15 Things Our Grandparents Lived Without (and We Probably Could, Too)

My grandfather grew up in a rural setting during the Great Depression, and for much of his young life had no running water or electricity. He often joked that they really did have running water–he ran to the well with a bucket and ran back.  During particularly lean summer months, my grandfather and his brothers and sisters often went barefoot. He often joked that he doesn’t know why people refer to those times as “the good ol’ days,” because there wasn’t much good about them.

Third Avenue looking north from Cherry Street, 1930 by Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr

Of course, I cherish these stories and the time spent with my grandparents because they made me the “frugal dad” I am today. When I find myself drooling over a new gadget I think back to stories of my great-grandmother searching the cupboards for a missing dime that meant a can of soup for her kids’ dinner. It puts life in perspective to remember that people did manage to get by without today’s modern conveniences.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not an indictment of today’s modern conveniences, because frankly, many of them make life much more enjoyable. However, we should be reminded that many of these things are luxuries, not necessities, even though media and peer pressure would have us believe otherwise.

15 Things Our Grandparents Lived Without (and We Probably Could, Too)

1. GPS Devices.For me, the jury is still out on GPS devices for your car. I hear about more people arriving late because they took the “GPS directions” than I hear success stories. I don’t know what’s wrong with a road atlas – I just bought a new one from Sams Club for a few dollars. Besides, some of the best discoveries are found when you are lost.

2. Tanning Bed Salons. Direct quote from my grandfather: “Why pay hard-earned money to cook your skin when the good Lord shines a sun over your head that does the same for free?” 

3. Cell Phones. Yes, people can live without a cell phone. In fact, many still do, as hard as that is to imagine. If you are concerned with safety while traveling, consider a prepaid phone and keep it charged. Heck, even a cell phone without a calling plan, but a charged battery, can call 911 in an emergency. While I do consider cell phones more of a utility these days, I consider data plans and all the bells and whistles a luxury. Disclosure: I own a DroidX, and curse the bill every time it hits the mailbox!

4. Microwaves. I’ve yet to taste anything out of a microwave that tastes as good or better than stove-top or grilled. Still, it’s a time saver, and since we all have so little of it these days I suppose it helps.

5. Credit Cards/Debit Cards. The concept of borrowing has been around for centuries, but it has only evolved into plastic over the last century. Speaking of plastic, my grandfather didn’t use an ATM card until he was in his 70?s, instead he always went inside the bank, walked up to the teller, and did business “eye-to-eye.” They knew him by name and were always happy to help with customer service issues he ran across over the 40 years he banked with this particular bank.

6. Electronic Book Readers (Kindle). Why spend money on something with a screen the size of a book when you could simply…read a book. They even let you borrow them for a couple weeks at libraries for free. Yes, I know toys like the Kindle do other stuff, but its primary role is an electronic book reader. Disclosure: I purchased a Kindle in the hopes it would make me read more. Truthfully, it did not, and do miss the smell of an old book. Guess I’ll be re-gifting it.

7. Digital Cable. Even I can remember growing up with only a handful of channels from rabbit ears on top of the television. My grandfather could remember times before television! Imagine getting all of your news and entertainment from a radio, instead of Fox News and MTV. Speaking of MTV – didn’t that used to stand for “music” television?

8. Health Insurance. If our grandparents got sick, I mean bad sick (not a simple cold or poison ivy), they went to the doct0r and paid for their services. The first “health insurance” plans only covered long hospitalizations or major illnesses, not the routine things we see doctors for today. However, one could certainly make the argument preventative medicine has helped us live longer, healthier lives, and much of that is made more affordable thanks to health insurance plans.

9. Plasma Televisions. Up until 2004 my grandfather owned a decades old, 27-inch floor model console television.  He eventually got rid of it when the picture began to have problems around the edges, and now has a basic 19-inch screen on a shelf. When I asked him about a plasma screen once he said, “There is nothing wrong with the picture on my screen now. Besides, I’ve heard those ‘plasma things’ cost as much as a small car.” Indeed, although it had been a while since he priced a small car!

10. SiriusXM Radio. Why pay to listen to something that is available for free over the airwaves? I did get an XM satellite receiver for my grandfather’s car to use on trips, and he found one feature worth paying for – not having to listen to commercials. Unfortunately, this is not true today as I’ve heard commercials have made their way into satellite programming.

11. Xbox, Playstation and Wii. I remember one Christmas while staying with my grandparents I got an Atari 2600 game system. I hooked it up to the television and ran through games like Combat, Frogger and Pole Position. He thought it was interesting enough, but those little game cartridges sure were expensive! Imagine what he’d think about today’s game prices!

12. Health Clubs. Why pay $30 a month to pick up heavy weights and walk on a belt that runs underneath your feet? You can get the same workout walking outside, lifting things in the garden or filled milk jugs, using your own body weight, etc.

13. Calculators and electronic cash registers. People knew how to perform basic math computations and make change. Enough said.

14. Student Loans. Student loans are also a relatively new (I mean, last 50 years or so) phenomenon. People used to simply pay for college, but that was before the days of college tuition costing an arm and a leg. Which begs the question: Has the federal student loan program encouraged colleges to increase costs by allowing students to spread payments out over a quarter of their lifetimes? Reminds me of what happened to housing prices when more and more previously disqualified people were allowed to borrow big money on mortgages.

15. Disposable Items. Ziploc bags didn’t really hit the market until the 1960s, although some “resealable bags” were around a decade earlier. My grandparents used to put things in containers (jars, dishes, etc.) and store them. When they used the item, they washed the container and reused.


  1. My grandparents do not go without so to speak, but there are things they have never owned or felt the need for. They have a nice home and are well clothed & fed, but they do not own a microwave, a deep freezer, a toaster oven, digital cable (regular cable is fine), they never had a VCR or a DVD player and they never owned a car. The appliances they own were only purchased when the old ones no longer worked. They look after what they do have and appreciate it.
    When I think about what they save in gas & car maintenance alone…. I kinda kick myself for moving out of the city and off the bus route.

  2. Hi guys,

    I really liked this post 🙂

    I always get reminded of this when I travel abroad–most often in the ‘third world’. They make do and are happy with very little. And well actually, when I am there I am ALWAYS amazed at how content I am and how much time there is in a day.

  3. Things our grandparents DIDN’T have, but we DO:
    1) Amazing health care.
    2) The ability to fly around the world and watch movies doing so!
    3) Women’s suffrage and Black rights.

    I think it’s all relative! Sure there are good things back then, but we’ve got some good things going for us too!

  4. The only one I disagree with is #8. My grandparents didn’t have health insurance, and my grandmother developed leukemia. My grandfather had to sell almost everything he owned, and nearly lost his farm trying to pay for everything. My mother developed an intense passion for health insurance. She has never been without since she turned 19, and she adamantly lectured us kids about the need for health insurance. In our American society, with our warped pricing, I agree with her. My dad’s heart attack would have cost our family $40K+ without insurance. That would have done significant damage to their retirement funds.

    Nope, I’d never advise anyone to drop health insurance. It’s too risky.

    • As someone who has a pre-existing condition and has numerous doctor visits and medication, not having health insurance would be a big mistake.

      • Health care prices are much different than what they were in the 50s. Now we have expensive pieces of equipment that can monitor everything. And with the advent of major drug companies charging a life-savings for drugs, health care certainly has changed. Pharmactutical drug supply is a major profit grossing industry. Where do you think they make their profits? Our grandparents didn’t have health care, but they didn’t have the options that we have today either.

    • I guess this would be one I might take exception to. As one who has a pre-existing condition and HAS been denied health insurance, I tend not to go to the doctor – even when I know it would be a good thing. I have managed, but feel it has compromised my quality of life. The others – I agree with FrugalDad. Some make life easier – like microwaves. But definitely are not a NEED. Certainly would free up a bunch of money.

      As was pointed out in another blog, not having some of these things would make one definitely out of step with the rest of the world. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing – but tends to isolate one within society.

  5. It’s a little unfair to say our grandparents “just paid for things.” They did but it was a different time. It was far easier to barter services for health care (or other services) 100 years ago. Health care wasn’t nearly as advanced, either. As for college, none of my grandparents (or those of my wife, either) went to college. They grew up on the farm and worked on the farm after high school, if they made it that far. I suspect many in my generation (early 30s) can say the same thing.

      • In addition, a college degree wasn’t as necessary back then. My grandfather went to formal schooling through the 8th grade, and took some correspondence courses in drafting after getting out of the Army (where he was an engineer). He worked in several fields, repaired antique clocks (a skill he taught himself), and was an excellent draftsman. If a man knew how to do something, he didn’t need a slip of paper from a college to prove he knew before he could get a job and support his family.

    • The husband of a dear friend of mine cleans buildings for a living. He routinely barters his services for other services. Just recently, he bartered with his stepson’s private school for a tuition break, and he bartered with his stepson’s doctor for services rendered. The problem is not so much that people don’t want to barter anymore. It’s that a lot of people no longer have skills and expertise to barter! They don’t know auto mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, or even how to professionally clean a building.

  6. You really have it out for the ereaders huh? I’m not saying we can’t live without them but I just think you’re too easily discounting them.

    Do you have the same complaint about mp3 files? Who needs an mp3 music player when you can just listen to the CD (or 8track)? Maybe a person misses the smell of a newly pressed CD or they like reading the back of the covers?

