Christmas In July: Is That iPad A Necessity Or A Luxury? [Infographic!]

At LearnVest, we’re here to help you get your finances in shape so that you can live your life—we want you to be so financially on top of your game that you can enjoy luxuries without feeling guilty.

We were talking about this over at the LearnVest headquarters, and it sparked a heated (and admittedly quirky) debate.

The Quirky Debate That Happened In Our Office

What, we asked ourselves and each other, is a luxury? For some people, buying lunch every day is a luxury, but for others—for example, someone who works 90-hour weeks and has zero downtime—a $6 sandwich every day isn’t a luxury at all. We spent three full days doing research and debating this amongst ourselves, exploring the different ways that experts define luxury.

Ultimately, we’ve defined what a luxury is and how to think about it. Here’s our guide (infographic!)  to help you walk that tricky tightrope.

Are new textbooks a luxury? What about a smartphone? Tell us in the comments.

  • Alexa

    love this graph!!

  • http://directyourmusic.tumblr.com Monica Qiu

    This is a great graph but if I may offer one piece of constructive criticism, the language is extraordinarily difficult to understand and decode! I'm sure the writers at LearnVest already know this but the double-negative approach is less initially clear than the positive active type of speech. The first half of the graph is written in double-negatives and the language definitely turned me off from continuing to read on since I don't have too much time on my hands to wade through the speech!

    Regardless, a cool article! I still am a humungous fan of everything LearnVest.

    • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

      Hi Monica,

      Thanks for the heads up! We did it this way because we were trying to get as granular and specific as we could, and it was the nature of the flow chart we created.

      Thanks for reading,
      Allison
      Editor/Writer

      • claire

        In context of the chart, what does “granular” mean?

        • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

          Oh, hey, my apologies–all I mean by “granular” is that we wanted to break things down to a really small degree. Instead of saying, “It's not a luxury as long as it increases your efficiency,” we broke it down further to explore what kind of efficiency we mean, etc. That's all!

  • http://lifedividend.biz/ kt- lifedividend

    the ipad is a luxury. people have it because steve jobs' sales pitch is deadly effective. My laptop works just fine but looking at the ipad's advertisement, i keep thinking that i gotta get me one of those. These are things you get when you have cash burning holes in your pocket or if you want to fit in with a crowd

  • Livie

    This is a great decision grid. I agree with Monica that it flips but in all, it makes you use your Thinking skills rather than gut or emotion preferences. Hmmm, think I will include this in my blog http://www.typeandlife.com.

  • Alexa

    Livie — this is such an excellent debate! And, as you said — emotion should not be the decision around what is luxury and what is not….There is a real decision here and it has nothing to do with preferences but with facts. Love this LearnVest!

    • livie

      I agree! Good decisions – including shopping – begins with the facts. I'm not sure we are “armed” with fact finding as the first step. Other thing to consider is needs versus wants and I think the diagram asks some good questions around that point. Thanks!! I do enjoy Learnvest! Simple, practical, real, but provocative.

  • Sabrina

    So let me add a little tension to the debate and see if the logic still holds true. Is it a luxury to have your child involved in more than one extra curricular activity like swimming, piano, tennis, soccer, etc.? Now add to that private school, doesn't have to be expensive, just private (catholic, Christian, etc.)? And what about family night (order pizza or make pizza….movie out or movie in….water park or water in the park). I agree that many things are a luxury these days, I hate cable and what is the point of a home phone when EVERYONE in the house has a cell phone? Does the AC need to be on 70 or can we take a little off and crank that puppy up to 75 or 77? OMG and bottled water, REALLY, get a filter. BUT as you say, it is all RELATIVE, however even the “Millionaire Next Door” will tell you that we are a world obsessed with THINGS and planning is typically the last thing we do, especially when it comes to our money. GREAT POST, think I will have to steal the chart.

    • carolinewaxler

      Sabrina steal away. Here's a link to the chart alone http://su.pr/1sUDuh
      What's your blog called?
      I think luxuries all depend on what the bigger goal is and what your priorities are. If, for example, your local public school has a terrible academic record and you can afford to send your children to private school then that might not be a luxury for you but a necessity.. Do you have children? Are they in public or private school?

    • Debbie

      Great point! I for one struggle with how guilt plays a role in luxuries. Getting a mani/pedi is definitely a luxury for me and sometimes I feel guilty spending the $20 at my local spa. But since it is a FUN luxury – I don't mind this internal debate. It's healthy for my budget.

