Do I Need That Or Just Want It?


Can I get this?

When I’m out at a store with my daughter, the following is a snippet of some of our conversations:

“Mom, can I get this?”

“Mmmm … Really? Why that?”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted this. Last time you said maybe next time. This is our next time. Can I have it? Please?”

“Pleeeeeaaaaassssseeeee? I promise I’ll do my chores when I get home”

To which I laugh … “sure you will!”

As the “can I get this now’ discussion continues, the questions change. I pause and ask ‘Do you need it?’ ‘When or why would you use it?’ ‘Do you have something similar already at home?’ ‘Do you just want it?’ My daughter is an expert negotiator, like many children can be, so we often end up negotiating for a final answer.


Why ask about Need vs Want?

I use these questions to help her work through ‘Need vs Want’. They are important questions to know how to answer. Not just for her in the moment, but also for when she is out with her friends at the mall. And when she’s grown and out on her own.

To honestly answer those questions, she needs to know herself. Does she want this thing because she needs it? Or because everyone else has it and she wants to be like them? Does everyone else really have that thing? Is having that thing going to make or break her friendships? To know the answer, she needs to understand what is driving her ‘can I get this?’ desire.

Will you spend your money?

Back to the conversation in the store where it’s been determined that she absolutely Has To Have this thing. I have my doubts. The question that gets to the root of need vs want for us is “Are you using your own money to buy it?” Most of the time the thing gets put back on the shelf. Occasionally the answer is ‘yes’ and she does buy it. Even if it’s because ‘I just want it’ and that’s ok.

In those cases, most of the time it’s because she really wants it, rarely because she needs it. I meet her basic (& more) needs so the extra things are mostly wants. So why do I put her through the 20 questions? To help her figure out how to determine if this or that thing is a need or a want. And for her to understand what is behind the wanting or needing of that something.

Should she be able to buy something just because she wants it? Sure! But knowing the difference between need vs want will help her be clear about why she is buying something.

Are these questions I ask myself? Absolutely! They help me stay within my budget. They also help me not accumulate so many things that clutter up my home. Limiting the clutter is really what has lead me to stop and ask myself, and my daughter, these 20-ish questions.


The real reason behind the questions

You see, my mother was a hoarder – of new and used items, mostly clothes. As I was going through her house after she passed on, I found many bags of new clothes she had bought for my daughter years ago, all with the tags still on them. She also had bags of beautiful new clothes for herself, still with the tags on, that had never been worn. And she had many outfits from her younger years that were still in great shape and still fit her.

As with most hoarders, she had a hard time letting go of things and not buying other things. I recognize there are serious underlying mental health issues with hoarders. In my mother’s case, I also think that she didn’t ask herself any of the need vs want questions. More importantly, she didn’t stop long enough and quiet her inner chatter to hear any of the answers.


In conclusion

Knowing yourself well enough to hear the true answers to the questions is the key. That’s what I am trying to teach my daughter when we are out shopping together. Granted, it’s not easy to stop mid-shopping to ask the need vs want questions and getting quiet enough to hear the answers. Especially in a busy store. Nor is it easy trying to get a child to tune into themselves for their answers. Yet the more we do it, the easier it gets. As they say, practice, practice, practice!


Truth time!

There are times when I am rushing in a store and I don’t stop to tune in. When that happens, I usually hear the answers as soon as I’ve left the store or as I am getting into my car. Sometimes, I don’t get the answers until I’m home and am quiet for a bit.  When I hear “want, not need’, I am most grateful for the store’s return policies.


Surprising Bonus!

Knowing the why behind a purchase helps keep my Needs vs Wants in perspective. Not only does it help keep the clutter down, but it’s also easier to let go of things when cleaning up. As a result, my home feels lighter and more relaxing. Here’s another surprising bonus: the more I get quiet and check in with myself on my needs and wants, the more I see my young teen be very clear about her wants. Her clarity is even extending to what kinds of friends she wants in her life – that’s a huge step for a middle schooler.


I would love to hear how you have learned to tune in before buying something. Has it been only with big ticket items or have you done it with small things? Do you have other tips to help you distinguish Need vs Want? Have you returned items once you realized it was a want and not a need purchase? Have you noticed how your wants vs needs affect other areas of your life besides shopping?

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Shedding the shyness of my youth, I cheer exuberantly for my daughter, her teammates, and even the opposing Field Hockey team! Their pride & heart filled smiles beam in appreciation regardless of the final score.