April 2, 2008

Limited Budget Luxuries

Amba asks: what luxuries would you not give up even if you had to live on a limited budget? Some, who have lived on truly limited budgets, would scoff at such a question – the answer, they would say, is “none, because you need to survive and that’s what it is to have no money.” Thinking back on the rough times The Wife and I went through early in our marriage, I realize that we never got to the point that we had to start cutting that deeply. We did have some help to keep us above that threshold. I assume, then, that Amba is building into the meme the idea that there is slightly more than survival money available. You’ve got enough income to reliably house, clothe, and feed yourself, and (presumably) enough to get some kind of transportation to and from a subsistence-level job. And then there’s a little bit left over – what do you spend that little bit on?

Amba excludes cell phones, but I think that’s not correct. A cell phone is a luxury – a common one, but a luxury nonetheless. You don’t need to have telephonic communication with the outside world at all times, wherever you go. Having a phone at all is probably not a luxury but a land line is so much cheaper than a cell phone line that there is no need, as far as I can see, to spend the extra money on the portable object. The Wife and I have more than sufficient money to survive right now, but outside of work, there are very few non-luxury phone calls in which I participate on any phone. Amba’s choices (aside from cell phones) are fresh romaine lettuce, good coffee, and good bread. With the coffee, I’m going to have to again disagree. The Wife and I were spending higher amounts of money on better-grade coffees, but after a while I began to realize that we both put so much soy creamer and sweeteners in the coffee that any subtle distinctions between the good stuff and the ordinary stuff was going to be completely swamped. So we’ve moved down the scale to pre-ground Maxwell House in the three-pound bulk containers, and we really haven’t noticed the difference. Of course, coffee itself is something of a luxury; if you have clean water to drink, that’s all you really need. I might not do without coffee if I only had a very small amount of discretionary money, but I could easily do without the more expensive brands of coffee. The real question is whether I would give up creamer.

Some people, especially those who have never been through rough economic times, may not realize that poverty can be dull. You don’t have money to do things like go to the movies. All you can afford to do is stay home and entertain yourself as best you are able. Again, a public library can be a big help here – you can borrow and read books for free, and thus occupy and use your mind rather than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. If there’s a little extra money beyond survival levels, then maybe spending it on some way to at least minimally exercise the mind would be my option. My first choice for that would be home internet access (if I had a working computer) and after that some sort of game, even if it was just a deck of cards or a newspaper subscription for the crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Internet access, though, carries at least the minimal promise of economic utility as well as mental stimulation. When we had our tough times, that’s what we did, actually – we still kept our good internet connection and, in fact, did derive some economic utility from it because I could use it to do some work where otherwise I would have had none.

One thing that I have to sadly agree on with Amba is that having pets is a luxury that those on really limited budgets may have to consider doing without. I’d be very sad to let the critters go if our economic circumstances again fell to a point that we couldn’t afford things. But you have a responsibility to your animal companions, who cannot feed or care for themselves, and that means giving them away to those who can care for them if you cannot. And The Wife and I are of a single mind on the point that we would hold on to the animals as long as we could. They bring joy, love, and companionship to our lives far in excess of the value of the money we spend on their food and veterinary care.

Another thing that I’d be willing to spend my little bit of non-survival money on would be garlic. If I’m on a limited budget, that’s garlic powder instead of the cloves, but I use a fair amount of powdered garlic anyway for its ease of use. You don’t really need it to cook food whose primary purpose is nutrition and nothing more, since garlic has little nutritive value. But garlic makes other kinds of foods taste better and so it elevates simply nutrition eating into something from which there can be some measure of pleasure. But the luxury I’d keep with only minimal discretionary money available would be home internet access.


zzi said...

Are you giving up garlic for fear of being called a "garlic nose' from a certain pastor?

Burt Likko said...

RTFA. I'd buy garlic even on a very limited budget.