Need vs. Want: the Internal, Eternal Debate

Needs vs. Wants

“I really want it!” my daughter Mira says of a new toy she’s been eyeing, her 8-year-old eyes in puppy-dog mode, each vowel elongated for emphasis. Then comes the sales pitch, creepily echoing Furby’s marketing material. “When you talk, it answers,” she says of the robotic stuffed animal. “At first it only speaks Furbish, but then I get to teach it English.”

Mira keeps asking, despite my no, no, and NO. And then she pauses. “I have my own money,” she says. “Why can’t I spend it on what I want?”

Ah yes, the slew of Target gift cards she’d been given by generous friends and family after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the first floor of our home. She can pay for it herself. But still. As a mother, I have a remarkable ability to see into the future. A future that involves spending $60 on a toy she’ll play with for two days, then forget about until I find it buried in the back of her closet. My job is to teach her how to spend money wisely.

“You know what’s going on here?” I ask. “You have a case of the ‘wants.’ You want the Furby. But do you need the Furby?” She sighs. I steer us to the clothing department. The fashion diversion works (we’re on the cusp of her tween years) and my chest puffs up a bit. “Case of the wants” – that was a pretty good line!

Fast forward several weeks. I find myself at Best Buy staring at televisions with images so lifelike I think, I could caress the stubble on George Clooney’s cheek (if only). My husband and I consider: Should we go 50 inches? No, 55. How about something Internet ready? And 3-D! I have visions of lounging on my new couch catching up on all the television I’ve missed since Sandy upended our lives. All our electronics were destroyed by the flood. We deserve this splurge. Don’t we?

As I stand there transfixed by the visual experience, I realize: now I’m the one with the case of the wants. While a new TV would be nice, we don’t really need one yet. With the repairs on our home mostly done, we are able to move our bedroom television downstairs. It’s not 55 inches, the picture is grainy and it’s not high-definition, but it works. The hard truth is we still have to focus on the less bling-tastic expenses of rebuilding, such as paying the contractor, before we can spend money on the fun stuff.

So, I took my own advice. We fought the impulse to give in to our wants and instead focused on our needs. Now, we’re thankful we did. Want shopping is inherently impulsive, and that 55-inch television would have been obscene in our small living room. We’ve realized a 46-inch screen is much more appropriate. Separating out want from need not only saved us from a decorating disaster, it saved us a few hundred dollars.

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