What Can You Live Without? Four Rules To Help You Decide

For everyone who’d like to spend a little less and save a little more, deciding what you can live without often becomes a key question. Thankfully, very few people in America—though not none—are faced with this question in a literal sense. For most, the application of the question, “Can I live without this?” usually involves an item much more like a Prada bag or an iPhone than food or medicine. So how do you really decide what you can “live” without?

  1. Utility and productivity: If your washing machine breaks and you have four kids, it could quickly become a real problem to not have a functioning washing machine. The utility and productivity of the washing machine would easily justify the purchase in most homes with children. On the other hand, it may be difficult to identify the utility of a cute new top. Unless you don’t have any, chances are the top is functionally interchangeable with half a dozen others at home. You can probably live without that.
  2. Affordability: If you’re out running errands and you find yourself dead tired, stopping at Starbucks for a scone and a cold beverage won’t likely ruin your budget for the month (if you don’t do it every day) and it may just get you through a busy day to take a moment for yourself. Stopping at Nordstrom for a new pair of pumps for $300 as a reward, on the other hand, may blow the budget and undo weeks of progress.
  3. Personal v. communal: The last time your husband spent $350 on himself without talking to you first, you likely wanted to break his new putter over your knee. On the other hand, if he walked in to suggest a long weekend in a cabin with the whole family that would cost about $350, you’d probably celebrate. Finding a way to really share the joy in an occasional splurge will make it easier for everyone to swallow any setback to the budget.
  4. Budget: If you’re fortunate enough to have a budget that allows for you to purchase a new Dolce & Gabbana handbag, more power to you. If, on the other hand, a new handbag from the Gap isn’t in the budget, it may not really matter in your household that it is 1/20th the price of the D&G bag, you still can’t afford it.

You’ll likely notice that there isn’t a rule for how much cooler it is than the thing it would replace. It really isn’t a fair question to ask whether the new iPhone is 18% lighter or 10% bigger. It certainly doesn’t matter than some shallow-minded spendthrift is convinced that you just can’t be cool without the latest iteration of some new technology. Subject your iPhone purchase to the rules above and if it works, great—otherwise wait!