I'm excited to share this guest post from Kyra at Fresh Canned Peaches…
From the outset, needs and wants seem fairly black and white: I need food, water, clothing, shelter, and some basic human interaction. I want a baconator with a large fry and a frosty to dip them in. But when we start looking at specific circumstances, things become a bit more gray. We've had many instances in our family where our wants quickly disguised themselves as needs. With great effort, we've been able to put some of our wants back in their place and focus on our needs to work toward our longer-term financial goals. Read on to see how we're navigating needs and wants in the family budget.
After the birth of our 2nd child, we really wanted another car. No, we needed one. Of course we would be swamped with appointments, errands, and play dates (I was convinced I would go crazy at home all day with two kids!). We were certain we could handle buying a used car with a decent interest rate. How hard could it be to pay down a car loan… along with my student loans. And my husband’s student loans… and try to build up a college savings for our boys… and save for retirement. Sounds totally doable, right? It did to us.
After I spent days researching I finally found the perfect SUV (which I was SO excited about). But when it came time to seal the deal, we completely backed out. We were shocked because we were so set on it! But we realized that what we wanted (an additional car) wouldn't help to fulfill a major need we had – we needed to get out of debt. Once realized wanting a car meant bringing on additional debt for us, we just couldn’t do it.
We made it work. My husband figured out how to use public transportation to get to and from work so I could have our trusty 2005 Dodge Stratus when I needed it. Using public transportation, by the way, ended up costing less than when he drove to work everyday. And we used the money we saved by not purchasing another car to quickly pay off my husband's student loans. We don't regret our decision to remain a one-car family, and we really love not having a monthly car payment. And as an added bonus, we get plenty of quality family time out of our car rides since we always ride in the same vehicle! Win-win.
Oh, electronics. We live in a world where gadgets are so enticing. My husband and I live behind the times with our 3-year-old cell phones. Our phones aren’t top-notch, but they definitely fulfill our needs. While we love the idea (and the “hip” factor) of having brand new phones, chasing after the latest phones just isn't worth the extra cost to us right now. We just don’t need new phones when they come out.
Food purchases are a weekly (if not daily) need versus want debate. While shopping Costco I often have to decide if a large box of fruit snacks is a need or a want (a wise decision to make without input from the kids!). The big boxes are $10. Purchasing them means we forgo some of the things we really need (we're on a tight budget here). Is it worth it? Maybe once in a while for a special treat, but not on a regular basis. Our family just doesn’t need a large box of fruit snacks.
Another form of food purchases is eating out. We love the convenience of eating out, but it can sure get expensive! It’s hard for us to justify spending $30 on a meal when we know we could be putting that money toward more groceries, basics the kids really need, or even saving for Christmas or vacations. Eating out isn’t all bad though. If you play it right, getting food from a restaurant can cost less than preparing a meal for your family. Just be sure to differentiate between what you really need and what would be nice – it’s surprising how quickly each time adds up!
Deciding if clothes are a need or a want can present a real challenge. Of course we need them. And of course we want to look our best and keep up with the latest style. There is a line, though, when clothes fulfill a want versus fulfilling a need. Next time you’re out shopping ask yourself, “Do I really need to get a new designer shirt with designer pants, shoes, a new scarf, and this cute jacket, or will the shoes and jacket I already have in my closet work just fine?”
Do you need all the “stuff” you have in your home? No? Well, get rid of it! Donate it or sell it if you can! At our house we regularly go through our closets and purge the clothes, toys, and general items we haven’t touched for a while. People are always willing to take it off your hands for you, and if they pay you for it, that’s even better. 😉
Before we made a big move across the country last year, we sold a bunch of things we didn’t really need (a dining table that seated more family members than we had, a crib we weren’t using, and literally piles of random stuff). We used those funds to purchase items we needed in our new place. Swapping items we didn’t need for a few pieces of furniture we really needed proved to be a success! Selling things you don’t need can be an added bonus to your finances, and who doesn't want (and need) that?!
Whatever you really want in life, whether it be early retirement, extensive world travel and lavish vacations, a nice house on a big plot of land, a first class education, or just to be financially independent and generous, I strongly recommend writing down the things you will find the most worth in spending your money on. Once you’ve written them, refer to them regularly and remind yourself of where you really want to put your money. Share your goals with somebody who will hold you to them! Deferring immediate wants for longer-term needs is difficult. It requires practice and self-discipline. But once you get in the habit of it, it becomes a way of life. Giving up some wants now will put you on the path toward a better tomorrow.
Kyra Holm, founder of Fresh Canned Peaches, blogs with her husband, Carter, about provident living and strengthening family. Inspired by their two young boys and their love for family, they encourage joyful family living throughout the stumbling blocks of life. Discover additional tools for cultivating joy in your family by connecting with them on Twitter.