Reflections on Wants And Needs

Kitty PoP knows what it feels like to want.

Kitty PoP knows what it feels like to want.

I’ve been doing some reflecting lately on needs and wants. In the past, I’ve looked at our monthly income statements and felt like the “Housing” and “Groceries” categories were needs, and categories like “Shopping” (for us a catch-all for much), and “Travel” were wants. But I’m becoming more and more convinced that there’s a continuum between needs and wants and pretty much everything in life falls somewhere along the continuum, and in the fairly luxurious lives that Mr PoP and I lead, a lot more on the want end of the spectrum.

What Are Our Needs?

The short answer. Not much.

Our true needs are quite simple. Basic shelter and basic food & water for us and Kitty PoP (we agreed to care for him forever, and we shall!). We could accomplish both of these on far less money than we currently spend on “Housing”, much less on “Housing” + “Food” or “Housing” + “Groceries”.

Instead of operating these categories at the level of basic needs, we’ve upsized these categories. And that’s okay. I don’t feel any moral victory in living with the absolute bare minimum.

Instead, I feel like life is chock-full of wants being satisfied left and right.

What Are Our Wants?

Savings is a want. Fancy food is a want. Nice clothes are a want. Our awesome bikes are a want. Sure, we’ve become accustomed to many of these niceties and might want (haha!) to call them needs, but the truth is that they’re not life sustaining.

With a seemingly unlimited pile of wants, and a limited supply of income, we make choices. We make choices about how much we prioritize different spending over adding an equivalent amount of money to our investment account. Do I want this iPad more than I want $500 in the bank? Do we want to go out and share a lovely dinner out with friends more than we want $80? Do I want dried figs more than I want $2? Yes. Yes. And Yes. This month, at least, though the iPad was debated for a few weeks.

Does Mr PoP want an NSX more than he wants $35K? Not right now, but probably someday. Same answer for an Eames chair and $5K. Do I want a cute sweater that I spot while waiting for an Rx at Target more than I want $20? No. At least not that specific cute sweater and not today.

Time And Effort Play A Role

Lots of our wants take time and effort to execute, and sometimes that’s the bigger deterrent to fulfilling that want more than anything else. Do I want the platonic ideal of a new pair of shoes more than I want $40? Yes! But I have no desire to spend a ton of time trying to find that platonic ideal shoe, so instead I wait and keep wanting.

Do I want a kitchen and floor remodel more than I want ~$20K? Well… yeah. Now that you mention it… I do. And Mr PoP kindof does… well, he wants me to love the kitchen since I’m spending a lot more time in it than either of us ever thought I would. But this kind of project is not only expensive, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort on both of our parts.

Tackling Our Cookie Problem

And over the next 12-18 months, we’ll be getting a new kitchen and floors. It’s a really big want – in fact, we’ve called it our cookie problem  for just about as long as we’ve lived in the house. (Those who have read “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” will understand.) But just because we’ve been calling it a “problem” doesn’t mean we need to start thinking of it as a need.

This kitchen project is going to be about satisfying wants, lots of wants. Big wants, little wants, wants we’ve wanted since day 1 of moving in and wants we’re trying to anticipate years into the future. And, yes, I know that’s a lot of wanting.

But to me, that’s okay. As long as we keep reminding ourselves that these are wants and not needs, we’ll keep a good perspective on the project and continue to feel grateful for everything we’re putting into it. After all, life might get a little boring and painful if we never got anything we wanted.


Like we did with the garage project from last year, we’ll share thoughts, plans, and progress along the way to DIY-ing our dream kitchen.  So we apologize in advance if there’s going to be a lot of “wanting” going on on the blog the next year or so…


How do you distinguish between wants and needs and keep things in perspective? What kind of wants are you satisfying soon?

30 comments to Reflections on Wants And Needs

  • We should get off our rear ends and do this sort of thing too. We’re just lazy.
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted..What makes a blog post popular? Drama or the hope of redneck jokes?My Profile

  • Truth be told, it can be tough to distinguish the two. I always wait a few days before making any big purchases, which helps we weed out how badly I want it. My wife is much more impulsive than I am, and she has more trouble with this. As you mentioned, food and shelter are easy to classify as needs. Two reliable cars or an annual vacation…..much tougher :/
    Income Surfer recently posted..Vacation Home TemptationMy Profile

  • If funny how things that are needs can even bleed over to wants. For instance I need food, but I want certain kinds of foods that I could live without but don’t want to. I think sometimes we as pf bloggers have a built of guilt built in surrounding wants, but wants are fine as long as everything else important is taken care of. Of course you know what those things are. Over the years though I have become more conscious of my purchases, asking myself that question…gives me time to think if I really want something. So I think that’s always a good thing.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..What is Your Financial Vice?My Profile

    • “For instance I need food, but I want certain kinds of foods that I could live without but don’t want to”

      Totally… I know we eat much more fancily than we really need to, but it’s all about knowing what the priorities are.

