“Do you need anything?” Not an unusual question to ask a friend when you’re running into the corner store, or to ask of your coworkers when you pop out for a quick visit to the drug mart across the street during a break. However, insofar as this goes, I have developed a bit of a peculiar habit. You see, I always ask, “Do you need anything?”, and then follow up whatever the reply with, “Do you want anything?”. I found myself doing this very thing just last week, by having it pointed out to me by a friend, and have since been thinking over need vs. want. A clichéd topic for sure, but a topic that has become cliché for a reason, and is always worth a mention.
I’m not sure when I first developed this habit, but I can easily recount the circumstances that prompted my starting. It was always, “Can I get you anything?”, usually followed up by some (not) witty remark, “A million dollars”, or if asked while venturing into a department store, “A (insert ridiculously expensive or complicated item here)”. I’m not going to lie, it got frustrating. I have been streamlining my life little by little over the past few years, and organize my time such that I usually only take care of my shopping and errands during my lunch breaks at, or en route to and from, work, and the time with which I have to get matters done is extremely limited, and therefore valuable.
I found that by asking, “Can I get you anything?”, I would get glib remarks, or wind up in some ridiculous conversation and then having to explain I have 15 minutes and counting with which to run and replenish all of my hygiene products, I am going to this store and would be happy to pick up any item if it was needed, though that million dollars and new brake pads from the drug store are neither needed nor realistic… and I’m now down to 10 minutes and counting.
So I have, as I stated earlier, gotten into the habit of stating, “I am going to x store. I have x amount of time. Do you need anything?”, which now is straightforward enough that people stop and consider if there is, in fact, something that they need from that particular establishment. However, I’m not a complete jerk (just very methodical and careful with my wording), so it is always followed up with a, “Do you want anything?”. I like to think that this very clearly indicates I am willing and able to grab you anything if you require it, and if you do not, then I will, if able, get you something if you would like it.
Over and above my peculiar shopping habit, I have started to consider need versus want in other aspects of my life, especially as it applies to purchases and outings – things that consume either my money or my time. I live and take care of my dog on a single income. There is not a great deal of fluctuation in my biweekly paycheques, and I have to therefore be careful to watch my spending, else I can quickly find myself out of money between paydays, with no one else providing any buffer. So any major purchases (such as a television or new bedding) are always thought out well in advance. They are planned, saved for, usually picked out far ahead of time, and strategized to utilize coupons, shoppers rewards or to fall during an end of season sale whenever possible. These things improve the quality of my life, and while they are more a luxury than anything, I consider them to be a need. I use my things and take care of them until such a point at which age renders them unusable, so at the point where I would consider spending money on such things, they have usually become a need – albeit a need that can be put off until the timing is absolutely perfect.
Groceries are a need. Lamb chops and lobster tails are wants. Eating out is a frivolity. I like to eat well, however, when money is tight or when I am in saving mode, I stick to the basics. Eating out this month because I can afford to may use up money that could be applied to an emergency or a night out should I get an unexpected visit from an out of town friend. And when you’re cooking with solely nourishment (fuel) in mind, (I’m cooking for one most evenings), lentil, bean, tofu based dishes are inexpensive, can be very flavourful and are more than adequate sources of protein.
Going out to the concert for the band that have only that one song I really like because all of my friends are going and say it’s going to be an ‘epic’ time is a frivolity, which could be classified as a want (that is, if I wanted to go). Picking up tickets to a lifelong friend’s wedding social could be looked at as a want, but I would classify it under need. The 34th birthday dinner to the most expensive restaurant in town, just because it is for a relative or friend, no matter how you justify it, is not a need. Gifting is not either. However, making that person close to you feel special on their day is a need, so I will either buy a nice gift or card and take them out for something a little less pricy perhaps for lunch, or a drink later, or will set aside a limited amount to spend over dinner, passing over the wine and appetizers, so I can perhaps cover the cost of a much smaller gift or their dessert or a bottle of wine for them.
Identifying need over want is obviously a practical money saving tool, though it also has applicability in other areas of life even beyond that. Whenever my home starts getting uncomfortably cluttered or filled up, or even if I just need a bit of a refresh or change up in my surroundings, the first thing I do is I pick a starting point and literally look all around me. What all is there in my line of sight. What needs to be there and what doesn’t. Out of those things, what do I want – not just half ass, sort of, but what do I really want.
Cleaning out my closets and footwear – again, what do I need (let’s say for work, gym, everyday), what do I really want, what is in excess of those. Obviously that one pair of heels that is the only match to the dress that I really, really want is going to stay. My one pair of winter boots is a need. The second pair of winter boots I keep as a backup in case my first pair gets soaked is a want, though a justifiable one. The third pair serve no other purpose than as a reminder of bad decisions I have made with money in my past, so straight to the donate or sell pile they go.
You see, there is nothing wrong with wanting things, and acquiring and keeping those things that you want – that you really want. There is nothing wrong with leaving the house and spending your time and your money on an occasion that you will be kicking yourself for not having attended down the road. But prioritizing things based on need over want can be your most effective tool when it comes to saving money, decluttering your life, deciding how to spend your precious time and streamlining your schedule. It is something that with my finite time, living space and income that I consider on a daily, ongoing basis.
Back to that same concert my friends might have asked me to attend, my free time is also at a premium. Let’s say I can afford to go, and it might be fun to do something with my friends. Even though I only really like the one song from that particular artist, I still may want to go. However, I have never really been much for succumbing to peer pressure and have never been one to experience that ‘fear of missing out’, so I am going to balance that want against what other needs I may have, and then if those don’t preclude me from going, I then balance that want against what other wants I have, to get the most value out of my time (and my finances). I may have such limited free time that I may want and need more than anything to have some quiet time at home to regroup after a long week, to enjoy my own home as I may not have spent much time there after spending much of the summer out at camp, I may be in need of some mental health time and some quality time with my dog. Just because it is a justifiable want, and perhaps an easily obtainable one, when I balance it against my other wants and needs, I may find that spending my time and money on them is, in fact, a better return on my investment in the long run. Though I may very well find myself at that concert, indulging in my want, having realized that by prioritizing it, the other things I thought I needed that might have prevented me from otherwise going aren’t really needs at all.
By prioritizing my purchases and excursions on a need first basis, want second, frivolity last, my home is more organized and functional, my financial situation is improving little by little, and I have been finally starting to find a happy middle ground with the division of my time between work, play and relaxation. I have become highly cognizant of what my needs are, what my wants are, and those things that equate to nothing more than frivolities that I have simply squandered my time and money on in the past.
And since I have now started rewording my inquiries when I pop across the street to grab the hand soap and conditioner that just came on sale today, for which I have been hoarding that $1 off coupon until the perfect day arrived to utilize it, I suspect that by my wording, I have been slowly making others around me cognizant of their own needs over wants as well.