Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Is a TV a luxury or a necessity?

lg-tvI finally did it: I bought a television.

My original plan was to check out Black Friday/Cyber Monday flyers to try and snag an awesome deal. But I wanted a name brand TV with a lot of options, that wasn’t happening for me in my < $500 price range. :| I wanted an LG, and since I don’t think I’m going to subscribe to cable, I was really interested in their Smart TVs. So, I headed to Craigslist to see if I could pick up something used within my price range.

Thanks to a sweet Telus deal (where customers could get a 42″ LG SmartTV for free after signing up for a 3-year contract), Craigslist was flooded with these brand new TVs (MSRP close to $800 + environmental fee + tax) going for anywhere from $550 to $700. After lowballing a few sellers, I finally got somebody to sell me his for $450 – and with free delivery! :)

To help offset the cost of the TV, I sold my iPad for $350. When I first bought it a year ago, I thought it would be perfect for traveling. But even with the keyboard accessory, it is extremely annoying as a blogging tool. So I rarely ever used it. I’m also trying to sell my Canon G10 digital camera… but the $350 I got for my iPad means that the TV only ended up costing me $100.

Related: Can lifestyle inflation be avoided?

Finally having a TV in my house gives me mixed emotions. I know it’s not something I need (or have needed for at least two years), but it’s nice to have it. And I can honestly say that in the few days that I’ve had it, it’s been pretty great. Watching Netflix on a screen bigger than my 15″ laptop is nice, and I can finally have people over to watch movies, or to play on my Wii.

But buying the TV also reminded me of a report I read a long time ago (2009) about luxury vs. necessity. In this report, they polled over 1,000 Americans and asked what consumer goods they considered to be a luxury, and which they considered a necessity. The report is old, and it’s polling Americans and not Canadians, but I think it’s still pretty interesting. Here are the results:

Vehicle 88%
Landline phone 68%
Clothes dryer 66%
Air conditioner 55%
Television 52%
Home computer 50%
Cell phone 49%
Microwave 47%
High-speed internet 31%
Cable or satellite TV 23%
Dishwasher 21%
Flat-screen TV 8%
iPod 4%

I would consider all of the items above to be luxuries… but would feel extremely inconvenienced and miserable if I didn’t have a home computer, high-speed internet, and access to a phone (landline or cell). Those items are borderline necessities for my current lifestyle (obviously I wouldn’t die and my health likely wouldn’t deteriorate as a result of not having these things), but they would definitely be luxuries if my lifestyle changed for whatever reason.

So for fun, I created the same survey for you to answer! It’ll only take a few seconds, and I think it would be interesting to see the data after a few days. Note, you’ll have to scroll a bit with the survey. :)

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. kara says:

    The only two items I consider a necessity are my car and my high speed internet … BUT … the only reason I consider them necessities is that my job is computer related and I work fro home. So I either need high speed access *or* I need a car to get me to my home office (30 miles away on roads that are not safe to bike/walk and limited public transportation). If I had a different job or lived in a different area, I might not even consider those necessities.

  2. alexislives says:

    I too consider all the things on the list to be luxury items. That being said, I’m fortunate enough to have all but a landline phone and cable (I have TV, but have never wanted it). I do think missing some of the things on the list would be harder than others like AC, car, cellphone and (sadly) internet. However, if I needed to, I could live without them all.

  3. Micro says:

    It would be interesting to see how those items would poll if they were run again. I realize most people tend to think internet and a phone are luxury items. From a purely survival stand point, they are. However, you really can’t function really well if you don’t have access to either of those items. Try getting a job without having access to a phone line or the internet these days. ^_^

  4. I consider everything on that list as a luxury. We don’t NEED a car or a TV or internet. Many people in the world don’t have these things and live perfectly fine lives. I think it’s important to recognize that we are one of the priviledged few and we can/may afford these conveniences.

    Now that being said, I would say that the ones I personally enjoy use the most would be the high-speed internet & cellphone.

    PS – Does this mean you’re getting cable? Or just using it for netflicks? (Also did you know you can use Wii to watch Youtube? It does not have a good user interface but works fine.)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      No, I won’t be getting cable. I tried watching TV the other day. The commercials were so annoying, and nothing good was on. I don’t miss it, except for when I want to watch sports. So will just be sticking with Netflix.

      And yes I did know with my Wii I can watch YouTube – and Netflix if I remember correctly!

  5. FI Pilgrim says:

    I would say that a TV is a luxury, but college football is definitely a necessity. :-)

  6. jolie says:

    NO public transit here but long spread out distances in the community (across a river even) for school and home and such. With 4 people, a dryer is a need as well. Even in the summer when I use my clothesline a ton, I still use my dryer for underclothes and to soften the edge on jeans and towels (they get hard on the line). I would never stay caught up without a dryer.

