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How Our Wants and Need Change


Wants versus Needs

It’s hard to imagine that it will be almost two years since orders to “shelter in place" dictated a new normal for how we spend our time and money. This new (old) pandemic life of freedoms curtailed, masks to wear, and livelihoods lost has rocked our worlds inside and out.

It's almost hard to imagine what it was like pre-pandemic.


The effort and impact of this change have dramatically shifted what we can and can’t control, forcing us to navigate new perspectives and criteria for decision-making. How we spend our time and money now, for example, maybe quite different than before the pandemic disrupted our jobs, school, and social activities. Before, we had our criteria and priorities in place. At least we thought we did. Now, we have different routines and activities like socializing via zoom and not hugging those we love.


Wants vs. Needs

This new normal has challenged many of us to come face-to-face with difficult decisions that might even come down to life or death. Given the restrictions on our daily lives, economic hardships, the uncertainty of the future, and fears of losing loved ones, our wants and needs are in high contrast. For example, our wanting to spend time with loved ones becomes a question of how much we need that connection. At even higher stakes is our desire to stay safe and healthy in comparison to our need to make a living. In some cases, both needs and wants are not possibly met at the same time, and may even be at odds.


In money management, we learn that having a formula for balancing our wants and needs is a good practice. For example, in ”All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan" Senator Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi share their 50/30/20 budgeting rule as a viable way to distinguish between wants and needs. The formula calls for devoting half of our net income to our needs and then splitting the difference of the remainder between wants (30%) and savings (20%).


The Emotional and Spiritual Element

In a pandemic pinch, it can be helpful to revisit formulas we’re using consciously or not to guide our actions. When we take the time to ask ourselves what we want or need at the moment, we also engage the spiritual and emotional dimensions that help with making more intentional decisions. This is an opportunity to check in with our bodies, our thinking, and our habits to truly assess the criteria for taking action. This is time to ask ourselves whether we are acting on a want or a need. For example, if we're bored or unhappy, we might do what we usually do in that situation -- head down to the coffee shop for a latte and cookie. Today -- in the new normal -- we might take a quiet moment to listen to what's really going on and to find that our want is really a need for a walk around the block, a snuggle with a pet, and a good laugh.

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