    You sometimes reference living a minimalist lifestyle. Having an mp3 music player is a good way to manage something that would otherwise take up shelf space (CD’s), time and energy to manage and store.

    A few months ago you mentioned that a loved one had passed away and you were sorting through some of the stuff for keepsakes. I believe you ran across some river stones that had been collected and you thought about holding onto the river stones but then decided against it. Instead of holding onto these stones and storing them on a desk or a shelf or a box somewhere, you instead went out with your kids and skipped the rocks into a lake or river or something. The moral of the story that I took away from that was we have our memories to remind us of those types of things and there is no need to clutter our lives with stuff. You consistently comment about how you miss the *smell* of books when talking about the ereaders and I believe you’re allowing feelings of nostalgia to influence your opinion about ereaders.

    I actually read using the kindle app on my Droid x and it’s super nice being able to always have my books with me if I want to read for a few minutes while at the dr office or during lunch at work. Additionally, I’m storing several boxes worth of physical books on something that will fit into my pocket. That’s definitely a WIN in regards to minimalist a lifestyle.

    Sorry about my rambling rant. 😛

    • I’m not against ereaders, but I personally would rather read from a book. Just a matter of preference, really. And if you introduce the frugality angle, I can read new books for free from the library, whereas only (some) old classics are available for free in digital format.

      I struggle with my feelings of nostalgia vs minimalism every day, so your point there is well-taken. As for those old rocks, I did decide to hang on to them – they are part of the border of our garden.

      I’m feeling a post on the competing principles of minimalism vs frugality coming on! I’m finding that they are not necessarily closely aligned. But sincerely, I do appreciate the comments. Always thought-provoking.

      • I thought your comment about purchasing a Kindle would make you read more was interesting. I used to have a habit of buying things (like kitchen ware) thinking I would learn to use it — but have since realized it’s a better idea to buy for the habits you already have.

        I have an e-reader and love it — but I love traditional books too. For me, it complements my reading habits. My library has a pretty good digital collection, and I’ve found some great deals through the online bookstore. (Plus promos — which really helps!)

        To each his or her own, though 🙂

      • Jason

        I believe the public libraries in most major cities support e-readers and provide a large catalog of ebooks that can be used on pretty much every e-reader except kindle.

        I know that my library does.

        • @Beth and @Weston: If my local library had more digital content available that would certainly sway my opinion…will check that out (I don’t live in a majory city, but near one). Thanks for the idea!

          • Just to warn you, sometimes there’s a waiting list. I’m not usually in a hurry, so it doesn’t bother me too much 🙂 My library’s collection is still comparatively small, but it’s always growing.

            You know, I still love perusing my favourite used bookstore though. I love to share what I read too, so e-books are a big change for me!

      • Unrelated to e-readers, but with point #11 on games. We love playing video-games, and work in the game industry. However, I agree that video games are very expensive nowadays! What we do to save some money is buy used games! Of course, you might not get the game in its release day, or even the next week or month (depending on how good it is, and how fast people get tired of it), but you can get it for up to 70-80% off! Besides, waiting gives you an opportunity to read reviews and find out whether you really want to spend money on that game or not.

    • I love to read. I love the feel of traditional books, but I like a convenience of being able to carry multiple books on my kindle and on my android phone. Purchasing ebooks are not cheap but when compared to some people’s daily Starbucks habit, I enjoy each ebook for several days.

      • My own 2 cents: I personally prefer holding onto a physical book, the feel and smell are part of the fun of reading. However, for those that travel large amounts or work overseas in a restricted environment (myself), my Kindle is a life saver. Having to pack an entire suitcase full of books to keep me reading for each rotation would be an absolute nightmare, let alone the luggage charge for the excess weight. I do suggest e-readers to people that ask about them, but only for travel or overseas postings. For anyone else, enjoy the pleasure of a physical book.

  7. Regarding microwaves, I do agree that we could live without them pretty easily. But from a frugal standpoint, they can save money and energy for many cooking chores, while also not heating up the entire house. Soups, microwave meals, popcorn, steamed vegetables are just a few choices that use less energy when cooked in a microwave.

    • I use my convection toaster oven instead of my big oven too. It’s a huge help in the kitchen!

    • I agree that microwaves can save us a lot in terms of energy useage & time. I have always thought it was odd that my grandparents never bought one, but they eat simply. Homemade meals and cook just enough. I guess it’s all in what you are use too. I could go without a microwave easily, but my husband would be lost!

  8. My grandmother and her mother certainly didn’t need student loans. They didn’t get to go to college at all. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not nostalgic for a time when my sex had little or no opportunities, and college was mainly for the rich.

    Actually, I got through college by saving most of my pay cheque and doing without a lot of things — like a car, entertainment, a cell phone, etc. I agree that people should be more careful taking on student debt, but I know many smart, talented people who couldn’t have gotten to college at all without it.

  9. I’d have to disagree on the health insurance and student loans. Both health care and college costs have increased far greater than the rate of inflation, so it’s not a fair comparison between the time frames. Not having any form of health insurance these days is just gambling with your finances.

    • I didn’t mean to advocate going without health care. In fact, continuing group health insurance coverage is one of the primary reasons I still go to a traditional job every day. I was attempting (and perhaps badly) to point out that health insurance has evolved over the years to something that wasn’t even around, to something that was around for major medical issues.

      These days, people don’t want to pay a dime for anything related to health care services out of pocket, expecting employers and/or insurers to pick up all the costs for routine services. I don’t think that is a fair expectation.

      • You are right- health care HAS evolved. Maybe if my great grandmother had it when my granduncle was born- she would have lived. Or my grandfather had it when he had his stroke – he would have lived. I am the first generation in SIX that have both parents live into their 80’s. Health insurance and all that it implies- is something we will not live without.
        You don’t pay a dime out of pocket? I wish I could be under your plan. Mine costs several hundred a month and I haven’t been to the doctor in several years.

      • Really? REALLY? People don’t “want to” pay a dime for healthcare – and that choice really is picked up by employers? Where do you live and where do you work? We paid, (for a family of 4 – I have a chronic illness)_ $14,000 last year for insurance, as well as copays, prescriptions etc. I don’t know anyone, besides little kids on the state health care plan that pay nothing for medical care let alone expect to.

        • No, no…I was referring to those that complain about having to pay anything for healthcare – and looking for someone else to pick up the tab for them (government/taxpayers, insurance companies, employers, etc.) I’m right there with you – paid several thousand in premiums alone last year.

    • As I think Jason suggested, the reason health care costs and college tuition have increased so much faster than other areas of the economy may be at least in part BECAUSE of health insurance and student loans.

      If you have health insurance, you are more likely to see a doctor for ailments that otherwise you would wait out. Sometimes waiting is bad, because serious treatable diseases go undetected, but the vast majority of the time, it’s a waste of resources to see a doctor and drives up the cost of care. You’re also more likely to aggressively treat conditions that otherwise you might adapt to or tolerate. This may (or may not) add to the quality of life, but it definitely drives up costs.

      I’m not arguing that you should go without insurance; it is a horrible gamble. But the availability of low deductible plans has driven up health care costs dramatically because health care consumers have no incentive to minimize their demand of services.

      Student loans have allowed many students who are ill-suited to a serious college education to waste years and tens of thousands of dollars on an education that they often don’t finish and wouldn’t help them much if they did. It has also allowed colleges and universities to vastly expand their course offerings of often meaningless faddish courses and rachet up tuition to astronomical levels chasing after the pot of money represented by grant programs and student loans..

      In the late 1960s/early 1970s, when I went to college (at the premier state university in my state), if I recall correctly one quarter’s tuition ran about $75 (up to $115 for a professional school). The federal minimum wage was $1.60. That meant that I could earn three quarters’ tuition with less than one month of full-time minimum-wage work in the summer. Working 15 hours a week during the school year and full-time during the summer I could pay my tuition, books, fees, rent ($60-75 a month sharing a house or apartment), and all my other living expenses, and saved up $1,500 for the down payment on a house by the time I started professional school.

      Undergraduate tuition at that same university today is $8,700. Try earning that in one month’s summer work. But the quality of education there has declined dramatically, with far more courses taught by TAs rather than professors, far less rigor in many of the programs, and a much smaller proportion of students completing their degrees within four years.

  10. “Besides, I’ve heard those ‘plasma things’ cost as much as a small car.” Indeed, although it had been a while since he priced a small car”

    I guess you haven’t recently priced plasma’s yourself. You can get some perfectly adequate plasma t.v.s for a little more than $400. If I could buy a perfectly adequate small car for $400 I would buy half a dozen.

    • This was back when they were new and running $2k+ for a decent-sized model. Of course, you know how things go, plasma is old news…then it was LCD and now LED, and the costs of the latest and greatest are still pretty high, aren’t they?

  11. I don’t think it’s a “fair expectation” to say people don’t want to pay a dime for anything related to healthcare, expecting employers or insurers to cover the cost. My husband and I pay $115 bi-weekly for healthcare premiums, which comes to $2990.00 per year. I hardly think that’s not paying a dime for healthcare. (FYI I do expect my insurer to cover the expense of basic care.)

    • I think the point he was trying to make was that when you compare health insurance to other forms of insurance, basic maintenance expenses are not covered. I have car insurance, but don’t expect my auto insurance company to cover the cost of an oil change or make repairs. I have car insurance to cover me for catastrophic situations like an accident or damage. Same with health insurance. I don’t mind paying a co-pay for physicals and the occasional antibiotic for a sinus infection, but expect to be covered if I had to have major surgery, or worse.

