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:


Jul 20, 2011 1:45PM

I'm in my early 30s, work in the technology field, and have never owned a cell phone.  The 3 or 4 times a year when I'm away and really need to make a call do not justify the $400+ a year I would spend on a cell.  People often ask, "What would you do if you were in an accident?"  I had a car totaled 3 years ago and I used the responding police officer's phone.  If the accident were serious (were I injured), I probably wouldn't be capable of making a call.


I don't have cable TV or a cell or other similar frivilous expenses.  This allows me to enjoy my hobbies (golf and alpine skiing), remain debt free, and save a considerable amount of money in both cash and investments.


Jul 20, 2011 1:52PM
Actually we'd be better off if we didn't have these. NONE of these are necessities.
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.
Jul 20, 2011 3:23PM

Actually, I think if most people were really honest, they would realize they CAN do without these things.  We need to return to our roots.  Mayberry anyone?

Jul 20, 2011 7:06PM
what about stuff Grandma had that we live without?  products made in America.  Locally sourced farm products like fresh vegetable in season grown locally.  there must be other items.
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 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.

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.
Jul 20, 2011 1:48PM
I don't have an IPod.  The only reason I have a cell phone is due to the fact that I can never find a payphone anymore.  I try to pay cash whenever I can, but unfortunately sometimes I buy things over the net, so then I can't.  I do my taxes the old-fashioned way.
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! 
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.

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.
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.................
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 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.
Jul 20, 2011 6:57PM
While some of these things are more than conveniences, not all are things I cannot live without. I don't use iPods, I still like my "old fashioned" vinyl records and listen as often as I can. I can live without tv, but would miss it.. I can live without my cell, but it does make it easier to keep in touch with my kids. I usually pay with cash, but like mentioned previously, it does come in handy when your car breaks down on a Sunday while out of town and you can't get to a bank..
I would like to point out that I have seen a number of homeless, poor people and even they can manage to get and use a cell phone.. Nothing more fun than watching a bum standing on a corner begging for money while talking on his cell.. just puts the whole thing in perspective, doesn't it?

Jul 20, 2011 7:21PM
I grew up in the 80's without electricity, indoor plumbing, phone, or TV. I can and do use all of the things mentioned in this article, but I CAN live without all of it if necessary. All you need is food, shelter, and clothing. All else is a luxury. No wonder the rest of the world looks down on us, we have no perspective.
Jul 20, 2011 3:28PM
Hmmm.. there are a lot of things we could live without if you live in town, I mean. A car for one.. I walk, bike, and take a cab ($6-8 per mile) to places I need to go. Why pay car insurance, payments, gas, oil, car washes, and damage expenses when you can save your money by just physically going there yourself?

 I grew up with a landline and its so convenient and cheaper to have still. I miss the pay phones, especially if your cell phone battery suddenly dies, or if you have no service around cable lines. It's still needed today! It was weird visiting the UK for the first time and seeing a telephone booth sitting on a street corner there. It brought back so many memories. :(

 I didn't own a cell phone until 2005 and only rely on pay as you go plan for emergencies and when I'm away at work, on vacation, or at someones house people can reach me and I can reach them. I have my own laptop after replacing my broken down desktop I had for 6 years. 

Computers don't last, but the internet  always comes in handy when you need to contact your friends and family for FREE through messenger, or Skype. Than when you want to do some research on a project or for fun, you have all the information online. I still love going to the library though to read about on things that is right there in my hands and can see the picture better. Some of these things listed are needed.. the only want comes in if you spend your money on Apps. on your cell phone, or if you want a bigger plan for all the features. The internet is the same if you want more speed, you pay the price for that too! I keep the cost down on both things. 

I think credit cards should have its limits.. they are abused. Debit cards should be needed in case of emergencies and the bank is closed. If you need cash for food? If you need cash for a cab.. or need cash for something the ATM is right there and it helps you to save money instead of swiping your card at every store you go to. Sure you can say you can LIVE WITHOUT THESE ITEMS, but there's a difference between CAN LIVE WITHOUT and CAN LIVE WITHOUT SPENDING.
Jul 20, 2011 1:39PM

We should be called "The Vanishing Generation", I saw the last 8 tracks being played in my mother's U$ 500 dollars VW Beetle, and she bought a dual cassette/8 track player for the house in order to keep on listening to them, IPods? She had the radio on all day.

The wars between the beta max vs. VHs, the small time period  that laser discs were "mentioned" rather than used, I feel that it was only a few weeks ago that I gave away my Video tape collection (7 years ago) but I still have a dual VHS/DVD player (which does not record HD TV anyways)

How about public phone and their booths? I was a truck driver since the 80s and trucking between 6 states (Pa, NJ, NY, RI, MA, CT) I saw the public telephones disappear one by one, corner after corner, first the phone and the booth was vandalized and never repaired, then one or two phones out of a bank of several in one location would be repaired, then by 1995-96 I saw the technicians removing them from their locations, By 1998 inside hospitals, most public phones were yanked, I mean I was sitting inside a booth and was told to go and use the outside phone, just before tearing them out of the hospital lobby.  

Finally I did surrender my pager on 1998 and bought my first cell phone on 1999.

Jul 20, 2011 4:24PM

I really believe that there is nothing on this list that we can't live without.  People lived before these "conveniences" and got along just fine.  I'm sure people will live just fine without them long after they are gone.

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