How quickly wants can turn to needs

As some of you know, Courtney and I recently spent just under a year traveling abroad with our two-year-old daughter. A couple of months ago, we returned home to Indiana and decided that we'd take a six month break from our mobile lifestyle. Our decision meant we needed to start looking for short-term rentals that would meet our temporary needs.

When we started to browse rental options, we created a list divided into Wants and Needs. Some of the Needs included things like two bedrooms, a safe neighborhood, flexible lease terms, and some sort of yard or grass.

Note: Technically, these aren't raw Needs. While traveling we spent weeks in a tent, months in a spare bedroom of another family's house, and dozens of nights in 100-square-foot single rooms. But these few items were basic enough conveniences that we felt comfortable labeling them Needs for our situation.

Under Wants we placed criteria like a standalone house, a fenced-in back yard, a one-car garage, and proximity to decent sidewalks or paths. Remember, we weren't buying a permanent home: We were searching for a quick six-month stop.

As we started to comb through different properties on the market, I said to Courtney, “You know, it would be so nice to have a separate work area where I could go to write. I don't need it, but it would be nice.”

This wasn't the first time I'd voiced this desire. Courtney had to put up with my complaining for the last year about not having designated work space. It was primarily an excuse for procrastination or lack of motivation, but there was a part of me that wanted to see what it would be like to have a specific space for my work.

A Want Becomes a Need

After mentioning it a couple of more times, we agreed to expand our search to two bedrooms with bonus rooms, offices, or even large closets (yes, I'm serious). In general, a two bedroom home with a bonus room or office will be cheaper rent than a comparable three-bedroom place.

Even with a background in real estate, it can be hard to search for houses with extra rooms. Each owner, agent, or listing may refer to the space in a different way. Often these homes have unique floor plans, and it's nearly impossible to understand them unless you visit each home individually. Finding matches was difficult.

Out of frustration at the lack of two-bedroom options that also included a bonus room, I allowed myself to do something that changed everything: I expanded our search to three-bedroom rentals. Suddenly, the flood gates were opened.

After a couple of days searching all of the new options, I called my friend/ex-partner in real estate and gave him several listings. I remember saying something like, “I know we could fit into two bedrooms, but we really need three bedrooms these days.”

It had happened. Of the five listings I sent to him to schedule showings, not a single one of them had only two bedrooms. Somehow over the course of just a few weeks, I'd managed to shift our Needs from two bedrooms to three bedrooms. My attitude had changed.

In our market, we could have easily found a two-bedroom rental in the $600/month range. Our current rent (on the three-bedroom rental we selected) is $900/month. For those of you counting, that's a 50% increase — or around $300/month.

An Indulgence

For me, the issue isn't the extra money per month. It's a matter of perspective. We aren't going to be financially ruined by this choice, and we're paying for other benefits in that increase. But, I want to be sure that I view our rental for what it is: a Want. Heck, we could even label it a luxury for us.

If I continue to view this as a Need, it's easy to focus on the negatives. For example, the air conditioner takes hours to cool anything, the lighting is terrible in the home, and the garage doesn't have an automatic opener. If I were to take the situation for granted and focus on the negatives, it would be easy for my standard of living to creep even higher and higher.

In retrospect, if I see this home for what it really is — an indulgence — those little things lose their importance. I appreciate my little workspace so much more. I appreciate the fact the my daughter Milligan can play out back, and that we have space to host guests.

The truth is, for our family of three, anything more than a safe, one-bedroom home with a roof, heat, and simple kitchen is a luxury. It's a Want, not a Need. By realizing that, we can stop taking things for granted, and start being thankful for what we have.

But shelter is just one area of our budget where this shift in thinking can happen. Luckily, this experience has helped me become more aware in other areas, such as Food, Clothing, and Transportation, where my definition of Need can easily grow beyond what is truly needed.

Indulgences in life are great. I've met very few people who want to live at the bare minimum level of their Needs. But taking steps to ensure we recognize our indulgences as indulgences allows us to appreciate how lucky we truly are!

More about...Psychology, Home & Garden

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Mike Choi
Mike Choi
10 years ago

Interesting article as I am thinking about taking a mini-retirement too and travel abroad. What made you decide to take a break from the mobile lifestyle?

On a Side note, this line needs to be corrected:”For those of you counting, that’s a 150% increase”

When you go from $600 $900 it is a %50 increase

Traciatim
Traciatim
10 years ago

Mike already beat me to it, but 900 is 150% of 600, the increase to go from 600 to 900 is 50%.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

Oops. Thanks for the math correction. That slipped past editing, but I’ve fixed it now! 🙂

MRH
MRH
10 years ago

I worked at a good job with what I consider a good salary. I have a bunch of co-workers who whine about how it’s not enough to live on. What I realized is that it’s good enough for one indulgence. You can either live alone in the city, travel, have a fancy car and drive to work, or a fancy wardrobe – but pick one and enjoy it! I find it is easier for me to keep the budget trim in other areas if I have an area where I am indulging. It’s easier not to spend when I know… Read more »

Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
10 years ago

It’s funny how one thing can lead to another that leads to another and suddenly you’re in a whole different scenario than you were before.

I recently have been thinking about going car-free. It’s been a sort-of want/curiousness in me to think about what it’s like.

Yesterday my car died and repairs are $$$ so suddenly that car-free idea sound much more like a need =)

Same idea, different scenario.

