- An expensive cell phone plan. While I feel that having a cell phone is a necessity for most people, paying $100 for an iPhone plan isn't. A basic phone that allows you to make phone calls only is fine. A pre-paid plan is great so you won't have any recurring monthly bills. Turning off your phone if you are inclined to talk so much that you run through a pre-paid $100 card worth of minutes in a week and only returning important messages is a even better.
- A car. There's a number of ways to look at this item. If your family has four cars and two drivers, it is not inconceivable to cut down to one car for your household. It will save you lots of money in car payments/insurance payments/maintenance costs/etc. If you are homeless, a car may end up being your shelter which is a good thing, the only drawback I see with this is that people who are homeless often can't afford insurance, license renewal, and upkeep which can lead to tickets and fines which can lead to court appearances, which is not good. If you need a car for shelter but you don't have a license or insurance, find a safe place to park it so you will have a place to sleep but take the bus or your bike so you won't end up tangled in the legal system.
- Pets. Again, there is no one right answer for this situation. Some homeless people would never consider parting with their pet no matter what but on the other hand, if you have a spouse, four kids, and are barely hanging on to your home, the care, feeding, and medical expenses that can accrue for a pet would be better off (IMHO) being spent on your human family. Ditto for nuisance pets. A guy I knew lived in a pretty bad neighborhood and kept two pit bull dogs more for protection than anything else. Because he was often gone and his dogs were expert at breaking out of their fence, he racked up quite a huge amount of debt in tickets not to mention potential lawsuits for having dangerous dogs that he couldn't control. Not good. I hate to suggest looking at the family pet with a cost/benefit analysis but sometimes that's what you need to do.
- Internet. Most cities and towns have sources of free internet. On occasion you can also catch an unprotected signal in residential neighborhoods and some apartment buildings. While it is nice to have 24/7 internet, if you are barely getting by, this is an unnecessary luxury. Ditto for cable (free TV is limited but covers the basics).
- Top of the line gear. Much as the hardcore preppers, mountaineers, and gear heads love to rave about top of the line gear (tents, backpacks, generators, firearms, etc), except for very specific instances (ie: summitting Everest), the very best gear is nice to have but not absolutely necessary. A 20 degree Coleman sleeping bag will work just as well as a 20 degree Marmot sleeping bag even though it won't have all of the bells and whistles and super lightweightness. In other words, it is better to spend $200 getting all four family members adequate sleeping bags than spending $400 for one sleeping bag.
- Firearms. Again, this is debatable. I am all for a person having enough fire power to protect themselves and their family, however there are times when having a firearm could bring more risk than it is worth. Ex felons probably shouldn't own a firearm; if you are just barely getting by, the risk of fines, court appearances, and more time is probably not worth it. If you have an extremely dysfunctional family (alcohol, domestic violence, and/or mental health issues) again, putting a firearm in the middle of the mess will cause more problems than it's worth. Another idea is to keep a few firearms and sell off your arsenal if necessary. You can't eat a handgun but the family does need to eat so sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
- Advanced prep gear if you don't even have the basics. It's nice to have a generator, it's nice to have a bug out cabin, it's nice to have a BOV with all of the goodies. The problem with these items is that they require ongoing funds for upkeep and if for some reason these funds dry up, you will loose these items. On the other hand, education is an investment that no one can take away from you. Basic things like a first aid kit and a battery powered radio are low cost, hi usability items that won't break you when you buy them and won't hurt you too much if you loose them. Once you get the basics covered AND pull yourself out of your financial abyss, then you can start adding to your preparedness gear stash.
- Other things that can be substituted. Yes it is nice to have MREs and Mountain House stocked but they are more expensive than hitting up the canned good loss leaders at the local store. You may not be able to do without socks (good to have in a bug out situation), but you don't need the $20 per pair socks. A tent is great if you end up sleeping outside but if you are flat broke, some 6 mil plastic and paracord will suffice.
The bottom line is that you can do without most things. People can live their entire lives in a third world country with only a handful of items to call their own so I know it can be done. The problem is that we (me included) have become quite spoiled and often times quite unimaginative and think that we can't possibly survive without all of the gear that we see advertised at the local survival store. While all of the comforts of modern living (or modern bugging out) are nice, mostly they aren't absolutely necessary. You will survive a disaster in spite of not having these things. Put your limited funds and resources towards developing the education, skills, and ingenuity that will allow you to function in a post-disaster scenario and shed all of the other things that most people think they can't live without until your financial situation stabilizes.