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Too broke for cell phones, hair dye? Never

A new survey shows that people are also unwilling to give up Internet service and bare-bones cable TV.

By Karen Datko Mar 24, 2011 4:02PM

There are some things people are unwilling to do without, no matter how tight their money is. In a recent survey of U.S. adults, a whopping 64.4% said they consider basic cell phone service "untouchable" -- off-limits when it comes to spending cuts. That number rose to 70% among those who earn $50,000 or more.


What else is considered a must-have? Internet service is for 81.5%. Nearly 61% said they couldn't survive without basic cable or satellite TV (compared with only 26.9% who believe the premium package is sacrosanct). 


Nearly half of women (46.9%) won't give up a hair cut and/or coloring (for men, 37.1%). Post continues after video.

"The economy is barely afloat, but at least our hair looks great," wrote Ryan MacClanathan of


The items were on a list adults were asked to rate as either "expendable" or "untouchable" in December for BIGresearch's American Pulse Survey (.pdf file), sponsored by Stores magazine. "Given the current economic situation, we want to know what you can and cannot live without," the survey said.

Not surprisingly, we're willing to do without high-end dining, designer purses, maid service, and paying someone else to take care of the lawn. Among the other results:

  • Mobile/cell phone service (text, video and Internet): Only 31.2% considered a cell phone's bells and whistles untouchable. However, among those between 18 and 34 years of age, 47.9% said they wouldn't give them up. Among those 55 and up, that dropped to 15.8%.
  • Upgraded mobile device (cell phone, smart phone, wireless laptop, iPad, e-reader, iPod Touch, etc.): Just over 77% considered these expendable.
  • Manicure/pedicure: expendable, 88.4%. So while we may not skimp on the hair, we're willing to DIY on nail care.
  • Charitable contributions: Overall, 38.4% considered this untouchable. That rose to 46.3% among the older folks.
  • Discount shopping for apparel: All told, this was rated untouchable by 52.2%, compared with the 25.2% who said they couldn't give up department store shopping for clothes.
  • Organic foods: untouchable, 17%. That rose to about 23% among those 18 to 34 years of age, but didn't vary much depending on income. 
  • Daily cup of gourmet coffee: expendable, just over 83%.  

In another sign that things are looking up, the percentage of untouchable ratings for many items on the list increased since 2009.


What would be on your untouchable list if tough times hit your household?


More from MSN Money:

Mar 25, 2011 7:58PM

There is no need for a snarky comment like that from MacClanathan.  Looking sharp and well-groomed makes good business sense, and many of us can't achieve that nearly as well as a professional, or can't afford to have a DIY disaster.

Mar 25, 2011 4:47PM
C Eliz, more than 83% said daily gourmet coffee is expendable.
Mar 25, 2011 4:40PM

Is this saying 83% wouldn't give up a daily Starbucks?  Within the last 2 years, I've tried alot to save money and stay on budget.  I limited shopping for new clothes for myself and saved $560.  Less dining out saved $250 and making my kid's lunch for school saved me $200 last year.  This year, my husband got a promotion and hopefully we don't have to be as tight with money.  Although, every year something else eats up our raises - Illinois state tax hike, gas prices, not to mention the utility bills that hike their rates up every January.   The untouchable in our house is the TV and my husband's annual soccer package on Directv.  I don't need it, but he does.  It's considered a necessity to him, not a want!

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