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Wants and Needs


I’ve always been an expert at convincing myself I “need” things. A pair of shoes when I have over 100 pairs already? Of course I need them – they’re different from all the other pairs! A new computer when there’s nothing wrong with the one I’ve got? You know, it did make a weird noise that one time; it’s probably going to die any second. And I won’t even talk about all the times I ordered dessert when I was already beyond full from a big meal.

I don’t really have a good explanation for all the years I spent doing everything to excess. I wasn’t deprived of anything as a child, I didn’t have abandonment issues that led me to become a hoarder… None of the typical stories you hear from overspenders really applies to me. Honestly, I think it was more that I didn’t have the opportunity to manage money until I was an adult, other than $10-20 here and there. Any large sums of money went straight into my savings account, leading me to think of it as some kind of mythical treasure chest that would someday make me rich.

When I turned 18, I applied for my first credit card. In my head, I was only going to use it to buy things on eBay and pay off the balance immediately. Most eBay payments were made by mailing a check at the time (super old school!), so I was really excited about being able to receive my items faster. And for several months that’s just what I did – I bought items when I already had the money, then paid off my credit card balance.

The Slippery Slope

In my parents’ attempt to force my sister and me to save money by taking it away from us and putting it our savings accounts (which paid for my first car, so thanks, Mom and Dad), they taught me something they never intended. Unknowingly, my parents taught me that money and its management was an adult thing. Not for kids. Not for teens. Being a grownup meant being allowed to earn and spend your own money – for a control freak like me, that was an amazing concept. I dreamed of the day I’d be old enough to deal with money on my own.

Shortly after I got that first credit card – a sure sign of my status as an adult, since I had to be 18 to get it – I marveled at my ability to buy things, then write a check from my very own checking account (!!!) to pay for them later. And somewhere along the way I decided it would be okay to buy “just a few things” for myself even though I didn’t have the money already.

So I bought some clothes. And some shoes. And jewelry to go with the clothes and shoes. I bought an expensive new bag to take to college. Once I started college, I went out to eat all the time. And my spending just spiraled from there. It never occurred to me that I would be 30 years old and still dealing with the aftermath of all those bad choices. I just knew I felt incredibly grown up every time I swiped my card, wrote the check for my minimum payment, or bought something that I chose all by myself.

Roll With the Changes

A little over two years ago, I decided it was time to take control and stop being an idiot. When I looked at my big stack of credit cards (and the big stack of bills associated with them), I didn’t feel like a grownup anymore. Instead, I felt like a five year-old who ate too much Halloween candy and now had to live with the consequences.

There was no magical moment where the skies parted and I became enlightened. No birds chirped and no choir sang. It took a long time for me to change my behavior. In fact, for a year or so after I made the choice to stop spending, I had to actively prevent myself from buying a bunch of crap that I thought I needed at the time. I did things like forbidding myself to go to malls, leaving my debit card in my car (because I hoped I’d be too lazy to go get it), and even leaving my wallet at home when I left the house. Sometimes I failed miserably, but after awhile it got easier.

Two years ago today I started blogging about my experiences with spending, debt, and learning to be a real adult instead of picturing life as one big Sex and the City episode. During that time, I managed to pay off all my credit card debt and I even declared myself a spendaholic in remission. And while my finances are pretty boring these days and I often write about other things, I never want to forget how hard I worked to get here.

What Do I Really Need?

I have quite a bit of extra money in the bank at the moment. I got paid for several invoices all at once, plus my tax refund will be hitting my bank account any day now. My bills are paid about 7 weeks ahead, I’ve put money in savings, and I still have a lot left with no urgent place it needs to go. (I know, a first world problem if I ever heard one.)

Over the weekend I thought, I should buy myself something. I’m doing really well and I don’t spend much these days. So I got online to find something to buy. It was such a bizarre experience! I started out looking at books on Amazon, but I realized I bought several books awhile back that I haven’t finished reading. I went to eBags and planned to get a new purse, but I usually don’t carry one anymore so it seemed kind of dumb. I looked at clothes but since I rarely leave the house, it didn’t make sense to buy more stuff I won’t wear.

The only thing I could think of was a new suitcase, since Delta broke one of the wheels off mine last fall. When I thought about it, though, I didn’t even feel the need to replace it because I have others. In the end, I decided to just leave the money sitting in the bank; I’m sure some disaster will come up and I’ll be glad it’s there.

It took 30 years of living and 2 years of blogging about money, but I’ve finally figured out the difference between wants and needs. And it never would have happened without all of you who read, comment, and keep me mindful of the choices I make. I can’t help being a little excited about how many things I might learn the next two years, and I hope you’ll stick around to find out. 🙂

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. bluecollarworkman says:

    Lol, it's a good story. After our two daughters, my wife tried to lose weight. It was hard for her, this never ending battle and I just ahd to sit by and watch. It sucked. Over a couple years she did lose weight. Last night my oldest daughter said she wanted ice cream and asked if my wife wanted some too. My wife said 'no' because she just didn't feel like it. Which is a big deal! It reminds me of your story, in that you "get better" from your struggle enough to not really even 'need" whatever it was anymore. For you, clothes and stuff; for my wife, sugar food. Congraultaions on turnign that corner!

    • As a lover of all things ice cream, that IS a big deal! Congrats to your wife! I'd love to lose about 20 pounds but I tell myself I can only conquer one demon at a time.

  2. deenadollars says:

    I'm really proud of you, Andrea, you've done so well. I'm still not very good at wants vs. needs, I just make enough income now compared to when I started that I'm not digging myself into a hole though I'm not climbing out very fast, either. You are a huge inspiration and I will continue to try my little heart out!

    Question: what is the status of your student loans? Could you send the money you don't want to use to buy anything to pay a little extra on them? Sorry to be a nosey parker.

