Saving Money, Shopping

Ten “Necessities” That Really Aren’t

cleaning supplies

Advertisers do their jobs well; in fact, they have convinced a majority of us that many of the products we use are necessities when they are not. Long before we had all the modern conveniences we now take for granted, our grandparents and great-grandparents lived comfortably with more basic tools, doing their work differently or not doing what we do at all. Here are ten examples of common products we really could live without:

Dryer Sheets/Fabric Softener – When I started using fragrance-free detergent for baby clothes, I stopped using fabric softener. I don’t notice a difference in the texture of our laundry, and my husband actually prefers not having the extra scent in his clothes.

Different Cleaning Supplies for Each Surface – Most things can be cleaned with a single chemical, such as ammonia or bleach, or even with more natural, edible cleaning supplies – vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda.

Cellular Phones – I recently saw the results of a survey in which more people said they owned a cellular phone than said they owned a television. Very few of us really need to be able to be contacted anytime and anywhere. Cell phones are nice to have for emergencies, but they are far from necessary for most people, even in the age of instant communication.

Television – Most of us would have to change our lifestyles if we gave up our cable or satellite subscriptions, but we would still survive. In fact, after a few months, we might not even miss them.

Beauty Products – I may be the wrong person to comment on this category of goods, as I rarely wear makeup at all, but it’s hard for me to justify spending a lot of time and money on a beauty routine that requires twenty steps and fifteen products. All I really need is soap; I also use shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer. When I use moisturizer, I put the same lotion on all my dry skin rather than buying separate products for my face, hands, and feet.

Shaving Cream – My college marketing professor used shaving cream as an example of products for which marketers had successfully created the perception of a need. Why buy shaving cream (or gel), he argued, when soap works just as well?

Hand Sanitizer – Once again, soap is an acceptable substitute. In fact, some health professionals have been arguing that we use hand sanitizer too often and are “killing the good bacteria,” thus making it harder for our bodies to fight off illness.

Convenience Foods – In a few generations, we have gone from making pancakes with flour and eggs to making pancakes with pancake mix to buying frozen pancakes to pop in the microwave. Each step makes the pancakes faster to make but also more expensive, less tasty, and less healthy. Pancakes are only one example of the drastic changes in the way many of us cook.

Bottled Water – Like cellular phones, bottled water might be considered a necessity in specific situations (such as natural disasters), but it’s not needed for ordinary circumstances. If you want cold water to grab on your way to work, it’s just as easy to fill your own bottle(s) with filtered or tap water as it is to lug home bottled water from the store.

Disposable paper products – On a recent trip to BJ’s, our family spent more than $60 on trash bags and paper products to put in them. These products may all have a small per-unit cost, but money spent on napkins, tissues, paper towels, and even diapers and sanitary napkins will add up. All of these products have non-disposable alternatives.

This list cites just a few of the many things marketers have convinced us we need – I’m sure you could add more. Some of the things on this list are luxuries I don’t want to give up, but it helps me to see them as luxuries and not necessities. When I take the time to think about whether the things I automatically add to my shopping list are really necessary, I am better able to evaluate whether they are worth my money. Sometimes I even find that my family has been spending money on things we thought we needed but didn’t, in fact, even really want.

23 thoughts on “Ten “Necessities” That Really Aren’t

  1. Just a few comments…
    Don’t EVER try to combine bleach and ammonia! They work well separately as cleaners, but when combined, create deadly chlorine gas!

    On a less scary note…
    I’ve found that cell phones are actually more cost efficient if you’re in college or a recent college graduate. Many plans have free long distance, which is much cheaper than using phone cards to call home. Also, there’s rarely a need for a land line these days, at least among people my age. A cell phone that’s part of a family plan tends to be relatively cheap, especially if you’re not buying the super expensive types.

    The rest of your comments make sense to me!

  2. YES-on the dryer stuff (haven’t used it for 10 or 15 years), TV, convenience foods (pancake mix?)

    NO- on the cell phone (I feel naked leaving the house without it now), and bottled water (we have a softener and you can’t drink the tap).

  3. Great list. People get so angry when I suggest they ditch their cell phone to help make ends meet. Unless you have a job that requires you to be instantly accessible at all times (like a trauma surgeon), a cell phone is a luxury item. Those of us over a certain age live much of our lives without one and were just fine.

