Americans Think You Need How Much Money To Get By?!?

americans need a reality check wants vs needsApparently Americans think a family of four NEEDS $58,000 to get by in today’s world. I think that’s outrageous.

Why? Americans have lost sight of what is a need versus what is a want.

Granted, everyone will strive for nicer versions of needs, but those nicer versions are wants. The base model is the need.

People are out of touch.

If I had to (and I stress had to because I wouldn’t want to) and I had a family of four I could get by on a lot less.

Would life be perfect, or even partially ideal?

No, but we’d survive and I’d provide a decent life for my kids until I could increase my income.

So why do Americans these days think they need so much money for a family of four to get by?


Depending on where you live, housing can be really expensive. Most people want to live in a certain area and generally those areas aren’t always the cheapest.

However, if I HAD to get by, I’d move to one of the cheapest places I could find that would get a roof over my family’s head that was somewhat safe.

You probably wouldn’t be able to find a safe area in New York City on a minimum wage job, and I get that. But, if that is the case, WHY ARE YOU STILL IN NEW YORK CITY?!

Pick your family up and move to an area with jobs and a lower cost of living. Is it ideal? No, but I’d do it if I had to get by.

With a house you’ll likely have utility bills as well. Do everything you can to keep them as low as possible. Yes, it’d be awesome to keep your house at 72 degrees all year round, but in the sweltering Florida summers it costs a lot of money.

Set your thermostat to 78 or 80 degrees or, better yet, keep the AC off all together if you can. Use fans and hang out in the shade outside to keep cool.


If you’re struggling to get by, you can’t afford to eat out. Period. I like eating out. It is a nice change of pace, but if I HAD to live on much less, we’d cut out eating out entirely. In fact, we’d cut out some of the more expensive foods at the grocery store, too.

We wouldn’t be eating gourmet or even what some people consider decent meals at home either. We’d eat a well balanced diet using some of the cheaper foods such as beans, rice and on sale produce. It isn’t ideal, but we’d do what we had to to get by.

Related: Could You Eat On $125 Per Month Or Less? This Guy Did!


People like new clothes, and I get that. I prefer purchasing new clothes as well, but I still shop at Goodwill often when I find something I like.

The problem is, when I’m struggling to get by, I’m not going to be buying things I like. I’m buying things to fulfill a need, a specific purpose. The clothes at Goodwill are normally more than enough to get by.

If there is a specific job related piece of clothing you need, do the best you can to find it used or on sale. Otherwise, why would you buy any clothing new unless it is a bargain basement price?

Related: How to Get Brand New Clothes For Virtually Nothing At JcPenney

Related: Is Buying Used Clothing Frugal Or Gross?


You’ll need to get around town if you’re trying to get by financially. You have to get to your job after all! However, if I was struggling to get by, I definitely wouldn’t have a new car.

If I had a car at all, it’d likely be worth less than $5,000 and be almost a decade old. I’d probably try to avoid all of the costs that come with a car, but that isn’t always possible in areas with poor public transportation.

If public transportation is an option, I’d take that. If it was unreliable, I’d try to live closer to work and ride a cheap bicycle I bought in a garage sale or simple walk to work instead.

If it rains, that sucks… but I’m struggling to get by and that’s my reality until I can make my situation better.

Cell Phones

This is where the outrage lies. People struggling to get buy shouldn’t have smartphones with data plans unless it is paid for by work or it is a requirement of your decent paying job. Smart phones are not a necessity.

In fact, basic cell phones aren’t even a necessity. Prepaid cell phones? Also not a necessity. Believe it or not, people got along just fine before cell phones existed and you can too.

If I was struggling to get by, a land-line or a cheaper prepaid phone would be my phone of choice.

Now you can even get reasonably priced smartphones with plans starting at just $10 for unlimited talk and text with no data on Republic Wireless.

Related: Republic Wireless Review including Moto E, Moto G and Moto X reviews

TV and Cable

Another thing you shouldn’t have if you’re truly struggling? A flat screen HDTV. Wait… how about any TV? And there is no way you should have cable.

What value does TV or cable have other than entertainment? Not much for most people. If I were struggling to get by, I wouldn’t have either one. It’d suck, but I’m struggling, not living a life of luxury and entertainment.

Related: Save Hundreds On Your Cable Bill With These Simple Tricks


What about computers? If you’re using a computer to better you situation I could see the argument for one, but I wouldn’t be paying for a high end one.

I’d get the cheapest computer possible that fulfills my need to better myself to make more money. If possible, I’d avoid paying for internet by using free WiFi at local businesses. It isn’t a long term solution, but until I’m not struggling anymore, I’d do it if I HAD to.


Giving gifts is not something you do if you’re struggling to get by. Giving gifts is a nice gesture, but many people have grown to expect them which kind of defeats the purpose.

