Day 151. The Difference

Can’t tell you exactly when, last year, the penny finally dropped.  It doesn’t matter anyway.  What’s interesting is, the subject seems to be on the minds of a lot of shopaholicfolks.  Not surprising really, considering the state of the economy.  But what is surprising is, we all seem to have caught on, at the same time.

You’re probably sitting there, shaking your head, saying to yourselves, “What the hell is she talking about?”

Am I right?

Well, there’s been endless talk about debt lately.  Global debt.  America’s debt.  Canada’s debt.  The European debt.  But no one is really talking about our individual debt.  And because every where I turn, everyone seems to be talking about the changes they’re making, how they’re cutting back, I’m thinking this is a good time to share my eureka moment.

Luckily for those of us living in Canada, our economy during the last several years, has been much better than most of the world’s.  As a result, while we may have been a bit more ‘prudent’, we’ve never really stopped shopping.  For homes, cars, clothing, furniture, electronics, vacations, you name it.

Suddenly there seems to be a shift.

Last week I was out with a friend.  In passing, she mentioned one of our major department stores, The Bay (same owners as Lord & Taylor), was having a huge sale.  As in 60 and 70 per cent reductions.  Across the board, not just on a few select items, here and there.  “Figure out if there’s anything you need”, she said.  “Now’s the time to get it”.

I looked at her, and without even thinking about it, I said:  “Nah, there’s really nothing.”  And right then and there it hit me.  I realized, when we say we need something, what we mean is, we want it.  Maybe not all the time, but more often than not.  Certainly in my case.

Sure, I could have bought some jeans.  I’d like another pair of jeans.  I might have bought a sweater or two.  I’m bored with mine.  I could have looked at the sheets.  It’s always nice to have a nice, fresh set.  It’s been a while since I bought new ones.  I came across a great recipe for smoothies, just the other day.  I suppose I could have bought a blender.  I could use it for other stuff, too.

But, did I need any of it?  No.  Not even one item.

I’ll bet you anything, a couple of months ago I would have gone anyway.  I would have thanked her for telling me, and I would have told her I needed a pair of jeans, a sweater and maybe, the blender.  And off I would have gone.  Never thinking even 70% off something I didn’t need, is still too much money.  Because I didn’t need it.  

What I finally realized is, there’s a difference.  A difference between ‘wanting’ and ‘needing’.

Yesterday morning I had a client meeting.  He was on the phone when I arrived, so I was sitting and chatting with a gal who works for him.  What were the first words out of her mouth?  How she’d bought a pair of boots, took them home, thought about it, decided they were too expensive and returned them.  She said she realized she hadn’t really needed them.  Which is why she decided they cost too much.  Right after Boxing Day she happened to be near the same store.  She went in, out of curiosity, just to browse; and she saw the boots, reduced by 50%.  It was an incredible deal and she bought them.

She’ll have them for at least a couple of years, maybe more.  At the price she paid, I would have bought them too.  In this part of the world we always need boots.

At the end of my meeting with the client he started telling me about a book he’s been reading.  About a particular chapter.  And the next thing I know, he’s going off on a tangent, explaining how we have to learn the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’; and how, as a society, we have to stop going into debt, simply because we want too much of what we don’t need.  How we don’t know how to say “no” to ourselves.  Can you believe that?  I couldn’t.

All I could do was stare at him.

Three virtually identical conversations, with three totally different people, in the space of a week.  Conversations I hadn’t started.  Or at least two of them weren’t. Of course, the downside of this epiphany I had is what followed closely on its heels.  The inevitable adding up of all the money I’ve spent on things I needed, like a hole in my head.  It was the obvious thing to do.  Wasn’t it?

So now I’ve made myself sick.  Nauseous, in fact.  I need a Gravol.

18 thoughts on “Day 151. The Difference

  1. Good post. Its funny, I remember my first economics teacher back in year 9 at school giving us a lesson on “needs vs wants” – something I think we need more lessons in. Since TC and I moved here to France, we have realised how much less “stuff” we need in our lives. Its quite a liberating feeling.

  2. Yep, there’s way too much unnecessary wanting, and I absolutely think people need to cut back and quit drowning themselves in debt. I’m able to live off of my modest paycheck because I rarely buy more than what I need, and the only thing I owe on is my mortgage. Of course, it’s very hard for me to not be a bit hypocritical here since that modest paycheck is supported by the fact that most other people can’t make this distinction and spend spend spend on things they don’t really need, and the sales drop more sensible spending would create at my store would eventually slash the number of hours I work each week. It’s a double standard I have to live with.

    • That does complicate things. But I think to some degree, we all have to contend with a double standard or not necessarily as obvious as yours. The key is to learn how to resist temptation and live within our means. Of course that’s the exact opposite of the American ‘dream’, isn’t it? America is the ‘land of plenty’. That’s why people want to move their from all corners of the globe. Now the ‘plenty’ isn’t quite as ‘plentiful’ and we all have to learn to re-adjust to the new reality.

