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Sunday, 8 June 2008

12 New 'Necessities' That Drain Your Cash

by Jay MacDonald

True essentials never really change -- food, water, shelter and clothing.

However, modern life has created a host of "new necessities" that many people swear they cannot live without -- a daily latte, premium cable, a weekly manicure, a new leased automobile and cell phones for the family.

In reality, there's a more accurate word for those pricey add-ons: entitlements.

If you want to significantly cut spending, it's important to take a closer look at what you consider to be needs.

"Basically, what we need has nothing to do with Starbucks coffee," says money coach and psychotherapist Olivia Mellan, author of "Overcoming Overspending."

"A lot of us in wealthy, overspending America are either born or raised with a tremendous sense of entitlement. We say to ourselves, 'I work hard or, I work at a job I hate -- at least I should be able to have a Starbucks coffee every day or eat out for lunch.' But of course, those are not needs, they're wants. They're pleasures."

Mary Hunt, author of "Debt-Proof Living" and a recovering overspender, fell into the entitlement trap to the tune of $100,000 in obligations before she realized that so-called bare necessities were burying her in debt.

Today, Hunt avoids malls, shares a car with her husband, and spends much of her time helping groups wake up and smell the Folgers.

"When financial ignorance and availability of credit meet ugly attitudes of entitlement, that is a recipe for a horrible disaster," she says. "I know; I've been there. That's why I tell people the road's out up ahead -- turn around!"

The Cost of New 'Necessities'

We all need the basics: food, water, shelter and clothing. However, is that daily latte really a "necessity"? Does our happiness depend on having premium cable?

Eliminating any of the following modern-day "necessities" can save you money for the really important things in life.

Jeff Yeager, who has long lived the frugal lifestyle he espouses in "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches," says the irony is that the more we consume, the more we are consumed.

"When you simplify, you almost always save money, but the really great thing is it makes us happier," he says. "We take 'stuff' as being such a positive in our lives, but I'm not convinced that it is. It's certainly costing us more money. Not only does it not make us any happier, it arguably makes us less happy. It makes the quality of our life decrease."

Dialing back the entitlements not only saves you money, it can start a domino effect. For instance, doing your own lawn care and dog walking can eliminate the "need" for an expensive health club.

Meanwhile, commuting by bike or public transit can eliminate the "need" for a second car.

Dirty dozen

Many of today's new "necessities" actually are entitlements that leave people deeper in debt. Here are 12 "new necessities" you might find you can downsize or even live without. Average prices quoted are courtesy of Costhelper.com except where noted:

Daily Latte

The notion of giving up your daily latte and getting rich has become a cliché for a reason: A barista-made latte costs roughly 100 times what a homebrewed cup of Joe does.

Would you pay $1,000 for a pizza? Get real.

Brew your own and save $25 a week, or $1,300 a year.

Cable TV

Bruce Springsteen described cable TV succinctly in his song "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)." But even if you can't imagine living without C-SPAN, you can save by dropping premium cable while holding onto basic service.

Dropping premium channels should save you about $25 to $30 a month, or $300 to $360 a year.

If you're more ambitious, you can save a bundle by dropping premium and basic service. Basic service often runs about $30 to $35 a month, or $360 to $420 a year. So if you drop cable entirely, you'll save $55 to $65 a month, or $660 to $780 annually.

Manicure/Pedicure

Standard manicures average $10 to $15 at nail shops and $20 to $25 at spas and salons. Standard pedicures run $15 to $25 (nail shops) and $35 to $40 (spas and salons). Acrylic nails run $25 to $35 (nail shops) and $35 to $45 (spas and salons).

If you only skipped one of each per month, you would save $50 to $110 a month, or $600 to $1,200 a year. Just doing your own weekly manicure will save you $520 to $1,300 annually.

Botox

What, give up Botox? Don't frown. Those treatments -- typically scheduled every three months -- cost on average between $300 and $1,200 per visit.

Let nature take its course and save $1,200 to $4,800 a year.

