Want or a Need: How To Control Your Spending

Want or Need How to Control Your Spending - 3 Questions to ask yourself before making a large purchase

Is that a WANT or a NEED?

I used to hate hearing that question from my parents.

If they had to ask, I knew that I was getting ready to purchase a WANT, not a NEED.

My feelings towards that question haven’t changed over the years. But my appreciation for that question has increased.

This morning I read an excellent article by Stefanie O’Connell called “Is Increased Income a Threat to my Financial Goals?”  Stephanie is living the broke dream in New York and for the first time is starting to make money. Her article details the issues she is having with setting new boundaries in her life.

Where do you draw the line at being frugal and spending your hard earned money?

Isn’t it funny that finally having money causes its own set of problems? Definitely a first world problem.

As you guys know Aaron and I just paid off a significant chunk of our debt. We still having some pretty hefty financial goals (retirement and paying off our home), so we aren’t home free, but I’m already noticing the money creep.

The money creep is my term for the little extra’s that just keep popping into my budget now that I’m loosening our spending.

There is always one extra thing that I just have to have at the grocery store, the mall or my budget buster – REI.

Since reading Stefanie’s article I’ve been thinking about my spending habits all day long.

  • Where do a draw the line between WANTS and NEEDS?
  • How frugal should I be?
  • Is so much of my life determined by my future goals that I forget to live for the here and now?

I can take care of all of my needs, so at this point, the question is what wants are worth spending my money on.  I have three questions I ask myself before spending money.

Obviously, this is a very personal question for everyone, since everyone has different spending priorities.

Three Questions to ask yourself before Spending Money

1.  Is this a WANT or a NEED?

This is kind of a trick question in some ways. It is very easy to rationalize a WANT into becoming a NEED.

Just because, you really, really want something doesn’t mean it is a suddenly a need.

I’ve seen a lot of people get into financial trouble because they needed a car.

A car can be a legitimate need, but the level of car is what can turn on your want meter. The trick is to find the balance between your genuine need for a car with your want to have the latest and greatest vehicle on the market.

I know that a car is an extreme example, but the same concept holds true for virtually all purchases in our lives.

At the beginning of each school year, we used to give the girls a set amount of money for school clothing. They learned very quickly that purchasing 3-4 outfits was preferable to getting 1 name brand outfit for the same price.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having nice stuff – the trick is realizing there is a time and a place for purchasing the nicer products.

Once I’ve determined I’m dealing with a WANT, I have to decide if that WANT is worthy of my hard earned money. I work hard and don’t want to waste my money on frivolous junk. This leads to my second question.

This leads to my second question.

2.  Is my “WANT” worth the Price?

I went swimming suit shopping last weekend and found an amazing suit for $130. I really wanted that suit.

The girls reading this totally understand – it fit right, it looked cute on me and had those nice little tummy tucking panels –  I’m approaching 40 now, so these things are more important than they used to be.

I loved it, but even thought I had the money in my clothing budget I just couldn’t do it. I can’t rationalize spending that much money on a swimming suit.

I’ll find a suit for $30-40 and be satisfied and then spend the extra money elsewhere. I know that other women would do the opposite. Finding a suit that they love is worth every penny to them.

What matters is the thought process behind the decision. If you are purchasing a want you need to ask yourself two questions:

  • Is it in the budget?

In my case, I haven’t purchased clothing recently, so I had more than enough money in my budget.

  • Is this a quality product that is worth the price?

It was a very high-quality suit, but for me, it wasn’t worth the price.

My need for a cute swimming suit wasn’t high enough for me to willingly spend $130.

I wrote more extensively about this type of decision-making process in this post:  Frugal Living: Why I still dye my own hair.

3.  Is This a Long Term Purchase?

The last factor I review is the long term nature of my spending.

I’m going to spend a lot more money and time researching purchases that I’ll be using for multiple years.  Short term stuff that I can get cheaply will most likely not get as much scrutiny.

Aaron and I are learning to scuba dive right now. We spent hours researching different dive shops, looking at gear and talking to the dive guys before making our decision. Diving can be a very dangerous sport (I’m kind of scared for the pool class this weekend), so we wanted to make sure we were getting the best education possible for our money.

Three days after I skipped out on my perfect swimming suit I was able to upgrade my scuba gear because I had a little extra money sitting around in my clothing budget. For me, this was a total win.

My goal is to make many happy memories with my husband and friends on our upcoming trip and having nice gear will make all the difference in my confidence levels.

Why Spending Control Matters

I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much the amount of money I spend, but the thought process behind my spending that keeps me from over-spending and allowing money creep.

When I take the time to research my purchase, avoid rash decisions and don’t get caught up in the hype that comes from having the latest and greatest product I make better decisions.

I’ve learned that when I control my spending everything else in my life just goes better.

I’m not stressed about money and I can afford more of the things I like.  I’m frugal by nature, but as I’ve learned to control my spending I’ve been able to live a lifestyle that has offered me time and amazing experiences with my family and friends.

For me, this is why spending control matters.


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