Most of us buy more than we need, because much of what we buy is driven by want, emotion, fantasy. Which is fine, to a point. Sophisticated marketers intentionally recast desire as necessity, and if we’re not savvy about our choices, we can be easily influenced to believe that happiness, acceptance, self-worth, prestige are a purchase away.
There’s a relatively straightforward way to counter this buy-it-bias. Before you make a purchase, ask yourself: Do I want this or need it? Will what I spend move me toward or away from my money goals? Distinguishing needs from wants is key to managing your expenses, because it simplifies how you spend, and determines whether or not you spend at all.
Check your impulses
Before you make any changes to your spending behavior, identify the triggers that cause you to impulse shop. Do you buy to feel better? Are you especially tempted by certain items or at specific stores? Do you find sales irresistible? Clearly identifying your greatest temptations is the first step to taming them.
Question your purchases
Not sure if an item is a need or a want? Do without it for a period of time. If you truly can’t live without it, it’s probably a need. However, even essentials like shelter or transportation involve a want vs. need calculation. For instance, if a car is the best way for you to get to work, fine. But do you buy the more expensive SUV that you want, or will a less expensive vehicle meet your need? Almost everything you buy involves a want/need choice, and ultimately, how you make these choices will determine how well you manage your expenses.
Anticipate periodic expenses
Car repairs, gifts, vacations, clothes, school supplies all rate as both needs and wants. And all should be anticipated and saved for. First, list these expenses on a budget worksheet and include the amount of money each should require. Then open a savings account and fund it accordingly. Some savings accounts (especially those online) limit the number of withdrawals you can make within a specified period of time. If yours does, time your withdrawals to avoid triggering penalties that will drain your savings.
Indulge now and then
We do not live by bread alone. Sometimes caviar is required. Don’t completely drop wants from your budget, just look to trim them in number and in size. You might, for example, consider an affordable Airbnb on your next vacation instead of a swanky hotel. A solid guide is to allow yourself to spend about 10% of your income on ‘wants’ as long as you can cover your needs and hit your savings goals.