My mother-in-law, Marcia, was raised after World War II, and when she was married, she was fully responsible for using their money wisely. She had a set amount of money to use for groceries, and learned how to purchase enough food for five people. Her top piece of financial advice is to question every purchase with, “Is it a need or a want?” When you only have a certain amount of money to spend, asking this question is a necessity. When you are trying to get your finances in order, this question is also a necessity.
Asking this question before your purchases is an important habit to start. But, how do we answer this question? How do we know what is a need, and what is a want? While circumstances will vary for each of us, here are some guidelines to get you started.
What is a need?
Needs are, quite simply, the necessities of life. This would include food, water, transportation, clean water, a roof over our heads, a warm coat, etc. We need to keep our bodies functioning. We need to be able to get to our jobs or a store. We need protection from the elements. When you are making purchasing decisions, these come first. Sometimes, the needs are all that can be taken care of before the funds run out. But, as we work hard to make good decisions, we begin to see a bit of extra after the needs. Then we can ponder the “Want” purchases.
What is a want?
Wants are the niceties of life, the fresh flowers, fancy coffee, new clothes, hobby supplies, upgrades, and unnecessary pleasures. These things make us happy and brighten up our days. But, when we don’t have enough money to go around, the wants must wait until after the needs are taken care of.
The benefits of waiting
We live in a world of instant gratification, where our fast food is handed to us, and our web pages load almost as fast as we type them in. We have forgotten how to wait. We have lost the beauty of anticipation. I would say at least half the fun of making a “want” purchase is the anticipation and saving up. It’s exciting to put away another $5 towards an item we really want. We learn to appreciate our belongings more because we worked saving for them.
The other benefit of waiting to make a purchase is that you might change your mind. A good piece of advice is to wait 2-3 weeks before deciding on buying. If you still want it after the wait time, and have the funds, then go for it! But, many times, you will decide that you don’t really want it after all, and can hold on to that money for a future purchase.
This happened to me recently. I saw a pottery-looking ceramic travel mug, and I liked it. Coffee tastes better in ceramic, and this would allow me to take my great-tasting coffee with me on errands. I chose to wait. It wasn’t an immediate need, and I decided to think about it, rather than make an impulse purchase. When I returned to the store almost 2 weeks later, I was still thinking about that mug. So, I went to that aisle, found the mug, and headed towards checkout. I almost got in line, and decided I didn’t love it as much as I thought, so I went back and discovered that they had three different styles of ceramic travel mugs! I found one I liked even better, and it just happened to be $3 less. Awesome! I am thrilled with my new mug, and I’m also glad I took the time to think it through.
Your turn: need or want?
Before you head to the store again, take a few minutes to think about the things in your life that are needs, and the things that are wants, and ask yourself consciously if the thing you want to purchase is a need or want. When you head to the store, or look at items online, take care of the needs first. Once those are taken care of, then you can look at the “want” items. But, even if you have the money, it is always best to train yourself to wait for the “wants.” You won’t perish without them, and might just change your mind. Not making a purchase puts you in a much better position for future financial situations. If, on the other hand, you wait a while, and still want to make the purchase, it will be that much sweeter after waiting.
Try this question the next time you head to the dollar store after reading this post on surviving trips to the dollar store.
Be sure to ask yourself, “Is it a need or a want?” on your next purchase, and tell us in the comments what you decided. Get more financial help right in your inbox by signing up below.