10 things we can't live without (but Grandma did)

It's hard to imagine people getting by without things like cellphones, ATMs, the Internet and permanent press fabric.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 22, 2011 3:31PM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Recently I read an article over at Frugal Dad in which Jason discussed modern conveniences that our grandparents lived without -- and we probably could too.


According to Jason, life would still go on if we didn't have products and services like GPS devices, plastic sandwich bags, tanning salons, and even health insurance. While I mainly agreed with Jason, there are two items on his list on which we have a real difference of opinion (which I'll get to in a moment).


Of course, that got me thinking about all the other things that our grandparents lived without that I consider to be truly indispensable today. Here are 10 products or services that I happened to come up with:


The Internet. Never mind the increased traffic and crowds at brick-and-mortar stores, or longer lines of people waiting to pay their bills at the last minute. If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, it would likely result in a tremendous hit to the U.S. economy. A recent study found that the Internet is responsible for a little over 3 million jobs, with the value of their wages alone equal to 2% of GDP -- and that's before you consider lost productivity, reduced avenues for commerce and innovation, and the rapid exchange of information.


Modern commercial passenger jet airliner. The introduction of the Boeing 707 in 1958 kicked off the Jet Age and the beginning of affordable commercial intercontinental travel for the masses. Today, more people than ever can travel from one coast to the other in a matter of hours -- or travel to the other side of the world in less than a day. It's just too easy to take this convenience for granted.

Credit and debit cards. Although Jason will tell me that Grandma and Grandpa got along just fine before "plastic money" was invented in 1950, there are too many credit card advantages to ignore. Besides, we live in the electronic age now; it's tough to buy anything on the Internet without a credit card. Heck, these days your cash is no good if you want to buy an in-flight snack on a lot of airlines. And who wants to carry around thousands of dollars in their wallet whenever they plan on buying a big-ticket item?

IPod. Scoff all you want; you know I'm right.


Automated teller machines. Here's a fun ATM machine fact: Before ATMs became ubiquitous -- and cash was still king -- you didn't have a lot of options if the banks were closed and you needed paper currency. If you were lucky, you could go to a local market that was willing to cash your personal check, or borrow money from a friend or neighbor. If not, no soup for you. You'd just have to wait until the banks opened the next day. That is, unless you were at the front end of a three-day bank holiday. (Talk about a long weekend.)


Personal computer. The personal computer is arguably the greatest invention of the last 100 years. The power of the computer is used in so many ways, across so many industries, that it is virtually impossible to imagine living in the world today without them.


Tax preparation software. Yes, it's still possible to do your taxes with a calculator, the requisite IRS tax forms, and a sharp pencil. It's also still possible to make your own soap from rendered animal fat, but that doesn't make a lot of sense anymore either. Just sayin'.


Cellphone. Jason and I disagree here too. People who find themselves away from home without a cellphone and need to make a call have a bit of a problem. That's because the days of finding a pay phone on every corner are long, long gone. Consider that, as recently as 2000, there were more than 2 million pay phones in the United States. By 2007, however, there were only 870,000. Anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers have continued to drop. When was the last time you saw a working street corner pay phone?


Overnight mail delivery. Although highly important and/or perishable goods have been delivered by air mail since 1918, an air-based mail system capable of delivering letters and other small packages on a large scale virtually anywhere in the country wasn't established until 1977. Today, either directly or indirectly, almost everyone takes advantage of overnight mail service more than they want to admit.


Permanent press fabric. You think people were upset when Pia Toscano got prematurely booted off "American Idol"? That's nothing compared with what would happen if you took away permanent press fabric; most people would finally have to learn how to use an iron. Well, at least Grandma would be proud.


