as the parent are not stressed out from work and all the bothers of everyday life. It reenergizes everyone and the vacation is the best family time ever. This time does not have to cost a fortune. We rent a condo on the beach, one of the less expensive beaches and we eat most of the meals in and spend the days on the beach. Very frugal less than $2000 for everything (including a 3 bedroom condo with washer and dryer directly on the ocean) in one week. But priceless memories for both you and your kids.

    The best way to save for vacations is to do it like your Christmas club. Put away $150.00 per month in a savings account and do not touch it for 12 months then you will have the money and not go in debt. Having this time together is something you will never ever be able to get back so makes your family vacation a time for everyone to make memories. They are only children for a little while.

  21. Internet, I use it to sell, shop sales, find deals,look for odd jobs that can be considered a side hustle, keep in touch with family. It really is a time and money saver for us.

  22. When I retired, I realized I was lucky because I already had accumulated things I like and don’t need to buy much more. But I agree with everyone that healthy food is not a luxury, it’s an investment in being able to live healthy for the rest of my life, so I don’t consider that eligible for the list of things to give up. And I’d be saddened if people used tough times as a reason to stop going to cultural events – there are free days and evenings at most museums, and discount tickets for plays, even on Broadway, and these are things that enrich our lives. This is something I’ve read about on Frugal Dad and heartily support.

  23. I would willingly give up magazine subscriptions ( I do order on line for $1.00 each or less), Coca-Cola (I’ve cut back on this because price has gone way up), credit cards (like throwing good money out the window!) and we have cut out eating out, as I just recently retired. However, we do make a point of going out at least 1 or 2 times per week to help the smaller, one owner restaurants hopefully to help them weather this economy.

    I would not give up: My family, my faith, reading (go to library), cable (part of my income), good health care, etc.

    I’m sure we may have to do more if the economy gets worse. One of the things I am looking into is They distribute food once a month to anyone. You pay 30.00 for approx. 60.00 worth of quality food. Go to their site to learn more.

  24. Frugal Dad wrote that he is not willing to give up:

    48% Gym Membership
    41% Eating Out
    35% Extra Car
    30% Premium Cable
    20% Fine Wine and Spirits

    I don’t drink. I don’t watch cable. I don’t own an extra car. I rarely if ever eat out, maybe, once a month. As for the gym membership, my version is yoga, and since I injured myself doing yoga (you can do that), I haven’t renewed that, either. I already gave up the things Frugal Dad gave up years ago.

    I won’t give up organic, healthy food, though. I buy meat and vegetables from the local farmers whenever possible, grow my own and put it by (that means can it) whenever possible, etc. I grow sprouts and am working towards a four-season harvest. After going to food pantries several years ago, I learned the hard way about cheap, non-organic, processed “food”, the kind mainstream America still eats. I learned recently that the former president ate organic at the White House, but didn’t want to appear elitist, so he didn’t tell anyone. It’s not elitist to eat organic (unless you think it is, perhaps). It’s called eating healthy, and more Americans need access to good, healthy food, something most do not have. Think of the inner cities without supermarkets, much less, organic sections. So, no, I’m not giving up healthy food.

  25. I’m glad Peggy mentioned supporting local restaurants. I totally agree with Frugal Dad’s article recently about not being bamboozled into feeling like you need to support the US economy and I buy frugally. But when I do shop, I make it a point to shop locally. First of all so that there will continue to be a vibrant neighborhood of stores that sell what I need conveniently, and second, to support my neighbors, how I can. I needed a new winter coat – I could have bought it at Lands End and have it delivered to my door; they make great products for great prices. But I was determined that I could find one equally good and well priced here – it took me a few nice walks, but I found what I wanted. I wanted to buy my brother a pair of cufflinks for his birthday; I saw some nice but not inexpensive pairs on the Internet, then decided to go to my local jeweler who has seen me only for watch battery replacements for a few years, and he had very nice pairs for a bit lower prices and was willing to give me more of a discount because we have a relationship as a neighborhood shop owner. The ultimate reason to shop locally (and not just for food :), is to build ties of appreciation. I was brought up that neighbors are the first and most important key for emergency preparedness!

  26. Recession is affecting everyone and this article gives a good idea to do some extra savings to be ready for a difficult time.

