Frugal NationFrugal Nation

16 things you don't need

Ads constantly promote items we can't live without. Resist!

By Donna_Freedman Jul 9, 2012 10:59AM
Image: Bottled water (© Grove Pashley/Corbis)Every waking hour, consumers are bombarded with deals. Online and on TV, in magazines and on the sides of buses, ads show us objects we can't possibly live without.

Except that we usually can. How do you suppose people managed before greeting card companies made birthday cards "from the cat" or "from me and the dog"? Before applesauce came in tubes? Before we started thinking our blankets needed sleeves?

This list of 16 things you don't need is by no means exhaustive, but it's a start.

Disposable income = disposable items

1. Bottled water.
"It's more expensive than gasoline . . . $6.40 per gallon for a liquid I can get for free at home," writes Karla Bowsher at Money Talks News. If you live where the water tastes weird (howdy, Phoenix!), get yourself a filter. Bowsher's article lists top-rated models that start at under $20.

2. Paper plates.
For a picnic in the park, maybe. But why not get a set of unbreakable dishes for picnics, barbecues and visits from the grandbabies? That's certainly greener and ultimately cheaper if you shop thrift stores and yard sales.

3. Paper napkins.
Notice a pattern here? Reusable beats disposable any time. I got six cloth napkins for a quarter at a rummage sale; check post-holiday clearance sales, too. Or buy a fabric remnant and sew your own.

4. Paper cups in the bathroom.
If you're that concerned about germs, carry the cup to the kitchen each morning and toss it in the dishwasher. Note: Some people "cup" their palms and bring water to their mouths. Just sayin'.

5. Disposable hand towels.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw these advertised. Neither could Mrs. Money of the Ultimate Money Blog: "The last thing we need is another disposable product, especially one that is pretty much useless and replaces something that has worked well for so many years." What she said.

Use and toss
6. Disposable flossers. Bathrooms sure are full of, um, waste. Rolls of floss go on sale all the time. (Post continues after video.)
7. Name-brand OTC meds.
Compare ingredient labels for any over-the-counter medications you need; when in doubt, talk to the pharmacist. Tip: Know what things cost since name-brand pills might be cheaper with a sale plus coupon and/or rebate.

8. Sandwich bags.
No need to buy and toss, buy and toss. Put your PBJs in a reusable container.

9. Lunch bags.
They're still for sale, but I don't know why. Get yourself a reusable lunchbox or lunch bag. (I found mine in the free box at a yard sale.)

10. Ringtones.
Your phone came with a ringer installed. Use it.

11. Diaper Genie.
A mechanized trashcan just for nappies? Throw them in the household garbage just as people did back in the dark ages.

Dogs don't celebrate Halloween
12. DVDs.
Be honest: How many of your DVDs have been watched more than once? Now: Add up what you've spent on them. When your headache goes away, remember you can probably get DVDs free from the public library.

13. Books.
Libraries have books, too. Unless you plan to read a title numerous times (see "DVDs," above) why are you dropping $30 per hardback? Those best-sellers show up pretty quickly in used-book shops, yard sales and thrift stores.

14. Magazine subscriptions.
Are you reading the ones you have? Then why keep subscribing? Your favorites may be available for free at the library. (What swell places libraries are.)

15. Pet costumes.
Do I really have to explain?

16. Snuggies.
First, put your bathrobe on backward. Next, congratulate yourself on all the money you just saved.

What are your favorite unnecessary necessities?

More on MSN Money:
Jul 9, 2012 1:21PM
"Snuggies. First, put your bathrobe on backward. Next, congratulate yourself on all the money you just saved."

Jul 9, 2012 3:07PM
I agree with a lot of these, but CERTAINLY not 13. There's nothing wrong about owning a book. Even if you don't plan to read it over and over, it's nice to have it there if you want to and it's good to support the authors you like to read by actually buying their books.
Jul 10, 2012 10:55AM

First off, in Donna's defense, her column (as I see it) is meant for people who wants ideas for frugality.  So if that's not your cup of tea, DON'T READ IT!  She is merely giving ideas.

Secondly, I had to laugh to myself at the perception that a diaper genie is considered a "necessity" now. 17 years ago, my baby wore CLOTH diapers.  We couldn't afford disposable diapers, let alone a diaper genie.  I recently had a Walmart associate tell me that she thought diapers should be subsidized by the government.  REALLY?  It's amazing what people consider as "necessities" now. Kinda sad, actually. I hope I can equip my kids with better "frugality" skills than what the general population seems to have.  One never knows when times will get tough.

