Basic Frugal Tools-Defining Our Needs

Basic Needs

Needs vs. Wants

One of the first things we need to do when embracing a frugal life, whether this is by choice or by necessity is to figure out the difference between a want and a need, and then to faithfully fill needs at the lowest cost possible before even considering wants. I use the words “lowest cost” with some trepidation, knowing that some will take this to mean that we should by on price alone.  What I actually mean is that you establish a baseline in terms of acceptable quality, and then find the lowest cost to achieve that level. And when I say lowest cost, I am not limiting this to a monetary exchange. It could be a bartered deal. So what are the basic needs?


The first need for a human being (and most other life forms as well) is breathable air. This may seem like a no-brainer, and not worth thinking about, but if you live in a very polluted area it’s not so simple. Or, if you live in a very dusty or damp place your indoor air supply may be compromised. In that case it would be a reasonable investment to acquire an air cleaning system.


The next basic need is water, both for drinking and for hygiene. In most of the United States we take this need for granted, but we really shouldn’t. Water is a limited resource, more valuable than oil. And for the homeless it is a hard thing to get on a consistent basis. For the rest of us, consider switching back to tap water and sparing the earth and your body the crazy expense of all that plastic. The USA still has one of the best water systems in the world. As for water for hygiene, consider not flushing every time, and taking shorter baths. Just being aware is a good start.


Finally we come to a need that everyone will recognize, though many still take it for granted. In the inflation we are seeing at this moment we all need to focus on food security. The first pillar of food security is to grow your own garden. If you don’t have room, find a community garden or share a container garden with a neighbor. I have written a good deal about food, and will write more. Follow the posts here, or go find a cookbook with a name like “cheapest recipes” and you will learn. I am fascinated with 1930s and 1940s depression and war era cookbooks for this reason.


This is a complex need in our society. The basic stuff it takes to cover your body is not really an issue. This can be met very inexpensively by going to clothing swaps and your local Goodwill. If you buy sturdy fabrics they will last. But, because clothes are also a social marker that let other people know how we are to be treated, you may have legitimate clothing needs that can’t always be met this way. If you are trying to get a job that requires a “look” or if you have a job that requires a “look” it behooves you to fall in line. And this may also mean some “social” clothes to where when there is a party or event where business associates will be present. If this applies to you, careful consideration of the expense and the method for fulfilling this legitimate need are in order. There have been a few posts here on this subject, and there will be more, specifically on clothes buying when only a regular shopping trip will do.


This is the biggest single expense most of us face. Not paying has dire consequences. I have written fairly extensively on this. As the foreclosure crisis has deepened in the last several years this has become a national emergency. Being homeless is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to us. Even animals all have some kind of nest or den. And so do we.


This once meant fire, for heat and light. But in today’s world, it means some kind of power source ranging from pure solar to an energy company hook-up. We need this for more than just comfort. And for the forcibly frugal it is areal bite out of available funds.


Humans are social animals. We need to live together and care for each other. However, that being said, community is one thing that takes your time not your money to develop. Try sharing food, as in attending potlucks to start. You have to eat anyhow. It is healthier to eat with others.


If you are lucky you live in a place that has a high walkability index. In that case, need satisfied, for the most part, though you may need to supplement your walking from time to time. But if you anyplace else, this is going to be right after shelter and food in terms of competing for your dollar.


This wouldn’t have made the list a hundred and twenty five years ago. It would still have been a need, but as with air, no one would have thought about it much. All you had to do was talk to people you actually saw, and write letters (the snail kind) to people you didn’t see. Then came the telegraph, which was just a faster letter. All of this was either free of charge (as in conversation) or very inexpensive. Today, we all have to pay something to communicate. Though face to face conversation is still free, if you want to be part of the world, or the world of work, you need e-mail and a phone connection of some kind.

Medical Care

Though there are millions of people not getting this need met, it is still a basic human need.


All creatures educate their young. We need to do the same if we are to continue to survive.

Basic Entertainment

Some may be surprised that this is included as a need. Remember the caveat-basic. A combination of Netflix and getting outdoors either in built environments or nature will satisfy this need. We are curious creatures by nature, and boredom raises the chance of mental issues arising. Thank goodness the world is still full of things that are both mentally stimulating and free of charge or low-cost.


4 Responses

  1. I hadn’r really thought about it, but I think I am pretty frugal. I don’t buy a lot of things except books to help me live a more sustainable life. And that’s the ultimate goal, eh? In terms of alot of what you wrote here, I don’t buy bottled water (we have a well), I live on a community (a cooperative), I garden, I raise bees, I raise chickens for eggs, we brew our own beer, I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes or shoes (I just buy basic things that i need every year like cotton socks, underwear, jeans, t-shirts, sweats and sandals and the occassional shoe that i need to wear in the winter months). I’m not a clothes horse… though I have a lot of clothes because I keep the nice things year in and year out because I’ve stayed basically the same weight. I don’t need a new wardrobe every year. 🙂

    We have a freezer so we can buy stuff at Costco and get it more economically, and I can fresh produce, make my own pickles, jams, sauces, etc. So I think I’m being pretty frugal. Any other tips?

  2. That’s very interesting Joy. It seems to me that the highest and most unmaleable cost when we live simply is in housing: – You said you are living in community; – how long have you lived there? Who owns the land/buildings? Is it owned by the co-operative? Do people by into it? Do you work? I’m assuming you live out of town because you said you had a well, but I’m just guessing (I’m Australian)

  3. i”d argue that the public library, socializing, and self-created entertainment (including making music, dance, and productive hobbies like knitting, sewing, woodworking, etc) can displace netflix. As someone who regularly kills off netflix, then revivies, then kills it off… it’s a little hypocritical, but I’m trying.

  4. I’m not a clothes horse… though I have a lot of clothes because I keep the nice things year in and year out because I’ve stayed basically the same weight. I don’t need a new wardrobe every year.

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