Needs vs. Wants

Needs and Wants

When it comes to funding all these somedays I have, I really wish I was independently wealthy. It sure would make it easier to go out and do or buy some of the things I want. But the reality is that I am not independently wealthy. I have to plan and save for these things.

There are so many temptations out there. All these daily deal sites that want me to buy their deal because, well, it’s a deal! I could save a lot of money if only I would buy something from them. And sure, many of these are truly great deals. For instance, I love books and so does BabyGirl. So when Groupon had the recent Barnes & Noble deal I got in on it.  I wanted it. I was saving 50%!

But did I need it.  Need it as in it is required for my daily living. I didn’t need to buy the Groupon deal. I wanted to. I wanted to save money that I knew I would end up having to spend. And it’s not often that a deal for a bookstore comes up. Clearly a want, not a need. And, sure I don’t need an iPhone. But because it makes doing business and keep connected with CycleGuy, I have one. For me, the convenience factor is a tradeoff with the cost factor.

I need heat and electricity and internet and food and gas for the car. But I don’t need to go out to eat when I know that it is cheaper and often more healthful to eat at home. Dining out is definitely a want. For me and my family. And even though heat is a need, I’ve decided that with an extra blanket and sweater I could avoid turning the heat on. I need to be comfortable in my home and I’ve found a way to do that without having to turn on the heat. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me an my family.

Budgeting is one way to look at Needs and Wants, and so is finding balance in your life.

We need clothing. We don’t need high-end couture fashion. It’s a matter of choice as to how need is defined when it comes to clothes. For some families, it’s acceptable to purchase pre-owned items. For others, thrift and consignment stores don’t even enter the picture. It’s another example of how need is defined differently for each family.

My friend Heather, whom you met yesterday if you read my Budget Date Night guest post, started a No Spend Month program for the month of February. Heather is already very frugal. She’s a work at home mom to three girls and her husband works in the tech field as well as at home doing the back-end work for Heather’s many websites. With 3 kids, all of whom have food allergies, she’s keenly aware of how wants and needs vary from family to family. Her food budget is seen as high by some, although she has to account for special foods that often don’t go on sale or have coupons. Safe foods are a need for every family. It’s just that for some family those safe foods are very expensive.

In talking with friends and looking at my family budget from last year, I realized that CycleGuy and I have a pretty good grasp on our family budget and overall spending. His living in another state makes things a bit more challenging. For example, coming back to Phoenix is a need for him. And while I miss him dearly, sometimes I see it as a want (especially when I see the airfare). I’ve examined some of my wants and reevaluated them so that we can fit his travel into our budget. We need to make it work for our family.

Schooling is another big category that is part want and part need. Again, it’s a very personal choice for a family to choose private school and say it is a need. Many may disagree, but none of this is for other people to judge. I choose to homeschool. With that comes different expenses and costs than if BabyGirl went to public school. We also see violin and french lessons as a need for her education. The money must come from somewhere, though.

It’s easy to say everything is a need. What it comes down to though is making hard choices. I’m not a music fanatic. CycleGuy is. For me new music from iTunes is a want. For him it’s a need. So we need to come together and find a balance. Heather talks about this, too. Which makes me feel good, because I know it’s not something I deal with alone.

Most, if not all, the things on my Someday List are wants. I’d have to look really closely to find a true need. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Each and every one is meaningful in some way to me. But a girl can’t live on needs alone!

Have you taken a close look at where you spend your money? What are your needs and wants?

Sara

It’s cold; We Have Electricity; but I refuse to turn on the heat

Cute Penguin

I woke up to the house being 58 degrees. Baby it’s cold outside … and inside. I was toasty and warm all night under my down comforter and extra blanket throw. My house is fantastic in that it holds heat very well and in the summer I don’t have crazy cooling bills because we thought ahead and had it built to work with the blaring sun beating down on all those 100+ days.

