As I type this post, the show Doomsday Preppers is playing in the background of my hotel room. As far as I can tell, the show isn't available yet in Canada, so let me fill you in on what you're missing.
The program profiles families that are preparing for certain doomsday scenarios. One family is prepping for an economic catastrophe, one that will see hyperinflation render their savings useless. Another family is preparing for a significant natural disaster, like a super volcano.
Their preparation methods are all pretty standard. They're all stockpiling food, water, firewood, and most importantly, bullets. Hey, you gotta be prepared for the worst, right? When the unthinkable happens, these people will be prepared, and the rest of us will be regretting our lack of preparation.
But until this happens, these people are just a bunch of crazy extremists. We can all point and laugh at their crazy antics, content in knowing we're all safe and sound, at least for now. As I watched the show, a personal finance related theme came to mind. Forget about the end of the world, or some major disaster, or anything else really bad happening. Let's talk about needs, and what you really need.
We Can Live Without A Lot
Just 50 short years ago, we lived without smart phones, iPads, the internet, cable TV, satellite radio, Coke Zero, personal computers in general, calculators and reality TV. All of those things are pretty awesome except one, which I'll leave up to you to decide.
It wasn't that long ago we did without all these things, and we did just fine. Is it really so bad if our friends can't text us every single minute of the day? Is listening to the radio with commercials really that bad?
Yet, when you make your budget, how many of these so-called necessities have you pencilled in there? If you're anything like me, a whole bunch. I have cable TV, the internet, (obviously, since you're reading this) an iPhone, along with probably a dozen other things I don't need.
At the risk of sounding a little condescending, I'm quite okay with all the luxuries in my life. I don't struggle with making ends meet every month. I save a comfortable percentage of my income. This post is being written in a hotel room a long ways from home, a trip I didn't even have to budget for. I just dipped into my savings and was off. I'm in the position that I can afford a few luxuries.
What if you're one of those people who struggle to make ends meet? Should you be cutting out some necessities.
You sure should be.
The Biggest Luxury of All
Okay, it's not really the biggest luxury of all, but I needed a catchy title to get your attention. What is, at least in my opinion, the #1 thing you should be cutting out if you're carrying any sort of consumer debt? No, it's not your cell phone, or your cable TV, or even your Netflix subscription.
Nope, it's travel.
It seems like everybody is touting the benefit of travelling these days. I'd agree with them for the most part. Going from cold, cold Canada to somewhere warmer in the winter is fantastic. Seeing the world is a pretty cool experience. I'm not here to bash travel.
I am here to bash travel when you can't afford it. I know all sorts of people who are still paying off vacations they took years earlier, since they put them on their credit card. I also know all sorts of people who at least didn't finance their holidays, but don't have an emergency fund or any savings to speak of, because they've spent all of their excess cash on travelling.
Travelling is good. Putting yourself at financial risk to do it is bad. It's the same thing with having a cell phone, or cable TV, or satellite radio. Travelling is hardly a necessity, just like any of those other luxuries.
Cutting Out Is Important
Take a good long look at some of the unnecessary luxuries in your life. Most of them are there for one purpose – to entertain. Just how entertained do you need to be?
The world is filled with free or almost free entertainment options. The library is filled with all sorts of stuff to keep you amused, basically for free. Going for a walk is free, assuming you don't buy a pair of shoes just for walking.
How many of you actually use your Netflix subscription? Or your satellite radio subscription? Finding a substitute wouldn't be that difficult, and can save you some money each month. Is cable no longer important? Then cut it. Don't just keep it because it doesn't seem like that much. These recurring costs have a way of adding up over time. What are you waiting for?