At the end of every year I can remember, I have the same conversation with myself. “Next year, I’m going to figure out the difference between what I want and what I need.” I’ll admit that sometimes it’s a tug-o-war.  I tend to rationalize new shoes a lot.  

Most of the articles I’ve read in order to help me to understand this concept deal strictly with finances.  Granted, the financial conversation is necessary, mainly to determine the present and the future impact of your decisions.  For example, ignoring a tiny leak in the roof when you live in the desert means you’re likely taking a chance on a major and expensive repair when flash flood season arrives.  Present financial impact for a repair is not as great as the future financial impact of replacing an entire roof.

In the simplest of terms, want versus need can be restated as what you desire versus what you require.  (Hey!  That rhymes!)  Obviously we need food, water, shelter, and clothing.  And maybe we want steak, Perrier, a bigger house, and designer clothes.  This is all fairly straightforward until we factor in our emotions.  And our emotions can confuse everything.  You have several nice dresses to wear to the office holiday party, but everyone’s already seen you wearing them.  Of course, “dress to impress” is a concept in which you wholeheartedly believe, so that means a shopping trip to get something new.  Do you need a new dress?  No.  Do you want one?  Obviously!

And what if your need is someone else’s want?  Your car is about to take its last breath, and you absolutely have to have a car in order to drive to work.  That’s clearly a need.  But your neighbor admits that he gets bored with his car every couple of years, and so he buys a new one.  That’s clearly a want.  

I’m providing examples here that are straightforward.  What impedes me from outright decisions about my own needs versus my own wants is when impulse nudges its way into the conversation.  I thought I understood the power behind the array of items surrounding the checkout line at T.J.Maxx, until a few weeks ago when I grabbed a package of hazelnut pods for my coffeemaker.  And I don’t even like flavored coffee!  Thankfully, it wasn’t an expensive impulse, and had I taken an extra five seconds to ask myself if I really needed hazelnut pods for my coffeemaker, the answer would have been obvious.

I’m hopeful that during this holiday season, we all take an extra five seconds to ask ourselves that same question.  And if the answer is to stifle the impulse, let’s take it a step further and set aside the money we otherwise would have spent.  I’m going to do that and, when the pile of savings reaches $100.00, I’m going to donate it to a local non-profit.  

I hope this inspires you to do the same.