      • Matt,
        I fully understand and agree with your point about maintenance type expenses. However, the comment in the article was that people expect to not pay a dime for healthcare expenses and I don’t find that to be true. In addition to rather substantial premiums paid by both employee and employer as part of a salary and benefits package I think most people fully expect to have a co-pay, which obviously is still payment.

      • I find this part of the discussion interesting because health care is so different in Canada. There are a lot of things that aren’t covered by either provincial health coverage or the supplementary coverage I have through work. Even with “universal healthcare”, health is still part of my budget.

    • I pay $177 bi-weekly for health insurance for a family of four. And the first $1000 in expenses (the deductible) are still 100% on me. $5600 a year!
      We didn’t meet our 2010 deductible until literally the last week in December last year, so I feel like I basically paid for everything medical expense-wise anyway, but I’m glad I have it if God forbid someone in the family gets a serious illness.

  12. My Grandparents were alive at the turn of the century (1900)! They went with a lot less than just these 15 items. It did not stop them for one minute to accomplish things. I am not sure if these 15 items make it that much easier now to accomplish our goals. The bottom line is it is still up to the individual to achieve their goals and have a good life.

  13. They only lived without that stuff because they didn’t have access to it! Better believe my 93 year old grandma owns a cell phone now!

    • When my mom was growing up, they didn’t even have a phone in their house! Funny how times change 🙂

  14. My ex’s grandma was over 90 and she was as healthy and hearty as can be. A microwave came with her apartment. She wouldn’t use it because “it was witchcraft” I tried to convince her for a while but she never believed me or would use it. When you think of the changes during her lifetime with technology it’s kind of easy to understand. She grew up with a wood stove and rode a horse or walked to school. Now she has a small cupboard that you put food in push a button and your food comes out boiling hot without anything visible touching it…

  15. I don’t at all disagree with you about the necessity of a gym, but I do disagree with <> Uhm. No, you can’t. If you go to the gym and walk on the treadmill and lift light weights, you can substitute the things you mentioned. For more hard-core people, there’s no substitute for the equipment you can find at the gym. I guess it’s a little bit of a pet peeve of mine that everyone’s top 10 list seems to mention gym memberships. For $66/month, my husband and I visit the gym approximately 44 times a month (me 5x a week, him 6x a week). I attend instructor-led classes 3x a week, so say 12 instructor-led classes per month. We shower at the gym each time we go, using their water, soap, etc. I think it’s a bargain for us. Only gym memberships that aren’t used should be cut. The benefits of exercise for both mental and physical health are huge. Before anyone says you can run outside, etc., I live in Colorado, and we do a lot of outdoor things, but sometimes the weather just doesn’t permit. Don’t get me wrong, in a financial crisis, we would certainly give up our gym membership, but there are many other ways we would cut first.

    • I get where you’re coming from because you sound a lot like my husband. He’s always been an athlete – lifts weights seriously and likes to diversify his workout. A gym membership does make sense for him.

      I can understand Frugal Dad’s position, though, because a gym membership is not necessary to stay fit. Unlike my husband, I am physically active and in excellent health but achieve that through walking, running, and light weight lifting at home. It’s more than sufficient exercise to stay healthy but definitely would not meet my husband’s physical requirements.

  16. I’m aware that I could technically live without all of the things on your list, but some of them have improved my life considerably. I have no sense of direction. Even with advance planning of routes, a compass in my car, and a local map and a road atlas for backup, I would still get terribly lost before I got my GPS. It doesn’t matter how careful I am or how much I’m paying attention, traveling to places that are only semi-familiar, or heaven help me, completely unfamiliar, can be a tremendously panic inducing process if I don’t bring my Garmin. There are often good deals available on refurbished models, complete with one year warranty, and it if mine dies it will be completely worth it to me to replace it.

    At various points in my life, I’ve had high deductible health insurance that’s pretty much just to cover disasters, but I wouldn’t go completely without because I really don’t want to have to spend my entire life savings if I get appendicitis. A friend of mine without health insurance had to go to the ER for stitches in the middle of the night this winter, and something that minor was well over $1,000, even after negotiating with the hospital.

    Calculators ought not be necessary for many, but in my line of work calculators and related math software are invaluable tools. I suppose I could analyze the data from physics experiments by hand, but even moderately complex computations would get pretty tedious by the time I repeated them for the five hundredth data point.

  17. I think that non-subscription costs are really not that big of a sink and are pretty justifiable. I’ve had the same $80 microwave since 1999. I just bought a new calculator for a stats class I’m taking because it’s faster and easier to use than my graphing. It was $20. Just some examples.

    But oh man, where would I be without my cellphone? I honestly do not know. I think some people definitely make more out of a smartphone than others. I will NEVER need a tablet or netbook, my iPhone IS my tiny laptop. I would definitely describe myself as a power user on it. I get a discount through work on my phone plan, but I’d gladly pay normal price. To me it is the most important tool I own.

    I’m still not sold on ereaders, probably because I’m looking to buy a home soon and I’m not scared of owning books. I grew up in a house that had on average 2000+ books in it at any given moment. I probably have a few hundred. I love the feel of them. The look. The smell. It’s going to be hard to give that up, but I may one day.

  18. Well, you lose me here. I was adopted by my grandparents, and they were very frugal. They still had their 64 Chrysler, you could see the weave in the carpet where it was worn, and they also had a tiny TV on top of a pile of them. My other grandparents lived in MT with very little TV/radio access, very few “toys” and kept it basic. But….. I live here, now. I have family and friends all over, and my cell phone (with internet access and everything) saves me a ton of time calling people back (txt msg make the point), helps me to remember whether to go north or south on that street (GPS), lets me access email, facebook (where else to you get to chat with so many friends so far away?), and do business from paying bills to storing pictures and videos. True, I picked a multitasker. 🙂 A toaster oven is a good thing here in the desert, where a nice insulated one keeps my house from going from 130 to 140 in the summer. In fact everything that you mentioned, that I use, helps my life WORK. Debit/credit cards? Allow me to track my spending through my bank’s program, and encourage me to overspend…I mean, let me get my new tires. 🙂 Cable, TV, radio, video games? Well, I myself played Tetris for hours on my roommate’s Gameboy in college, but they can be useful for a) rewarding your kids, b) drowning out the drunks next door…. 🙂 I myself have an old boxy TV and antenna to catch the news and a few weeklies. Health clubs? Much safer than the part of town I live in right now. Good for allergies. Great for an hour away from the aforementioned cell phone. Reduced stress, fewer illnesses, a HOT TUB for the icky muscles. Or I could walk through the homeless park at the end of the block.

    It’s true your grandparents didn’t have them. It’s true you don’t always need all of them, it depends on how you manage life. But yesterday’s societies were paced at a completely different speed. I too spoke face to face with the bank my grandparents worked with for 30+ years… but today’s banks will drop you like a hot potato, or charge a $35 overdraft for 17c. True story. 🙂 The question is not how little can you live with, but the elegance and balance in how you use the things you have.

    That said, I really love the days I leave my phone at home and am just…ALONE all day.

    • Maybe you’re at the wrong bank??? lol! Mine is still face to face, and will give you a courtesy call if there is an issue with your account …. We talk like old friends in there 🙂

  19. Catastrophic health insurance is a must unless you’re below the poverty level. The ATM/Credit card is a matter of convenience I suppose, but I don’t carry much cash as a rule. We sent both our kids to college without borrowing a nickel. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

  20. I have a cell phone, a pocket calculator and health insurance. In Germany, health insurance is obligatory for everybody, the payments are even included in unemployment money. In my generation (50 years) most people live without some items on your list. Maybe Europeans are a bit old-fashioned. And if you believe it or not, a thing like a student loan doesn´t even exist here. The fees for a year at the university vary from 300 to 1400 Euro, and depending on your parents´income you get a scholarship as long as you pass your exams.

    • Healt insurance is also obligatory in the Netherlands. If you can’t pay it, you receive a substantial amount from the government. My 19 yr old son pays 100 euro a month and receives 70 euro, because he is a student. The fee for university is now 1500 euro a year, but it will become more expensive soon, up to 4500 a year after 4 years of study. Almost everyone uses debit cards, credit cards are uncommon here, mostly used in restaurants and hotels or on internet.

      • Credit cards are used widely in Germany, too, but debit cards are also quite rare. I think it´s the same in all Europe.

  21. I have to say, this post is a rare miss on the frugaldad blog.

    #4. Considering the cost of a microwave, that’s not really a big expense, and is actually cheaper when compared to a full size oven or stovetop for small itmes.
    #9. Plasma TVs. It’s not really about the TV you buy, it’s more about how long you keep it. Buying 1 TV every 20 years isn’t a bad move. Buying a TV every couple of years is.
    #11. The Atari 2600 RETAILED at $199. IN 1977! Games were around $50 IN 1977. Games are far cheaper today, And really, are cheaper than digital cable.
    #13. A calculator? Really? You’re going to begrudge somebody buying a calculator. Ever done your taxes without the use of one?

    • Stick around…I’m sure I have more “misses” in the future! Seriously, this is one of the posts where I come off as a 30-something curmudgeon when the point i was aiming for was that we don’t really “need” many of today’s luxuries. Our grandparents got along pretty well without them.

      Sometimes things get lost in written language, and to spell everything out explicitly would make for a very lengthy post on a blog. My fault for not framing the context of the post well. Hey, at least we’ve generated some good discussion! Thanks for your comments.