Don’t get me wrong. Now that I’m out of bed, I’m freezing. I’m dressed like I’m on an expedition to Antarctica to find the penguin-child I sponsor from a late-night infomercial telling me that saving the penguins is up to me. If a delivery guy comes to the door he may very well laugh. Maybe I won’t answer the door. Or I’ll hide behind the couch while BabyGirl answers. She is, after all, dressed like it’s the middle of July.

I had a conversation this morning on Facebook with a friend who kept calling me cheap for not turning on the heat. I argued back that I’m not cheap. She kept typing in this website name as proof of my cheapness. Emphatically I’d yell ‘I AM NOT CHEAP!’. Really, I’m not.

I’m frugal and I watch what I spend. I would never deny my family a comfortable house. And that’s part of the reason I refuse to turn on the heat. It’s me and BabyGirl and she’s not cold. She’s wearing pants because I’ve insisted. Her first outfit of choice was a skort and a tee. ‘Back to your room’, I tell her. It’s cold outside! It’s chilly in the house.

‘But mommie ….. ‘, I cut her off. I know what she’s going to tell me. That she’s not cold. And she’s not. It’s just how she is. I put my blue-fingered hands on her face and she lets out a sigh and thanks me for cooling her off. It’s now 62 degrees in my house.

I’m cold. But then again, I’m wearing a sweatshirt in the middle of the summer. I can warm myself us easily.

Refusing to turn on the heat isn’t some major statement about my finances or frugality or cheapness or needed to save or anything like that. I’m not turning on the heat because this is Phoenix. In January. The sky is blue, the sun is out. The Phoenix Open Golf tournament is in town. All the people from northern states and Canada are vacationing here, the Valley of the Sun.

I’m not turning on my heat because it hasn’t been on in a long time and I don’t want to start now. Because the cold is just temporary. And my daughter is not cold. Not even when it was 50 degrees in our house last night. Those snugly (notice I used the word ‘ugly’ in there, because I crack myself up!) things are looking quite attractive.

Sara

The Importance of Understanding Food Freshness Dating

1951 Eggs
photo credit: Ethan Prater

We’ve all seen the ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ dates on food. And we know there there to protect us from eating spoiled foods. But recently I learned a little more about these food dates and was surprised to find what all of it means.

These ‘freshness’ dates are on all kinds of food. We expect it on food that has to be refrigerated. Pantry foods, if you’re like me then you know that after awhile things can get stale so you toss ’em. But more and more food manufacturers are highlighting these freshness codes not only so your food is at its peak but also to protect themselves from liability.

You pretty much know when milk has gone bad. Especially if you’ve ever poured it over your last bits of cereal and ….. Well, let’s just leave it at we know when milk has gone bad. But what about foods that don’t really ‘go bad’ but have ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ dates? I love the great deals on foods the store marks down b/c it’s nearing the end of it’s time on the shelves. But is that really a good idea. And a good use of money?

I thought I’d share with you what some of these food freshness terms mean so you’re able to make better decisions as to how you spend your money and whether something really is a great deal or will you need to eat the 10 boxes of food so quickly or else you’ll end up tossing ’em.

Sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Buy these product before the date expires. This date is for the retailer, so the store knows when to pull the item. Feel free to reach to the back and get the one with the farthest out date. The focus is quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is going to spoil soon.

Best if used by (or before)” date. This is a quality issue, not safety of the item. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. Sour cream, for instance, is already sour, but can have a fresher taste when consumed before this date.

Use by” date is the last date recommended for using the product at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product.

If you can’t consume 45 boxes of pasta in a year, then don’t buy it just because its $0.25 or even free. Dry pasta only lasts about 12 months before it will start to taste stale and flat.

And those marshmallows that go on sale after the holidays that you’re thinking you’ll stock up on and save until next year? They only have a shelf like of about 10 months. So if you do buy them, just double check them before using them after any date printed on the package.