      On the other hand, I DO struggle with feeling guilty about luxuries that are technically not “luxuries” – it is safer for me to take a cab at 2am than walking home from the subway, I didn't have time to pack lunch b/c of a late night at work. These certainly don't “feel” like luxuries – I just wish I didn't feel so guilty about spending the extra money when there was technically another option.

      • amkade

        I think this is all really interesting, so I'm glad that my article sparked this debate! What I'm hoping will come through is that we don't want you to feel guilty–we want you to be stable enough that luxuries are okay in your budget, as long as you can recognize them for what they are. I hope this has helped give everyone an interesting framework through which to view this all!

        • leigh

          That's an interesting point…as long as luxuries fit securely in your budget, it seems like they're LearnVest-approved! This is a great reminder that having a nice dinner out with friends isn't a NEED, but even if it is a “luxury,” it's worthwhile if you can afford it.

          My mom's motto (that she passed along to me) is “anything in moderation” and that definitely applies to this whole luxury debate.

          Some of my luxuries? Mani/pedis, Anthropologie shopping trips, and movies on the plane (I can't resist buying 50 channels of live TV on a 5 hour flight)!

  • Liz

    I'm a college student, and I always contemplate whether buying new textbooks is a luxury or not at the beginning of each semester. One part of me thinks it's a luxury to buy new books at the premium price when I can get used books for a fraction of the cost. Then again, when I do buy used, marked-up books, I find it harder to read through and get distracted with the highlighting and notes.

    With this in mind, question 3 in the chart indicates that because I increase my efficiency, it's not a luxury if I earn back the initial cost (with productivity). But thinking of it more in terms of money, I still sway to the side of it being a luxury if I'm paying 3x the price for the convenience

    • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

      Hey,

      Good point. But, if you take a look, it's a question of how much this will increase your efficiency and whether that's enough to recoup the cost. So, it's only a luxury if the added efficiency won't make back the cost for you, the increased efficiency won't help you run other parts of your life significantly more smoothly, and there's no other way for you to achieve the same bump in productivity. So, if you could get the same productivity bump by, say, using sticky notes in your books or highlighting in a different pen color, then it probably is a luxury…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695223504 QQ Thahir

    I luv books, esp imported ones. They're both a necessity and luxury for me (book prices in Indonesia are sometimes higher than the amount I pay for a week meals). I can live without iPad, smartphone and even without buying new clothes in 6 months but it breaks my heart whenever I see great books on shelves with price tags I cant seem to afford. I see books as lifetime investment. I can share the stories/knowledge to other ppl and will inherit them to my children/grandchildren someday ;)

  • Maggie

    I'm in college too, and I think this is a great topic for discussion, and something that we should stop and think about every once in a while.

    I just paid my sorority dues ($425 for the semester). I don't find being in a sorority a luxury at my school, as 65% of the students are involved in greek life, and one of the main ways that kids at my college define themselves by on campus. Of course my parents think this is a huge luxury (and an expensive one too!), but after reading this article, I stand by my initial viewpoint that the price I pay is worth the social enjoyment I get in return.

  • Kate

    I suppose that this is covered in question 3, but I think perspective/opinion is important. While my mother would argue that a smartphone is a luxury, I would argue that it's a necessity– but that's because the way we use that item differs. She would use it for apps, and I use it for work and email. I mean, I was able to do a full day of work (I get paid on a daily rate) on my iPhone while traveling in a car– which wouldn't have been possible if I had just had a regular phone.

    • http://twitter.com/amkade Allison Kade

      Great point, Kate! So true.

  • M Lev

    The iPad is a pretty solid tablet. It's pretty powerful, easy to use, visually appealing and the sort of product that makes your friends jealous. However, you really need to think about what you're going to use it for. If you want to read books on the go, the Kindle is a better and cheaper solution. If you want to use it like a laptop and do most of your computing on it, you will find that the operating system on it is very restricting. You would be better off getting yourself a more powerful (and cheaper) netbook, which also has better battery life. If you just want a device to browse the web from your lap, the iPad would suit your needs, but it is really hard to justify the price tag with such a simple use in mind.

    When it comes down to it, you're paying for style. There's nothing wrong with the iPad. Even if other devices are better at some of the things it does, none of them present it in such a smooth and appealing way. The iPad makes a great luxury, but it is in no way a necessity.

  • Marissa

    The iPad is definitely a luxury. There are other products available that provide similar or better functions, in addition to having built foundations which created public necessity. To me, the iPad does not work to increase efficiency or productivity in a more cost effective manner than what currently exists.