    Same for cable tv. We just got limited basic ($10/month) last year and we’re in our 40s. Before that, it was just the channels that came in by antenna.

    Bottle water is the biggest scam ever pulled on the American public. Not only is it an outrageous waste of money, it is destroying the planet with millions of empty bottles ending up in landfills. There are places where they have started banning bottled water for this reason. Tap water is safe and incredibly cheap. That’s all we drink.

  4. Hmmm, I agree with everything but the shaving cream and dryer sheets.

    I lived without shaving cream for years and got tired of razor burn. WHat soap do you use is what I Ask??? LOL.

    I don’t know what it is but I can not live without dryer sheets. Horrid static and rough fabric. My husband is anti-dryer sheet and we go round and round. I Would love an alternative though – horrid for the environment and I am really sensitive to the scent since we usually don’t do chemicals. The smell is too much for me on some of those – makes me sick, etc.

    But I am pretty with you on everything else. PEople are shocked when I Say my only beauty product is soap. Some myth you have to have a million products to have nice skin and hair. I can’t imagine wearing all those chemicals for one.

  5. I agree with all of the above except for the part about cell phones. If you have a land line phone then you should drop that first. It blows my mind how many people pay for both. If you have a family, then ditch the cell phone if you have a land line already. If you’re single and have no kids, then I would say the opposite should apply.

  6. I have to agree with some that mention that you should look at your landline versus your cellphone before just cutting off the cellphone. In many areas it makes more sense to have the cellphone and not the landline.

    With the increase in technology I really agree that you don’t need to spend money on cable. Using over the air signals from your local stations, coupled with network websites that post their shows, and some other avenues, you can get all the shows you want on cable for a fraction of the cost. Finance is Personal covered this earlier this month.

  7. WRT cell phones:

    Telephone companies are taking down public pay phones (and NOT replacing them) as they age as cost-saving measures. I purposely went without a cell phone on one trip, and was rudely surprised at how difficult it was to find a pay phone. The local shops wouldn’t let me make a phone call on their phones (long-distance, so not surprising), and it took several queries to find a public pay phone. Instead of ditching a cell phone outright, perhaps carrying a pay-as-you-go phone might be a better option for emergencies and such.

  8. I agree with you completely. Well said!

    I recently dropped my cell phone for a prepaid plan. It’s saving me a ton of money, and not being a cell phone junky makes life more peaceful. I hate the mentality that people should be able to get a hold of you anytime, anywhere–it makes life feel so much more chaotic. Voip is a great way to save money on phone service, too.

    Given that bottled water is just filtered tap water, I can’t believe that so many people waste so much money for it (and then they complain about the price of gas). I compromise and use a water filter, which I’m honestly not sure is necessary, but I haven’t met a single person where I live that drinks the tap water, so I assume there’s a good reason for it. Maybe they (and I) have all just bought into a bunch of hype, though.

  9. Umm…what exactly is the “non-disposable” alternative to sanitary napkins you mentioned? Not sure if I really want to know that though (yuck!)

  10. regarding cell phones…
    I don’t know the situation in america, but here in denmark it is cheaper to have a cellphone than a land line. calling land to land and calling cell to land is equally cheap, but calling land to cell is many (3-4) times more expensive than calling cell to cell.
    And given that “most” people have cell phones, then choosing a land line is just plain money out the window

    The trick is choosing the right plan, some plans have high subscription fees but low calling cost and vice versa.

    I have chosen a plan where I pay 200 DKK = 35$ a month in subscription, but then I call for free in the evening and weekends+holidays.The plan actually allows me to pay the subscription fee before taxes so the real cost is more like 100DKK= $17.

    previously I had a plan where I payed 0.08$ per minute but that was after taxes

    my pet peeve is cleary broadband… Most people really don’t need 2MB lines. Just downgrade to the slowest flat-rate speed

  11. @Amber Yount:

    Non-disposable feminine sanitary supplies not only save a ton of money, it’s better for the environment as well. Look up up names such as Glad Rags or Moon Pads for napkins, and names like The Keeper or Diva Cup for tampon alternatives. Some folks might feel squeamish about taking care of their body in such an intimate fashion, but you’ll get over that squeamishness quickly when you see all the money you save.