      • This was NOT a miss…. Your premise was that we COULD live without them – which we very well could! Our grandparents did, so obviously, one can. You were right on the money here, so don’t think you were off – you weren’t.

        Problem is that folks tend to grab their wants and defend them as a NEED, when in fact they are just a WANT…. We COULD live without everything on that list, just as you said. It’s been done – it can be again.

        Now, do some things make life more enjoyable, Sure, but enjoying something does not make it a necessity, and that’s what this post was all about.

        Electricity… Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t add that one – but it IS a LUXURY…. Thousands of folks world over live without it 🙂

        It was a good post – you weren’t advocating living without any of those things, you were just stating that our grandparents did without them…. of course, maybe for your younger readers you might have said Great-grandparents 🙂 lol!

        • I see you’re point, and it is valid, but I bet if you asked you grandparents granparents (so your great great) grandparents, there were a lot of things they could live without. Time moves on, and while lots of things aren’t strictly “needed” why deny yourself? I can picture Jason sitting there “Hmmm, there is an easy way to do this, but I’m going to do it the harder, more time consuming way! Cause that’s what grampa did!”

          I can see large monthly bills being on the list, the phone, the health club, the cable tv. I can see the constant upgrading of technology as an expensive trap. But even a large purchase, like a TV can be a good value if get a long life out of it.

      • And what I got out of it is a matter of needs vs wants. And mine might not be the same as yours.

        Thanks for the post.

    • Actually, I’ve done my taxes without a calculator. That’s just a matter of addition, subtraction, and multiplication 🙂 I still want one for doing physics, though.

      • I used to design builds for drydocking ships and submarines. We used a sharp pencil and shipwright’s math, adding and subtracting 16th of an inch. A sharp young sailor designed spreadsheet to do it but the higher ups rejected it because it didn’t have the human element of 3 people doing the build and ensuring all matched prior to approval.

  22. My mom grew up like your grandparents. With no indoor plumbing or electricity. It’s funny, just last night, we were watching scooby doo on TV and playing with a box of toys at her house. She said “wow..how good we have it now”. All we had when I was their age is a dark room and a deck of cards to entertain us. She didn’t look back on it in a fond or nostalgic way.

    I could live without most of these things (although health insurance is a biggie for me too), but I appreciate what they ad to my life. I still don’t have an e reader, Xbox, or i-anything. I can’t think about doing a sales job without a GPS though. What a time and paper saver that thing is. The days before it involved many hours lost in the middle of nowhere.

  23. I’ve got only two of the items on this list – health insurance and a credit card. I do have a cell phone but only for travel – too much hassle to charge the thing all the time. I think smartphones look cool, but I’m retired and just don’t have the money for a data plan, and frankly, people that want to access me 24/7 just want me to be able to do something for them, and I relish my breaks from that when I’m away from the phone. I have no desire for an electronic book reader – one book at a time on the light-absorbent paper of its pages is plenty for me, and if I happen to finish it on the train, I look out the window. As far as that goes, I’m not anti-modern but I’m saddened by kids who have not been taught by their parents to be entertained by anything other than looking into a box with some virtual world inside.

    • Good one Ellen. They expect to BE entertained, rather than providing their own entertainment. They say they are BORED when I have NEVER experienced such a thing 🙂 All the mental stimulation one needs can be found in one’s brain, if one but choses to use it! Therein lies the problem!

  24. A little clarification on satellite radio – there are commercials on ‘talk’ stations, whether it be news, sports, commentary, whatever. But the dozens of music channels are still commercial-free.
    I subscribe to Sirius. I enjoy being able to listen to actual ‘music’ during my 40 minute commute to and from work each day, not the constant ‘we are so funny’ toilet humor from DJ’s (especially in the mornings).
    Being truly frugal, I drive an ‘older’ car and don’t have an mp3 input so that I could listen to my iPod. Tried a ‘cassette adapter’ once, and the sound quality was horrible.

    • That’s good to know, Todd. I’m with you; I can’t stand the “morning shows” with all the ridiculously shallow banter back and forth about celebrities and jokes and prank calls and such. The only music I hear locally from 6:00-10:00am is the bumper music coming back from commercials. Based on your info, I’d consider satellite a worthy entertainment option..

  25. Wealth is not having the most – it is needing the least. I believe our needs get confused with our wants, resulting in purchases, services, technology that doesn’t really add to our well being.
    An exceptionally post Jason. I have not been around much because in 2010 I lost my job. Freelancing and making art has become my way of life.
    * Hey if you’re thinking of regifting that Kindle……LOL – i want to declutter my bookshelf!

  26. #1 – Electricity…. Should have been #1 on the list there Jason 🙂 As I always say, it is a Luxury, NOT a necessity. Altho it is Very convenient to have and I enjoy it, I could live without it – and often do for days at a time when it is gone from my rural world due to weather incidents – and no, I do not have a generator either 🙂

    and 10 things on your list I do not have…and except for the e-reader, probably won’t get. I love books but my bookshelves are full, magazines are piling up, and I would like to get my magazines on ereaders – to keep onfile but not be tripping over them! And MY library has wonderful access to all kinds of nook-books, but not kindle books, so eventually I MAY get a nook.

    GPS – dangerous!!! We have had people DIE out here, and/or get in various dangerous situations and stuck in snow etc because they use the GPS only and end up on some forest service road instead of a main road. I recently traveled from south Florida to North Oregon with just a few pages torn out of an old road atlas – even with all my side trips, it worked just fine 🙂 But then some of us grew up learning to read a map, and it seems like that is a lost art these days!

    • PS – cost is not the factor in living without those 10 things… I see NO need to have them – simple as that 🙂

    • The “lost art” effect is what I was really trying to bring out in these examples (GPS, calculators, etc.). We’ve substituted human intelligence with artificial intelligence in many cases in the name of convenience. Sure, it makes things more efficient, but it has created generations who can’t perform simple math or read a map.

      Like I replied in another comment, I probably didn’t frame the post very well to get that point across. Made me sound like a 30-something curmudgeon, which I’m not. Well, maybe a little!

      Oh, and yes, definitely could have included things like electricity and air conditioning. Though here in the south, air conditioning is a “necessity” if you plan to occupy a home in 100-degree temperatures with high humidity. But there again, my grandfather lived without it for most of his youth and they made do.

      • No – reread it. You framed it that way. We COULD do without them.
        It wasn’t about frugality nor cost. It was about personal choices on non-essential items – because if one CAN live without them, they are non-essential.

        And ditto on the A/C… sw Fla… we didn’t have it til I was 16, and then it was more to keep the no-see-ums out than for the cooling. And we NEVER had it in school… just really really big fans…. 🙂 and a lot of sweaty kids!

        • Perhaps you’re right, Marci. After all, I didn’t say we “SHOULD” live without them…just that we “could.”

          People these days don’t like to sweat. When our air was out for a weekend last summer I thought I was literally going to go insane trying to sleep. It was 87 in the house at 3:00am. I confess: A/C has spoiled me!

          • 🙂 True. Luxuries are supposed to spoil us! I have a window a/c unit out here…. if it gets to 80, it goes in the window 🙂 Costs me about 50 cents a day to run it… so I’m more than fine with paying for cooling down one room so I can sleep comfortably 🙂

          • As someone who has wished they could live without air conditioning, and tried–unsuccessfully, I understand when someone dubs it a “luxury.”

            However, given where we live and how we work in 2011, it’s a necessity at certain times of the year. And as someone with health issues, there is simply no option NOT to use it.

            We struggle when we visit our friends in Europe, who could well afford it but don’t have it. It’s a nightmare of discomfort. As a result, we can’t visit them in hot weather unless we can afford hotels (which we often can’t). So here’s an instance where NOT having something is problematic. (And vice versa. No one wants to visit folks without AC when it’s hot where we live in a major city and we don’t blame them. Apartments are very very hot, more so than homes. )

            Given our electric costs and our income at this stage of life, AC really strains our budget several months a year. But we cut back elsewhere.

            Putting AC on the same level as a Kindle or video games or contemporary electronics makes no sense. There are function issues (could most people work today in the sealed office buildings WITHOUT AC? Think of the many kids who still attend schools in buildings without AC and how difficult it is for them to concentrate when they have trouble breathing. AC–NOT a luxury.) and health issues involved for people of all ages.

    • “GPS – dangerous!!! We have had people DIE out here, and/or get in various dangerous situations and stuck in snow etc because they use the GPS only and end up on some forest service road instead of a main road.”

      Hyperbole is not a convincing argument. Yes, some people get into stupid situations through listening to their GPS. Before GPS (and still now, though not as often), people also die from getting lost with or without a map. The real argument is that people should be smart when using a GPS, not “Omg GPS units are dangerous!”

      In regards to the article, yes, we can live without that stuff. But why would we? If something makes life easier, I don’t see the point in abandoning it. I’ll hang on to my Droid Incredible, gaming consoles, and KIndle. For that matter, I can live with my horse and dogs, but why would I?

  27. It’s a good compilation. During the past few years the technological innovations have given us lot of gadgets to play with. The new breed of gadgets from Smartphones to tablets makes a great difference the way people live and do business.

  28. Good list! I have a few items, but most I do without (and don’t even miss!)

    There’s one big thing I think could be added: big homes. I grew up in a house where parents and three children shared a bathroom (gasp!) and there were no ensuites, no walk in closets, no seperate rec room for kids and adults, no home theatres, no dedicated guest room, no granite countertops, etc.

