We all do it; we really want that new smartphone, designer jacket or whatever but need to reassure ourselves that we’re doing the right thing in making the purchase. This isn’t just a matter of “Can I afford it?”; no, there’s a moral judgement going on in here. We seem to have a strange need to justify – to ourselves or to others – the actual fact of the purchase, as if it’s a guilty little secret we know we won’t be able to keep for long.

Unfortunately, if you had to ask the question the answer was probably “no”, but the solution is simple: ask a different question. Let me explain.

Our basic needs are simple, and no different to those of primitive societies:

  1. Food
  2. Shelter
  3. Warmth
  4. Clothing

Obviously these needs can’t be met without considering how society operates. The item most noticeably absent from the list is “money”, because in our society, without it none of the others can easily be obtained. But that doesn’t make money a “need”; only a means to an end. Throughout human history, many societies have operated entirely by barter and without the use of tokens representing value (which is what money is).

We should also remember there are groups within society who do not require money to meet their needs. These include the young, the elderly and the sick. Society provides for them without any request for payment.

Different kinds of need

This is all very well for what you might call “basic needs” but there’s another usage of the word, as in “I need X in order to do Y”. So I need an iPhone in order to keep in touch with my friends on Facebook, or I need a top-end pair of Nike trainers to avoid being a social outcast at school. These are what most people are really thinking about when they talk about needing something.

I blame the English language for being sloppy. Let’s stop confusing “need” with “want”. There’s nothing wrong with aspiration, but don’t go pretending life will end if today’s wants are not met.

So to conclude, whatever it is you almost certainly don’t need it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have it, but don’t regard it as one of life’s essentials. Try to remember that the item concerned is just an object of desire, and that these tend to tarnish after a while.

If I’ve spoiled the enjoyment of anticipating your new purchase, made you pause before rushing ahead and thereby changed your mind about the “need” then I’ve also saved you money, for which I hope you are truly grateful.

The alternative is to be honest with yourself, say “I want it because I’m worth it” (to borrow from l’Oreal), then go ahead and make the purchase, safe in the comforting knowledge that you’re honest about your true motives.

Leave a Reply