Bottled Water

Some people consider bottled water a necessity, even though the perfect low-cost alternative is available from any faucet in their home.

"Bottled water drives me crazy," Hunt says. "There are so many studies that show that tap water is better for our kids because it has fluoride and it's not stripped of all the minerals."

Drink tap water and pocket the $25 to $40 monthly fee for bottled water delivery, based on online averages.

Second Car

Hands down, a second car is the highest-ticket "new necessity" in America today. It's so prevalent that Yeager is doing his book promotion tour by bike just to point up the sheer absurdity of our one-person, one-car paradigm.

Hunt, who routinely leased a new car every three years for 22 years until her finances crashed and burned, tried carpooling with her husband 10 years ago and never bought another car.

"I said, 'You know what? Oprah has a driver,'" she says. "That was such a wakeup call to me, because a car had become a necessity of life."

Not only does she not miss the car payment, maintenance, license, registration, insurance fees and outlay for gas ("We save at least $1,000 a month," she estimates), but there's that domino effect: She no longer zooms off to the mall to shop at the hint of a sale.

Cell Phone

Those TV ads that feature parents distraught over their family's cell phone bill may qualify as truth in advertising for once.

"This drives me crazy," Hunt says. "I'm sorry, a 4-year-old does not need a cell phone. I think even a family with teenagers could get by with one or two prepaid phones that they pass around."

You can save $40 to $60 per month on average, or $480 to $720 per year, for every cell phone you eliminate. A prepaid plan used sparingly will save you money over a contract plan.

Lawn Service

Here's the rationalization for a lawn service: My time is worth more than I'm paying them to cut my grass. Heck, it's actually a savings!

Well, yes -- if you were mowing your lawn during business hours instead of at night or on the weekend with the rest of us.

The average cost for weekly mowing, hedge trimming and leaf blowing is $65 to $90. It's hardly a savings to shell out $260 to $360 a month, is it? Mow your own and save the dough.

If you do enough lawn and garden work, you may even save the $35 to $40 you shell out each month for your fitness club membership.

Clothes

Where would retailers be if we only bought clothes we need?

"I'm not a fashion-conscious guy, but I've observed that clothes, even the cheapest clothes, last forever," Yeager says. "When was the last time you truly wore something out?"

While we're not suggesting you dress in rags -- or worse, go without clothes altogether -- satisfying your wardrobe jones with a measure of frugality can save a bundle.

"I think most Americans could easily go for one year without buying any new clothes," Yeager says.

Private School

Give up private school? Are you crazy?!

"A lot of parents almost feel that they are abusing their children if they don't send them to private school," Hunt says. "I don't agree with that."

Instead, Hunt believes parents can save a bundle -- and provide their children with a top-notch education -- by sticking with public schools.

"I'm a huge proponent of public school," she says. "I think some private schools are actually inferior because sometimes their instructors don't have to be credentialed."

Oh, did we mention that you're already paying for public school anyway? Go public and save anywhere from $8,000 to $35,000 per year, according to the Boarding School Review Web site.

Childhood Parties

If you don't have kids, you probably can't appreciate how out-of-control children's birthday parties have become.

"Every kid has to have a bouncy house for their birthday," says Hunt, who lives in Southern California. "It's not enough to have just a cake; you have to have a meal. And now you have to invite the parents."

Hunt adds that such celebrations no longer are restricted to "big" birthdays, but occur every year.

"And they celebrate graduations, from preschool, for kindergarten, for elementary, junior high," she says. "When they get to be teens, the whole group has to go somewhere. By the time you graduate high school, now you go to Aruba."

Young parents, you've been warned.

Pet grooming/Walking

The cost of grooming your dog averages $30 to $50 for small breeds, $50 to $70 for midsize breeds and $70 to $90 for large breeds. A pet walker on average runs $15 to $27 per walk.

To save money, invest in a $25 set of electric clippers and learn online about how to groom your pet. You'll pay for the razor with the first haircut.

And wouldn't a daily walk do you both some good?

Copyrighted, Bankrate.com. All rights reserved.

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