  12. Articles like this are always great for making us stop and give some thought to things we use or do habitually. Good list.

    Regarding hand sanitizer –
    Hand sanitizer is alcohol based and kills off all the living organisms (with enough scrubbing), although it doesn’t actually remove dirt and debris like soap and water. The “killing the good bacteria” problem is associated with Anti-bacterial soaps, all anti-bacterial products for that matter. So avoid these if possible. That said, most adults could live a long, productive life without using hand sanitizer.
    Full disclosure, as the mother of twins we use hand sanitizer frequently.

  13. Amber, I use the Keeper (a reusable menstrual cup) and I really like it. It cost me $35 about 4 years ago — I think they last indefinitely (though you will need a different size after giving birth). In addition to saving a lot of money, it is far less hassle. I only have to empty it twice a day: once in the morning and once before I go to bed. I don’t have to always run to the drugstore because I’m out of pads/tampons. I don’t have any problems with leaking. It is just as comfortable as wearing a tampon, though I did have to get the hang of inserting and removing it. I am also feel better about producing less garbage (imagine how many pads/tampons one woman throws away in her lifetime). You can also make/buy washable cloth menstrual pads.

  14. Television – a qualified “disagree” – I am always amazed when my college age kids talk about some really interesting, educational, socially responsible TV program they watched when the were much younger. Yes, they watched some cartoons, but limited to a couple of hours early Sat morning. We had pretty strict rules about what they watched – Discovery, TLC, National Geographic.

    On the flip side, my brother’s family didn’t own a TV when their kids were growing up. They really missed some wonderful learning experiences and didn’t learn to be very discriminating consumers, either.

  15. dotm, I grew up without a television (in the 1980s) and I would not trade that experience for anything. It is no coincidence that my siblings and I all became voracious readers. We followed our interests and learned about so many things through books, many of them very untypical for children/teenagers. We were more knowledgeable about so many things than our peers, except about TV shows and advertising jingles and so on. Our parents also taught us to think outside the consumerist mindset and set us an example of non-materialism. We were so rich because of it.

  16. Check out Tracfone if you want a cell phone for emergencies and don’t use it to make a lot of long distance calls. Check out Skype to make free calls over the internet.

  17. I do NOT agree with your point about using different cleaners on different surfaces. Limestone-based surfaces like marble and granite will be etched if you use the wrong cleaner. Citrus juices and other acids will permanently damage very expensive surfaces.

    Otherwise, I’m on board with this list. I guess I just won’t invite you over to clean my granite countertops! 🙂

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  19. I recently was inspired by my sister’s use of cloth napkins at all meals to stop using paper napkins. A few more trees may survive and I LOVE trees!

  20. I don’t agree about using body lotion and regular soap for your face. You sound like you don’t have sensitive skin, which is great for you. For those of us with sensitive skin, a non-soap cleanser is required. Otherwise, I would end up spending a LOT more money at the dermatologist’s office. My husband also has sensitive skin, and he breaks out even if he has a thin film of lotion on his hand if he touches his face. As for me, I would rather spend a little extra money and prevent clogged pores and a face that hurts if I try to smile or talk.

  21. For those of you with sensitive skin, vinegar is a great alternative to dryer sheets for fabric softening, especially if you have a dispenser in your washer. If not, a “Downy ball” dispenser does the trick. My skin has gotten so sensitive to laundry detergents that I’m really limited in what I can use. I was a Downy devotee for years, but I’ve found that 1/4-1/2 cup of white vinegar in the rinse water works like a charm for fabric softening, and it doesn’t leave any scent behind. Don’t worry, your clothes won’t smell like pickles…. 🙂

  22. I echo Monica’s sentiment. We have not had television for over a decade, my children have grown up in a TV free environment, are all avid readers and far more savvy than their friends about the seductiveness of ads. Ly 10 year old remarked to a friend about a product that was being advertised that ‘ It’s not like that in real life’ i.e. when you buy it. As for the educational thing, they show no difficulty in either mixing with their peers or doing research (in a second language) despite not seeing last nights Canal Sat Plus programmes.

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