The 4 Most Common Unnecessary "Needs"


Whenever I work with people on cutting their expenses, the easiest part is always at the beginning when we start slashing all their unnecessary spending habits. The need to cut those out of the budget is obvious. But once we move on to expenses that are deemed "necessities," then the hard work begins. 

It's not that those expenses are impossible to eliminate because they truly are necessities. The difficulty lies with trying to convince an individual that even what seems like a need can sometimes be eliminated. From all the budgets that I've looked at, here are four of the most common "needs" that are really not that necessary. (See also: 7 Monthly Expenses We Don't Realize We Don't Need)

1. Over-Buying on Real Needs

We can argue that none of these are actually necessities, but in our society, we probably need a house, a car, a washer and dryer, and at least one TV set.

Okay, I get it.

But how much are you spending on everything you think you need? You need a house to live comfortably, but it doesn't mean that you need a huge house with rooms that you seldom go into. You need a car to get to work, but that doesn't mean getting a new lease on a car every three years. You need many other things, but when you overindulge on features, then it's just living in luxury.

2. Wants You Think Are Needs

Of course, there's the age-old problem of believing that everything is a need when it's really a want. Sometimes people feel that keeping up with their peer group is a need, while others will feel that time is such a need that they don't even spend the few minutes a day to clip coupons (come on now, is your time worth THAT MUCH?). These may be true needs in some unique situations, but is that the real reason why you are spending more than you should?

3. Believing Everything You Already Have Is a Need

One major reason why lifestyle inflation is so dangerous is because it's very easy to get used to a luxurious lifestyle. As my parents always said, "You won't miss any expenses you never incurred, but once you are used to the level of spending, it's hard to downsize." At one time or another, you likely shared a bedroom, but once you are used to having your own, it's difficult to go back. You never had an office in your house, but once you set one up, you don't want to settle for working on the kitchen counter. There was a time when the weight of your TV practically implied on your wealth, since the bigger it was, the more awesome things were. Nowadays, you need them to be as light as possible. Can you go back to that old TV?

4. Self-Created Needs

Quite often, we need a product because we got something else that requires it. A classic example is batteries. You need them because you got a brand new gaming console, but is the entertainment system really necessary? What about your smartphone? If you bought a low-end cell phone instead of that luxury smartphone, you might not need to pay that ridiculously expensive battery-replacement fee.

And what about buying a Blu-ray player because you got a new LCD TV? Your excuse to buy the DVD player was exactly the same!

Whenever you are thinking about cutting your expenses, scrutinize every line item. Chances are good that if you think about that expense enough, you will realize that almost nothing is really a "need," which will help you cut down your spending rapidly. This worked for everyone I've helped, and I'm sure it will work for you too.

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Guest's picture

I worked at one of the huge electronics stores way back in the day and it was once explained to me that pretty much everything they sold was considered a "perceived need," and that their marketers worked around that.
Basically, nobody *needs* any of the junk they sell in that store, but they've become very good at making people *think* they need it.

Andrea Karim's picture

Number 3 is a big issue in our house, and I think it's partly a matter of having combined two households into one.

Guest's picture

Self-created needs are the biggest problem. People determine that they are entitled to certain pleasures that their parents never had. That thought shift alone is a main reason for a lot of the consumer debt in the world.

Guest's picture

hey we are all going to purchase some of our "wants" regardless...granted they need to be kept in check, but "spending smarter" can soften the blow of those expenditures as well. I wrote about this in my blog recently... its a new personal finance blog and im still getting used to it all, but I offer some informative thoughts on this topic

Guest's picture

So true about these perceived "needs." A friend of mine commented yesterday that many of today's 8-year-olds have a phone, iPod, DVD player and a boyfriend! When she was 8, she had a jumprope - and she is a delightful, very social 18-year-old now. Getting rid of some "needs" could be a great thing for overwired children and adults.

Maggie Wells's picture

More and more people I know no longer have a television! It's great! We do have one but it's only hooked up for movies.

Guest's picture

I always do not spend money on something for a couple days. During that waiting period, I am able to truly make a wise decision and not buy something unnecessary.

Guest's picture

Our television (which is only for Netflix and gaming since we ditched cable) is a hand-me-down from my parents. We've looked at TVs, but if we bought one of those new HD thinner ones we'd have to go WAY down in screen size. Our TV actually has a pretty decent sized screen, it is just extremely old.

And you know what? I'm fine with that. Our friends occasionally comment on how our TV is so fat it'd kill someone if it fell down, but we don't NEED a new one. I'd rather save for a house, and keep our 6 month emergency fund intact than take advice from broke people. ;)

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