  • I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing the kitchen! Will you ultimately be redoing all your flooring?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this balance recently. It really helps me to frame up the wants and needs. I have plenty of disposable income right now (pre-baby), but I want that money in the bank for future travel and taking care of my kid more than I want to buy fancier home furnishings. But with groceries (though this might be a death by a thousand cuts thing), we make enough that we rarely nitpick prices of what we buy too much. Instead, we prioritize preference and health.
    Leah recently posted..Feeling blessedMy Profile

    • Yup! We’ll buy supplies to do all the floors throughout the house, but will probably only do the living room and kitchen area for now and finish the rest up in a couple years after we’ve forgotten what a PITA it is! =)

      With your pregnancy, I can definitely see why you’d prioritize preference and health over nitpicking prices at the grocery store. You’ve got bigger things to think about these days!

      • Wish I could be even more healthy — those darn ice cream and fig newton cravings :-) I’m trying to channel all the sweet cravings into eating fresh fruit.

        Not having a commute also helps me spend less. I have to leave the house and get in the car to go spend any money, so I actually have to work to spend.
        Leah recently posted..Eleven QuestionsMy Profile

  • Our biggest “want” is to become parents. We’re on the expensive track to parenthood (adoption in process), and we’re currently spending lots of money on that. Sadly it’s one of those things that there’s no “fixed” cost for, it costs what it costs and you’ve got to pay it. Every adoption is different in terms of costs I think. It’s not a “need” for us to be parents, but we’re ponying up the cash for this because we think that we can provide a good home for a child and this is a way to realize our own dreams as well. But because this is such an expensive “want,” we’re doing without a lot of other wants right now!!
    Dee @ Color Me Frugal recently posted..Work Smarter, Not Harder!My Profile

    • That’s a heck of a big want, and lucky for the child you end up bringing into your home to be wanted so badly. Best of luck with the adoption process!

  • I don’t see anything wrong with “wanting” as long as a) you are not deluding yourself by claiming it’s a need and b) it doesn’t detract from long range financial goals. Isn’t this one of the reasons we seek financial independence…to get (or do) some things we want? I think so.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..How Much We Pay Our Kids For ChoresMy Profile

    • “Isn’t this one of the reasons we seek financial independence…to get (or do) some things we want?”

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • I think you’re perspective is fantastic! The fact you recognise that most things are a ‘want’ and view everything as a trade-off, rather than competing ‘needs’ to be satisfied means you’re going to be pretty grateful and happy in life, no matter how many of those ‘wants’ go unsatisfied.

    We all have the potential to adapt to wanting only what we have right now, and not needing anything (and still being happy!), but I don’t think we ‘want’ to do this (is this getting confusing!?). As Brian said, when we have great opportunities like become financially independent, we should strive towards them – but I think the key is to stay grateful for what you have along the way, and keep the perspective that it’s a ‘want’ or a preference you’re striving for. It’s definitely a tricky balance sometimes!
    Jason @ Islands of Investing recently posted..What’s a ‘P/E ratio’? (Part 3) – Potential pitfalls and a real life exampleMy Profile

    • It’s definitely a tricky balance, but I totally agree that gratitude goes a long way in remembering how lucky we are to be in a position to fulfill as many wants as we are able to.

  • I think its great that you will be redoing your kitchen. I don’t have a problem spending money and I tend to be more motivated to make more money when I have a big project or expense planned. We are building a deck this year and I’m so excited to have it done. It’s definitely a want but worth it for us.
    ND Chic recently posted..How I Spent my Graduation MoneyMy Profile

  • I’ve actually tried to stop saying, “I need” or “I have to” after I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for a class report in grad school. The author makes the point that most of the things you say you HAVE to do, you don’t really–what you mean is that given the consequences of not doing something, you prefer to just do the thing.

    Now I try not to say, “I have to bake cookies to send to school for Little Brother’s birthday,” but “I’d like to” or “I’m going to.” It seems similar to wants and needs. We say things like “I need such and such” when we really mean, “I would be significantly inconvenienced if I did not have it.”
    Frugal Paragon recently posted..Tossing “Things That Must Not Be Thrown Away”My Profile

  • I agree with you that very few things are an actual “need.”

