Luxuries vs. Necessities: GMBMFB Poll Results

Last week I bought my first television in two years, and that prompted me to write a post about luxuries vs. necessities. In that post, I cited a 2009 survey that polled over 1,000 Americans and asked what consumer goods they considered to be a luxury, and which they considered a necessity. The results were interesting, and I wanted to see if they have changed over the last 4 years so I conducted my own informal poll here at GMBMFB.

Just to recap, here are the results from the 2009 survey:


From the GMBMFB poll (338 participants to date), here are our results:


It’s interesting to see that the top 3 things we value in 2013 weren’t necessarily considered necessities just four years ago. A cell phone is now considered to be a necessity at 80%, whereas in 2009 a cell phone was only at 49%. Granted, I think that has a lot to do with people canceling their landline phones and moving over to something more mobile.

I would completely agree with the top 4 things on the GMBMFB poll: like I mentioned in the last post, all of these items are luxuries… but the top things on my list are a cell phone, high-speed internet, and a home computer. Having a car and a clothes dryer is also pretty nice, but I’ve lived without those things before. I’ve never had air conditioning, and rarely use my microwave or my dishwasher. I don’t own an iPad/tablet, cable TV, or a landline.

Do any of the results from the GMBMFB poll surprise you? Or were they exactly what you expected?

About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, 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, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. I’m actually surprised that a TV is so high on the list. To me it should be down around the land line phone level!

  2. I wonder which would rate higher as a necessity smart phone or dumb phone. Do you think people would consider data a necessity?

    • Well, at least for me personally – I would consider a smart phone with data a necessity if I didn’t have a home computer with high speed internet. If I had a computer with internet, I would be fine with just a regular phone. Even a landline if it were cheaper.

  3. Yeah a lot of the stuff depends on different factors. When I lived in the suburbs I would have listed a car as a necessity FOR SURE but now that I’m downtown, I really don’t need or want a car.

    **PS Hi Krystal, been quietly following your blog for a couple weeks now! Thanks for the inspiration! (I’m a fellow Vancouverite :)

  4. Looks about in line with my priorities.

    If I was a freelancer I would definitely need a smartphone, high speed internet and laptop. As it is I do need all those things for work, and my work provides me with a phone and computer. A cellphone of some sort is definitely a necessity for anyone working in today’s world.

    We have a washer and dryer in our current rental (and once lived in an apartment that came with both, plus a dishwasher), but I definitely would consider a dryer a luxury! Am not used to that at all.

  5. It was interesting to read the comments on the other thread.

    I think “necessity” is situational to some extent. If you want to get right down to it, the only thing any of us NEEDS is shelter from the elements, food to eat, and water to drink. But in the US if you don’t have access to transportation, a phone, and/or some kind of Internet (even if it’s a free gmail account and a public library access), you’re going to have a very very very hard time getting a job to pay for shelter, food, and water. And as far as I know, there’s no place left in the US where you can stake a claim on some land, build a lean to out of some wood, and hunt/grow food … you still have to pay for that land, pay for the materials to build, and get a license to hunt. :)

    So I think when people make comments like “the rest of the world doesn’t need … X, Y, Z” that’s somewhat disingenuous.

    I don’t think anyone needs a TV, no matter how much they claim they’ve never lived without it and it would be impossible to. Microwave, air conditioner, clothes washer/dryer, dishwasher all fall into the same “no one really needs them” arena for me. They might be at the top of your list of things that make your life 1000% easier, but they’re still not needs. You could survive, even in 20th century America w/out them.

    But some way to communicate (phone of any kind, Internet) and some type of transportation are necessities in our modern life.

  6. For me, my cell phone, laptop, and internet are my biggest necessity. So I completely agree with the top three. I live in NYC so a car is basically useless since MTA is the easiest and cheapest way to get around. A/C is completely needed because it gets way too hot during the summer. I just actually took off my last week. I only use my TV during baseball season and I get most of my TV shows online with Netflix. Landline phone is the last thing I need however my parents still have one connected.

    I still live with my parents so I am lucky to not have to pay for anything but when I move out, I will think carefully about what I truly need.

    • IN the spirit of discussion, I would argue that a/c is NOT a need. “Way too hot” and feeling sweaty and miserable and uncomfortable is … uncomfortable. But it’s not a need. People seem to forget that air conditioning wasn’t standard in most homes until the 60′s and 70′s and wasn’t actually available to anyone until the middle third of the 20th century.

      • As someone who gets incredibly grumpy when it’s out outside, I would tend to agree with you Kara. I’ve actually never had A/C before, but I remember when I lived in Michigan, it was so hot during the summers that any sort of movement would cause me to sweat. In Germany, it got really hot during the summer as well, and I just opened the window and wore less clothes. It was definitely really uncomfortable, but not unbearable.

  7. I find it interesting that people found that a land-line was a necessity. I haven’t had a land-line in 12 years and don’t see any need for it since we have two cell phones in the house.

    • I think a phone is probably a necessity, but I think the difference between a land line and a cell phone is splitting hairs. If you have one or the other, you’re covered. IMO, of course.

  8. I mean most of these things aren’t really needs per say. I cannot sleep while hot so for my comfort I consider it a need. I understand that many people do not need it (my British friends find it weird that I have 3 A/C in my house since many of them don’t have any) however it is a need in my book. My mother always said when it came to comfort nothing else mattered. Con Edison raises the prices during the summer regardless so I’d rather have my A/C.

    • But, and again, this is for the sake of discussion .. “your comfort” is not a need. Comfort is not a need. Health and safety are.

      So, how exactly do you define “need”?

      I don’t define “I want it and it makes me more comfortable” as being a need. It’s a want. Maybe a high level want, but not a need.

  9. For me when we are discussing luxuries vs. necessities, a need is anything that falls under necessities. You are right. I don’t “need” an A/C in the way I need water or a roof over my head. However, I wasn’t talking about those types of needs. I was talking about those things that would make my life difficult/uncomfortable to live without. For example, I don’t need my cell phone because I have a house phone, however, my life would be made more difficult because I don’t own one. Perhaps you are right and I should call it a high level want. Regardless of the word choice, all of these things are luxuries like Krystal said in her post but I think in time some of these might move over to the other side.

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