Need vs Want


In order to survive, we need clean air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, clothes to wear and shelter to protect us from the elements. In today’s society, we also need a certain amount of income in order to provide at least the food and shelter – if we are lucky enough to have access to safe water via a well. Most other things are not really defined as ‘need’.

This begs the question of other things we have been conditioned to consider needs. Electricity is the first thing that comes to mind. In our house, electricity not only provides us with lights to keep the darkness at bay, but also powers our refrigerators, freezers, stoves, and other appliances. We have running water in our kitchen and baths. I don’t have an electric blanket on the bed, but I do have a hairdryer that warms it up nicely on those brutally cold nights. (Don’t laugh. It works.)
But are those two things really a ‘need’, or have we just lived with them for so long that we think they are? Believe it or not, they actually fall in the category of ‘luxury’. Don’t believe me? Try not paying your electric and water bills for a month or two and have it cut off. Is it a matter of survival that has been removed, or is it just a serious inconvenience?


Jimmy Choos, anyone? Guess what. I am sorry to inform you that these are a splurge and a want. Nowhere even close to a need. Try a $15 pair of tennis shoes from WalMart.
My friend Rae and I were discussing this in our recent letters. As of the first of the year, I will be down to two part time jobs, instead of three. She was responding to this information in her last letter, and mentioned the struggle she had with the need vs. want issue when it came time for her to retire. It is even more of a pressing question to her now, considering her husband is thinking of retiring within the next one to two years. Like ours, her income will be cut. Now when she shops, she finds herself seriously considering if the item she holds in her hand is a true need, or is it just a want.
Some things are easier to identify as one or the other.

For instance, my heart has yearned for a spinning wheel for years. I even have it picked out – a Kromski Minstrel, clear finish, with extra bobbins. I drool every time I see a picture of one. When Christmas rolled around, the Country Boy asked me if I wanted him to get me this wheel as a gift. Oh. My heart leapt. But before my mouth could scream, “YES!”, my practical side grabbed hold of my lips, pressed them painfully together and wouldn’t allow me to speak.

“Seven hundred dollars???? Really???? Just how are you planning on convincing me that a spinning wheel is a true need? Do you even know how to use it? Do you know HOW MUCH IT WILL COST TO KEEP ORDERING ROVING??????”


I hate my practical side some days. But as much as I hate to admit it, it was a no-brainer. And I said as much. (Of course, I will never admit that I actually already have roving….) But there are other things that just aren’t so easy. Like cell phones.

As much as I hate it, I am required by work to carry a phone. I answer calls for the counseling office 24/7 – including weekends and holidays. And I have been woken up at 2:00 am to schedule a client. If I want to keep my job, I have to have a cell phone. But here’s the kicker. HAVE TO is not NEED. In my case, as in many of yours, a cell phone is a part of business. I also have it for safety sake, as I am often on long stretches of road between Shreveport and home late at night. To have one means to get help in case of an emergency. The Country Boy won’t hear of me not carrying one. On the flip side, mine is a basic model – nothing fancy.

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day and overheard a conversation where a twelve-year-old child was getting a One Thousand Dollar phone for Christmas. What????? Folks, that is a serious no-brainer for me. No child – no adult for that matter – needs to spend that much money on a phone. I kept my mouth shut, but calculated just what bills that would pay on the farm. Gas, electricity, water, phone and trash, with some left over, or pay one full insurance policy (out of 6. Yes, I have six insurance policies I am required to pay. Yikes!)

Grocery shopping is really the toughest need vs. want area. I love fresh asparagus, and do buy it when it is affordable. But quite frankly, I could make the effort to dig and prep a bed, sow enough for us to eat with some left over to can and share, a lot more cheaply than I can buy it. And do I really need those Caramel M&M’s? Oohh, but they are so good!!!

There is a lot to consider when you are faced with the need vs. want dilemma. When Rae is faced with it, she backs off and ‘sleeps’ on it before purchasing. One of my little tricks is to calculate how many hours I have to work in order to pay for it. No matter what you do, if you really want to cut back on expenses, one of the first things you need to do is determine what your definition of need and want is. You might just be amazed at what your final verdict is.


Me? I am languishing in my creature comforts of a warm bed, lights to crochet by at night, and am delighted that my claw-foot bath tub is filling up with hot water and bubbles all by itself, without me having to tote the water from the well and heat it over an outdoor fire. But I know that I am indulging in luxuries. And that’s okay. I don’t really need anything else. At the moment.

How do you determine the difference between need and want? What in your lifestyle can you truly do without?

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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