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Most people don’t really understand the difference between wants and needs. And for some people, particularly people who feel shame about their financial circumstances, feel undeserving of wants or needs.
Most people I’ve spoken with struggle with making the distinction between want and needs.
Understanding The Difference Between Wants and Needs
A need, when filled sustains you.
A want, when filled will entertain you
Substituting wants for needs will eventually drain you.
I don’t know where I heard that saying, but it has stuck with me for years.
Your deepest needs can’t be met at Macy’s. Our need for laughter, companionship, physical touch, friendship, and spiritual connectedness to name a few, cannot be satisfied with a shopping spree. Making a purchase as a substitute for fulfilling a need, may work in the short run but eventually the sense of deprivation will rear its ugly head and the cycle of buying will begin again.
When I think of a want, I think I will be immediately gratified. If you have the sudden urge to have something immediately, then it’s probably a want and not a need. By slowing down, looking inward and discerning if that item is a need or want you’ll be able to vastly reduce the impulse buys that often contribute to money struggles.
Next time you’re out shopping try this exercise. Before making the purchase ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I really need this? (The focus here is on the word need)
If I waited a week, a month or a year would I really still need this?
2. Do I really need this? (The focus here is on the word really)
This is about the degree of the need. Do I really need this enough that I should make this a priority? Do I need this so much I’m willing to give up something else in order to have it?
3. Do I really need this? (The focus here is on the word this)
You’re attempting to discern here if this particular item is an attempt to meet a need that is impossible to meet with material things. Are you feeling lonely, angry, anxious, rejected, or ashamed? Are you trying to mask a deeper feeling with this purchase? If so, how could you get your need met in another way that would fill the need?
If after asking yourself these three questions your answer is still “yes, I need this,” there is one more questions to ask:
4. Is buying this item worth what you’d have to give up to have it?
Asking this question will help you stay connected to your money and the consequences of making that decision. It’s not that you can’t have it. It’s just if you choose to buy it, you’re choosing to forgo or delay spending on something else and maybe something else that’s more important, like paying a bill. You don’t have an endless amount of money so ultimately the choice is yours.
I ask myself these questions still when I make a purchase particularly if I am feeling a compulsion to go out and spend money. Hey, I’m not perfect and you won’t be either. As emotional issues rise to the surface, I have to stop and check in with myself to see if it’s a deeper emotional need that isn’t being met and that I am trying to meet them by making a purchase.
Next time you find yourself out shopping, stop and ask yourself these questions. Remember, it’s about being connected to your money and realizing that understanding your underlying needs is an inside job.