Do You Need That, Or Do You Want It?

Stop Complaining That You "Need" Something

I tend to post a lot about the various methods of reaching financial freedom, but all of these ideas rest upon the expectation that it's easy to exercise self-control. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's really tough to say no to buying something, sometimes it's can seem hard to be disciplined. But if you have set a goal for building wealth, you need to learn how to say no. Perhaps the most common way that we justify purchasing things is by claiming that we "need" them. That's not true and it needs to stop. 

What Do You Really Need?

The modern definition of need has seemed to expand to cover everything from lattes to iPads, but my definition of need is something that you cannot live without. If you can live without something, you will persist even if you don't have it; you have identified something that would make you feel happy or that might add value to your life, but that doesn't make it a need.

Based on this realistic definition of needs, I can only identify two things that can honestly be classified as needs to be filled with money: food and shelter. Without food in your stomach or a place to live you would die, and probably die pretty quickly. Therefore it is always in your best interests to make sure that you have a safe place to live and food in your refrigerator. By purchasing these two basic necessities, you will ensure your own survival.

Thanksgiving: The BIGGEST of all food needs!

Thanksgiving: The BIGGEST of all food needs!

Most frugal bloggers and writers seem to also include transportation as a monetary need: I reject this. We have the ability to transport ourselves from place to place without ever spending any money; we have legs and feet. In our modern world, most people move around in fancy cars, shuttling themselves long distances every day, but if you reduce humanity to it's most basic form, walking has always been an acceptable form of transportation, and it is still today possible to build a life without using a vehicle (if you want to). 

Everything Else is a Want, and That's Okay

If we accept these two basic needs, food and shelter, we become liberated because we realize that everything else in our lives is there because we want it to be there. Too many of us "I need" our way into a $70,000 annual spending and really believe that all of the things in their lives are truly needs. But if we really consider our true needs, we can all sustain ourselves for less than $10,000 per year. Any amount of spending above this level probably means that we get to purchase things that we want.

Wanting is Liberating

I'm not one to argue that we should never allow ourselves to have the things that we want, but I will say that it's important to acknowledge why we are buying something. If suddenly we recognize that a new pair of shoes is a want and not a need, it changes our perception. Rather than being forced to buy the shoes because we believe that we cannot live without them, we now have choices. If we recognize that we want the shoes, we can suddenly make a rational decision, rather than one based on physical necessity. Rather than mindlessly swiping our credit cards to buy the shoes, we can consider whether or not we can really afford them. If the answer is no, we know that our lives with not be altered by not buying the shoes because we never really needed them.

This might sound overly simplistic, but it's actually quite powerful. If you can recognize that you will be just fine without purchasing something, you suddenly realize that you have a lot more control over your life. It certainly would be a stressful world if we really needed to spend $70,000 per year just to survive; many of us would die because we couldn't meet that threshold. But because we don't really need all that much, we all probably have more money that we realize that counts towards discretionary income. It's okay to allocate some of this discretionary income towards things that we want, but suddenly investing for a more rewarding future seems all the more possible.