One item in my fridge has always intrigued me. Worcestershire sauce. I don’t use it a lot. It’s more of a product I use to make marinades. But a few years ago I got a pack from Costco. It’s only 3 of us. When am I going to use that much Worcestershire sauce? So I gave one bottle away and kept the other.  That stuff has one of the longest shelf lives! I’m not sure if I should ever use it again, though, because if it can last in the refrigerator up to 10 years I’m not sure if it’s really a sauce or an embalming fluid. It just weirded me out.

Almost every product now has some sort of coding or date on it. Keep them in mind when you’re shopping so you get the freshest foods possible. And, if you’re stocking up try to keep your oldest items toward the front so you don’t end up wasting money.

I hope you found this information to be helpful. Fresh foods taste best and we deserve it! Are you ever concerned about or keep an eye on food freshness dating?

Sara

Deciding What Is Important: Needs vs. Wants and Striking a Balance

Priorities
photo credit: Banalities

At the BlogWorld Conference I met Annabel Candy. Actually it was at an after-conference party hosted by the very gracious Darren of @problogger fame. Thank you, Darren! Your hospitality and kindness are deeply appreciated. Annabel has a successful blog, Get in the Hot Spot, about helping to make work and life better mesh with what you envision for yourself. She even has a book about Successful Blogging!

Today I was catching up on things in my Reader and came across her post about how she and her husband pretty much got rid of everything they owned, packed up their three young children and moved from New Zealand to Costa Rica for 18 months. Talk about getting rid of material possessions. Take some time to read it and you, too, will soon ask yourself if all this ‘stuff’ is necessary.

I’ve been looking at my house for several months now wondering how I’m going to fit all of this into a tiny house in the Bay Area. BabyGirl has even asked if she gets to take certain things. I’ve actually struggled with this because ‘stuff’ is often the outward sign of success. And how do I get rid of this stuff without getting rid of what identifies me and my family as successful people?

Is it the stuff that makes us successful? Because we can show people these things and say ‘look at my new Louboutins!’? For many people that’s what it is. Conspicuous consumption. Telling others that you are important because of the car you drive, the handbag you carry, the shoes you wear, the things you have. But is that true?

Of couse not. I have a growing list of things I want to do someday. And being able to decide what is important will actually get me there faster than if I’m focused on trying to impress others or justify buying things because I deserve them. Needs vs. Wants. Yet I’m conflicted because I like a lot of this stuff. And some of this junk, er, stuff, is sentimental. And I can attach sentiment to all kinds of things. Which explains why my garage is full of what most people would probably call crap and sell for 50 cents at a yard sale.

But this is where it gets a bit weird. Sure, I need shoes. Do I need a pair of Louboutin shoes? Of course not. But, at the same time does it mean I should only spend $5 or buy my shoes from the local Goodwill? I don’t think it means that either.

There has to be some middle ground. A place where I don’t feel like I need to keep justifying why I bought that particular item. The need vs. want dichotomy gets a lot of play from finance experts seeking to explain how to live a frugal lifestyle. No, I don’t need cable. No, I don’t need an iPhone. But do I need to live your way oh financial expert or risk financial ruin? I don’t think so.

Annabel mentions that selling most of their possessions left her feeling free. Not just free because she does’t have stuff. But free because she realized as she ventured through an amazing experience with her family that it really wasn’t the stuff that made her or her family happy anyway.

As we get further into the holiday season keep this in mind: creating experiences is truly what living is about. Things are nice but at the end of the day isn’t it really the experience or the memories of the people, the place, the sight, sounds, and smells that matter? The holidays can easily become overwhelming and out of control trying to get ‘the hot’ items or worrying about missing the next great deal. The stress can suck the fun out of this joyous occasion. Truly, it’s really not worth it.

Do what feels right. And do it with love not only for those who mean the most to you but for you as well.

There are a lot of wants and they’re not always compatible with one another. Take the time to sort them out. Find balance between those things you want and those that are true necessities. It is possible to live with less and truly have more!

Have you ever thought about this idea of living with less so you can have more? It’s been swirling around my head for quite some time. I’d love your thoughts and insight.

