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Needs Versus Wants

Want: to have a desire to possess something or wish for; to lack or be short of something desirable.

Need: to require something because it is essential; expressing necessity.

These two words are very different to the extent in which something is viewed as necessary or optional. However, in my work as a Certified Financial Social Worker, especially when reviewing spending and budgets, these words are used synonymously; basically everything becomes a need. “But I need to go out to dinner.” “I needed that pair of shoes.” “I need my Netflix and cable.” “I needed to take an Uber/taxi.” I need, I need, I need. Think about it, do you NEED the five dinners out per week, do you NEED the sports package on television, do you NEED the gourmet cheese and fancy wine, do you NEED all the things you frivolously spend money on to survive? The short answer: no. There may be some things you actually need to spend money on, like groceries, paying the rent/mortgage, utilities, medical expenses and prescriptions, etc., but I am guessing, for the most part, the majority of your spending and the areas where you can cut back on are on things you want, not need.

Budgeting and getting a handle on your financial situation is difficult and stressful as it is, but even more so when every item and purchase is viewed as a need. How can you cut back or spend less if you need everything? One of the most important first steps to creating a successful and lasting budget, which many people either don’t do or don’t want to do, is to determine what is a true need versus just a want and changing your mindset to see the difference. Yes, you need to eat, have clothes to wear, and take care of yourself, but it doesn’t need to be the most expensive brand of bread or highest quality meat, or the best designer clothes and shoes, or the membership at the best gym in the city, or the newest electronic device. Take a look at your daily activities and lifestyle, what do you truly need in order to live and meet your responsibilities, both personally and professionally? Are there items or areas where you can find a lower cost alternative or reduced price, or maybe eliminate them completely if they are unnecessary? Once you are able to get down to the bare bones, the necessary spending to survive, you can start to create a realistic budget for what you truly need. By changing the way you view your spending, from everything as a need to a mix of needs and wants, you will also enjoy the wants more knowing that they are not necessary but rather something extra.

After you have determined and budgeted for the actual needs in your spending and life, you can then, depending on your budget, find ways to incorporate the wants back in. Maybe you were able to find ways to save at the grocery store or cook more at home, or you shopped around for a better deal on your cable/gym membership/prescriptions/etc., or you eliminated all the Uber/taxi rides you were taking and starting using the subway or bus. With the money that is hopefully left over, you can then budget for the wants and enjoy them much more knowing that they are in a sense “special.” There will also be less pressure and stress to have everything since you will no longer feel that you NEED to have everything. Think of how liberating it will be to be able to say “I don’t need that to survive, I want it, and I will budget to get it.” All those “needs” you took for granted before will become wants that you can now see clearly as bonuses or additions to your life.

If you want help with reframing the wants and needs in your life, please contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment with a therapist who specializes in Financial Therapy to help you if your financial situation or spending habits are causing stress or anxiety in your life.

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