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Want-Spending Versus Need-Spending

Want-Spending Versus Need-Spending
back pocket with hole in it and dollar bill sticking out

We all know what want spending is, and we all know what need spending is. Or …wait … do we really? I mean, we do, but sometimes the line gets muddied between “I really want this and I’ll be a bit peeved if I don’t get it,” and “I really need this, and I’ll be up s*** creek without a paddle if I don’t get it.” Although while sometimes it truly can be a bit difficult to tell the difference between the two, it is, of course, possible to do so. And more than possible, it is very important to understand whether you need something or whether you really just want it very badly. With that in mind, you might consider tracking what you spend on wants just to open your eyes to your spending habits. Or even, perhaps, in an effort toward transforming those spending habits into healthier ones.

Why do it? Why track?

Finding out just how much you spend on fluff can be more than an exercise in shaming yourself. It can straight up make you a more vigorous and careful spender. Every expenditure might very well puncture you like a sharp splinter but in … you know … a good, informative, way. Right? Mark it down. Set it aside, and see how your frivolous spending stacks up against your essential spending. It could be very revealing!

If you track how many double espresso frappuccinos with two shots of unicorn powder (or whatever people drink these days) that you buy in a given month, versus how many cartons of life-sustaining … I don’t know … milk, eggs, and bread … then you might be able to gain some real insight into that massive hole in your pocket where money is falling out. You might even get excited about seeing just how far you can push yourself. Just how low your spending can go without it becoming intolerable … or even uncomfortable at all!


This might come as a no-duh sort of a concept, but, it feels a lot easier to say no to the things that you cannot afford versus saying no to the things that you can afford. But here is the point. When you do not have the money to purchase something that you want, then that decision is essentially made for you. On the other hand, when you do have the money, then that helpful obstacle to overspending is removed. That is when the idea of tracking your want versus your need expenditures comes in. When the obstacle is down, vis a vis your ability to buy something that you want, then it becomes imperative to put your own sort of obstacles in place. Such as a tracking system that makes you somewhat more accountable for your actions! Or, at the very least, more cognizant of them. And awareness is, after all, the first step, toward fixing something that is askew.

So consider tracking

Consider starting with just one week of diligent attention-paying. If you like what you see (or more likely if you are upset with what you finally notice about your spending habits) then keep on going for a full month, and so on and so forth. A month seems like a long enough period to really gauge whether this sort of tracking truly impacts your spending habits or if it does not do a thing at all (if it just annoys all heck out of you and nothing else). But if you are getting something out of it, then consider going until the end of the year. If tracking works well for you, you might move on to budgeting if you decide that next step might help more than simple tracking (although tracking might very well lead you to budgeting organically in any case).

You might be surprised as to how much a tiny change such as tracking might not only open your eyes but also actively impact the way that you go about your day-to-day spending. You can call it the guilt factor if you feel like it, but it is more about finding a way to stay true to yourself through greater accountability and, what’s more, greater visibility, too. For instance, it is amazing how these purchases are made sometimes with hardly any use of the conscious part of our brains. We sort of just do it. We buy that bagel instead of eating granola at home or drink a Red Bull from the deli instead of brewing a pot of coffee when we wake up first thing. Tracking makes these actions less automatic and more deliberate. Which, in turn, once they become actions instead of reflexes, helps us to amend them toward something more fiscally responsible.


Nothing is wrong with spending money on the things that we want. But that is really only true if the spending isn’t preventing us from acquiring the bigger and greater things that we want even more. Or, perhaps worse, if our spending is getting in the way of the things that we truly need.

Consider starting a simple table on your phone (yes, there are apps for that!). Or, if you would rather keep it simpler than that, maybe just open up a note document and input every time you buy something that you don’t truly need. You don’t have to go completely Buddhist-monk-ascetic or overly minimalistic (though nothing is wrong with minimalism) to shave away a bit of your frivolous spending and live more responsibly. Just take baby steps and start eyeing your expenditures more closely.


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