What are ‘Wants’ and what are ‘Needs’?
Here’s how I see it.
- Basic Food — Cooked from scratch
- Shelter — Rented or not, ideally in a safe environment
- Clothing — Basic clothing to keep warm (e.g. winter coat)
- Basic utilities — Included in the shelter, like water, electricity
- Basic transportation — Public transportation, or a serviceable car
- Everything else.
Pretty simple, right?
THOSE ARE MY TRUE PRIORITIES, THE REST IS FLUFF
I’m sure it seems hypocritical to be saying all of the above, when I am clearly not living with basic needs, and I have my wants in there too, but if I didn’t have any money saved with a goal of saving 75% of my net income each year, and if I was making less money, those needs are my priorities.
Yes, I have a laptop, the internet, a washing machine, and all of these other great modern-day appliances, but I am well aware that they are wants, not needs.
I can always do my laundry by hand, but why should I? To save $5?
I don’t have a need to save $5 on something that would take a lot of my time and effort, when I am already aiming to save 75% of my net income.
I can always go to the library to read rather than paying for an e-magazine subscription using the Zinio application on my iPad, or use the free internet there instead of having a connection at home — but I don’t need to live like that.
However if I had a bare minimum salary, I would need to live like that and I recognize where my budget would need to be slashed.
Even for transportation.
I know in the U.S. this may not be entirely applicable unless you live in NYC, but a lot of urban cities have public transportation!!!!!
So unless you live out in the country and/or you truly cannot get to work without a car because it’s so far north that it has no public transit, then it’s really just a question of your time rather than money.
I had no license and no car, and I still made it to work in another city by commuting 4 hours a day (2 hours there, 2 hours back).
I had to take 3 trains and a bus. But you know what? I did it because I had to.
I quickly got my license after that, which cut it down to about an hour and a half a day, but when you don’t have a choice (in my case, a license), then you make it work and you do what it takes.
It was even cheaper to keep taking public transportation at 4 hours a day, because I only spent $10 a day getting there and back! That’s $50 a week or $200/month.
With a car, here’s what I envisioned as the cost per month
- Lease = $200
- Gas = $75
- Insurance = $250
- Maintenance = $50
Total a month for a car = $575 versus $200/month for public transit.
What I really saved: 2.5 hours of my life each day, 12.5 hours a week or 50 hours a month.
DON’T CONFUSE WANTS WITH NEEDS
So that smartphone at $80/month that you need?
You don’t need it. Heck, you don’t even need a cellphone if you can’t afford it.
Make it work with a $10 landline… you know, the way people used to live before we had mobile telephones? 🙂
ONLY PAY FOR THE WANTS THAT MATTER TO YOU
I am not ever saying to only pay for NEEDS and not WANTS.
I’m just saying to choose the WANTS that matter to you. REALLY matter.
I loathe driving and am so thankful we live in a city with great public transportation. If you live in a US city like Dallas or LA though, yes, a car is pretty much a need since the public transpo system isn’t going to cut it at all (and I shudder when we visit those areas for that reason).
What’s interesting to me is when something crosses the line from being just a want into a pseudo-need. Like our Internet used to be just the basic speed, but since someone works from home, we’ve had to get the higher tier of service because of the demands of their job. Internet is not even really a “need” but because of a job it’s an essential. Same could go for folks who need to have mobile WiFi or a smartphone because they need to send photos or access the Internet when their in the field. Sometimes it’s not exactly a need, but because of circumstances, it becomes one.
I guess that’s why stuff like computers and Internet are now considered needs even though they really aren’t. In some cases, not having such things becomes a disadvantage, like how some kids have trouble doing homework because they don’t have Internet access or a computer at home. Yes, they could go to a library to use public resources, but that depends on whether or not they have easy access to such places.
It’s just become a societal norm to assume we have phones and TV’s and at least one PC and an Internet connection per household, and therefore we’ve built those into our minds as a need because of the “standards” our society have placed on us- which is kind of nuts when you think about it.
Ok, and I’ll stop rambling now. :p
In CA’s cities we have some options for public transit that work pretty well. Away from the cities, though, I don’t think people really understand how astoundingly difficult it can be to function without a car either in the more rural or suburban areas as the state is ridiculously big; so many places are far apart without pub transit connections.
