Great piece in The New York Times by a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah:
One of the most challenging personal finance issues we all face is the ever-expanding definition of “need.” Things we once considered clear luxuries have somehow becomes necessities, often without any consideration of how the change in status happened.
Cars that seemed just fine now seem old fashioned. Then there are children and their cellphones. Only a few years ago it would’ve seemed outlandish for 14-year-olds to need one at all, let alone the latest iPhone.
Achieving clarity about the difference between our needs and wants remains one of the biggest challenges in personal finance and a tremendous source of potential conflict within families. While simple in theory, the calculation is much more complex in practice.
One of the most discouraging parts of modern life seems to be this never-ending sense that we should want more.
And a front-page piece in The Wall Street Journal, examines how much less Americans are buying.
I’ve lived in a one-bedroom apartment, with limited closet space, (which I share and in which I work), since 1989. There just isn’t a lot of room for a lot of stuff. I admit it, we do have several storage lockers…
But I’m not typically crazed about buying more stuff. I hate malls, don’t really find shopping very interesting and have been living, since losing my staff job in 2006, on less than a third of what I then earned — while all our costs have risen considerably, whether bridge tolls, gas or food.
My greatest indulgence is objects for our home, whether the folk art black horse I bought last month in Ontario or the transferware plates I collected in the 1990s before they became trendy and expensive. I look at all those plates and think — really? Then we had a party last week with 34 guests and I had plenty of tableware and serving pieces and was happy not to resort to Chinet or paper.
We only upgraded last year to a flat-screen television — which Jose bought while I was away, knowing I’d say (truthfully) we did not need a new TV and our huge black 1988-Sony Trinitron was just fine. Which it was.
So it’s an interesting battle for any of us with disposable income (and deeply grateful for it!) — what do we really need and what do we (only) want?
And when is it OK to give in to the latter?
I’m at a point in my life I want, more than anything, things or experiences that are damn expensive. Because we’re lucky enough to own (and maintain) the basics, whether a good laptop or decent cookware.
But I seriously crave annual (or more) overseas travel, although I can’t say I need it.
In a weird way, I sort of like not having a ton of money — precisely because obsessing about buying more and more stuff is really not workable. We drive a paid-off vehicle and live well in a small-but-lovely home we own, (albeit with a mortgage.) I’m still able to save 15 to 20 percent of my diminished income every year. (We also have no kids, which saves us $10,000 per child annually.)
I’m also at a point in my life, mid-50s, where the things I most want are not things one can actually buy.
— I’d really like to find a way to double, if not triple my income in order to truly beef up our retirement savings.
— I’d like my half-brother, after years of refusing to acknowledge my existence, to get a grip and deal.
— I’d like my mother to realize the three women currently showering her with attention, (she is addled, starved for attention, isolated, old and rich), may not be quite as benignly devoted as she is persuaded they are…
And so on.
What you want more than anything right now?
What do you need?
Or is it also something you can’t obtain with money?