    I had the want/need chat with my class the other day and was surprised by the logic of some in justifying ‘need’. “You need a computer. What if you don’t have a radio and you need to know how cold it is out. The internet is the answer’ (so is a thermometer, says his loving teacher :-)

  7. dojo says:

    I’d happily sell the 2 TVs we have in the house, since I don’t see their use at all. I do my watching on my laptop and that’s it. Not to mention wasting time with the TV is not really the best choice anyway. from the entire list of needs’ I’ve checked the car, the cell phone and the computer. I don’t need care for the rest.

  8. mytoughgirl says:

    I love watching TV. You can watch stuff from your tablet or computer, but it looks and sounds better on TV. For me, TV is a neccessity because I use it so much and I never lived without it.

  9. Love the survey! I don’t care anything about the TV, but as I work from home and am trying to launch my own online business, I do truly NEED my own computer at home (and would very much want high-speed internet!)

  10. Jennifer says:

    Did you know you can buy ‘bunny ears’ at Target for your HDTV? They’re $20, and you should receive five to eight local channels.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yeah I know of some people who use bunny ears… I’m not sure how well it will work where I live, since I’m surrounded by trees and I don’t even really get good cell reception. But it’s something to consider for sure!

      • G says:

        I’ve used bunny ears for years! My parents bought me a flat screen TV when I moved away for grad school, but I could never justify paying for cable (as a broke student).

        The only things on the list I would consider necessities are a phone (either cell or land-line), a computer, and internet. It would be hard to function without those things.. how would anyone get a hold of you?

  11. Dayle says:

    From that list I only consider a car and a cell phone a necessity… I need my car to get to work, and I need some form of a way to contact someone in case of emergency at home (or while driving)…. I think life would be just peachy without any of the other items, I could easily live without them~

  12. Hmm, while none of those items are necessary for life, I consider a home computer, cell phone, and clothes dryer “necessary”. I don’t have a TV, landline, dishwasher, A/C, microwave, cable, or an iPod and I am getting along just fine :)

  13. Tara Zee says:

    As someone who hates what dryers do to my clothing, I can’t imagine it ever being a necessity. I’ve also lived without a dishwasher for years so you can count that off too.

    Where I live you don’t need a car although it’s convenient to have. And living in an urban environment where you don’t get great cross breezes, an air conditioning is a MUST at night unless you get cold easily (which I don’t). I’ve tried sleeping in the August nights in NYC and the heat literally prevents me from sleeping. But I can at least survive the day without a/c. :)

  14. Bet Crooks says:

    I am related to some people who do community nursing. They’ve noticed that for some elderly disabled people the TV provides an important role of letting them believe they have a more active life and more connections than they really do. The soaps they watch let them feel they belong to a large family and they follow the ups and downs as closely as if the actors were their children and grandchildren. Most of these people only get one or two visits from real relatives a week, often only for an hour or so. The loneliness for some would be extreme without their TV families.

    I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, but TV is a very low-cost way to entertain someone. You don’t need a $500 TV to watch and in many cities you can get a few channels over the air.

  15. RichUncle EL says:

    WOw I didn’t think it would be possible to score a great deal like that in Craiqlists. I love LG Tv’s and that is exaclty what I have in my house. Watch Avatar on bluray it will blow your mind.

  16. I have an old t.v.-think a 13″ box set around 12 years old. I LOVE it!!! I also use a digital convertor so that I can watch t.v. I don’t have a cable and I have a ton of things that I can watch. That being said I may be getting a flat screen t.v. next year for Christmas and have it mounted to the wall. Saving a ton of space.

  17. SP says:

    I voted for internet, home computer and phone, but realistically, a person could LIVE without those. It would be difficult for me though. :)

    Of the rest, air conditioning could be more necessary (or highly inconvenient not to have) in many climates, but not in mine. I live in an area where I could get by without a car (but in that case a bike would be quite useful). I don’t have cable and while we have a TV, I wouldn’t miss it much (if I had a laptop w/internet or… even a radio with NPR).

    I find a clothes dryer extremely handy, as well as a dishwasher. For my current lifestyle / income, I consider those necessary luxuries!

    Our new apartment doesn’t have a microwave, which really only interferes with my formerly near-daily old-fashioned oatmeal making and my zapping of distilled water for my neti pot. It will be OK, but i’m not sure how annoying (or not) oatmeal will become. I don’t think we’ll get one (space) but i will miss it.

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