Sara

Consequences Of Our Choices

Vibrato II
photo credit: fdecomite

Newton’s law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That works great in physics but when it comes to real life it doesn’t always work that way in real life. Or in money management.

In real life the reaction of our action isn’t always equal nor opposite. We get curve balls, underhanded pitches, things way over our heads and of course those things that blindside us. Ugh! And in money management and budgeting, how many times have you had to outlay more money than what seemed reasonable?

But one thing that is consistent is that for every choice there is a consequence. Some consequences are better than others. For others, well, we’d like to call a do-over. Hindsight is the most awesome thing ever invented! I wish there was some way to make hindsight foresight. Except then I’d be clairvoyant and that could be freaky.

So back to this whole idea of our choices having consequences. If you’re a parent you talk about this all the time with the kids. You probably remember being asked ‘are you sure?’. This is code for ‘if you make this choice something is going to happen that you might not like but you’ll be stuck with it so you might want to really, really, really think about your choice and whatever you are going to choose then you should choose the opposite’.

I’m constantly teaching this concept to BabyGirl. I want her to know that if she decides to do something that it will have an effect on something else. Because rarely is a choice without consequence. I want her to think about making choices and know that they don’t exist in a vacuum.  Things like if you don’t brush your teeth then you’ll have bad breath or yucky teeth or dental problems. I don’t want her making some cosmic leap like, if I don’t brush my teeth all my teeth will have to be pulled out and I’ll have no teeth’. But I do want to teach her to think beyond the NOW.

I read so many blogs and posts about how people are trying to get out of debt. The current economic problems came about because many felt that they needed stuff NOW or because professionals failed to outline the real consequences of the choices being made. We are consumers with conspicuous consumption. And we don’t like to wait and we’ve been told for years that we can have all these things for just dollars a day. Our friends buy stuff and go on fabulous trips and drive great cars. And we want that too!

And we want it without having to think about the consequences. We don’t want to be reminded that the credit card bill will be here next month. Who cares if that great skirt needs to be dry cleaned to the tune of $10+ each wear. And really, it would be best not to be reminded that we don’t really need 296 channels plus HD when it costs more than we can really afford.

The reality of life, though, is that there are consequences for our choices. Some will be small or even insignificant. But it’s those more significant consequences that should make us think twice. Except who really wants to think about consequences when something seems so perfect.

What are the consequences of my choices?

1. Do I need this or do I want this?

2. Can I afford this now or will I need to finance it? Is financing this a good option?

3. Is there a more practical (financially or otherwise) option?

4. Are there better alternatives?

5. Do I want this because it will make people like me more?

6. Am I teaching my child a good lesson?

7. What would really happen if I buy it/don’t buy it?

8. Am I buying/getting this for emotional reasons? Am I trying to satisfy some other need?

9. Why do I want this?

10. If I don’t get/do this, what will happen?

We’ve all made decisions that have proven not to be the best. Emotions often drive us to make decisions without thinking it through. Maybe in the future, we’ll stop and think twice. Or three time or even four. We can’t be paralyzed by the various consequences, but we can be informed. Right?

Sara

5 Ways To Live Below Your Means Without Feeling It

Money Clothesline

When you envision living below your means, what comes to mind?  I often thought that living below ones means meant that you had to make major sacrifices, wear clothes I didn’t really want or drive a car that I was embarrassed to be seen in.  However, over time I’ve discovered that there are ways to live below your means and not necessarily sacrifice a comfortable living.

The most important step in any savings program is to start slowly and proceed at your pace.  It’s much easier to find ways to cut out $5 – $10 a week than it is to eliminate $500 overnight.  I’ve come up with 5 ways you can live below your means, saving significantly, without really feeling it.

1.  Share, Borrow, Trade – There are many local and online resources where you can find items at no cost.  Your local library has new releases of both books and DVDs.  You neighbor may have a yard tool you can borrow.  Online resources such as Paperback Book Swap, Craigslist and Freecycle can help you reap significant savings.