    Still, my siblings and I were lucky to have our own rooms. Our parents each had to share. When look at how people in other countries live, many North Americans have a lot more house than they really need.

  29. Agreed on some points, not on others …

    My mother-in-law is 83 and grew up on a ranch without running water or electricity… And she now has cable on a flat-screen TV, a cell phone, all matter of kitchen appliances, uses email, checks her bank accounts online … so it’s a matter of adapting with changing times or not.

    Not at all saying everyone should (I don’t have cable and have less in my kitchen than she does!).

  30. Haha great post!

    I love GPS. I’m not horrible with directions, but it’s nice to just be able to type an address in and “get there”. I think they take the fun of getting lost to the next level. I can take a guess at where a road leads, but always know I can tap the “go home” icon.

    I actually think my life if better by not watching Fox News! 😉 Other than what I see on The Daily Show of course…

    I gotta disagree with ya on the cash registers and calculators though. I’m in retail and while I can make change in my head, using the register is faster and more efficient. Also in most HS math classes, the TI-83 is part of the curriculum. You still need to know the concepts, but it’s a great time saver. It’s sort of like how these days some people will complain that kids aren’t taught to memorize the presidents and many dates. But if I can look it up in 10 seconds on my iPhone, that’s basically the same thing.

  31. GPS can save you money. I enjoy getting “lost” as the next guy on a Sunday drive. But now that gas is over $4 a gallon. I want to the straightest path possible. No more, “One more Corner” to see what i might find.

  32. Reading the whole article was really fun though I some how disagree to cellular phones because now a days, people are mostly on the go so they really need cellular phones to immediately respond to important matters.

  33. I think Jason’s was not saying it’s bad to have any of the items on the list, Those of us who love and feel it’s a life necessity to have any of them should go ahead happily. Nor do I think he was saying let’s go back to the past without adapting to modern society. I felt that his point was just to ask us to re-think: Do we need everything we buy and then become dependent on? That’s the question to ask ourselves about every material possession we acquire. And if the answer is yes, this really fills a need and I’m grateful there’s such technology, insurance, education, whatever, then I’m sure Jason is happy for us. This blog seems to be about helping us to be mindful in our lives, that’s all.

  34. Again, whatever tool works for you is great. Usefulness has a “value” that is not monetary, and that’s what we really need to think about when deciding (if we have the choice) what we can “live without. But I have to disagree that being able to look up names and dates on the Internet replaces learning them. Education is not about simply learning facts, it’s about learning the broad forces of history and how it shapes our lives today, and not having any sense of who in what time in history disallows young people from drawing on that understanding to be a thoughtful and contributing member of today’s society.

  35. Replace cell phone and insurance with dish washer and washing machine and its a pretty fine list

  36. I’m not sure I’m with you there on the health insurance one. Also regarding the Sirius comment, for lovers of music like myself, it is something wonderful to have around. I still wouldn’t pay for it because I have other means of acquiring music, but regular old radio stations in most areas only play certain types of music. I’d be hard pressed to find a radio station in my area that plays my favorite bands like Porcupine Tree, 3, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, etc. However, stations on Sirius do delve into the genres of these artists. Not everyone listens to Top 40, Country, or Mainstream rock.

  37. I like this. I do not have an X Box, digital reader, a GPS, or go to tanning salons, nor do I go to a so called health club. I do have the others or someone in my home does. I could live without any and all, but feel health insurance is a must and would be the only one I would not give up. My grandparents lived in a time when only the very rich could afford/were offered health insurance so it wasn’t an option for them, but today it is something we all need.

    • I hate to be blunt, but in previous generations there weren’t treatments for things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other serious ailments. People just died of “natural causes”. now we are living longer, healthier lives––so I guess we can expect to pay for it.

  38. Normally I really enjoy your posts, but gotta say that your comment about health insurance was not only ridiculous, but also irresponsible. One of the primary reasons that our health care system is as screwed up as it is today is that too many people don’t have health insurance yet feel entitled to run into the emergency room every time they have a cold.

    Uninsured health problems are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. How in the world could somebody blogging about personal finance screw this one up so badly!

    • I never advocated going without health insurance. I was simply pointing out that our grandparents used to live without it, then they paid for catastrophic insurance and paid out of pocket for small, routine services. So in that sense, we are in agreement – the people running to the ER (insured or not) for a sinus infection or stomach virus are certainly putting a strain on our health care system. I appreciate your candid feedback.

      • I raised my kids without health insurance…. we had catastophic with a $5000 deductible. We simply paid for whatever came along…. and trust me, my kids were not taken in for every little ding, scratch, or fever…. We took responsibility for our own health care and were proactive.

        So many health care issues are just common sense – and do NOT require a doctor visit, and certainly not an ER visit. But then there are just so many people who are NOT responsible for themselves and their families – so that is what I consider abuse of the ER room.

        One can easily live without health insurance – millions of folks do.
        One can also die without health insurance… but the choice is yours to make 🙂

  39. great post! I agree on the gym memberships, $30 is a waste of money if you never go. Plus, running on the treadmill is so boring. Fresh air is way better!

    i still can’t live without a cell phone tho. my iPhone is my lifeline. lol

  40. Not only did our grandparents do without some of these items, but it meant a greener lifestyle as well. Check out our blog post on how to save money and live green around the house (odds are some of these tips are likely to be what our grandparents would have done anyways…)

  41. I can agree with much of the list, and think that there are so many things we do that are not truly necessary. Microwaves are a great example.

    That said, there are some that I think we need in today’s world:

    Health Insurance – absolutely, unless wealthy
    Cell Phones – yes, and I say that realizing that I too have a Droid X, though I see a smartphone as a luxury not a necessity. A basic cell phone is needed these days. Pay phones aren’t out there as much anymore, and it’s just expected to have a phone in our society these days.
    Credit Cards – this is due to having a credit history and a source of payment in case of emergency. Plus, for some transactions a credit card is generally asked for (car rental as one example).

    Anyway, all this said, I see your main point and I agree in general.

  42. I just tried to buy maps in the Triangle area in NC, had to go to several places! And they weren’t all that cheap. In terms of break even, a GPS can do so now pretty quickly.

    I disagree about the microwave, it’s a HUGE time saver, and I get some really good food out of it. You have to pick what you cook, and sometimes prep is on the stove or oven. e.g., I’ll pressure cook some chicken, and slap a frozen squash casserole (I made in a pot previously) in the microwave, cook it nearly to done, top it, and pop it in the toaster oven for the last 10 mins. From frozen to perfect in 25 mins (cooking from previously thawed in oven is 45).

    And I think I am on board with health insurance. I have health problems, and not having corporate sponsored insurance is frightening. But was just thinking this morning, maybe I’ll just drop dead 20 years early like people used to, but highly improve my quality of life until then. It seems freeing.

  43. Jason, thanks for this great list. My grandparents, and the lessons they taught me, are a staple of my writing on my blog. Matter of fact, I have a post similar to this in draft form now that I am ready to edit and publish after I read this. The immigrant generation is very inspirational to me.

    One thing you could add to the list would be “restaurant meals”. My grandmother always cooked at home (she ran a business, as well), and the only time they went out to eat was with us for a special occasion. No take out either. I wonder how much that saved them over the years…

  44. health clubs: I think they are necessary; especially if you live somewhere where there is a winter and if you have an office job.

    1. the monthly fee makes me committed to go
    2. I take group exercise classes there
    3. 5 months out of the year I cannot exercise outside and don’t have room in my apartment for the equipment
    4. the pool is amazing there (MUCH better than the community pool, with better hours and parking)

  45. I love my GPS – it’s definitely a luxury, but I’m the type of person who gets so lost I can’t find my location on a map.

    I have a cell phone with a bare-bones plan, which also substitutes as our home phone. My husband has a phone with a data plan, but his work pays for it, since they want him to be available via email all the time.

    Calculators – my dad tried to show me how to use a slide rule once. I’m an engineer by training, and I wouldn’t trade a calculator for a slide rule!

  46. Concerning GPS: I firmly believe it improves driving safety by reducing the driver’s workload. Now, all the driver has to do is to watch the road and listen for voice commands. The driver is spared the task of of watching all the street signs and juggling a map. Also, the GPS calculates the most efficient route, and this can save some gas.

  47. A teacher I know retired and was going to travel with her husband for a month. She’s a reader, so I said a Kindle would be great because you could get new books as needed while you travel. Also, she has the beginnings of macular degeneration, so the more important use of a Kindle for her would be the fact you can make the print larger.

  48. I lived without a microwave and TV for a decade, and currently I only use them on the job. I lived without AC in steamy Florida for a few years, and wouldn’t advise it.
    My iPod Touch replaces the TV, has satellite radio, an e-book reader, and GPS if I want it, and has VOIP, when wi-fi is available. This makes a cell phone superfluous for anything except my boss’s rants and alleged emergencies, and job hunting. Eliminate those, and I can eliminate the cell phone.
    Health insurance pricing structures and human resources departments have decided that, at my income level and mild pre-existing condition, I can live without insurance. Sorry to make you all bear the costs of color and class prejudice, but it wasn’t my decision.

