This article was published on 4 December 2010. Some information may be out of date.

Do we really need more stuff than Americans?

Something to ponder as Christmas gift giving approaches: New Zealanders apparently think they need more stuff than the people we often regard as most materialistic — Americans. What’s more, older and male New Zealanders seem to be more into “things” than young people and females.

These findings come from a UMR survey that asked people 18 and over if they thought certain items were a necessity or something they could do without.

Let’s look first at the New Zealand/US comparison.

Top of the list of necessities in both countries was a car, with 87 per cent of New Zealanders and 86 per cent of Americans saying they needed one. That’s near enough to a tie. But more New Zealanders — often many more — regarded almost every other item as a necessity.

Here’s the list. Landline phone: NZ 75 per cent, US 62 per cent; home computer: NZ 69 per cent, US 49 per cent; mobile phone: NZ 65 per cent, US 47 per cent; TV set: NZ 61 per cent, US 42 per cent; high speed internet connection: NZ 57 per cent, US 34 per cent; microwave oven: NZ 49 per cent, US 45 per cent; dishwasher: NZ 22 per cent, US 21 per cent.

There was just one item that Americans were more likely to call a necessity. About 18 per cent of New Zealanders “need” Sky TV while 23 per cent of Americans “need” digital or cable TV.

Turning to age differences, New Zealanders over 30 were more likely to say items were necessities than 18 to 29 year olds.

Here’s what the young rated most highly: Car 74 per cent; mobile phone 71 per cent; home computer 63 per cent; high speed internet 55 per cent, and landline phone 51 per cent.

At the other end of the range, the list for 60-pluses was: landline phone 91 per cent; car 88 per cent; TV set 75 per cent; microwave 60 per cent; and home computer 58 per cent.

How about gender? Men and women were equally sure a car was a necessity. And 77 per cent of women needed a landline phone, versus 73 per cent of men. But men were more likely to rate every other item as a necessity, with big gender differences for microwaves, Sky TV and i-pods or MP3 players.

All of this is fair enough, I suppose. We’ve become used to a certain standard of living. But perhaps we could make this Christmas a bit less about exchanging stuff — much of which the recipient doesn’t need or even want.

Through the following charities, you can buy a gift for a relative or friend that is really a donation to somebody genuinely in need. For example, you can send money to a charity to buy school supplies for a child in a developing country, and then give your relative or friend a document saying they have made that gift.

The following charities offer schemes like this:

No paywalls or ads — just generous people like you. All Kiwis deserve accurate, unbiased financial guidance. So let’s keep it free. Can you help? Every bit makes a difference.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it.