    I hope you love your new kitchen remodel. We’re pretty cheap on clothes and material possessions but have always been willing to spend (within reason) to have a nice home.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Cash Money: $6,650 in April Income and Blog UpdatesMy Profile

  • It’s hard to distinguish wants from needs because as human beings, we kind of need wants. Wow, that sounds a bit weird. The truth is that if you didn’t dream of new flooring and a remodeled kitchen, you wouldn’t have worked so hard to make it happen. Because you worked so hard to make it happen, and you’re frugal, you’ve made more money than you’ve needed over time off of that want. I’m sure the drive it’s given you has helped you pad your savings a bit! Now it’s time to indulge. Selfish indulgence is sometimes the key to continuing a frugal and prosperous lifestyle.
    Joshua @ CNA recently posted..This Is Why I Blog!My Profile

  • Ivy

    We are really bad with needs and wants related to the kids. Not toys and candy and minor stuff, these we are pretty hardcore about, and we get a ton secondhand. But activities, camps, a bit better (and much pricier) preschool – these are very hard to see as “wants”. Easier from a distance, but when you are thinking of the potential “ROI” for a kid, judgement often goes out of the window.
    Kids spending (mostly preschools, summer camps, activities for 2) is 27% of our spending – exactly the same as mortgage + insurance + utilities. Auch.

  • I really like how you approached this whole wants vs need debate, and will have to keep it in mind next time I’m thinking about buying something that is most likely just a “need”. I also really like how you call it your cookie problem! I loved that book as a kid and love that you use that reference.

    Good luck with the kitchen renovations! Hopefully you can make it your own.

  • MMD

    We did just did some “want” satisfying yesterday. We pulled out some old shrubs that looked like the winter had killed them and replaced them with new ones. We probably could have got one more year out the old ones, but the new ones already make the front of our house look a million times better. Plus they were fairly inexpensive. So its all good!
    MMD recently posted..How Content Improvement Is Better For Ranking Than Basic SEO – A Case StudyMy Profile

  • Wants and Needs are definetly one own’s defintion. I think they change as you mature and learn from past experiences and others including financial blogs. I once thought a nice dependable car was a “need”, now I take the train to work and think of cars as a luxury rather than a want or need.

    Side note thanks for judging the 1500days contest, I look forward to my ducks, lol Buffett and Munger Ducks!
    Even Steven recently posted..Guest Post Today at CNA Finance-Gambling and My Financial DecisionsMy Profile

  • Kim

    I really have bey few needs at this point and could get by on very little if it came to that. Like you said, it’s no moral victory to be so stingy that you deprive yourself. As long as you don’t choose every want at the same time, I think spending on something like a new kitchen is fantastic. We have a big outdoor project this summer that will be a big want but we’ve been wanting it for a while and I think it’s time.

  • I always weigh my wants against future returns. For example, the NSX I also lust after won’t cost me 35K, it will cost me 140K or 280K down the road. When put in those terms, I find it a lot easier to resist!

    Although, I will have one someday. And a Multistrada.
    Mr. 1500 recently posted..Ask the Readers: How and when do you start withdrawing your retirement savings?My Profile

  • I think it’s really easy to start putting ‘wants’ in your ‘needs’ bucket. I think most needs are filled for a large chunk of the population (at least here in the United States) and in turn most spending is on wants. For example, you could survive in a studio apartment if you needed to, but housing moves into the “want” category when we start talking about 4-bedroom houses. The lines get blurred pretty quickly!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..The Benefits of Spring Cleaning Your FinancesMy Profile

  • About 99% of my things are wants, from eating imported food to driving a fancier car than something just taking me from A to B. As long as I am fine with the number of hours worked to get the extra pleasure it’s ok.
    Having to work a week for something that will bring an hour of pleasure is usually discarded.
    Pauline recently posted..An Unconventional Approach to Buy and Hold Part 2My Profile

  • Its an old fashioned debate about money and desires. We all want things at times, but the smart ones can debate internally to see if it really has value. Also if the want is a small percentage of income then it is welcomed from time to time.
    EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted..Pension Concerns are AlarmingMy Profile

  • As others have said above, I agree it’s critical to distinguish between true “wants” and “needs.” We employ a lengthy process of consideration and comparison shopping before every major (which for us is $20+) purchase. It helps me feel focused on our long-term goals and avoids buyers (or savers) remorse. I like your rundown of wanting a certain $ amount in the bank vs. an item–I do that every day! For us, experiences–like vacations or seeing family–usually win out and materials goods loose. Thanks for this post, love your blog and your perspective! Good luck on the kitchen remodel!