Like many of us, I was taught to try and ask myself if I “need or want” something before I buy it. Also, like many of us, it didn’t work very well for me. When making budgets and trying to discipline your spending, the “need vs. want” question just isn’t practical. After all, it is hard to argue (especially to someone else) that you “need” anything else other than food, shelter, or beer. “Need vs. want” abandons us to two of the least reliable parts of our brain: guilt and rationalization. So I propose we leave “need vs. want” behind, and bring forth a superior spending model. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the following: What do I need now? What do I need later? What will I never need?
Let me explain how this works. You actually need a lot of stuff, because life isn’t about staying alive, it is about living. If we are smart about it, buying things can help our lives continue to improve. As your wardrobe improves, you become more confident, and people respect you more. That new computer or gadget can help you get more work done. Entertainment, dining out, home accessories, all can improve our quality of life. Our little and constant changes and improvements make life fun, and you need that too.
Now wait just a minute, I am not telling you to go on a shopping spree. That’s stupid. The point is that you need to stop thinking that you only need basic necessities and everything else is frivolous. If you are trying to get somewhere, and make a life for yourself and your family, you are going to need stuff. What I am proposing is that you instead let go of guilt and start thinking strategically. Picture the life you want one year, two years, five years, or ten year from now. What do you NEED to get there?
So let’s take myself for example. I am trying to take over the world, so someday I am going to need an island fortress, a flying limo, a personal jet-pack, and a death ray, but what I need most immediately is a new pair of shoes so I don’t look like a hobo. I don’t look at things as if I am buying them to collect or pamper myself, I am buying things for a purpose. Each item purchased helps me take another step closer to my future. The key is making sure I am buying the most helpful thing for myself at the moment.
Today I choose Rosetta Stone so I can learn Arabic in order to impersonate a Saudi prince. Afterwards, I will easily be able to afford the chemical lab without increasing my debt. You see, if I buy the things I don’t need most immediately first, I am inhibiting my ability to buy things I will need later. I am not wasting time with guilt about what I “need vs. want” I am simply being strategic and using patience, discipline, and Mint.com to plot my slow and steady rise to power.
If you can’t get your spending under control, chances are you are stuck in a guilt/splurge cycle. Next time you find yourself eyeballing that electronic trap door with companion iPhone app at Sharper Image, don’t ask yourself if you “need or want” it, ask yourself “do I need this now?” Then you will realize you need to save your budget for plutonium to power your moon laser, the trap door can happen AFTER you get the ransom money.
It is also good to save up for long term needs, such as retirement, but not as a deprivation of the present, just as a shrewd strategy for the future. Of course, I am do not plan on retiring. I intend on dying only after being assassinated by my first born son in a power play. Nevertheless, I am still putting away for my animatronic mausoleum to be ceremoniously buried in.
Our psyche works on a work/reward system. If our lives don’t improve as we work, we become depressed. So don’t budget your money to save every penny out of guilt, but don’t blow your paycheck on personally branded throwing stars just because they were “shiny.” Make sure you are growing your future one step at a time, and enjoying the ride there.