Life's necessary luxuries

Opposites don't necessarily attract, particularly when it comes to money.

A recent report found that nearly two-thirds of spouses were on the same page about saving. That is, they agreed to save, or they agreed not to. But they agreed.


"It's a piece of folk wisdom" that opposites attract, says Cary Funk, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. "It's more common for people to be attracted to those who resemble themselves."

So, in the real world, a Montague would marry a Montague; a Capulet, a Capulet.


This tidbit on couples' finances is part of a broader look by Pew at Americans' attitudes about money and life's necessities, based on interviews last fall with 2,000 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

One of the surprising findings, Funk says, was how quickly items that just a decade ago were largely considered luxuries are now considered necessities.

For instance, 32 percent of consumers couldn't live without a microwave a decade ago. It's 68 percent today.

Other items that moved from nice-to-have to must-have: home and auto air conditioning, home computers, a clothes dryer, dish washer and cable or satellite television.

When Pew asked people questions about products in 1996, some items weren't on the list. Now they register as necessities. Forty-nine percent say they need a cell phone, 29 percent require high-speed Internet access, 5 percent must have a flat-screen TV and 3 percent can't do without an iPod.

The No. 1 necessity then and now: a car.

Pew noted one pattern: Products go from luxuries to needs, not the other way around.

As far as savings, Americans are a paradox. Most of us say we are on a continuous search for ways to save, then in the next breath admit we don't salt away nearly enough.


Pew doesn't offer answers on why Americans are such lousy savers, although researchers say they found little evidence to support the so-called "wealth effect." This theory says consumers feel free to spend and not save because the values of their homes and stock portfolios are rising.

Other findings to learn from:

About one-third of adults suffered a serious financial setback in the past year, typically related to health, a car or house. More evidence for the need to build up an emergency fund.

Women worry more about money than men. It could be that women have good reason. Women live longer and have more years of retirement to finance.

Three out of 10 people married someone with different ideas about money. If someday that will be you, be prepared. More than half of these couples say they argue about finances.

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