After writing Tuesday’s post and really delving into how we save money around here I got to mulling over this grand and somewhat obscure idea of needs. It’s really easy for me to preach frugal mantras like “buy only what you need” or “don’t spend on things you don’t need” or “figure out how to make the distinction between wants and needs” when in reality following through with this is actually really really really hard to do. What happens when we lose sight of our true needs? Well, Consumerist culture has desensitized us to our true needs and so, the lines between needs and wants seem to be permanently blurred for most of us. Consumerism has done such a great job of severing our relationship with our true needs that more often than not we’re able to convince ourselves that just about any “want” is in fact a real need on some level. Buy more, more, more is basically the way most people live – and guess what? we used to be those people!
How many times have you been in a shop and picked up something that peaks your interest only to proceeded to convince yourself to buy it by thumbing off at least 20 reasons why you absolutely need to purchase it? I’ve done it many, many, many a time myself. The things is, we’ve been conditioned to overlook what our true needs are and buy things because on some emotional level they satisfy something we are looking for in that very moment. I often refer to this as a “want cycle”. I’ve had many many “want cycles” in my lifetime. Pre frugal living I’d have one just about every other month. One time, I remember running to Best Buy because I had to have an Eye-Fi card. The idea was that I took so many photos and uploading them was such a chore and with an Eye-Fi card the photos would miraculously upload themselves whenever in range of the computer. Sure, the Eye-Fi card is pretty cool. It’s efficient, it’s handy and it’s pretty darn useful but, did I truly need it? Absolutely not. Sadly, that Eye-Fi card died a lonely death in a drawer in my office desk only a few short months after buying it. The gratification of fulfilling that “want cycle” sort of fizzled out.
Consumerist culture is super efficient at manipulating us to believe that new cars, new homes, new clothes, new gadgets and just about anything and everything that one could potentially purchase falls into the realm of true needs. We’ve been sensitized to this idea that we need to moisturize our faces with expensive creams, we need to dine on expensive dishes and we need to toast our bottoms while we drive.
In Tuesday’s post I talked a lot about how we save money. If you have a read through that post or one of the other one’s I’ve written about how we manage money in our frugal household you’ll soon come to the conclusion that we basically live by the Buyerarchy of needs.
If you’re interested in reading some of my other posts about how we live frugally these are a great place to start:
- Why we’ll never buy a new car and neither should you
- How to incorporate bartering into your life to save you money
- 5 grocery shopping tips that will help save you money
The buyerarchy of needs
The Buyerarchy of needs was created by Sarah Lazarovic who used the info graphic that she created above as a reminder to explore other options before jumping in and buying anything. Her thought process, much like my own revolves around getting creative, borrowing, bartering, buying used, reinventing and ultimately buying if these options get exhausted before accomplishing whatever consumerist goal you had set out for yourself.
In having adhered to the basic tenants of the Buyerarchy of needs for nearly 8 years now I can tell you that you can in fact satisfy most of your basic “true needs” without ever having to climb up to the very top of that pyramid. The options to obtain what you need is very much possible with a little creativity or through borrowing or bartering. I’d even go out on a limb to say that if one were to be patient enough they could potentially borrow or barter for every thing they need including primary needs like food and shelter. Having said that, there’s absolutely market for bartering for even the most basic of needs but given the consumerist culture we live in it would likely be rather difficult to barter for a home or for food on a consistent basis. It’s entirely possible but I imagine rather difficult since bartering has unfortunately not become mainstream form of exchange just yet.
Needs versus wants
So here is where the topic gets a little complicated. How do we differentiate between primary (basic needs) and secondary needs and set them completely from wants.
For everyone primary needs involve things like food and shelter.
For nearly everyone primary needs involve food, shelter and safety.
For a lot of people primary needs are extended to include food, shelter, safety and the secondary need of transportation.
For most people primary needs have become focused on food, shelter, safety, transportation and excess. So, the lines are blurred you see?
Now, I’m not accusing you of being a compulsive shopper or binge purchaser. Instead, I’m pointing out that most of us (myself included until circa 2009) now have the tendency to potentially lump luxuries like clothing, gadgets, electronics, high-end vehicles and travel into our most basic of needs.
How many times have you said “I absolutely need a vacation right now!”? Or, I absolutely have to have a car with A/C and power windows”? These types of wants have now been transformed into basic needs for a large proportion of people.
The ugly truth is that consumerist culture has convinced us through the more, more, more attitude that you need more clothes (more options make life easier night?), we need more gadgets (you must have a juicer, sodastream and VitaMix because they make life more convenient) and we must drive a brand new car with leather interior and heated seats because we’re entitled to them and need them to secure a certain level of happiness.
Consumer culture sells us a dream right? They sell us a narrative of success that most people fall for and buy into which creates a debt spiral that leaves people facing financial distress because they are spending far more than they are making. How many times have you told yourself “I’ll buy now and pay later, no problem” because whatever consumer good you were pining over was so important to have that you were willing to in-debt yourself to get it? This right here is where the problem lies – our basic needs have now branched out to include things that are in fact wants and by consequence the majority of us have indebted ourselves because of this consumerist chaos.
Knowing the difference
Knowing the difference isn’t easy and naturally we’ll all buy something we want instead of need from time to time. If however, we can consciously disassociate our needs from our wants we’re making positive steps in breaking down the dream created by the consumerist narrative. Wanting stuff is okay – it’s when we start to dig ourselves deeper and deeper into debt that we start facing the problem of our wants overthrowing the balance of spending within your means and saving for a rainy day. If you’re constantly adding to your debt spiral it becomes very very difficult to maintain your quality of life because your hard earned cash isn’t actively working for you since your throwing it at your debt pay down.
Knowing the difference and consciously making choices not to create and fall victim to a want cycle is critical. But, how? That’s the hard part right. Mer and I were in a position where we had no choice. We were overspending and needed to really get a grip on our finances so we decided to go at paying down our consumer debt by becoming extremely frugal. Not only did it work (we kicked that 21k in the butt) but we found peace and happiness along the journey. How did we figure out if something we wanted to purchase was a want or need? We do one simple thing.
We never make impulse purchases. If there is something we feel we needed we mull it over for weeks or even months. Our reasoning is that if the item in question still appears necessary or useful to us 2 months down the road then we’ll buy it. This cooling off period allows for a real analysis of the consumer good and whether it’s purely a want or more of a need.
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What do you classify as needs?
What is a recent want that you purchased for yourself?