  49. I love this article! Our family lives with no tanning salon visits, no cell phone, no microwave, no credit card debt, no book reader, no cable, no plasma tv (own a 19” LCD that we bought on display for $100), no subscribed to radio, no health club, no student loans (worked and paid as we went), no iPad, no air conditioner. NO DEBT

    We’ve never found ourselves “bored”, which I’ve always understood to mean not knowing what to do with oneself. We find things to do all sorts of places, which incorporates more exercise as well. We are more content than many of our friends who have “everything.” To each his own, this is just what we have found to benefit us.

    We did buy our son a Wii for Christmas. We bought it in the summer when costs were down, on Craigslist, used. We were able to purchase 22 games as well. Including the games, we paid the same as if we’d bought a brand new Wii without any games. He was thrilled. Things like this enable us to live debt free.

    As my teenager likes to say…”I’m just sayin'” : )

  50. Sorry – I run my own construction management business, and my job literally would not be possible without a cellphone. It’s what lets me do what I do from anywhere. It’s a key work tool.

    Could I funcytion without it? Sure. But I would be working for someone else.

  51. Not having some of these make complete sense not having health insurance seems crazy. I have been lucky and my family as well to not have any serious health problems. However, I’ve had too many people close to me that have had cancer, surgeries and a host of other problems that lead one to understand the necessity of insurance.

  52. I would argue that health insurance is something that no one can do without. You never know when a drunk driver will ram into your car and cause a catastrophic traumatic injury (no one I took care of in the ICU would ever have thought they would be the one.)

    My SIL, who is 40, vegetarian, healthy, and spent two years in Asia learning yoga from real yogis was just diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. Her graduate school health insurance has a $5000 cap. A double mastectomy and 18 months worth of chemo, radiation, and medical care will cost about $110,000. Her choices are to completely bankrupt herself until she qualified for Medicaid or die. Even if we gave her every cent of our emergency funds, as well as my in-laws savings, it will not touch the costs. Of course, this is as long as it doesn’t metastasize. People live with chronic cancer- people who can afford the medical care.

  53. I have a prepaid cell phone, my home phone is a MagicJack, my car is paid for and I haven’t had medical insurance in years. Last plan I had charged me $$$ every month and always found a reason to not pay on the rare occasions I actually used it. Much cheaper to just pay for a doctor visit on the rare occasions I need one, and since I haven’t needed a doctor in about 5 years I have saved a fortune!

  54. I have been in the situation of not having health insurance, but having some cash to pay for a doctor’s appointment. I spent a couple of days calling every doctor I could find within 50 miles of where I lived and not one of them would make an appointment for a patient that didn’t have insurance. I was finally able to get an appointment with a doctor because someone I knew had seen him and asked his office to make an exception and see me if I were willing to pay for the appointment in cash upfront. I paid for the appointment, explained to the doctor what was going on, and he said to me “there’s nothing I can do for you, you’ll have to find a different doctor”. And there went the $300 I paid for that appointment. Good luck to anyone trying to make do without health insurance these days.

  55. Regarding gym membership: I like to run or walk, and the only time I have available to exercise is after the kids are in bed. I found a gym that’s open late and costs $20 a month. I consider it a fair price for the peace of mind enjoyed by my entire family in knowing that Mommy isn’t out running alone after dark. But $20 for exercise facilities… not $100 for luxury spa with towel service and tanning booths and organic lotions in the dressing rooms!

  56. Feel free to regift your Kindle to your readers. I am whole-heartedly anti-Kindle but am going on a 6 week backpacking vacation with friends from college and am looking to save space and weight. How has no one created a system for renting these things for people who would only use them on trips? I love books and will never give them up, but I’d rather not drag 1000+ pages on a long trip.

    • I LOVE my Kindle! I really do read a lot more (for pleasure) now than I did before I got it. Plus, you can change the font size, so I just make it a little bigger when I use the elliptical machine (in my home gym) so that I can still follow along easily while working out. The ironic thing, though, is that I originally bought it after reading the first three Harry Potter books and didn’t want to haul the thick fourth one around with me on the airplane — only then did I learn that JK Rowling won’t release the books for sale on the Kindle!

      • I love my Kindle, though it was a gift. I haven’t paid for a book on it because one of the survey programs I’m a part of rewards its members with Amazon gift cards. And I do have a cell phone (no home phone), a Wii (gift), a PS3 (hubs wanted the system, and the bluray was a nice touch), and a gym membership ($10/mo, bare-bones). I could probably live without them, sure, but I have them and use them. I find ways to save on the items I want, so it works for me.

    • 3G Kindle = Hitchhiker’s guide beta.

      It’s free 3g internet anywhere there’s cell reception in the world.

      Between Wikipedia, Google and any other websites, you won’t need to buy travel guides and you won’t need to pay for internet cafes to check email or look up stuff.

  57. I agree with the health insurance thing up to a point. I think that most people would be just fine with high deductible health insurance for catastrophes, and to self-insure (pay out of pocket) for the routine stuff. I can think of no other situation where you insure for routine expenses. When your car needs an oil change or a new alternator, you don’t make a claim against your insurance. So why do we do the same when we get our annual physical? I suspect that health care costs would be a lot lower if insurance companies and the government didn’t get involved in every single health care transaction, no matter how small. Assistance for the poor (especially children) is one thing, but the rest of us can should be able afford our own non-catastrophic health care expenses.

    And in response to Vanessa’s comment, having catastrophic insurance is enough to get you into the doc.

    • I think you’re precisely right. In addition, assisting the truly needy would be a lot easier if the middle class weren’t practically priced out of the market. When a third party pays for the majority of health care for the majority of the consumers in the American health care market the forces of competition can’t gain enough traction to effect price and quality.

  58. My family has gone without health insurance for several years. I have coverage now, but never had a problem finding a doctor without it. I’d rather not have to pay for it. I would much rather have an HSA where I can keep my money. There are situations where insurance is good, but not my case (yet).

    Didn’t have a cell phone until my job required it, and they pay for it. The microwave oven is more efficient and cheaper to operate than a conventional oven. It’s entirely possible to get a bachelor degree with very minimal to no debit. my wife and I totaled 3 degrees in 6 years with a combined debit of $7k, which included a trip to Japan.

    We do have a large LCD TV, but we paid cash for it. Nothing wrong with spending money where you want it. But no subscription programming, download from internet or watch broadcast! I stopped carrying cash years ago. My debit card makes tracking spending easier since it logs my transactions automatically.

  59. I don’t understand why the article almost encourages people to live without health insurance when over half of all bankruptcies were linked to medical expenses. Simply having a baby without health insurance easily costs $10,000-15,000, and that’s for a normal birth and prenatal care without complications. I developed a complication from the flu where the symptoms were the same as a pulmonary embolism–the CT scan and doctor visit cost $10,000. I would have been more inclined to downplay my symptoms if I didn’t have health insurance, waiting to see if something happened. What do you do when your child is diagnosed with a serious issue? Or when a parent has to weigh whether to take a child to the doctor to check out their head from that fall, knowing that if the doctor orders a CT scan, it will cost big money. When your child’s health is on the line, sometimes, it may be better not to be a frugal dad . . .

    • The operative word was in the post title…we probably “COULD” live without some of these things, not that we should, necessarily. Granted, I think the author would agree most people need health insurance, but many of us could get away with high-deductible, catastrophic coverage while paying for the routine stuff out of pocket.

      I’m with Jon (above) – let me save up a few thousand in a health savings account and protect me above that amount in case of a big emergency. I’ll save money on lower premiums.

    • In our grandparents’ day, medicine could do far less for us than it does now. One example: my grandmother was married before penicillin was discovered.

      And our grandparents did have calculators. They were called slide rules. Nonetheless, our grandparents did a lot more math in their heads than we tend to now.

      Some of the things on the list are just silly to include. I see no reason to do without a microwave. Even if your home doesn’t come with one (most do in the US), they’re cheap. And convenient, and more efficient at many tasks than other cooking methods. My grandmother did without microwaves; she also, as a child, did without electricity, gaslight, or heaters. She would definitely rather have had all three.

  60. Our grandparents did not live in a time where Insurance Companies ran the medical world. They lived in a world where medical professionals took cash or barter. And in 1940 the average life expectancy (in the US) was 62.9 years.

    I prefer to have medical coverage, thank you very much.

  61. I’ve run into this blog for the first time today, and I have to say that many of your posts are more curmudgeonly or just plain stupid than frugal, and that NONE of the posters here know how to shop.

    Microwaves are the CHEAPEST way to cook food barring possibly and induction cooktop–and simply the best way for cooking some things like broccoli and for most reheating tasks. I don’t melt butter or heat water for hot drinks any other way. Yes, we could live without microwaves. But it’d be STUPID to do so.

    I use a calculator frequently for calculating involved purchases with multiple discounts and for updating my price book, in which I have the unit price of everything. In this way, I make sure my purchases are sound without having to stand there calculating everything like an idiot for several minutes. It’s one thing to know that something will be “closer to $.20/oz than $.15” and quite another to know that it’s $.1786/oz. As far as cash registers go, can you calculate a tax of 6.53% in your head? (Beyond that, it’s clear you never worked behind a cash register as a teen and that you are not a very intelligent shopper if you think that all cash registers do is make change these days.)

    It’s not cell phones that people don’t need anymore but land lines. Why bother? Video chat with Skype for free when the grandparents want to see the kids, and use your cell for everything else. Buddy up with other family members on the same plan, and you’ll have a hefty base fee.