  • LibbyKane

    I find that classifying something as a luxury doesn't always mean I'll eliminate it. For instance, my daily Diet Coke is as ingrained in my schedule as if it were necessary medication rather than a bottle of poisonous chemicals. Is it a luxury? Yes. Could I do without it? No…well, yes. But will I do without it? No.

    • AlexStark

      I agree! And maybe I spoil myself a little bit, but I think it's really important to keep a couple of “luxuries” in your life that make you really happy, ie a daily diet Coke, or buying a book or two a month, or that really expensive sweater you've had your eye on for months and months, or whetever it is. Yeah there's a cost associated with these kinds of items, but it helps keep life interesting and fun, and I find that when I treat myself occasionally I'm usually more productive overall as a result (I happen to know that Libby's diet coke keeps her productive and happy!).

    • AJ

      mmmmm….Diet Coke!

  • Fiona

    I'm living on a really tight budget this summer, so there are tons of things that I think of as luxuries that other people might not. Buying lunch is definitely a luxury, so I bring mine to work every day. Going out to eat in general, or going out for drinks, is also a luxury, so I rarely do. I also love to cook, though, so that makes things easier…I can see how going out for a cheap dinner might seem like less of a luxury to someone who hated to/couldn't cook and felt like she was wasting the time she spent in the kitchen preparing meals.

    I definitely think that a smartphone is a luxury, too, since I get by just fine with texting and calling on my “stupidphone.”

    Taxis are also a luxury that I never spring for, but I also live with my boyfriend and therefore rarely have to walk home alone late at night. If I was often heading home alone late at night, I might be more inclined to spend money on a taxi, though it would definitely put a huge strain on my budget so I would still think twice (or three times!) about it first.

    • Fiona

      But my gym membership could definitely qualify as a luxury to some. I got a great student discount on it, but it's still definitely more expensive than just going for a jog outside. Working out keeps me sane, though, and being able to do it in an air-conditioned room while watching TV is something I'm totally willing to spring for!

  • Tiffany

    LOVE my iPad! I agree with M Lev that depending on what you need it for the scale of luxury slides. If you travel a lot and need access to email, documents and notes it's perfect. For hard-core computing you will be limited, but for most users that just need access to the internet it really does the trick. It's an expensive gadget, and probably more luxury than necessity, but as with a lot of new technologies I soon won't be able to remember how I ever lived without it.

  • Elastigirl

    New clothes have been a luxury for me since I graduated from high school… no one needs hundreds of articles of clothing.

    • Moxie

      Really? I feel like I've needed nicer clothes since high school both because I liked to dress nice to my college classes and because I've needed professional clothes as I've entered the workplace. I especially needed these new clothes when I was looking for a job–so not a luxury?

  • Raanah

    One luxury route I choose at the end of the school year was shipping and storage. Many students decided to rent out storage units with a bunch a friends, split the cost, and find a way to carry/ drive all of their boxes and furniture over the storage unit to hold their things for the summer. It's a very cost effective way of dealing with all your dorm furniture and extra things you don't want to take home.

    I only had 3 boxes to store so in order to save time and effort (but spend a bit more money) I signed up for a service that picked up my boxes and fridge at my door, is storing them for me for the summer, and then will ship it back to my dorm room next year on the date I decide. It was more expensive, but in the chaos of moving myself out of my room and final dance performance, it was totally worth it.

    • Fiona

      great point! We have the same thing at my school…I've never used it because I'm lucky to have a family friend who lives nearby and lets me store my stuff at her house over the summer, but I definitely would consider using the Moving and Storage service for something big and difficult to deal with, like a couch.

    • Liz

      I totally agree with spending a little extra money on the things you only do only once a year that can save you a huge burden. Although having someone move your boxes for you is a luxury, when you don't have that many, and are probably stressed about finishing up finals and saying bye to friends and teachers, I'm totally with you on your decision!

  • Mitch Drew

    iPads, Smartphones and the like are all luxury. Private school is a neccesity! Kids need to get the best chance to compete for fewer positions…and they need to meet and network with other people who will be valuable to them in the future. Mitch

    • carolinewaxler

      Mitch, you make a great point. But not all private schools are created equal. Many of the ones that used to educate the smartest, most driven kids now only educate the richest.

  • Lo

    Hi! I think an iPad, iPhone, as well as a $6 sandwich are luxuries. I don't have an iPhone or even a Blackberry, and I get on just fine with my Verizon Samsung flip phone. It all works the same, except that those who have smart phones seem to become spoiled with the perk of immediacy – it's actually really annoying and quite embarrassing to watch people have breakdowns when their precious iPhone or Blackberry doesn't work. I think iPads are cool, but definitely a luxury and not something you buy unless you want to be obnoxious. Also, $6 sandwiches are a luxury. We are in a recession. Bring your lunch to work. Maybe after a while, you'll have saved up to pay for your $30 Blackberry Internet charges.