    • My loans are deferred until next January – they aren't gaining any interest, so I decided to let them sit awhile longer. I'm hoping to pay my car off by the end of this year so I can start attacking the student loans; I want them gone by the time I'm 40!

      I thought about sending extra money toward my car loan, but I have this weird feeling I need to hold onto some cash. Which is usually a sign that something is about to break, and there are lots of candidates. My washer, dryer, and fridge are all super old. :/

  3. Anne_UGifter says:

    I'd say that's a pretty strong indication that you're in spending remission! Well done. 🙂 Congratulations on all of the income, as well. Best of luck keeping it up and I hope that nothing breaks on you in the next little while. Do you have very far to go with your car loan? It will be great to have that out of the way as well.

  4. MutantSupermodel says:

    That is a really awesome moment. I've had them before. I have discovered, however, that Target is the perfect cure for them. :/

  5. Yay!!! You've come such a long way.

  6. plantingourpennies says:

    Definitely in remission… when do you get to declare it fully cured?

  7. I love, love this post. I wish more people could distinguish between a want and a need. And like you – not feel deprived when they realized they don't need "whatever" so they don't buy it. I'm trying really hard to teach my girls to slow down and figure out what makes their heart the happiest and that's what they sent out to achieve. Ignore the other stuff and stay focused on the prize. Great post!

  8. brickbybrickinvesting2012 says:

    I love your story, it goes to show that with hard work and dedication anything can happy. Congratulations on coming so far.

    • Thank you! It has taken a long time to acknowledge the fact that I've progressed beyond the craziness, but I am finally starting to see it pay off.

  9. doubledebtsinglewoman says:

    Hi Andrea. Congrats on your evolution. BTW, I voted for you! Good luck.

  10. Congrats on hitting the 2 year mark blogging! That’s awesome! 🙂

  11. Ahhh, the classic, "I'm only using the credit card for gas purchases, I SWEAR!!". I told myself the same things when I started my downfall. I don't think I lasted very long under that delusion, maybe one month? I am now credit card debt clean (haha) but I can sometimes get that itchy feeling like I NEED to buy something – doesn't matter what I just need to buy. I am able to talk myself out of it but before, during the debt days, I would have just popped into whatever store was in my way. Good job for staying strong!

  12. studentdebtsurvivor says:

    Saying, "no" to myself is so much harder then saying, "no" to anyone else. When I was paying off my student loans there were often things that I wanted and I was pretty good at justifying why I "needed" them. In retrospect those "needs" probably held back my progress, but live and learn, right? Congrats on your needs/wants journey, it's not an easy one.

  13. Good job Andrea! I find staying away from the malls and avoiding "browsing" at stores or online helps a lot. If I think of something I need or want, I add it to my shopping list… and get around to buying it eventually. Browsing is dangerous though – you suddenly see something you "must get"… that you weren't even thinking about a few hours earlier! Once it's on your mind though… it's so hard to resist buying it.

  14. Really enjoyed this post. Could relate on so many things especially feeling like an adult when I could spend whenever I wanted. But I got to tell you I LOVE your tweet. Stay happy by letting go of what makes you sad. I am going to put this on a sticky note on my calendar.

  15. Great story Andrea. I'm happy that you were able to find your way out of your credit card debts. I think that a lot of people are trying their best to overcome their overspending habit and they will be able to learn something from your story. The worst thing about credit cards is that they tend to give us that false sense that we are getting things for free instead of buying them and only get that shocking jolt of realization when a staggering bill arrived, by then it is too late to do anything about it except pay.

  16. Learning to be a real adult and not like a "Sex and City Episode." I understand that completely. Living in NYC, my friends were completely influenced by that show. I cannot believe that I spent over $10,000 on those expensive handbags when I was never even in love with handbags! I just bought them because everyone around me did. One of the things I regret tons.

  17. Why not take the next financial step? Take $1000 of the money you didn't use to buy something, open an online brokerage account, and buy 100 shares of Duff and Phelps Select Income Fund (Symbol DNP). This will pay you $47.00 per year, or about $4.00 per month. It is a very conservative fund that buys mainly utility stocks and bonds and has traded between $6 and $12 forever, meaning that your $1000 will be worth $600 at some times and $1200 at others, but you will keep getting that monthly dividend check regardless (it could get cut in the future, but it will probably grow, especially when interest rates increase again). Then, every six months or so, take your $24 and buy something for yourself with it.

    If you like this feeling of an endless supply of money, buy another 100 shares and get $94 per year. Maybe in a while you'll have 1000 shares and get $470 per year. This could be a weekend away to the beach or the mountains each year, once again all paid for and you'll have another $470 sitting there, waiting for you next year. If you use investing, you can keep your money and spend the interest on wants without feeling any guilt.

  18. If I only bought my true needs… I would have tons of cash, but i would be quite unhappy. I certainly don’t “treat” myself very often, but I do spring for an internet connection, cable TV, activities for my kids, and more..

    I would say that I get in trouble with spending when I start telling myself that I “deserve” to buy myself something. After all, I work hard.. Other people who work hard have nice things.. Why can’t I?? 🙂

  19. I understand the concept of wants and needs, and the only time I don't seem to connect wants VS needs is when I am out with friends. I don't like disappointing my friends by not showing up and hanging out with them so I often spend all my "extra" money when I am out with them.

  20. Way to go–you should be proud of yourself for digging out and getting to this point. Also, great job on earning a good income from a business you built! Did you happen to finally collect on that one invoice you were having trouble with?

    • I did! I think the client was looking at my Twitter feed because the invoice got paid within minutes of me tweeting about the problems with getting it paid. Certain types of work are really hard – for example, I can't really hold my work until someone pays if I'm removing malware. It's a learning process all the time!

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