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One thing living in Germany taught me was the ease with which one can overestimate how necessary some goods are to a happy life.  Doing without a freezer or oven for 6 months proved but a negligible inconvenience,  for instance, and certainly far less of one than I would have thought beforehand.  This lesson has given me reason to wonder what I therefore consider truly essential and what I could do without.

Here’s what the Pew Research Center says Americans think on the matter:

The large percentage drops are probably explained by the recession, but many of the items seem far more sensitive to location than to financial circumstance.  A car was not a necessity for me in Germany but is in South Carolina. Double ditto for air conditioning. Some things I find inexplicable: is a microwave really so sensitive to income? Why is a phone tethered to a wall considered more necessary than a mobile phone? How great is having a TV without cable?

I lived in three places in Germany with differing amenities, but here’s the minimum of what I had:

  • Car
  • Landline phone
  • clothes dryer
  • home air conditioning
  • TV set
  • Home computer
  • Cell phone
  • Microwave
  • High-speed internet (I did have it free at my office two minutes away)
  • Cable or satellite TV
  • Dishwasher
  • Flatscreen TV
  • iPod

If were answering about South Carolina, I’d add car, AC, and internet and remove iPod. If I were answering about Rwanda–well, ask me again in a few weeks.

HT: Felix Salmon

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Basket Adjustment

My diet and eating habits have changed significantly since arriving in Germany. Some changes are linked to the different basket of goods available, while others have resulted from financial decisions:

  1. I eat far more bread, and it is both of better quality and more nutritious
  2. Sweet iced tea has been replaced by juice as my beverage of choice
  3. I eat a lot of margarine
  4. Besides the occasional wurst, I consume only deli meats
  5. My meals are simpler and my portions smaller
  6. I drink much more coffee and hot tea
  7. I eat breakfast
  8. Two different dishes comprise about 70-80 percent of my meals
  9. Dark chocolate is consumed regularly as a snack

What hasn’t changed is that I only rarely eat out, which is probably the biggest reason I’m able to survive on a food budget of less than 4 € per day. I look forward to the time when my income affords me feasts of roast duck and suckled pig, but it will be a while yet.

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