Monday, January 17, 2011

Need vs Want

It seems simple but its sometimes hard to differentiate those two ideas. I try to teach my children this basic fundamental concept but really we could ALL use this life lesson. When was the last time you put something back on the shelf and said, "I don't need this, I only want this"? Its not that easy. We live in a consumer society and are bombarded by things or we simply cannot go on living a full and happy life. Right?
I first started to ponder this when my kids watched less PBS and more Disney Channel. They started seeing commercials for toys and food and vacations and even infomercials. I tell you what, I think Raph will be the next Billy Maze. He can *almost* sell me on space bags and the slap chop. Almost. After a while we had to have a sit down and really explain what the difference between needs and wants. You need food but you want a certain brand of cereal. A need is something you truly can't live without and a want is something that would be nice to have. Given that I was talking with Raph he mulled over the idea and gave me a few examples. Then over the course of a few weeks he would bring up the topic over and over and over again. Sometimes he would get confused because you don't NEED just 2 more Bakugans. Its all in the details.

As a society in general we should all think about needs and wants more. Do you need a latte or that new pair of shoes? Do you need a new car or do you want something fancier. I explained to Raph as an example that I needed to buy a new car before Heidi was born. I just didn't have room for 3 car seats in my Jeep. I didn't want a new car, really I didn't. I was sad to sell my Jeep but I actually needed one whether I liked it or not. This, of course, doesn't mean you can never have things you want but as with virtually everything in lie, it must be within reason. If you look at the current economic status of most Americans then, yeah, most people are NOT telling themselves "No" very often. Depending on which stats you read the average American household carries approximately $7000 in credit card debt. Other sources have the number higher and as much as $11-15K. That's just madness.

At some point it became ok to spend more than you make. If you don't have the money for something right now then just charge it. You can always pay it 27% interest. No wonder children feel so entitled these days. Its pervasive as the flat screen tv in every room of the house. Did you know you can buy and ENTIRE house full of furniture with no money down and have no payments until 2014?! Its practically FREE! Of course then you'd have a house full of 3 year old furniture you have to pay off, but I digress.

I've always been sort of cheap. I grew up with very little money and gradually as my parents finished their graduate degrees they started earning more money. I never felt like I was doing without as a child. Not really. I did have a pang of jealousy now and then when someone would come in wearing some totally rad Jordache jeans and pretty white Keds, but all in all I didn't notice. Even when I went to a private middle and high school and was surrounded by some very very wealthy people it didn't matter all that much. Though I really did wish my parents didn't drive that orange VW Beetle to drop me off at school. This was before the Beetle came back and this one was circa 1965 and smelled like gas. Gradually their lifestyle and mine by association became a little less restrained. Now they live comfortably but drive cars that are over 12 years old. Things don't make the life, experiences make the life. Nice things are nice but not necessary to live a good life.

I want my kids to value what they have, not give into every whim and NOT drown in debt. I want them to learn what is really important in live and how to spend money, give money and save money. I already had the basics of these ideas in my head but my brother became a Dave Ramsey convert. He seemed to be doing it all right. I knew that while we didn't have credit card debt we could be doing better with our money. We were living at our means not beyond our means but still, we could do better. I felt like I was slightly on the verge of tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Especially after I had Heidi and we were down to one income and had 3 children. I focused more on saving money when I shopped. My new job was to find ways to SAVE money. I did it without real focus or direction and then my brother kept talking about Dave Ramsey. I decided to see what he was talking about.

I went to the book store, bought a latte and sat down with The Total Money Makeover. I was sucked into the book. Dave Ramsey just made sense. It wasn't any magical get rich quick scheme, it was a real solution to any one's financial mess no matter how big or small. I bought the book and read it cover to cover in one day. The next day I started working on a budget. You don't know where your money goes until you know where the money goes. I started tracking our money, listing our debts and coming up with a plan. All this time I thought I was living without debt. I just didn't have CREDIT CARD debt but we had plenty of debt. A house, 2 cars and a massive student loan. Yeah, we have debt. With some focus and a shift in our spending habits we have dropped a car payment. One car is owned by US not a bank. Its a start. We've been throwing money at my car to get rid of that payment. Just think how much more money you'd have every month if you didn't have a car payment! Its amazing.

It will be a while before we are completely free of debt but we are on our way. I feel better about our financial future and hopefully we are teaching our children one of the most valuable life lessons. If I can follow my advice and set a good example for my children I will do my job as a parent. We are not perfect. Its easy to say "Bah! I WANT that" but it happens less and less. With more focus we could pay off my car by the end of the year but we shall see. Life throws us a curve ball now and then like your oven catching on fire or a drain exploding in your basement, but it doesn't devastate us and we don't put it on the credit card. That makes me happy.

Today I told myself "no" when I passed Starbucks and last week I said "no" to new sheets. I have a list of big ticket items we would like to buy. I have started prioritizing them so we can PLAN for those purchases. A little self discipline goes a long long way sometimes. I think twice before I buy things and I give more away to others who really are in need. I think this is a good way to live. Though, it is very very hard for me to say no to shoes. Everyone has their weakness but at least if I do buy new shoes they are always always on sale. I should get bonus points for that right? I aspire to live truly debt free but that does not come without work, determination and most of all self discipline.

By the by, does anyone read this stuff? If you read this post, then please comment even if it is annonymous. Bueller? Bueller? Anyone there?


Erin said...

It's awesome that you posted this today, as immediately upon arriving home from your house, Cal & Emmett got in a knock-down-drag-out fight over a buckeye (you know, a NUT from a buckeye tree?), in which Cal was shouting at Emmett that he only WANTED the buckeye, not NEEDED, as Emmett was shouting back at Cal.

Anyway. It's something I say to Cal all the time, which I suppose is why he was repeating it-- LOUDLY-- to his brother. I haven't given it nearly as much thought, but it's a fantastic point. I'd love to be debt-free too... in 28 more years when we finally pay off this mortgage.

The Happy Mother said...

I'm here!
Great post Marcella!

Candice said...

Hey Marcella! I read ya! Mostly in spurts (because I tend to forget about the Google Reader feed I set up for myself!) But I'm pretty much an internet junkie, so if ANYONE I know out there has a blog I read it (and, of course, I love hearing about your kiddos and reading your well-written thoughts :).) It's a bit of a problem. But probably not as much a problem as the "madness" amount of credit card debt (and student loan debt) Joe and I are stuck under. UGH! No car loans or mortgage . . . YET . . . but those will come in due time. I hope. (not for the debt but for the adult milestones that go along with those major purchases!). It often feels like a Sisyphean task just to maintain our current level of debt (let alone attempt to lessen it). But I know that despite thinking we're just barely meeting our needs, we're certainly giving in to more wants than we admit to. Maybe I should check out James Ramsey too . . . in my spare time, of course! Or perhaps I should internet less and read about managing my finances more - two birds, one stone! :)

P.S. - I like the new(ish?) wallpaper!

Marcella said...

DAVE Ramsey. He's on FB so you can kill a few birds with one stone that way.
Also, your student loans I'm sure are like Mike' school ain't cheap, nor is WU for that matter!

Sarah said...

I read it, and I can always relate as we seem to always be in similiar seasons in life. Right now, our focus is on money and cutting back where we can. It isn't a NEED for us to cut back yet, but I really WANT to so that we don't NEED to later...especially when another baby arrives this Summer and we are paying for another car payment (daycare!).

Anonymous said...

I read!