More on Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:


May 8, 2011 9:14AM

I dis agree with the cell phone,because I fell it a real invasion of privatcy to carry a cell phone

every where I go. And , the otherone I dis agree with is the credit card i stopped using

them and only pay cash for everything I buy. It works great

May 8, 2011 10:32AM
If you can't live without these things, I must be dead.
May 8, 2011 11:33AM
I disagree with al47.  I travel  up and down the west coast often and have been do so for almost 30 years  There is nothing that makes me feel safer than a cell phone.  Try having a breakdown on I5 at night and hitchhiking to the nearest town.  I feel better about my wife and daughters going out at night or on long trips.
May 8, 2011 1:03PM
A person could live without any of these things if they had to. If the system fails, then they will have to live without them. These are conveniences that we feel the need for. They are not required. My mother still lives without most of these, and only has the ones we push on her, like a cell phone for instance. Yes she has flown a few times, but there again it wouldn't have happened unless we pushed her. She would still iron her clothes if she didn't have to have permanent press. Why don't you talk about the things we really can't live without like cars and indoor plumbing and taxes and oil and electricity and food and and and. The people living without any of these are the homeless on the streets. And we sure have a lot of those now a days don't we. How many of them do you see with a cell phone or an I-pod. Get real! 
May 8, 2011 1:35PM

I can do without a cell phone, although it is convenient for an emergency, but the rest of the time I don't use a cell phone. 


I also like a laptop ve a desktop. 




May 8, 2011 2:52PM
I dont own nor does my husband own any permanent press fabric.  Seasonally I press-steam the wools, linens, and cottons.  Mostly I am a goddess with a folding board.  (a cutting board for his size clothing and a computer mouse pad for my size.  If done correctly, ironing is minimal and at my point in life, casual is the attire.  I really hated seeing poorly done clothing at job interviews and on the jobs.  I prefer a neat fresh appearance of clean laundered clothing and like I said, if folded properly, they aren't wrinkled.  It is sort of a joke around here because we could pick up and move overnite or go on vacations, because it's all neatly done, in the closets, or already in bags  I don't use dressers anymore, and hangers are only for suits and coats in season, the rest are stacked, colors according to the prism and style, on a baker's racks in the closets.  (Perhaps the neatest place in my house are those closets.
May 8, 2011 3:00PM
Overnite mail delivery is something that should have to be justified in business.  Anywhere I have been the cost of procrastination certainly does not justify  the millions spent in shipping.  Vital organs-those are time sensitive so that would be understandable that a special service is needed.  The closing of a business deal.  That is perhaps worth a bunch, but there are times that it is rediculously used.  Overnited manuscripts that could easily have gone a cheaper route and still be protected with the same carrier.  Universities could save millions.  Businesses could save bundles.  If business cannot be done face to face, and I don't feel fax or internet is secure enough to handle many things. (Medical records faxed to the wrong numbers, that sort of thing).  So overniting is necessary but megaabused.  If an individual can get the information and use it at a cheaper rate in the business of doing business, that only makes sense.
May 8, 2011 3:12PM
I can live with out a cell phone.I do know and use a iron.I make quilts  and a nice freshly ironed dress shirt looks so much better .I do like my internet,  I have no use for over night mail.I love my satellite TV, my land line. I wonder what a teenager  would do if the had the TV channels I had growning up and had to get up a turn the channels ?We had 5 channels on TV and rabbit ears to get the channels in..When I was a kid my mom used a iron ,she ironed every thing but our underwear ,sheets and towels .And every thing smelled so good.She hung out the laundry and it smelled so fresh.And she still does God love her.
May 8, 2011 4:23PM
Of all the items listed here one I can never live without ever again.. my microwave oven.  Everything else I am sure I can get over NOT having. 
May 8, 2011 5:22PM
Granted there are a couple things on here that if they were to all be taken away tomorrow, life as we know it would be significantly impacted, especially in the business world.  That would include the computers, internet, debit/credit cards and air travel.  The rest of the list, not all that essential.  For me personally, I don't own an iPod.  I do have an MP3 player that I use only when I fly.  Not a necessity.  Tax preparation software essential?  Please.  With the fill-out PDF forms and an ability to follow instructions, doing my own taxes is not that big a deal.   Personally, really high on my must-have list, and which my grandparents didn't have for some of their lives, is electricity, running water and sewer.  I think my car comes in above permanent press too.
May 8, 2011 5:53PM

Ironically, I'm one of the newer generations and I don't need most of that.


