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These Needs and Wants Look so Similar

by Sarah McMurray

These Needs and Wants Look so Similar

One of the best quick jokes in the Pixar movie “Inside Out’ is when they are on the Train of Thought and Joy knocks over crates of facts and opinions, then tries to tidy them up.

Joy: “Oh, no! These facts and opinions look so similar!”

Bing-Bong: “Ah, don’t worry about it. Happens all the time.” Puts an armful of them in the crate labelled ‘facts.’

This mix-up also happens with needs and wants.

It doesn’t help that when we really want something, our brains can instantly produce at least 17 reasons why we really need it, why our lives will be so much better if we have it, and also, why we will actually save money if we buy it, and why we would rather spend our money on this, and anyway, we just really, really love it.

The opposite problem can also occur. Sometimes we can find it very hard to allow ourselves to either want something, or to have the thing that we want. Especially after a sustained period of having to deny ourselves any wants at all, the idea of spending on something that isn’t absolutely necessary can feel less like freedom and more like the beginning of a free-fall.

When we take on the idea that (basic) needs can be (begrudgingly) fulfilled, but that all wants are a frivolous waste of money, we quickly get to the point where we’re living in deprivation.

We can all live like this for a while, especially if doing so allows us to achieve an important goal, or if we know it will end in a certain time frame. But living with constant deprivation can lead to acting out and overspending – a “Damn it, I’m worth it!” attempt at self-care.

Our needs run deeper than what I think of as “prison living” – basic shelter, dull but nutritious food, serviceable clothing.

And it’s also true that prioritising wants over needs will put you into a financially unstable situation.

What’s needed is a way to tell our needs and wants apart. I’m yet to find a better way to do that than my favourite quote from Karen McCall:

A want, when met, entertains you.

A need, when met, sustains you.

Substituting wants for needs will eventually drain you.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some stories about how my clients have figured out both how to spend their time, energy and money on their deepest needs, and at the same time, fixed their finances.

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