Jul 9, 2012 3:02PM
if i don't buy sandwich baggies, what will i put my weed in?
Jul 9, 2012 4:18PM
Knick Knacks - or as my mom called them "dust collectors."  I have so few of them that I really enjoy those few.  I don't like a lot of clutter - less is more for me
Jul 10, 2012 7:36AM
books? are you serious... Books are something people should buy and read. too many people don't ever pick up a good book any more. It is good for the brain to read and use immagination. What people really don't need are the tree hugging morons who point fingers while travlening cross contry on private jets or write articles like this.
Jul 9, 2012 1:54PM
Love the bathrobe on backward! HAHAHAHAHAHA
Jul 10, 2012 10:42AM
I totally disagree with the DVDs.  I have two kids under ten and no cable.  While we play outside for most of the day at night they like to watch something on the boob tube.  You can get used kids movies at yard sales or places like Once Upon a Child or even Goodwill for  a good price and kids that young can watch them over and over.   I'd rather do that than spend a fortune on cable and internet.
Jul 9, 2012 1:58PM
I do have sandwich bags that I occasionally use.  I have a handful of DVDs that I have watched multiple times.  My only other no-no from the list is a big one on my part. Books.  I'm a sucker for them.  I buy them at tag sales and used book stores.  I have a ton.
Jul 9, 2012 4:32PM
add to the list: more than 5 pairs of shoes (slippers, sneakers, 2 pairs dress, 1 pair casual). more than 2 purses. Starbucks coffee. cable tv. cell phones that have internet. reality tv (that probably doesn't count but i'd sure be happy if it disappeared)

we are a pampered and spoiled society. 
Jul 9, 2012 7:29PM
Just recently dropped my dish, got tired of spending 85 bucks a month on crappy TV. We have Hulu plus and Netflix for a total of 16 bucks a month !! Haven't paid a dime in interest on my credit cards either ! Now if they just start giving away food were set !!
Jul 9, 2012 2:02PM
I will admit that I have about 500 DVDs in my collection, but I do rewatch them. Heck, I rented "Just Like Heaven So Much" that it was cheaper for me to just out and out buy it than it was to keep renting it. I will say that, for the most part, I only buy my DVDs from either eBay,, or third party sellers on I've paid as little as $0.75 for some of my DVDs. I do the same things with books. I'm not paying full retail for them if I can help it.

I also buy paper plates. Why? Because the point of using them is so that you don't have to wash the darn things, so why buy "reusable" things at a yard sale when you already have a shelf full of dishes? I live in an old house and it doesn't have a dishwasher. I do NOT want to wash dishes in the middle of summer in a house that only has window units for an a/c - none of which are in the kitchen and it would be too expensive to have an electrician run the right outlet to the back of the house- so I buy biodegradable paper plates and utensils. It's not because I'm lazy but that I don't want to die of a heat stroke in my own house.

Jul 9, 2012 10:56PM

Payday loans - Montel, shame.  Stop inhaling so hard - it makes your shoulders move too much.

Reverse mortgages - Robert, you should be ashamed

Grout bully - Mark, go put your head in an oven (and no stoppin there!)

Flex-o-ladder - Harold swears it is locked now and for $199 you can swear too.

Sham wow - Vince, commit yourself already will you?

Showtime rotisserie - Mr. Popiel, don't set it, just forget it

Blue Tax (tax settlement shack) - are you Chuckie's distant relative?

Geico - that GD screaming pig assured me I don't need Geico

Space bags - Nice, now it looks like I don't have so much crap. Let's go get more, shall we?

Hawaii chair - handy for squirming at work if you are a shameful sh1tter.

Gyro bowl - good gawd, just sit at the table for once.

Head On (apply directly to the forehead) - I've got something for you to apply right here...

...ahh cripes, how do people get by in life without some of this crap?

Jul 9, 2012 4:11PM
I love my library! I have walked through Costco and taken pictures of the books that interest me. I then go on line and order the book from the library. They email me when it's in, I have 7 days to pick it up, 3 weeks to read it. I usually have something show up about the time I have to return something so it's an endless circle.
Jul 9, 2012 3:34PM
Funny that the author rips on disposable items, but doesn't address the fact that if one used cloth diapers there is no need for a diaper genie.  Also, back in the dark ages, people didn't use disposable diapers (those didn't come around until the 50's and 60's) - they used cloth diapers.
Jul 10, 2012 11:24AM

The quesstion unnecessary necessities:  Data plans on cell phones, cable/ Dish TV. 

Jul 9, 2012 8:44PM

So if I am waiting anxiously for a popular book to come out, this tree-hugger expects me to wait until it can be found at a yard sale after the pages have turned yellow? Or wait until my local library gets ONE copy and I not only have to hope it's in when I get there, but also have to read it so quickly that I dont end up paying late fees? I can buy a book for my Kindle for almost nothing, and I dont have to burn 2 gallons of gas going back and forth to the library.


Yard sales...what a dope

Jul 9, 2012 1:25PM

I agree with most of these.  I'm really water picky and about the only kind I like is Ice Mountain (seriously one of my cousins "tested" me with different kinds in unmarked glasses - I can taste the difference) , but I get it at Costco for $0.22 per 24oz bottle or $1.17/gallon. 


And I still buy books.  I love books.  Certain authors I buy the day their books come out, but most books I do wait for them to be available at the library and then purchase used if I decide I want to have a copy (I reread.  A lot.)

Jul 10, 2012 12:48PM
Well written, but back in the dark ages diapers were washed, dried and reused. Consequently kids were potty trained a lot earlier.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.