Thank god I was taught to iron, because all of my clothes are made out of actual fabric. The only thing I can't live without would probably be the internet. I don't even need a cell phone or a home computer, as I could just buy a portable hard drive instead.


Love the iPod blurb, though. Thumbs up

May 8, 2011 10:05PM
I do believe that Health Insurance is a necessity, the alternative would be to intentionally become a burden to your fellow tax payer and contribute to the further economic demise of our great land.
May 9, 2011 12:25AM
ATM machines ?  I love this stupid comment, thats like saying Automated Teller Machine Machine.  The Abbreviation of ATM stand for AUTOMATED TELLER MACHINE You idiot.
Jul 20, 2011 12:44PM

This has got to be one of the stupidest articles I've seen in a LOOOOOONG time!  If you can't do without everything on her list you are in a world of hurt!


Like someone else mentioned....try doing without electricity, running water, indoor toilets, clothes dryers,  more than one pair of shoes, modern cooking range (I learned to cook on a wood cook stove) , fruit & veggies out of season!

Jul 20, 2011 12:59PM

I know how to use an iron.  I actually own clothes that are not made from petroleum products and therefore require a bit of real care.

I do miss the days when air travel was more... what's the word?... civlized, certainly, but also less in demand; when you could have an entire row of seats to yourself - maybe even the row behind you and in front you empty as well.  Ah, to stretch out, relax, and actually have a bit of quiet while flying the formerly-friendly skies.

Jul 20, 2011 1:09PM
Not only do I know how to iron, I know how to SEW.  When I about six, my wise grandmother put a needle and thread in my hands.  I was a wild tomboy but when she gave me that needle and thread and taught me some simple embroidery stitches, I was hooked.  AND sitting quietly on the couch until my mom came to pick me up.  I'm 56 now, and I can make my own clothes and mend just about anything for anybody.  Of course, while I'm doing my hand-mending I like to be listening to my iPod.................
Jul 20, 2011 1:11PM

This author has a serious misunderstanding between wants and needs.


Many of these are conveniences, but not absolute needs. If your income was cut to the bare minimum, there is no way you can afford all of these products and/or services.


For the millions of unemployed people and homless people, they get buy without many of these things. So are we suggeesting that they are somehow not part of modern society?


Do you pesonally know of anyone who doesn't:

- use the internet

- fly aywhere

- own a credit card

- own an iPod

- use ATM's (this is dependant on having Debit/Credit cards)

- have a personal computer

- use tax preparation software

- own a cell phone

- use overnight shipping

- own all permanent press clothing


I personally know many people for each of these categories, but I don't know of anyone who lacks every single one of them.


All of these things are wants (conveniences), not needs. In fact I would argue that society would be better off without a few of thee things - but that's a whole seperate conversation.

Jul 20, 2011 1:26PM

The fact is that almost no one can live without every single item on the list.


The internet - whether you pay for it at home or go to an internet cafe/library/etc - is becoming required for many tasks - looking up information, research, applying for a job (some companies require you to fill out online applications).


As for debit/credit cards - it is impossible to buy anything on the internet without a debit/credit card, renting a car/hotel room is nearly impossible without it, and most banks nowadays require you to have a debit card and pin even when being served by a teller - you swipe your card, enter your pin, and that's how they verify your identity.


Personal computers: whether or not you own one is irrelevant - at the library, you have to use a computer to look up locations of books; at work, it's pretty much required (except for certain trades and physical jobs) and most businesses cannot manage inventory and accounts without a computer - could you imagine keeping a giant ledger book for 1000 - 3000 customers (which is the average for a small business)?


Cell phones aren't there yet, but they will be.

Jul 20, 2011 1:30PM


Love your stab at socialized medicine. At least someone has their head on straight.


To the author,

iPods are only necessary for idiots who don't realize that every other MP3 player in the world is better and cheaper than that Apple crap. And you should have cut your list down to 5 things; some of them are real stretches.

Jul 20, 2011 1:35PM
I agree with most everything listed, but with pay phones I feel that is why we don't see Superman anymore. He has nowhere to change.
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