Series: Spending Money

Page 1 of 2

Smart Spending: Needs vs Wants Terms of Use:

Many people spend money without really thinking about it. As you try to get a handle on your spending, the first thing you have to recognize is that what you need is different than what you want. There is a big difference between the two! To cut spending, cut down on buying things you want but don’t really need.

You need housing, food, clothing, transportation, insurance, and other necessities of life. Some of these, such as the air we breathe, don’t cost anything at all. Others, like electricity, do. Once you have the necessary things in life, any spending becomes more about what you want than what you need.

For example, you need a watch to tell time and stay punctual, but you want a Rolex timepiece. You want a SAAB convertible, but you can get places on a public bus.

Here are some ways to tell the difference between a want and a need:

1. If you need it, you will automatically seek and buy it without anyone selling you. No one has to advertise water or heat.

2. If it’s a want, you can put off buying it until later.

3. If it’s a want, you can probably use a cheaper item.

4. If you replace something you already have that’s still working, that replacement’s probably a want, not a need.

5. Unlike needs, wants can be addictive and/or harmful. Cigarettes are just one example. No one needs them, but some people want them.

Our American standard of living is so good that most of us own things that would be considered luxuries, not needs, in poorer countries like Africa or Latin America.

Because we live in a consumer society, we are exposed to thousands of advertisements a year. The purpose of these ads is to get us to buy things we may not need.

At one time or another, we’ve all given into buying something on impulse. You know, that’s when you enter the grocery store for a gallon of milk and come out with $20 less in your wallet. Impulse purchases are made at that moment, rather than planned ahead of time.  An example of impulse purchase "bait" is the placement of those "little extras" near the checkout stands.  Try to look the other way to avoid spending impulsively.

Shopping can become a psychological addiction sometimes referred to as being a “shopaholic” or the American Psychological Associaton clinical term “oniomania” which affects between 2-6% of all Americans.

Research at Stanford University links oniomania with depression. The compulsive shopper, usually a woman, goes to the mall to feel better, and to cure loneliness, sadness and anger. Unlike drugs, gambling or alcohol addictions, oniomania is socially acceptable, meaning that people are likely to openly discuss it and perhaps even minimize the problems it causes.

Series: Spending Money

Page 2 of 2

Smart Spending: Needs vs Wants Terms of Use:

An oniomaniac (person with oniomania) gets a “high” from buying things, but later a “low” from feeling guilty about spending. This guilt produces more depression, and then the cycle starts over.

You don’t have to be a shopaholic to go out for “retail therapy” at a mall or big discount store. If you want to cut down on your shopping bills, try these tips:

1. Find other pleasures like exercising, being with friends, or visiting the library that don’t cost money but still make you feel good.

2. Consider the “opportunity cost” or what the money you spent could be earning you in an interest-bearing account or investment. Even saving half of the purchase price could really add up over time.

3. When shopping, don’t carry checks, credit, debit or ATM cards – just carry cash.

4. Draw up a budget on paper or your computer, giving yourself some “mad money” but promising not to buy anything that’s not in the budget.

5. Make a shopping list and stick to it.

6. Give yourself a mandatory “cooling down” period if you see something you want. Go home and sleep on it to decide if it’s something you really need.

7. Consider that just because something’s on sale, doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. If you really value the item, would you pay twice the price for it? If you charge the purchase on your credit card and don’t pay off the balance, this bargain is going to cost you a lot more.

8. Window-shop when stores are closed.

9. Stay off TV shopping channels and Internet shopping websites.

10. Rent before you buy an expensive item such as a boat or musical instrument. Take trial memberships in gyms or social clubs. You may not enjoy the item enough to buy it.

11. Be careful of “collections.” Many shopping addicts specialize by buying one kind of item, such as ornaments or stuffed animals.

12. To reduce your spending, buy groceries at a grocery store, not a big discount warehouse that sells clothing and other non-food items that may tempt you.

13. If you find that shopping is taking over your life, you may need more than a few frugal tips. Consider talking to a counselor.

See what you learned.

Check out "Budgeting" and "Saving for a Rainy Day"