  27. Well, internet access brings in more than it costs because I can blog & consult. Other things I’m not willing to give up…certain uses of our car. We could probably bike or metro more than we do, but the safety and time aspects respectively make me less likely to use them in certain circumstances. I do metro to work and whenever I’m going into DC. But I drive to the grocery store because it takes 3 minutes to drive, 30 to walk (w/o carrying groceries) and over 30 to bus, depending on when I leave.

    We only eat out maybe once a month, don’t go to movies, that kind of thing…so while the recession has made me more nervous about jobs & job security, it hasn’t had a huge impact on our life.

  28. I guess it doesn’t surprise me that Americans are giving up travel. When you are putting 40% of your income into paying down your upside down mortgage on your 1,800 square foot air-conditioned suburban castle with the island kitchen, how can you possibly afford to travel outside your subdivision? (Aside the all important trip to Whole Foods to stock up on the grass fed beef, hormone free milk, organic eggs and produce.)

    As for me, I wouldn’t be willing to cut spending on food to less than about one dollar a day. And life without electricity, running water, and probably a place with a roof to hang my hat would be rather inconvenient, although certainly survivable.

  29. I’m not willing to give up my three little dogs, or premium care for them. I’ll sacrifice whatever I need to for myself, but they did not ask to live with me, and it isn’t fair to them to give them anything less than the best I can afford, as I always have. I don’t have a television or cable, but I watch certain shows on the Internet, so my DSL line is something else I won’t give up. I’m downsizing to a smaller apartment with a much shorter commute to work, and I’ll bank about a third of what I save until I get a smaller dining room table and a new bed with storage under it. After that I’ll put all the extra into long-term savings.

  30. We aren’t getting rid of cable. Period. It’s our gateway and we enjoy the few shows that we do watch. There are even a few pre-school shows that I find wonderful for my son to learn from and I schedule time for him to watch. We only have one car, we are living in an apartment that is JUST enough space for us but is definitely best for our budget, and even though we do have the car, Hubby takes the train into work 3 days a week, for FREE. I cook all of our meals(and make Hubby’s lunch) everyday and we “treat” ourselves to a night out for dinner once every 2 weeks. Those “nights out” are always to a place where we have a coupon and/or gift cards for.

    I think keeping our cable is one of the only luxuries we have left, and since we have vowed to live frugally since our son was born 3 years ago in order to better our financial situation, we are way ahead of the curve.

  31. @Colby: I’m with you on the TiVo–I should have listed that along with my gym membership. To me, it is worth the $15 a month to skip commercials, motor through shows, etc. I save much more money and time than the cost of the subscription!

  32. Funny, the list matches ours. We have never spent money on expensive clothes. I love to find bargains at thrift stores. Often, I find name brands there, sometimes new expensive items, for a fraction of the price. I love to work out and have encouraged my husband to begin to also, because of his health. He drives on the road, and loves his cable when he is home. Our big splurge was laptops, on sale for both of us for Christmas. So, I can do my homework, (I attend school on line,) when I travel with him, and so he can play poker on line when he is on the road. (Play money) We both have decided to be even more conservative than we already were in our spending.

  33. Ha! Fine wine and spirits–I agree, to a degree. We’ve been enjoying upgrading our liquor and enjoying it in moderation. A decent gin & tonic makes me feel wealthy and indulged, but costs just a couple of bucks a drink, if that.

    Still, if we were really pinched (our frugal ways mean that so far, we’re not), we’d give up booze pretty quickly.

  34. I haven’t really had to give up a lot, since I don’t really have the money for anything expensive (I am a college student). But the one thing I got a couple months ago that I can’t go without is my HD DVR. I love it to death. I love never having to be home at a certain time & I can watch my shows and movies. I did down grade my cable though, and it was for channels I never used anyways. I’ve cut down my shopping, but that is because I am working hard to pay off my credit cards.

  35. When the money runs out saying we won’t give up this that or the other looks pretty funny!

    Not Willing To Give Up
    48% Gym Membership
    41% Eating Out
    35% Extra Car
    30% Premium Cable
    20% Fine Wine and Spirits

    If it comes to a choice between the groceries or the gym – !

  36. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. I agree on all your points and can also say that we haven’t made very many lifestyle changes because we have been doing them so long.

