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How to distinguish “Wants” from “Needs”

  • Posted on October 28, 2020
Man and woman with credit card looking at computer.
We’ve all had those moments––standing in our favorite store (or recently, scrolling through the online listings of your favorite retailer), gazing at the colorful and enticing options, asking yourself that difficult question: “To buy or not to buy?” Every day, whether on TV, radio or social media we are targeted by marketing that is so enticing, that it makes us want to purchase items not tomorrow, not the day after but now. It is no secret that we live in one of the most “marketed-to” cultures in the world, and with this in mind, we need to make sure we keep a cool head and cultivate the discipline to resist overspending, or else we will find ourselves with an empty bank account.

So let’s go back to the image of you in your favorite store as you contemplate your purchase. The first step is to distinguish if the purchase you’re considering is a “need” or a “want.”

A “need” is an expense that is essential for you to live. 

Here are some examples of “needs”:
  • Food
  • Housing (rent or mortgage payments)
  • Basic clothing
  • Transportation (car costs, gas, subway or bus fare to get to work, etc.)
  • Utilities (gas, water, electric)
  • Insurance
While your “needs” might not be the most exciting things on your budget each month, they are the most important pillars of your life and should be treated with reverence! You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’ve made a large, unexpected purchase, but then realize you no longer have enough money to cover your rent or mortgage payment.

Helpful hint: If you don’t have a budget yet, you should start one today – for tips, check out this resource here.

On the flip side, a “want” is a non-essential purchase that is justifiable only after your “needs” are met.

Here are some examples of “wants”:
  • Vacations
  • Entertainment
  • Designer clothing
  • Gym memberships
  • Coffeehouse drinks
  • Eating out too often
Zooming out, each of us must conduct an accurate and honest assessment of ourselves as either savers or spenders. If the idea of giving up any of the bullets in the “wants” section made you wince, you’re likely spender. And if you’re a spender, the idea of a budget may sound claustrophobic to you. But here’s the good news: a budget doesn’t prevent you from having fun. A budget gives you control of your spending, so you can cover your “needs” and then be able to fully understand how much of your “wants” list you can actually afford.

Here at United, our dream for you is that the next time you’re in your favorite store, your inner voice can graduate from: “I’m going to buy this now!” to: “I’m happy that I’ve budgeted for all my “needs” this month and have allocated those funds appropriately. I have budgeted for this beautiful “want” item in front of me, and I have the cash in my wallet to pay for it. Forget what the others say, I love budgeting!”

Or, you know, something like that. 

We don’t expect you to nerd out over budgeting the way we do, but we do know you’ll love the results, which means you’ll eventually fall in love with the process of budgeting too.

Get Started With Budgeting

While it might be difficult at first to take control of your spending, like any muscle, the more you practice the stronger you will become. Budgeting, and the mental mindset around budgeting, are tools that will truly make the difference in your financial success. If you take the steps today to develop the discipline to budget every dollar and clearly understand your wants vs. needs, you will reap the financial rewards in the years to come!

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