Defining “Necessity”

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Let’s just take a moment here to define “necessity.” There are a lot of things that people spend money on that are far from necessary, and it might hurt a little to accept the fact that your hair highlights or seeing that new flick in the theater are, indeed, luxuries! If you are trying to live within your means, pay off debt, and be financially wise, you need to decide what is necessary and find places to cut costs. You might think that there is no wiggle room in your budget to squeeze out some savings, but let’s just take a look at some of the things you might be blowing your paycheck on each month. I’ll compare to my actual spending habits, so you know I’m not asking you to do something I don’t do myself.


Going to the movies

  • What you might spend: $12
  • What I spend: $1 for a Redbox

Going out for drinks

  • What you might spend: $50 on a Friday night at the bar
  • What I spend: $5 for one beer at the brewery or $8.99 for a six-pack to drink at a friend’s house

Going to games/shows

  • What you might spend: $70 for a concert or professional sports ticket each month
  • What I spend: $70 for one concert or professional sports ticket once or twice each year


Expensive groceries (example: 85% lean ground beef)

  • What you might spend: $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods
  • What I spend: $2.99 at Aldi

Going out to eat (example: average burger meal with drink at Applebee’s)

  • What you might spend: $25 with tip
  • What I spend: $0 – we hardly ever go out to eat unless we have a gift card!

Ordering take-out (Chinese food, fast food, pizza)

  • What you might spend: $35 for three take-out meals throughout the week and weekend
  • What I spend: $10 for a pizza when we want to splurge on a Friday night

Ordering vs. brewing your own coffee

  • What you might spend: $5 on a latte every day on the way to work
  • What I spend: $3.99 for a bag of ground coffee at Aldi that lasts us about a month

Daily lunch

  • What you might spend: $10 for a Jimmy John’s meal
  • What I spend: $1-2 on groceries that I use to pack my own lunch every day

Beauty/cosmetics (and not just for the ladies!)

Haircuts and color

  • What you might spend: $120 for a cut and color
  • What I spend: $25 with tip for a haircut every 3-6 (okay, sometimes 8) months. I’ve colored my hair once in the last several years, and it was a splurge that I paid for with my Christmas money!

Cosmetic treatments (example: eyelash extensions)

  • What you might spend: $250
  • What I spend: Are you freaking kidding me? I’ll stick with my $8 mascara!


  • What you might spend: $70+
  • What I spend: I can honestly count the number of manis and pedis I’ve paid for in my lifetime on one of my perfectly non-manicured hands. My nails are always painted, but I do it myself, people! An $8 bottle of OPI is just as fancy as a manicure, and you can use it over and over again.

Spa treatments (example: 60 minute massage)

  • What you might spend: $75+
  • What I spend: Maybe once or twice a year, I’ll splurge on a $30 massage Groupon for the less-than-spa-like experience down the street.

Expensive make-up (example: eye shadow)

  • What you might spend: $50 on an Urban Decay Naked Palette
  • What I spend: $15 on the L’Oreal Paris La Palette Nude. It love that thing!

Name brand or excessive clothes and accessories (example: sweater)

  • What you might spend: Banana Republic – $70
  • What I spend: H&M – $15 but many months, I spend absolutely nothing on clothes.

Major purchases

New car

  • What you might spend: $500 on monthly payments
  • What I spend: $0 – we own our well-loved used vehicles (average of about $50-100 per month on repairs)

House vs. renting

  • What you might spend: $1,000 on your average American millennial-age mortgage plus home maintenance
  • What I spend: $750 a month on rent – and when our dishwasher breaks, I can just call maintenance to fix it for free!

Vacations (accommodations in Manhattan, New York City for 7 nights in the Fall)

  • What you might spend: $2,200 total for a mid-range hotel (Holiday Inn Express)
  • What I spend: $1,150 total for a private Airbnb

Little expenses can add up to major dollars

If you made each of these trade-offs just one time in a month, it could save you around $2,500 per month! Now sure, you’re not taking vacations or getting eyelash extensions every month, but let’s just take a few simple adjustments from the list above. Let’s say for one month, you make these changes:

  • Morning latte 3 days per week → 3 days per month: $45 savings
  • Buying lunch 3 days per week → 3 days per month: $95 savings
  • Ordering take-out once per week → once per month: $30 savings
  • Buying a new sweater → finding a new way to accessorize an old sweater: $60 savings
  • Going to the movie theater twice per month → renting two Redbox movies: $20 savings

Just those little tweaks will save you $250 per month. That’s $3,000 per year! That will easily cover an all-inclusive vacation for two people to a Caribbean destination. Or if you look at it from another perspective, let’s say you have $3,000 in credit card debt. By spending the $250 a month on nonsense and paying only the minimum payments on your debt, it would take nearly 8 years to pay off in full and would cost you an extra $2,600 in interest alone (almost double). Paying $250 towards the debt each month would knock it out in a year!

I challenge you to scroll through the list above and find a few little trade-offs that could add up to big savings! You might be surprised to find that your potential to save money is greater than you think.