    My credit cards get me a good chunk of change back every year–particularly my Discover Card. I get 1% on everything and then up to 5% on select purchases. And then I use it to buy $25 Bed, Bath & Beyond gift certificates for $20 each. I stack these with the 20% off coupons that come in the mail, and I get 36% off all my BBB purchases. (See, I can do math in my head–but with more difficult numbers, a calculator is faster.) This transforms BBB to a store that can generally beat the online prices for whatever specialized thing I want. Speaking of which, I need a credit card for most online purchases, too. And it’s a lot less inconvenient and/or expensive to get free cash advances than it is to use an ATM.

    The Kindle is also a money saver if you read a lot of classic books and would otherwise buy them. (This may be because your library stinks–it may be because you want or need to reference them again.) I will get one as soon as my oldest homeschooled son begins moving heavily into high school-level classics. It will pay for itself in the first semester. Besides that, I would have given my left kidney for something so small, light, yet able to hold so many books at once when I went to Europe for six weeks. I was so desperate by the time I got to Greece that I read a book on Catholic marriage counseling.

    My GPS has also paid for itself–in gas, time, and subway fees. I’ll happily drive around NYC in my car with a GPS, and I won’t get lost. Maps just don’t work as well.

    Digital Cable. Cable? People still watch that? I get all my shows free on Hulu or for a few bucks a month from Netflix.

    Xbox, Playstation, and Wii. Oh, please. You can buy games USED through eBay–after you try them out through Gamefly.com, which you can cancel whenever you get bored only to renew when the mood strikes again. And games have not risen in price when adjusted for inflation. Are you even trying????

    Health insurance. Now, I believe that we should shift back to health insurance being for catastrophic events only, but 1) my grandparents certainly had health insurance (how old ARE you????) and 2) some diseases are too expensive to treat without the distributed risk of health insurance and so without it you’d just die. Never mind that today, you’d have to pay the imaginary prices that doctors charge insurance companies instead of the real prices that are reimbursed. Ignoring that, health insurance is one of the few things on this list that many people really couldn’t LIVE without, if you’re including catastrophic coverage. Meaning they’d die. Because they couldn’t afford to be treated. (Having a baby without medical insurance, if there are no complications, only costs $10k if you’re a sucker and go to a hospital and get a bunch of unnecessary procedures. Birth centers are a lot cheaper. And safer. FYI.)

    Disposable items–Trust me, your grandmother knew what butcher paper and freezer paper were, and she rejoiced at the opportunity to move to foil and freezer bags. The paper sucked.

    Student loans are popular because, yes, the price of college has gone up–largely because far more people are going than ever before, as a percentage of the population, and there’s less state money per student to fund universities as a result. Lots of people are going to college who shouldn’t be because lots of jobs that shouldn’t are requiring a college degree.

    In another post of yours, you made a throw-away comment about getting a “few hundred dollars a month” for your grocery budget. I just about choked with laughter. I’ve fed a family of 3 RECENTLY on as little as $35/wk, no coupons. We (now 4 of us) eat very well at $60/wk now–I’ve begun couponing, and I’ve increased me saving significantly so that I hope to come in at $40/wk for all food, household, and basic personal goods without shaving an iota off our standard of living. I “bought” 12 boxes of cereal for free last week–16 for $6.30 the week before. I’ve always shopped sales, but now I’m saving 70% on many of the things I was already buying, from laundry detergent to toilet paper to canned soup to yogurt. THAT is frugal.

    The post above of one of your guest columnists bemoaning the price of meat was also hilarious to me as I’ve never paid any of those prices for any of that meat. It’s not that it isn’t that price here. It is. But only stupid people buy it then. If you have a lick of sense, you don’t come near it unless it’s marked down 30% from its normal price, and when it hits 50% off, you stock up.

    The same goes for clothes. Most boys’ shirts I try to get for $3 or less and generally succeed. For shorts, the goal is $4 and for pants, $8.

    Most girls’ outfits I pay less than $8 for, top and bottom. Dresses, less than $5.

    Last time I went to Kohls, I was in desperate need of clothes. So I bought 23 items, which came to a total of $140. It took me 2 hours. And I got some Simply Vera, Daisy Fuentes, etc. My DNKY jeans? $7.50 at Macy’s. I picked up a number of pants for post-pregnancy for $2 each at a Peebles. My best clothing deal ever was one of those–98% off. I average 84% and get 95%+ several times a year, too.

    I shop a season off for me, and years ahead for my kids. We hope for more children, so when one child is done, I examine the clothes, and if they are like new or close to it, I pack them away for the next child. If it’s not up to par, then it goes directly into the donations pile.

    With the money I save, I have can redirect funds for a housekeeper to come in and clean my house four days a week. And I can buy my husband a red-hot gaming computer for Christmas. And I can get him a generous–though not huge–HD LCD TV. And he can have two of those oh-so-extravagant gaming systems mentioned above. And we are saving to buy our next cars with cash, taking VERY expensive lessons every two weeks, and putting money in a college fund for the kids.

    Frugality isn’t about self-denial. It’s not about fitting a particular preconception. It’s about making choices that work with your lifestyle to maximize your bang for the buck.

    • Mea – you missed the whole point of the post…. We COULD do without, not we SHOULD…” It puts life in perspective to remember that people did manage to get by without today’s modern conveniences.”

      And he said, …” – this is not an indictment of today’s modern conveniences, because frankly, many of them make life much more enjoyable.”

      It was a REMINDER that “these things are luxuries, not necessities.”

      And I totally agree with your last statement – it’s all about making your own choices to stretch your money….

      And then on your first visit to his blog, when you have NO history about his readers, you say that none of his posters are shoppers??? How can you even have a clue about us??? I rarely Need to shop – I can produce almost everything I NEED without shopping at all 🙂 Being a producer, not a consumer, and being debt free and the greatest! To me it’s NOT about what I can buy, it’s about what I DON’T HAVE to buy 🙂

      PS – your cell phone will NOT send 911 to your house if your toddler manages to call it cuz you’re out cold…. but a land line will… Your cell phone will not work when the cell phone towers are knocked out due to wind storms for a week … but a landline will…… Therefore, I keep my landline!!!! It’s about personal safety.

      • PS – I buy my butcher paper a 30# roll at a time – it’s about a foot in diameter – it is wonderful stuff! Wouldn’t try to butcher, cut and wrap an animal without it! 🙂

  62. I was about to purchase a new microwave because the old one (and it IS OLD) is HUGE has LED problems and a bit of rust, when I realized that the only thing I use it for is to “cook” the kitchen sponge! I’m going to donate the one I don’t use and NOT replace it.

  63. Then we can’t get by without life insurance–or rather, we can until something happens. Which is a stupid definition of “get by.”

    A microwave is hardly a luxury. It pays for itself rapidly, and it’s extremely cheap. (I used it this morning to make grits!) GPSs and Kindles can both pay for themselves very quickly, too, depending on how often you travel. A luxury is something you have to pay extra for. It’s not something that SAVES money. And “disposables” are CERTAINLY something that pays themselves back many times over if you are a smart shopper and buy meat cheap and freeze it, aside from being available to our grandparents. Credit cards, too, can MAKE you money. My credit card, then, isn’t a luxury. (I’ve got about 10, and each of them has its own money-saving use! And I NEVER carry a balance and ONLY use it for the things I really do need.) Cell phones also SAVE us money because we call our families long distance at least once a week and talk for several hours, and we pay $350 a year for two phones for unlimited calling. Our land line with no long distance was $16/month, so that’s an enormous savings.

    His grandparents likely went to the movie theater weekly. The cost of that per hour is far more than video games when you use a combination of Gamefly and buying used.

    The problem isn’t that we can “live without” (some of) these things but that he’s labeling as luxuries a lot of stuff that either saves money directly or is cheaper than its older analogue.

    Then I saw that he used his stimulus check to pay off consumer debt and threw up my hands. How ridiculous is it that someone with consumer debt would call themselves FRUGAL????

    This is a silly, skewed

    • If you go back to the beginning of his blog start up, he was in debt… This blog was his way of coming out of debt… and he has shared along the ways his trials and tribulations, and his becoming more frugal. And a lot of us have shared tips etc along the way.

      Lots of people became frugal DUE TO their consumer debt… ie, after they got in over their heads and needed a way back to debt-free. This is his journey. Not everyone starts out frugal…. Some have to learn the hard way 🙂 lol…

      We just enjoy sharing our thoughts, issues, successes, and set-backs, and we respect everyone’s right to their own opinions, and to make their own choices as to when to save money and when to spend money. we are Frugal in some ways so that we may spend on what we want 🙂

      Even tho I am debt free, I have learned a lot from others here… the sharing of ideas is amazing on this site 🙂 Enjoy! Best wishes on your own frugal journey! Each journey is specific to the journee 🙂

    • A Kindle only pays for itself if you buy books. If you use the library and then buy a Kindle, it will never pay for itself.

      A GPS might pay for itself if you don’t have the foresight to look up where you’re going ahead of time and constantly need to buy maps.

      You pay extra for your phone (it’s not free!), so by your definition, it is a luxury. Just because a cell phone costs less than a landline (in your case) doesn’t make it not a luxury.

    • Second this post. This guy has it all backward, as apparently his followers do. Nobody with consumer (CONSUMER!) debt is frugal–by definition, you’ve spent beyond your means.

      A lot of this list comes across as self-flagellation due, likely, to debt-induced guilt. None of it makes much sense, and a lot of it is downright detrimental (like this commentor says, will end up costing you money.


