Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wants, Needs and Prioritizing Both

We use the words "want" and "need" on an almost daily basis. Sometimes we use them correctly and sometimes not. Sometimes we say we "want" something when what we really mean is that we "need" it; other times we say we "need" something when what we really mean is that we "want" it. What is the difference?

A need is something without which we cannot live. Basic needs are food, clothing and shelter. We might also consider money as a need to pay for those items. There are also secondary needs depending on our lifestyles. A frum Jew needs a shul, needs a mikveh, needs yeshivot for his/her children.

Wants are those things that we desire but whose absence will not cause a destruction of life. We need food--we may want pizza or roast beef or sushi. We need clothing--we may want today's styles, designer togs and fancy footwear. We need shelter--we may want a large home in an upscale area.

There is nothing wrong per se with having wants. Some wants contribute to our "happiness factor." Oatmeal may feed us so we are not hungry, but we don't want to eat it three times a day--we want variety. Fine, no argument from me.

But what do we do when wants and needs collide? What do we do when societal factors interfere with our personal desires? What do we do when we cannot provide so that we can have everything we need and everything we want?

It's rare for people to sit down and actually analyze what their needs and wants really are. They work on the assumption that they already know this. And then along comes a financial crunch and they don't know how they are going to make it. This is the time to sit down, take a pencil and paper or a computer and start making lists. Yup, things are going to boil down to money.

First, how much money do you actually have? Put that total at the top of the page. Next, make two columns: one for needs and one for wants. Fill in the needs column first, with the amount per year that the need is costing you. Then do the same for the things you want. Now total up both columns. Now things get a little stickier. Make another page for the year coming up. Prices are going up on all basic services and products. If you spent X amount on gas last year, given the raise in prices of gas, what is gas liable to cost you for the year coming up? How about milk? Bread? Eating out? A movie? A vacation? (Keep in mind that airfares have gone up also.)

Now compare your two sheets. If you are like most people, the cost of your wants and needs is going to be higher for the year coming up but the amount of money available to pay for them is not going to change.

And now to the hard part. What are you willing/able to cut down on in order to meet your needs? Go back to last year's sheet and check that needs column again. Check out what you spent on food and then check on what kind of food you were buying. Is everything in your food bills really a need, or are there some wants that are in there also? I've posted on pizza recently--are you including it with your food bills in the need column? Yes, clothing is a need. Are 6 pairs of new shoes last year really a need or is there a lot of want in those purchases? Is the latest type of music player a want or a need? Is your old one still working fine? Do you really need a new cell phone that does everything but mop the kitchen floor?

You want to have pizza every week? Fine. Now what are you willing to give up in trade so you can have that pizza every week? You want to have your latte coffee every day? Fine. What can come off your list so you can afford that coffee indulgence? You "need" that bigger car? Fine. What are you going to give up in the want column to pay for the higher charges for gas for that car?

There is also the question of time involved here. How much time and personal effort are you willing to put in in order to balance your wants and needs against how much money you have to pay for them? Are you willing/able to spend time perusing the ads to see where you can buy what you want/need for cheaper? Are you willing/able to do with less while still buying some? Are you willing to change brands in order to buy a type of thing?

In short, it's time to ask the hard questions. How much of what we spend our money on is really something that we need? How much are we spending on things that we want? Every person is going to place items differently in those want and need columns. That's fine. For me, personally, books are a higher priority item then clothes are. I don't personally have to change my wardrobe every season. I don't care what color the fashion police have declared is "in" this season. That's my personal preference; it could be different for others. But whatever our personal choices, the bottom line of expenditures cannot be more than the amount of money we have to spend.

Perhaps that old Yiddish saying is applicable here: "Alles in einem is nisht du ba keinem"--everything in one place and time is not present for anyone. Given today's economic climate we really can't have it all. It's time to revise what "all" is going to be.


Anonymous said...

Deciding on wants and needs needs to happen from the day you get married. When I got married I was working and hubby was in graduate school and working part time. Those first 5 years we spent on nothing that was not a necessity and we banked every dollar we could. We ate what was on sale and we didn't go on vacations that cost us money. We had the minimum furniture--a table to eat on, beds to sleep on and a few of those big fiberboard closets to hold our things in. We had two desks we bought at a garage sale and ditto with an older couch. We bought cribs for our then 2 chldren through a university co-op. We did have a computer and Internet access, a necessity for both our jobs.

12 years later we are both working, bought a house (not in an area where houses are way expensive)bought more furniture (still through resale ads in the papers and on Craigs list)pay tuition for three children and still put money away in company 401Ks and in pension plans and in regular savings. The savings comes before the luxuries. We're not being cheap, we're being thrifty. This year we are planning a big family vacation to Orlando for our oldest's bat mitzvah--her choice instead of a big blowout party. We have the money saved for that trip. Like you, books are important to our family so we indulge ourselves with those, within reason.

I'm missing nothing important, my kids are healthy and have healthy values, and I sleep really well at night because except for our mortgage we don't owe anyone any money. I really worry about some of our friends who are in deep debt already, complain about it all the time but won't do what is necessary to get out of that debt. The feel they are entitled to everything now and look at their financial problems as something that someone else did to them.

How did we get like this? We had parents who knew the value of money, and who taught us the same. And we listened to them.

Anonymous said...

The post addresses the problem where wants are being treated like necessities and where you can trim them to keep to a budget. But it doesn't address the situation where you are already only paying for necessities and where the only way to cut is on those necessities. What if your food budget is already without things like store pizza and take out food? What if you are shopping smart? Where are you supposed to cut down then? Tuition went up last year by about $1000 per child times 4 kids. My kids are in two different yeshivas so I get no tuition break for multiple kids in school. Finding an extra 4 thousand dollars for that plus the raise in gas prices and other prices just doesn't seem possible right now.

We are responsible about money but we are still in a crunch right now. What's going to help us? We're hardly rich but not poor enough to qualify for any government programs. We already both work to provide income. Where is the extra money needed supposed to come from?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Tovah on this. When I complained to the yeshiva that I couldn't afford the tuition hike they told me to go to our parents for the money. Which parents? My husband's parents who are retiring this summer in their mid 60s and need what money they have saved to live on? Or maybe my parents who still have two children to get married off and are also looking at retirement in the next ten years. That they have three other chldren besides me doesn't interest the yeshiva either.

I once heard someone refer to the working poor. Never thought it would apply to me but it sadly does.

Anonymous said...

Don't want to highjack the post, but if you can't afford the tuition don't send your children to yeshivah. There are perfectly good Public Schools. And with the money you save off not paying tuition, you can hire a yound rabbi to tutor your children. If that Rabbi charges $50 per day, you will spend a total of $12,000 per year to educate your children. If you combine with another family then your expenses became 50% less. Imagine all four of your children getting Jewish education for $6,000.