number three: know the difference between wants and needs

This is probably a good time to talk about what is a want and what is a need as I have spent the morning online shopping for new walking shoes. These are a need. I walk tons and I have sucked every ounce of life out of my current shoes. The super cute sneaks that I keep drooling over are a want. They are not practical and would serve no purpose other than to look good at the bottom of my jeans. Can you tell that I’m talking myself out of the cute shoes and into the practical shoes? Not that the practical shoes aren’t nice, I just want them both.

Early on in my university career, I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a theory in psychology that basically orders human motivations. Physiological needs such as food and water form the base, and then it moves up through safety, love and family, esteem and self-actualization. Very generally, once physiological needs are met, humans move on to safety needs, then love and family needs, etc. This makes intuitive sense but Maslow wasn’t bombarded by media telling him what kinds of food and what brands of clothing he needed.

Modern life is complicated. We are overwhelmed by choice, especially in the wealthier countries. Maybe that’s why we end up with 26 pairs of shoes when we probably only need three or four. And even that might be stretching the definition of need. But wants and needs can’t be simply defined. They are different for everyone depending on your age, where you live, your family situation…. Suffice to say, I have far more than I strictly need.

Since this is a blog about frugal living, I’ll tell you why wants and needs are important to your bank account. Canadians have steadily been increasing their debt levels. Income levels are not keeping up with rates of borrowing. There are lots of ways for individuals to keep their spending in check, and actually thinking before buying is a good first step.

In order keep myself from spending more than I can afford I ask: Do I need this? Can I afford it? If I buy this, what will I have to not buy? I’m also not afraid to un-shop. And I focus on Maslow’s higher needs…. friendship, family, achievement, creativity….

(Just as an afterthought…. getting something free doesn’t make it a want!)

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