Something I've learned from meticulous budgeting with Chris is to question everything in the budget. That way you ensure that you're spending your money on the things you actually want to spend money on. It's alarmingly easy for wants to creep into a budget and then establish themselves as needs. So we go through each line item: Do we need electricity? Yes. How about those expensive gym memberships? Yes, we really use and love them. But sometimes asking these questions revealed things we were willing to let go of. Especially if living without something might actually make us happier while also saving us money.
As a result of this budget and lifestyle scrutinizing we found things we could ditch even if most people wouldn't consider parting ways. Here are five things that many people consider essential that we happily live without...
Paper towels and paper napkins. People tend to be very attached to them but I promise that you can live without paper towels and napkins. We quit buying them in 2011 and to this day have no problem drying our hands, wiping our mouths at meal time, or cleaning up messes. The key is to have designated towels and cloths for each purpose. Here's what we have in our cloth arsenal: ~7 flour sack towels for cleaning up spills on the floor, ~15 Trader Joe's Super Amazing Reusable Kitchen Cloths for wiping counters or sticky hands/mouths, ~15 dish towels for drying hands and dishes, and ~15 cloth napkins. We've been using the same system for years so clearly it really works for us. I love not worrying about restocking paper towels or keeping them on the counter top (we love a clutter-free counter). Plus I prefer the feel of using a thicker towel or napkin around the kitchen. If you'd like to try it out slowly I would suggest replacing one type of paper towel use at a time, like buying a set of cloth napkins or flour sack towels. Make sure you identify the different ways you use paper towels and have a reusable product for that specific use. And make sure to have plenty!
A second car. Despite living in a suburb of a sprawling metro area, we became a one car family in June 2014 and haven't looked back! We drive a 2008 Prius with nearly 200,000 miles which gets our family of four everywhere we need to be. We knew driving one less car would save us money each year but we've been surprised at how happy this lifestyle makes us. The happiness from not having a second car includes having room in our garage for bikes and storage, not over-scheduling activities in our family calendar, feeling a team dynamic with Chris as we get creative about getting where we need to go ("You bike to work and then I'll meet you later with the bike rack on the car," etc), and feeling more invested in our community by getting around by bike and public transportation. For Chris our lifestyle has translated to significantly more exercise since he bike commutes to work a few days per week, despite living 30 miles (!!) from his office. (He has a pedal assist e-bike which makes the distance feasible for him to travel.) I also love that Chris takes bike paths to work and spend less time on highways than if he drove every day. The savings from a one car family lifestyle is icing on the cake. We estimate that we save a minimum of $3,000 per year by not driving a second car, which is about what we budget to drive and maintain our paid off Prius. If we had a car payment it would cost even more to have another car.
A bigger house. At 1,776 square feet (four bedrooms, two bathrooms) our house could be big or small depending on your perspective. Our house is quite a bit smaller than the average size of new single-family homes being built in the U.S. (2,392 square feet in 2010) and I wrote a bit about it being a small(ish) house in a previous post. But I am definitely aware that our house is much larger that the homes many people live in. Doing a quick mental review of friend's homes I would say ours falls about in the middle in terms of size (with the acknowledgement that we live in a very affluent town and have many friends who are privileged and in the upper-middle to upper class). The finishes in our house (flooring, faucets, countertops) are not upgraded although we've made changes over the years like changing light fixtures, painting, and recently redoing our front yard. At 35 I've now had friends who have owned more than one house, sometimes moving for the reason of having a house with more room. This decisions depends on lots of factors and can definitely be the right decision for people. At the same it also feels like there's a general pressure in our culture of getting a bigger and nicer house just because that's what you do. Pinterest, HGTV, and drool-worthy decor Instagram accounts certainly contribute to that narrative. If we were to decide to move and buy a bigger and nicer house no one would question our motive even though we don't need a bigger house.
As the years go by I'm finding so much satisfaction in staying in our house and not wishing for a bigger one – although I do have a long list of updates I hope to work through over the years! I feel like we live in every room of our home and the space layout feels efficient. I love not furnishing, heating, and cooling any additional square feet. I love that our mortgage is less than $1,300 and will be paid off before Dashiell goes to college (we refinanced in 2016 to a 15-year mortgage when rates were ridiculously low). I also frequently reflect on how fortunate we are to have a house at all let alone one that fits us so comfortably and whose location is near schools and every suburban comfort we could want. I find that taking all this together gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling towards our house and I'm happy we have no plans to move.
Amazon Prime. Last year I hesitated as I went through the prompts to cancel my Amazon Prime membership. They ask you one million times if you are REALLY SURE you want to cancel. After assuring them I was, Prime and I parted ways. It turns out I love not being in a committed relationship with Amazon. (Although am learning through the Prime(d) podcast that essentially we all depend on Amazon.) Without Prime I no longer buy things on impulse through Amazon and instead wait until I have several things we really need so that the order will get free shipping. I like having a speed bump in place for spending. Do we really need everything so quickly?? Occasionally I do pay for shipping but it's much less than the $12.99/month I would be paying for Prime. I also keep running wish lists and items in my cart for consideration which tends to scratch the urge for impulse buying. I also often get super fast shipping anyway! Several times Amazon will tell me a package will arrive in 5 - 8 business days and I've received it within two days. We do live in a major metro area so I'm sure this will vary depending on location. Having Prime seems like it's become nearly as essential as having internet but we've been happy to live without it.
A television. We got rid of our one television in the summer of 2016 and LOVE not having a television. A TV can be a source of entertainment but we also saw it as a time suck and something our kids would probably whine about wanting to watch (they weren't watching any television yet when we got rid of it). We do have a projector + screen that can be set up inside or outside(!) so we can watch family movies together or Chris and I can watch a movie. But it's a treat and not a routine occurrence. I also love the way our great room/living room is set up without a television with the couch against the wall facing the kitchen. When we had a television we had to instead have the couch facing the wall (where the TV was) which made the big room feel more divided and conversations with guests harder.
Netflix or other streaming services.* I have to put an asterisk on this because in December my mom shared her Netflix log in with us so technically we do have access to Netflix! We've used it a handful of times since then like to watch a few Christmas movies with the boys and recently when Dash was sick and needed some cozy couch days. We don't use any other streaming services that we pay for monthly. We will occasionally buy or rent a movie through iTunes and for the past few years Chris and I have purchased episodes of Modern Family and enjoy watching those together. We used to have Netflix and would watch a couple episodes most nights but found ourselves only ever watching The Office or 30 Rock. We'd try to find something new but would scroll and scroll and not find anything really enticing. It seems drama is the genre du jour and I don't find myself in the mood for it very often. Now I can't imagine what I could give up to spend time watching Netflix every week or day. It would likely be either sleep or reading and I'm not willing to part with the time I have for those. I know so many people say, "But there's so much amazing television right now!" And I say it will all be waiting for me and we'll have so much amazing television to watch when the boys go off to college (which is when I imagine I might have time to spare again). (Haha, exactly what I wrote in this post!)
What about you? Do you live without any of these or other "essentials"?