  64. In my opinion, even Electricity is a luxury… so I figure anything that runs on electricity is a luxury by default 🙂 After all, much of the world still lives without electricity, and it was only about 100 years ago that it became widespread in the USA, and in some rural places in the USA, only in the 40’s and 50’s. 🙂

    But it IS a luxury, and a Convenience, that I enjoy using very much!

  65. We have a small microwave but we rarely use it (once in every three weeks). We use stove reheat our food and I think it tastes better.

  66. I suggest reading ONE SECOND AFTER by Richard Forstchen….. then you’ll really KNOW what you can live without 🙂

    Should be required reading, like Orwell’s 1984 was in my high school days…. We are one EMP away from losing everything electric, circuited, and/or microchipped. For real.

  67. Must be a middle ground in some of that stuff. Most of it I agree with. My cellphone is prepaid, and having recently come through an earthquake it was comforting to be able to contact family by txt when the main phone lines were out of action, and let them know I was okay.
    Health Insurance – I’ve got surgery and specialist cover only, so pay my own way with regular doctors visits. My dad once told me you get insurance for what you can’t cover yourself. I’d never be able to afford a serious medical condition, so I cover for that, not the day to day stuff I can afford.

  68. My grandma didn’t have indoor plumbing, let alone a cell phone. Heck, the upstairs bedrooms weren’t heated, and the insulation of her house was probably just news paper (Dad tells some nice stories about waking up with ice on his blankets.)

    Grandma didn’t have the MMR shot – she got her immunity the old fashioned way. (some of her siblings weren’t quite so lucky: they died from the disease.)

    Part of the reason they did ‘without’ is that the technologies weren’t available – I’m not so sure that makes the paragons of virtue. What made my grandparents (and parents – I’m 41) great, was their inventiveness with what they had.

  69. This is stupid, we could also live with out plumbing, running water and electricity, but why would we? Technology = progress

    • Because we live on a very thin edge of loosing it all at any time. One EMP and electricity and microchips and anything that runs on them are all gone for us…. so while one doesn’t need to do without all the time, one should KNOW how to do without them – in case the need arises….

      And out here in rural america, we do without one or more on an irregular basis anyway, so it’s much nicer to know how to do without and not get all stressed out when it happens – which it does.

  70. I noticed that air conditioning isn’t on the list. My husband grew up in Phoenix without A/C in the house or the car…

  71. One that occurred to me this morning as I was pegging out washing in the sunshine – electric clothes dryers. Why waste the free solar energy?

  72. I agree with this post but it is so hard these days to live without some of these items! For example, I cringe every time my cell phone bill comes too. But I also don’t have a land line and need my cell phone and use it all the time. I also like having it in case I am in an accident or kidnapped or something like that. I would like to pay less though. Has anyone here tried a prepaid cell phone or no contract carrier? Now it seems like there are a lot more options, like Straight Talk which has an unlimited plan and they just started carrying smart phones too. Has anyone used Straight Talk and saved money? I am considering switching from my contract plan because it is just so expensive. Thanks for the great posts!

  73. Whatever that float your boat as long as you can pay for it all, I would say life is short – enjoy just because you can. We are not build the same (in terms of needs and wants) and everyone’s risk tolerance is different and what is important to some maybe more of a want to some. Save your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves but be kind and generous to your love ones and be honest and realistic with yourself.

  74. re health insurance: without insurance, only the insanely wealthy could afford life-saving surgeries. Or even diagnostic services… I wouldn’t be able to pay for an MRI out of pocket!

    re calculators and electronic cash registers: I’m a cashier at a grocery store, and let me tell you… When someone is buying $500 worth of food (it happens), you tell me how you would add it all up in your head. Keep in mind, deli, meat, and produce departments have many prices determined by weight. So, assuming they would still have scales at the registers (or do you reccomend weighing by hand?), am I also supposed to calculate that in my head? “Oh, 2.7 pounds of grapes at $2.49/lb, 1.46 pounds of dates at 7.99 a pound, and… Hm, I think the store brand whole milk is 3.29?”
    Yeah, I can see it now.
    With another system, fine, I can understand the eradication of electronic cash registers. But I’m one of the most capable people working at that store, and if I wouldn’t be able to do it… Cashiers aren’t always the brightest people, so cut them some slack.
    Also, you should understand the implications of what you’re suggesting before you do so.
    And when you’re studying calculus, there are SERIOUS advantages to having a graphing calculator. They are hugely useful, and necessary.

  75. I think the microwave saves energy compared to using the stove. Example: I can boil water in 3 minutes instead of 10. I think there is less waste as the heat is focused in the food instead of being disseminated through the air.

    I’ve changed my cell phone to the T-mobile Pay as You Go plan. I only have to pay on days I use it. I’m saving a LOT of money. There could be cheaper plans as I didn’t do much looking around. This one is available locally and much cheaper that what I had before.

    No cable TV at my house. What a waste! I love free TV. As long as we keep using free TV, it’ll stay around. If everyone goes to cable, they’ll eliminate free TV and we will be REALLY SORRY. PLEASE USE FREE TV. I love PBS and donate when I can. They are worth every cent.

    I think using air conditioning is a terrible assault on our environment and I try to use it as little as possible. However, as I get older, I’ve become less and less tolerant of the really hot days. My family is not cooperative and puts it on all the time. I once found my daughter using her air conditioner while the heat was on. She even resists putting on sweaters.

    I plan to downsize my home as soon as I’m in a position to do so. My current house is about 1400 sq. ft., but I could live in 700 or less. I’m tired of heating more space than I need. My next house will be super-insulated and have at least a few solar panels.

    Health insurance sucks. It’s a really sore issue with me. I need medical care, but don’t get it because I can’t afford insurance on my own, or health care. It’s not the doctor visits or the prescriptions, it’s the tests and hospital surgical costs. Why bother going to the doctor to find out what’s wrong if you can’t afford to treat it?

    Those Victory Gardens our grandparents had were a real money saver. I’m learning and practicing gardening as much as I can these days. There’s a lot to learn and I want to be an expert. I can see how this skill could come in handy in hard times. Someday I will trying canning, as well.

    My plan is to cut my expenses to the bone for my retirement. With social security and medicare being threatened by the politicians, I feel this is the best direction to go. The coming generation of retirees is going have a hard time staying afloat unless they were rich to begin with.

    Good luck everyone!!!

  76. Health insurance and calculators would be my only sticky points. As a cancer survivor and after having a complicated childbirth, I’m very happy with Canada’s universal health care. No way I could have afforded my medical costs in the past four years.

    I couldn’t live without a calculator, which my father always said reflects poorly on my education – he didn’t finish grade school but can do mental math that I consider grade twelve equivalent.

    I had to laugh when my mother finally got rid of her GPS. She said it was constantly trying to get her to turn left in the middle of traffic or something equally ridiculous. I like paper maps.

    Absolutely cannot stand Kindles and wouldn’t own one if it were free. I do, however, have a growing collection of second-hand classics.

    Apparently, I’m absolutely stupid, because I don’t even miss our microwave. Food tastes much better without it. 🙂 No blender, food processor, coffee maker or disposable plastics, either. We store everything in glass, and I do a lot of canning.

    • Just like they did in the old days! We’re in the 21st Century Now and everything is all computerized now! What do you think of all this technology?

  77. While most of these things didn’t exist for us to enjoy them, as most of us do now, I would think that the youngsters now would be working to make health insurance more affordable by making the product more competitive. Don’t depend on the government to make medical decisions for you, or you will regret it in the long run. Remember, when you are grandparents there will be products available that are not available now.

  78. Um, last I checked, I paid for my health insurance premium. The contract says that the health insurance company pays the doctor when/if I get sick. I fail to see how I’m “expecting the insurance company to pick up the tab for me.” I BARTERED for the SERVICE with MONEY.

    If you love 1953 so much, go live in rural Alabama.

  79. It was a different time in the early days and in the 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s(I was born in the 1960s)when the stuff that you see now didn’t even exist! That stuff was unheard of then, but now, we’re in the 21st century and all you see are iPad Minis(did you ever own one?)PS3, Wiis,HDTVs, Computerized CArs and so on and so forth! What’s your take on all this?

  80. Just Bought My Mother a Nook HD Tablet for Xmas and she doesn’t even know how to use it. Maybe because she never grew up with that stuff(She also has a laptop, too)Even my late grandparents never had that stuff, but I enjoy it! Looks like technology is here to stay! And, did I tell you I got her a Sony TV for Xmas?

  81. hello, can i ask to you one question only,
    How should we treat our grandparents ? please give to me your answer in quickly . as long as imposible

  82. i know this is a couple of years old but just because they did without doens’t mean it’s feasible today. Ma and Pa stores charged to anyone. They didn’t check credit scores or harass you for not paying on time. You also have to remember it was easy to get sick in those days. Could it be because the lack of poor heating and cooling systems and lack or running water to thoroughly clean hands? I disagree with living without health insurance. When thousands maybe millions of people use the emergency room and don’t pay the cost is passed to someone else. Insurance is funded by premiums, not gov. Our grandmothers never went to college because they were expected to be housewives and most fmailis lived in rural areas. I believe there is a way around student loan like gov grants. The only things I agree with are health club memberrships and extra bathrooms. It is one thing being frugal and another thing being cheap and sacrificng your well-being. It is impossible to live like our grandparents. Today’s society is much more demanding. I am thankful to live in times with medical and elctronic advancements to make my life better.