    • Kaitlin

      This post is true for me, too, but for me the real luxury of a smartphone sets in when you consider ALL the costs (buying the phone, paying for internet and phone services, upkeep if one thing goes wrong, etc.) which makes it too rich for my blood. I'd like one, sure, but not after shelling out a good chunk of cash just to have good-internet-sometimes on a tiny screen.

      And if sandwiches aren't your lunch thing anyway, make something else! Tons of great ideas are out there, including some meals cooked up on the LV Daily… http://bit.ly/9FjCiB

    • carolinewaxler

      Well said, Lo! Love your last two sentences. I think the same thing whenever I see people with expensive purses.

  • Maggie

    I'm in college, and I think this is a great topic for discussion, and something that we should stop and think about every once in a while.

    I just paid my sorority dues ($425 for the semester). I don't find being in a sorority a luxury at my school, as 65% of the students are involved in greek life, and its one of the main ways that kids at my college define themselves by on campus. Of course my parents think this is a huge luxury (and an expensive one too!), but after reading this article, I stand by my initial viewpoint that the price I pay is worth the social enjoyment I get in return. I could obviously do without being in a sorority, but it's such a big part of my college culture, I wouldn't want to miss out on it.

    • carolinewaxler

      Hey Maggie
      My sorority dues killed me during college. On top of that there were the costs for formals (dress, pictures, dinner, transportation etc etc.) But put that against the (fantastically mortifying) memories they produced and the social enjoyment, as you well put it, was worth the extra nights waitressing to pay for it all.

  • AJ

    Hmmm…is it weird that I don't think “yes this is a luxury” or “no, this is not a luxury” when I shop? Does that mean everything I buy is not a luxury because I don't even stop to think if I need it? Or does it mean I need to think more before I shop?

    • carolinewaxler

      AJ, I hear you. I think we'd all be better off if we stopped to think before we shopped! We did a piece a while back about the psychology of shopping. Would love to hear your thoughts on it. http://www.learnvest.com/pages/newsletter/Why-D

      • LibbyKane

        It's definitely not weird that you don't think about whether something is a luxury when it's all shiny and pretty in the store, but I bet a lot of the time it is. For instance, if you're going to buy a twelfth flowered headband, or another bowtie, or anything for an impromptu photo shoot…. luxuries.

        • AJ

          Yeah, but if no one bought things they didn't need the economy would crash. I like to think that I'm helping America when I shop. (Even when I'm buying something as inane as a headband).

    • iLikeShoes

      Lately when shopping I've been trying to think: Do I *need* this, or do I *want* this. Many times the answer is that I don't need it, but I do want it… and sometimes I will buy it anyway, if I have the funds. Or I will try to wait a few days after first seeing it and ask myself if I still want it. or a week later. and if I still want it after some period of time I know I'm less likely to regret purchasing it.

  • http://www.lovelugnuts.com nuttybkbrownie

    Luxuries are like priorities. Everyone has a different set of what they think is important which translates to vastly different ideas of luxury. We all have basic needs and wants but after the essentials (food, shelter, clothing) are taken care of anything else could be considered a luxury. After all, what is a luxury more than something that we enjoy and that makes our lives better? What it takes to be deemed a luxury is totally subjective.

    I could make do without my iPad, but why? For me it was a necessary luxury since my laptop is 4 years old and not too portable anymore…I didn't NEED it, but it sure has made my life a little better.

  • Lorraine

    Many thoughts: I have a Mac and now an IPAD. books purpose may be a disadvantage except for travel senior citizen has access to the library, loaned books, library or other discount sell-offs. May not be problem with budget. For seniors IPAD gives access and stimulation to new internet worlds,e.g.following diet and fitness plan,playing bridge or checking on family anytime, anyplace, all the internet benefits. Negatives too much internet time can actually cut down on exercise, other social activities and social interaction face to face. New shape may become an Apple. I can’t wait for new IPHONE.

  • Lorraine

    Many thoughts: I have a Mac and now an IPAD. books purpose may be a disadvantage except for travel senior citizen has access to the library, loaned books, library or other discount sell-offs. May not be problem with budget. For seniors IPAD gives access and stimulation to new internet worlds,e.g.following diet and fitness plan,playing bridge or checking on family anytime, anyplace, all the internet benefits. Negatives too much internet time can actually cut down on exercise, other social activities and social interaction face to face. New shape may become an Apple. I can’t wait for new IPHONE.