  3. I quite frequently get Deja-vois (pardon spelling). Something will strike me, then it is everywhere. So was I late to the boat and am now paying attention? Or is the “collective consciousness” phenomenom the “real deal”? In your case, people are always slow to put their needs before their wants, especially with the convenience of acquisition we enjoy today. I do think that perhaps the bombardment of financial crisis, the firsthand observation (or experience) of job loss or wage decrease or financial ruin has finally “sunk in”. And we (and our carbon footprint) will be the better for it.

  4. Yes there is a big difference in need and want. In the US our government has everybody wondering if we will ever be able to have a “want” item again, right now all of us are in the “need only” mode. With talk of milk going from $3.75 per gallon to over $7 per gallon, we are a little scared. The price of groceries has risen about 30%, it’s crazy down here and we don’t even discuss medical costs amongst each other because we all want to cry. America is not the home of the free any longer it is more like the home of the “needy”….with no solution in sight.
    Great post, thank you for listening, I needed that small vent.

    • Thank you. I know it is scary. The fact is, everyone the world over is going to have to learn to be satisfied with less. What makes it so difficult, of course, is the American ‘dream’ and all it has stood for. But in reality, we abused the dream and got greedy. We turned the dream into a nightmare. But I truly believe in the end we will be better for what we are going through. We will get our values back. We will make adjustments. And our lives will be better, as will the world. That is my story and I am sticking to it 🙂

      • You are 100% correct, what terrific insight you have. YOU should run for president, oh wait, you’re from canada right…darn…you would be perfect and Hilary could be your vice president.

      • :). Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’d vote for Hilary in a nano second. She was my choice from the get go. I think she’d be one of the best presidents ever.

    • Oh I know. And it is definitely time for a change. Has been for a while but we’ve resisted. We can’t any more, though.

  5. On Black Friday, my friend bought an iPad and clothes. She told me that she didn’t know why she bought the iPad and wanted to return it. She also bought a case for it that she didn’t like, “but it was on sale from a good brand”. There was a dress that she bought in the summer, but returned it because it was too expensive and she decided she didn’t really like it that much. Well, on Black Friday, the same dress was on sale and she bought it. I asked her if she planned on wearing it much and she said yes. I’ll be looking out this summer to see if she actually wears it. I think a lot of people lie to themselves about things being “too good of a deal to pass up”, because they don’t want to face the truth and admit that they’re wasting money on things that they’ll replace anyway.

    Whenever I need something, I make a note of it. Then, I’ll look our for sales specifically for the items I need. I don’t even need to wait until Black Friday or any special event for the item I need to be on sale. And even if it’s not on sale, at least I only bought the items I needed as opposed to “saving hundreds of dollars” on junk I won’t even use that long. And another method I use when looking at something is ask myself, “If I had all the money in the world and I could have anything, then would I buy this?” If I am hesitant, then I move on without it, haha.

    • I think that’s a great idea. If something doesn’t pass the if-I-had-all-the-money-in-the-world test, move on. I’m going to try that. Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Reality Blog Award-THANK YOU | Press "M" for Menopause

    • Thanks very much. I had no idea you were ‘in the biz’. So cool to find all this ‘stuff’ out, isn’t it? Loved your post. You should be proud of yourself!

  7. The hard part, for me, is thinking about all the people whose incomes – livelihood – depend on our purchases. It’s become a vicious cycle with no easy answers. Sometimes it is a good thing to go ahead and buy something you can use…I know I’m going to enjoy wearing the new jeans I finally had enough money to buy, rather than the ones with the holes in the knees I’ve been wearing for a couple of years now. I’ve been telling myself for quite a long time I don’t need new jeans because I don’t really go anywhere besides the bus stop for the kids, or to WalMart (heaven, forbid!), but then again…heck, if we stopped buying all the stuff from China that everyone has been complaining so much about I wonder what might happen to all those workers ‘over there’. This is a difficult time to be trying to find a balance between wants and needs. It’s a difficult time for scaling back – not only has my family ‘scaled back’ as far as possible and then some, but any scaling back is going to hurt somebody somewhere else along the line (on a side note – who, I wonder, is profiting from the cost of groceries doubling over the last couple of years?). I’m glad you ventured to bring this discussion to the forefront of my mind, if not so many others, as well! Very thought provoking.

    • Yes, it’s a double-edged sword. I am not suggesting we should not buy anything. Just observing that often when we say we need something, we don’t. It’s understanding the difference between need and want. To some degree that’s what got us into so much trouble in the first place. And I think we’re all starting to figure that out. That’s what I was writing about. We’re figuring it out. Which ultimately is a good thing.

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