People often feel nostalgia for the past, viewing it as a simpler time. It’s also common to look back and see how price inflation has impacted us today. Despite this, there are actually parts of life where we are spend less. As our lifestyles evolve, some things become less important. Other things are replaced with cheaper alternatives, or the cost to create the product is reduced.
Over the past decade or two, I see some areas of life where my quality has significantly increased but I spend less to obtain this standard of living. Often, this has to do with the evolution of technology or reduced costs in production. Regardless, the consumer benefits from these advances.
There are likely more areas where we are spending more money than we did in the past. Usually, this is more expected. The areas where we spend less often go ignored, but should be celebrated as a welcome change looking at our budgets.
When I leave my house I take three things: keys, smartphone, and wallet.
In 2008, this was a different picture. My pockets were much bulkier, and I was taking multiple gadgets with me when I left the house. Depending on the event, I had a cell phone, digital camera, iPod, and GPS. Now, all of those devices are housed in a single smartphone. In fact, some people are so dependent on their smartphones they’ve replaced gaming consoles or computers.
We are often quick to point at the high sticker price of smartphones, but they’ve become essential for many people. They’ve also replaced expenses from over a decade ago. While we are still paying month cell phone bills, smartphone remain extremely capable when they’re only on WiFi.
Tech companies still want smartphones to do more and replace more. Over the next few years we are certain to see smartphones become more powerful. With these developments, we are likely to see more technology become less necessary.
About once a year I will find myself in a position where I need to change batteries. In the 00’s my situation was far different. It seemed like every week my family needed to buy batteries. Now, most heavy-use items come with a rechargeable battery.
I can think of more than one Christmas when I couldn’t use my new gifts because we didn’t have the batteries I needed. This was after my family had gone to a wholesale store and bought batteries by the foot. The kids who receive Nintendo Switches will never know the struggle we had using a Gameboy Advance. They required AA batteries, and those batteries didn’t last a super long time. Putting two AA batteries in a system is a roughly $1.50 expense.
These costs added up. People who used CD players, cameras, and gaming devices went through batteries quickly. Over the course of a year, it was very possible that people were spending an additional $100+ just to power items with single-use batteries. Over time, the need has faded, though it’s still important to have a few spare batteries laying around.
Audio and Video
People in the millennial age-range probably had a childhood full of discs. Their favorite albums were on CDs and their favorite movies were on DVDs. Older generations probably had similar media, except you can swap discs for tapes. These forms of media were not cheap, and getting a collection of your favorite albums and movies would be very costly.
Thankfully, we live in a time of streaming. $20/month can get you a subscription to Netflix and Spotify. Netflix might not give you every movie you want, but it has a big catalogue. If you were someone who would enter Blockbuster on a Friday night looking for movies, a single weekend in 2002 would be more expensive than a month of Netflix. Meanwhile, music streaming has given you access to almost any song for the price of a single album.
While some people miss the artwork that came with physical media, streaming has replaced that with convenience. Many people have memories of spending $16 for an album containing a single song. Streaming services let you listen to that song at no additional cost.
Really, streaming is the best of both worlds. It gives consumers an affordable way to discover media and obtain it legally. Without these services, piracy would kill industries. The music industry has rebounded thanks to services like Spotify and Apple Music, which at least give some type of compensation when people stream content.
Young adults are able to get from one place to another for a reasonable cost, especially when you compare these expenses to prior decades. If you look to our parents’ generation, travel would have been a nightmare. Not only would tickets cost more, but it would take many calls to arrange a trip.
Even before the pandemic, the cost of airfare has been declining since the 70’s. Thanks to the lack of government regulations and competition from other airlines, plane tickets have almost been cut in half since the 80’s. Now, Americans who are willing to forgo some amenities on their flight can get a really cheap ticket and travel easier than ever before.
Then, we have ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to thank for easier automobile transportation. Young adults would have a hard time navigating a night out in the 90’s, when they would need to hail a taxi and know directions to their destination. Plus, the competition from the new services have made the cost of rides cheaper than ever.
We are fortunate to have travel that allows us to spend less than ever before. While travel can still be stressful, the experience is significantly easier and less expensive than it was a couple of decades ago.
We live in a time when services like Amazon Prime have dictated the way we shop. Twenty years ago, paying for shipping and handling was expected, and a $4.99 shipping charge would be considered reasonable. Now we get almost any item in under 48 hours with free shipping.
I recently bought a patio set from Target. The box was about the size of a washing machine, and it weight about 50 pounds. The cost for this shipment? $0. I likely wouldn’t have even looked at this product if it had a shipping cost, as I expect free shipping to be standard. I’m not alone in this train of thought. Businesses have built models around fast, free shipping.
It’s not just consumer goods that cost less to deliver. People can also stop paying for postage stamps in many cases. Bills can be paid online, and letters are sent by e-mail or text. As technology improves, the need to send hardcopies decreases.
Spend Less and Find Balance
When it comes to spending, it’s all about finding balance. It is true that there are many areas of life where people spend more. Whether it’s because of an increase in cost or an increase in the quantity purchased, people will always find a way to spend money. Fortunately, there will also be companies looking to revolutionize industries for personal gain. Oftentimes, this benefits the customer.
I deliberately chose to exclude things like TVs and computers from this list. While I can get a TV with a lower cost per inch, the cost of putting one of these items in my house in about the same. $400 would get you a “decent” TV in 1995 and 2020, but our standard of a decent product has evolved over time.
Over a decade ago, I was very aware of our culture and had an understanding of items where we were spending money. In 2005, I never anticipated companies like Uber revolutionizing transportation or Netflix making DVDs obsolete. These are pleasant surprises that have increased my quality of life while allowing me to spend less. When I look back a decade or two, I laugh at some of the way I had to spend my money. Now, I am glad I can direct my money elsewhere and waste it in different areas of life.
Originally published at https://www.michaelbeausoleil.com on October 23, 2020.