I lived in the suburbs a long time and you could get to work and back if you worked in the city, or you could walk/bike to work if you worked locally, but non-school buses were non existent for commuting if you weren’t on the main lines. And definitely not an option for going to more rural areas like I often did, or friends who traveled from those areas to work 80 miles away without public transit options.
It’s such a shame, anytime I could use pub trans I did and was able to avoid adding an extra car to the household for a while, but that was only possible for a while. It’d be awesome to have more and actually reliable transit though. (I do know people who did the super-time consuming 2-4 hour EACH WAY commute for city to city work, as you did. Holy moly.)
Even though I read blogs and other media every day, I still cannot pass by this ludicrous concept that reigns in the North America that you need a car in order to have a life. Most people go even further disusing what brands, how old your car should be, how often you should change it… Honestly, I don’t get it. I am 30 old, don’t have a drivers license and consciously do not want to own a car. I think if you live in a city, you definitely do not need a car. There are number of ways to use your time while you’re in the public transportation without having to think about traffic or where the hell you’re going to refill the tank or park your vehicle. With all the costs and maintenance it’s really pain in the but. My grandpa use to say that having a car is the same as having another member of a family. I even think ‘maintaining’ a human being is cheaper than a car.
You do know, of course, that you are committing personal finance heresy by leasing a car instead of buying some used car for cash. Just kidding. We’ve leased also and wonder why it is ok to rent a house but not to rent a car. At any rate, I agree it is important to separate wants from needs but recognize that having some of our wants make life worth living.
Great post! You nailed when you said that while you don’t limit your spending to simply meet your needs, you are clear WHAT those expenses are and know that you could slash your spending and be able to meet those needs if you had to. I’m in the same boat and think that’s a really important exercise for people to go through.
In this post, http://bit.ly/SpenderVsSaver, I offer some ideas on how to test spending to filter wants from needs.
Nothing wrong with wants, it’s just about spending your money on things you truly want as opposed to wasting it on things you don’t gain much pleasure from. Over the years have managed to figure out what was really worth me spending money on and banked the rest.
It’s good to hear that people understand what is truly a need versus most important and most favorite wants. You could go further, though, and realize that needs are really just oxygen, water, food, and clothing. Some people also need medicine. You can be homeless for a while if you have to. It’s good to keep perspective. And no one is going to fault you for including wants in your budget. As you’ve noticed, some people don’t fault you for having wants in your budget even when you can’t afford them. Because people should be allowed to live indoors, etc.!
I just want to add that my landline is $43.
Agreed. And don’t forget the “human” factor – that also is a need, human relationships/warmth.
Otherwise, it’s all about priorities, isn’t it? I see a lot that worries me in that department – as you say, whoever has a minimal income (not even a salary, maybe!) needs to cut right back on wants. It’s interesting to see what the (Swiss) govt feels about needs – apparently, TV, phone and internet are now considered needs…
Transport can be a difficult one – public transport here is excellent but not cheap. However, I have noticed that a lot of people prioritise the high cost of it over having cars in Switzerland, (though there are still plenty of cars and increasing, sadly). I’m talking 5K for an annual go-anywhere train pass (having a regional one is rarely worthwhile because almost as expensive). I heard that in England, it costs more than that just to have an annual pass for one route, so does that make it “relatively” cheap? Hm.
If someone lives further away from their job and moving closer would be more expensive for them than having a car, I say have a small, cheap, old but reliable car (like mine LOL) – by “expensive” I’m also considering that maybe having a family member look after kids for less than urban childcare is a factor as well as, say, the cost of shelter, or being able to have a garden to cover the majority of your food needs vs having to buy everything (quality?)…
It would take a great deal of consciousness and calculation, which I’m afraid most folks just wouldn’t do, or else they do a rough calculation and forget a lot of criteria and skew the result. But yes, I think that there are a lot of people screaming “poor” who could well rearrange their priorities into wants and needs, while there are others who are content with the same or even less because they have their priorities straight! Wisdom can be really cheap LOL
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Our needs are met with so little and we are very fortunate that even on a frugal budget so many wants can be fulfilled too. I agree that the only wants we should buy are the things we actually WANT, not just the things we buy out of habit or expectations. This is something that I work on quite a bit. Thank you for the post!
Kate @ Money Propeller
Since we are living in a province, I only bought a motorcycle. Having a car in our place is not really necessary and we have a good transportation in here. I just bought a new washing machine because mine was not working anymore and I don’t want to waste my time doing a hand wash.