2.  Buy with cash – Many financial experts, such as Dave Ramsey, say that you will spend 10% – 15% less if you use cash instead of credit.  There is something about handing over cash that makes you stop and contemplate just a moment longer.

3.  Check with your service providers to lower your costs – periodically you should call your local providers such as phone, cable, internet and ask if there are better rates available?  If you are given a lower rate, actually SAVE THE DIFFERENCE by transferring it to a savings account.

4.  Never pay full retail – If you are buying online, before you check out ALWAYS search for a coupon code.  It’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes.  All you have to do is type in the name of the website you’re purchasing from along with the word ‘coupon’ or ‘code’.  Whatever you save, make it an actual savings by transferring the money into your savings account.

5.  Eat/Cook at home – eating out can be costly.  Even if it’s the $1 menu at the fast food giant of your choice, it adds up over time.  In addition to saving money, eating/cooking at home can save you calories and help ensure you eat a healthy and balanced meal.  By eating more at home, your wallet and your body will thank you.

By incorporating these 5 simple changes into your daily routine you can see that living below your means without really feeling is possible!

Frugal Friday: Rethinking Date Night

Date_Night

When was the last time you went on a date?  CycleGuy and I tried to schedule them but lost track months ago when other things seemed to demand more of our attention.  Whether it was a late meeting, activities for BabyGirl, catching up on work, or just running late with errands it seems that Date Night took a back seat.  Another issue also was coming up and we couldn’t come to a conclusions:  What to do.

If you get back in the time machine with me and head back to the late 80s when CycleGuy and I were dating, there wasn’t much pressure because we were in college and neither of us had a car.  At least he had a bike!  So we were somewhat limited to where we could go.  Combine that with the college student bank account and it was a good thing we were so close to campus to enjoy the many free events.  The thing is, we really enjoyed them and always had a great time.

Now that we’re married with child, Date Night seems so complicated (and expensive).  Fortunately we have an awesome BabyGirl sitter (thanks, Auntie!) who accepts payment in the form of affection from her niece.  Yet we still can’t get out the door.  Part of it is the time crunch, but much of it has to do with not wanting to drop a C-note for a few hours of mediocre entertainment.

So, I’ve been thinking lately about what great things my city offers that are free or low cost yet offer that ‘high brow’ feeling of going on a date.  We’re not in college any more and I’m hoping for more than a burger, fries and dollar movie.  Nothing against dollar movies, since I never go to the movies they’re first run to me.  But, our local dollar movie theaters are just weird and smell like they’re serving popcorn that was made when it was a first run movie.  I can’t get past that, sorry!

We’re fortunate to live in a city that has nice art galleries, local musical venues, several fabulous museums and man more cultural activities.  What is even more amazing is that many of these events are free or minimal cost.  I even found out this evening that our local Steinway piano stores often host local or regional musicians and  invite the public free of charge.  Being a resort town also allows us access to gorgeous hotels that have lounges with terrific musicians.  Years ago I remember listening to a local flamenco guitar player and enjoying his music.  It wasn’t something I would  have thought to attend, but we were there and he was the entertainment.  That local artist is now world renown and charges big bucks for his concerts.  But I still remember when…..

Date night is important on so many levels, and it shouldn’t be cut out of the budget.  With planning and thinking outside the box you can plan a lovely, relaxing and romantic evening.  Instead of dinner, have dinner at home and go out and share a dessert or just have a glass of wine.  Head out early and catch the Happy Hour specials and be home to tuck the kids in bed.  There is no rule that says you have to be gone until midnight!

So check your local paper and see what’s going on in your town.  There is no book on what date night should or shouldn’t be. You get to do whatever it is that you both would enjoy.  Reconnect and spend time together.  You owe it to yourself, to each other and your family.  And you don’t have to break the bank in the process.  Rethink date night!

This post is linked to Frugal Friday.