I’d love to be able to give my kids Christmas presents, but if I’m struggling to get by, that may not be an option. Sorry kids! Hopefully their relatives are generous.

Even Pets

If I was TRULY struggling and I absolutely HAD to, I wouldn’t get any pets and any of my current pets would find a better home. Pets are EXPENSIVE!

Hopefully you’d have a relative that could keep them until things got better, but if I couldn’t afford pets I’m sure there are plenty of people that would be able to take better care of them than I could. After all, I’d be struggling and be pulling any strings possible just to get by.

Scraping By Is Not a Fun Reality

Just barely getting by would be a pretty awful reality and I’m lucky that I haven’t ever had to be in that situation. If I was, I’d be doing everything I could to get above “just getting by”.

I’d be working my butt off and finding a way to learn the skills to get a better paying job and move up. However, until I started moving up, I’d be focusing on my needs. Not  the wants that most American’s think they need today.

Related: 5 Things My Wife And I Do To Make Extra Income

What do you think an average American family of four needs to get by. I’m not talking about the wants, I’m talking about the needs to live and provide for your family on a basic level? Do you think some of my assumptions are outrageous? If so, call me out! I want to know your opinion!

Photo by: InkKnife_2000 Text added by: Lance Cothern

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. There was a study done the other day that was showing how many Americans think certain wants are actually needs. Over 50% of those polled think that cell phones and cable TV are a need and not a want. Just shows you where our priorities are.

    • I can’t believe how attached we are to our cable television. Do most people not even consider a life without it? Also, why do kids 13-14-15 years old need cell phones and smartphones? Is it really necessary to get by? Okay, off my soap box. I just can’t stand it when someone sits there with the cell phone and cable television and complains how it is so hard out there and so expensive.

      • I had a cell phone, but only when I could drive. It was to report I got places OK and that was it. I wasn’t allowed to text and back then, cell phones could only call or text.

      • Stephen says:

        I walk into a neighbor’s house across a dilapidated deck to see three of them sitting with their smart phones watching satellite tv. What is that costing you, I wonder to myself. $200 a month? $300 a month? $400 a month?

        I used to think the big money gobblers were restaurants and convenience stores. Services are money gobblers deserving attention too.

    • Very sad, but not surprising at all.

    • It’s not really surprising. Just like Lance said, it is sad though. And maybe cellphone are not considered a priority by some but to me, it is a need nowadays.

  2. You’re right Lance. That is ridiculous. So many of us can hardly tell the difference between a need and a want anymore. Is a cell phone a need? Probably not. Is a smart phone a need? Definitely not. Yet I see people who are broke with the brand new iPhone and a monthly data plan to accompany it. That stuff drives me nutso!

  3. It makes me wonder how the survey was worded, since part of the take home in the piece I read was that the results of the “how much do you need” question are always consistently just a little higher than the median income in the US. So “how much do you need”, seems to be answered pretty easily as “just a little more than I have!”

  4. Love this post! I could definitely live on a lot less than $58,000. Nice cars, luxurious homes, cell phones, cable and so on are not needs, even though some might classify them as such.

  5. Exactly. Thank you! My wife and me started off with nothing and so we could spend next to nothing. We never ate out, we got our stuff from goodwill, no cable, one crappy old car that we had to share to take to our crappy low paying jobs, no a/c, and we only put on the heater in the winter when it was absolutely unbearable. You just get by. Humans need next to nothing to survive. Honestly, just a little food. I agree, $58K a year is way more than a family needs. They may want more, but it’s more than they need.

  6. I saw this article as well and just had to shake my head. I think a big part of the underlying issue, as has been stated, is the wants vs. needs issue. Many either are oblivious to this or just choose to disregard it. That said, I wonder what role region plays in this. I know people can move like you said, but if people truly are just scraping by do they have the money to spend in order to move? I don’t know, I guess I am playing more of a devil’s advocate than anything else.

    • I think you can get bus tickets pretty cheap. Not the ideal way to move, but if you have to it can be done. If it’d save you a ton of money… I’d even say break out the credit card. The interest cost (if paid off quickly) should be less than the amount you save in the new city.

  7. You do what you have to, to survive! There was a time, I did not own a PC because they were too ($6,000) expensive. You would stress the important things that were free and you could survive. I probably would not want to do on an extended babsis, but it can be done.

  8. I agree with most of what you say however it’s easier said than done to pick your family up and move from a high cost of living city. If you have other family around (parents, siblings) most are not going to want to leave them. You just need to organize your priorities.

    • I agree it isn’t an easy thing to do, but if you don’t see things changing, it is a move that has to be done in my opinion. You can get bus tickets pretty cheap I think.

      • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

        I did have to do this 3 years ago. It was the hardest thing. My children were 3 and 2 and we moved 900 miles away from nearly everyone and everything we know. My more and sister live here, but all the rest of my and my husband’s family along with any friends are 900 miles away.
        We have been home two times. First time we drove and second time found really great flights.
        It’s heartbreaking…my children rarely see any family (bc nobody comes here) and those two trips home ae the only “vacations” we have ever taken since they were born. My niece was just born in May, I won’t get to meet her until September when everyone is here for my sisters wedding. Along with my other niece I have seen a handful of times and a nephew I have never met and he is 2 1/2.
        We made this tough choice…not a day goes by where we don’t regret it. We also know we will never get back there…that sucks.
        Very easy to judge what people SHOULD do…but until you’ve walked in their shoes, you have no idea what they go through. Worst part is we are not much ahead of where we were three years ago…so can’t even say it was worth it.

  9. If this doesn’t bring a little sense of embarrassment to you, then I don’t know what will. All of this is common sense but it takes someone actually saying it for it to hit home. I’m guilty of the majority of these but I’ve grown up in a society that made me believe these things are needs over wants.

  10. Fat free personal finance says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I wish you could sit in a bank and listen to the things people used to say to me. The first thing that an overdrawn customer would do is set their new iPhone on the desk. How can you text yo baby-daddy without it?

    In regards to the question, it really depends on how you define “get by.” Obviously, $58k can cover everything if it has to.

    I enjoy hearing you rant. You should do it more often.

  11. Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries says:

    There was a time when Leslie and I were just barely scraping by, we found any way possible to get out of our situation, and found multiple jobs to keep us afloat. This was even during a “terrible” economy in our area. You do what you have to, and if an expense has even a possibility to be cut, you cut it. I think you were spot on with your post, and more people need to hear it.

  12. Our minds (as consumers) are so conditioned by all the advertisements that we believe all these crap, like cellphones and cable are essential parts of our lives. It takes a lot of discerning to look deeply and see how our values fit in this materialistic world. I think 58,000 is definitely huge just to “get by”. But maybe some would say it’s because I’m just a minimum wage earner:-)

  13. Your message hits home for so many in these days. When I see people with the latest and greatest cell phone but are crying about not having enough to buy groceries I cringe… it is time to get real!

  14. If I was just scraping to get by, I could see myself doing a lot of these cost cutting moves. Sure it wouldn’t be too fun, but a man has to do what he has to do to make sure his family is good.

  15. I don’t know about cell phones; while it was certainly possible for our parents (or heck, me and my generation, back in the old days) to get around without them, I can’t remember the last time I saw a public phone. Trying to contact someone in an emergency basically requires a cell phone nowadays, whether you carry it with you or borrow it from someone else. Keeping at least a cheap phone with a decent connection is all but a necessity, while I think that landlines can be easily dropped.

    As for computers, I definitely think they’re a requirement in today’s world; everything from applying to jobs to paying your taxes can (and in many cases, must) be done on computers and online now. I’m definitely with you, though, that there is a big gap between getting a bottom of the barrel computer (which, good for your ability to get a decent computer cheap, sometimes means one that is only three or four years old in today’s world) and the lowest price plan possible, and getting a top of the line model and a connection that allows you to stream high-definition video effortlessly. If it’s being used for more than job-hunting, money managing, contacting your network, and a few other tasks, it’s going from need into want territory.

    Just about everything else is right on; while the moving and pets, in particular, are tough to admit you need to do, if you are truly desperate, money-wise, it might just be necessary.

  16. We’ve lived just fine with 25,000 as a family of two, so I’m sure we could live on much less than the number above if we were a family of four. We’ve purposefully set up our lives to work on less though. We’ve made a point of working out jobs and activities so that we only need one car. And we live in a small, inexpensive town where we purchased a solid house at a good price. Sure we could have lived somewhere more expensive with more exciting things going on, but we can live well this way with very little stress about money.

    • Christine, that’s awesome that you have things figured out and so little stress about money. I bet it helps live life to your fullest rather than constantly worry about how to pay for a Mercedes.

  17. Please, please, please people do not judge unless you have been there. I do not have a family of four, just hubby and myself. However I know plenty of people who are (relatives, friends, co-workers). Everyone’s circumstances are different. Read the book “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. Yes I know it was written almost 15 years ago but I think a lot of it still applies. When you are forced by circumstances to take a minimum wage job in can be extremely difficult to get ahead. One big emergency and forget it. Yes I agree that there are certain people who aren’t making ends meet because they think having a cell phone, cable or a computer more important. But there are people who are struggling and would LOVE to be making $58,000 a year.

    • Thanks for the comment Suzie. It definitely can be difficult to get ahead. I’m not saying life would be easy, because it clearly would not be. I definitely think there are a lot of people that would love to be making $58,000 for a family of four. I meant more to bring up how many people consider so many things as needs these days when in reality most of them are wants. If someone had less than $58,000 and had their priorities straight, most people come make it. If they have delusions of what they should have because everyone else has them, they’ll never make it.

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