  37. I TOTALLY agree–& you are actually the first person I’ve seen blog about this 🙂 I had to laugh today when I read an article explaining the breakdown of the trillion dollar “stimulus package”–something like $650 MILLION (million!) dollars was going to the TV Digital Converter Box Coupon Program….


    I don’t even OWN a TV because I’m a medical student and IT IS JUST TOO EXPENSIVE. For the first time in my life, I’m embarassed for the citizens of this country & what our spending habits are saying about us….

    Thanks again for the post…:)

  38. Geez, we’ve given up everything in both columns (except the two car, but they are paid off). As much as I’d like to cut fat from our budget, there is none to speak of. Next up is cutting meat, I guess.

  39. I think it shows just how well-off we are as a whole in this country, if we have the option to even consider the question “What won’t you give up in a tough economy?” It can’t be that terribly tough if people refuse to give up what would certainly be considered over-the-top luxuries in other places.

  40. Can’t give up internet access. At least for right now as we need it to watch movies and shows and it’s a resource of our telecommunication (magic jack). We gave up our cable service and cell phones. We also gave up going out to eat as both my husband and I like to cook and believe we can cook just as good of the food restau. can make. Luckily, we live near the beach so we won’t need gym membership or vacation as we can do a lot of walkings and sunbathings for free.

  41. For those not willing to give up your gym membership, you might try looking into a prepaid membership instead of month-to-month. When I got mine, the month-to-month was about $30, but the prepaid was 3 years for $900(including 6 personal training hours), renewable for $50 per year ever since. I’ve had mine for 6 years – total cost $1050 instead of $2160 so far, and every year is just another chunk of savings.

    Of course, heed all those cautions about whether or not you will really use it, whether or not the company/facility will be around that long, etc. But if you have already been going regularly and you are with a reputable company, you might want to look into it.

  42. We’ve often had a genuine extra car– because our youngest car is 11 years old. (All paid for used cars, btw) If one breaks down, my husband isn’t forced to get it repaired immediately in a shop; he can park it in the garage and fix it himself on the weekends. If every car is running, it can be a loaner to others in break-down situations. Now we have a 16 year old driver as well, so it’s his car that’s the extra. So is that “extra”? Three drivers and three cars? For a working teenager who saves nearly half his paycheck and pays his insurance bill? I’m good with that.

    Not giving up:

    Giving away money as much money as we can stand. No way are we doing that bad, ever.

    Better food. Read “In Defense of Food” last week and I’m spending more now. But cooking less quantity, to see if it evens out. Will not be going back to a corn-syrup based diet for my family. Also much more tasty this way.

    Private school for the kids before high school.

    Internet. I would babysit for my internet bill. No, that’s a lie. I would babysit if my own kids were going to starve otherwise. That’s my threshold. But I’d figure out something to pay for the high speed internet.

    The animals. All 6 mammals plus fish.

    Would cut out, if forced to: Cell phones, all paid for entertainment, including eating out once in a while, and library fines.

  43. I have to agree that for most frugal people, the recession does not impact us as much. My husband and I are not cutting back on our expenses because our expenses are pretty trim to begin with. Most of the stuff that we like to do are free (taking walks in the park, reading books from the library, etc) or cost very little money (blogging)to begin with.

    So while I have friends that are talking about selling their jetskis and getting rid of the extra car, my husband and I are purchasing our first house and making renovation plans.

    I have to admit that when you do not upgrade your lifestyle with each payraise that when times are good, we do really good. And when times are bad, we do ok. It is nice to not have to worry about your money.

  44. As with other frugalites, the recession has not affected me personally much either.

    I wouldn’t give up internet at home til the last minute… my cell phone because it’s my only phone and the grandkids can find me in an emergency… my outside cat for mouse reduction…and my 2nd rig (It’s just me and I have a older forester and a newer silverado truck and I see no reason so far to part with either one – both paid for. ) I can’t bring home firewood with the forester, but it gets 8 mpg more than the truck.

    I will not give up the gas it costs to go clamming, crabbing, fishing, and hunting – and I will not give up my annual hunting license.

    The other thing I will not give up is my garden, and a few fun packets of new varieties of seeds every spring, just to see how they will do. Normally I save seed from the previous year, but like to experiment a little also 🙂