Gauri
Gauri
10 years ago

I think your last lines are extremely important. If you have the money it really is OK to buy things that qualify as “indulgences”. After all, as JD says often money is just a tool. But the key is too understand the difference between wants and needs (not a very easy thing) and be thankful for being able to satisfy the wants.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

Its funny because with a house, it doesn’t seem like you know what you need or want until you live in it. Right now, we have a traditional colonial and we never use the living room/dining room. However, we have 3 kids and really wanted four bedrooms, and the houses with 4 bedrooms here all pretty much come with the living/dining room combo. Plus, I hear having a dining room is good for resale, so I guess it works out. But I can go weeks without ever going into those rooms. I think you will like having a 3 bedroom… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
10 years ago

I think your time abroad gives you a perspective many Americans don’t have.

Of course there are people who live with much less in the US, but it’s not always obvious.

When we purchased our home we looked for over a year. We could have spent the same money on something with over 1,000 square feet more, but we would be far from everything.

The house needs a ton of work, but it’s worth it to be somewhere that is such a great location.

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

Great perspective Adam. I’m guessing that every want that was clearly a luxury during your life on the road will start inching toward the need category, the longer you stay in the States, with neighbors who might drive nice cars (2 per family), dress themselves and their kids in a particular way, eat and entertain in a particular way, etc. Luckily you recognize this potential. I’m with MRH #4 – I think allowing yourself one or two indulgences helps keep the overall budget under control. Of course, given that your indulgence was your office, I’d say be prepared for Courtney… Read more »

Tyler
Tyler
10 years ago

There is a definite bright side to your situation. While you are used to paying nothing for your housing, the $900 you are spending on a three-bedroom home would be getting you a mediocre one-bedroom apartment or a low quality two-bedroom apartment in another location!

Kevin M
Kevin M
10 years ago

This is similar to JD renting an office space when he admittedly has more than enough space in his home to have an office. If the separate office space makes you more productive and your business thrives because of it, the extra cost is worth it. Good luck.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
10 years ago

Can’t wait for you guys to go traveling again Baker! It’s much more fun for us. And I think it has to be much more fun than Indiana!

My fear is that now you are settling, you will never travel again. Prove my fear wrong!

Sam

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run
10 years ago

So very true! Mr Chiots and I bought a small 2 bedroom home when we first bought. Since we run 2 businesses and work from home, we need a bedroom for an office but we knew we didn’t need any more space (we don’t have guests that often). Of course when we have guests over it would be nice to have a third bedroom so they don’t have to sleep on the floor, but not worth all the extra cash each month. We’ve watched all of our friends upgrade their starter homes to something larger because they “need” it. We’re… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
10 years ago

I think (once you are out of debt) regularly satisfying at least one want should be classified as a need.
Our emotional/psychological health requires sources of joy, and I don’t think satisfying just our needs can bring joy.
“Wants” don’t have to cost much, either, especially if what you want is free time or time with a loved one — but they should never be ignored, I think, and becoming a miserable miser should be avoided!

Money Smarts
Money Smarts
10 years ago

I think you’re 100% right on how our wants can quickly become needs. For us, a glaring example is our vacations. While you don’t NEED to go on a big vacation every year, we wanted to. And that want quickly became a need. If we didn’t go on our yearly vacation to some far-off locale, we ended up being grumpy about it, and in the dumps. In reality – we’ve traveled a lot more than some people do in their whole lifetimes, we’ve become a bit spoiled. On the other hand, I think it’s ok to budget in for some… Read more »

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss
10 years ago

A similar situation happened to me when I was looking for apartments a while back. We set a budget of $1000 a month. We didn’t find anything we liked in that range. So we moved up to $1100. Still didn’t find anything. Finally moved up to $1200 and found a great place. Of course we ended up getting a place that costs $1200 a month.

The $1000 a month apartments had everything we needed, but once we saw the difference in $1200 we had to have them.

deborah d. lattimore
deborah d. lattimore
10 years ago

I love your columns! I found you through the Happiness Project website. Your writing rang true to me, maybe with a different slant. I was a workaholic and extremely frugal until diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery and a year of aggressive treatment. Now some of my “wants” have morphed into “needs” when it comes to quality of life and how I want to spend my time and where. Whereas I used to postpone vacations or visits with my grown children because of work, I no longer postpone any kind of joy and I never say no to opportunities… Read more »

Jean at The Delightful Repast
Jean at The Delightful Repast
10 years ago

Came to your excellent post via Ami of 40 Days to Change. Yes, we Americans are very spoiled indeed. Our society would be far happier if we could appreciate all our indulgences rather than feel entitled to them. I think indulgences should be saved for and anticipated, not enjoyed immediately and paid for later.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

This is why I don’t like this financial distinction that people try to make between ‘want’ and ‘need’ (and especially that ‘balanced money formula’ that occasionally comes up). It’s because it’s all mutable and subjective. The word ‘need’ by itself means nothing. It requires a goal to go along with it, i.e. “I need X to accomplish Y”. Your most basic needs are the things that you need to keep yourself alive. You need just enough shelter to keep out of the weather, just enough clothing to keep warm, a moderate amount of nutritious food, access to medical care, and… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
10 years ago

I had to laugh at you considering a closet as your workspace, because I did work in a (literal) closet for a few years. I actually liked it, except that it got a little hot during the summers. That turned closets into a luxury for me.

I think enjoying luxuries is great, so long as they don’t prevent you from being in good financial shape.

erika
erika
10 years ago

This post (an excellent one, by the way) reminded me of a phrase I read here at GRS that has helped me control my finances: “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have EVERY thing you want.” I’ve actually been using it to help me ease up on my miserly tendencies and begin to view money as a tool to be spent rather than an item to be collected, but I think it clearly applies to this situation, as well. Telling yourself that you can have anything you want is very freeing and could help relieve some of… Read more »

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

I totally agree with Tyler (comment #19)—a “want” vs a “need” can only be defined relative to some other goal. But that goal isn’t stated in the article! Is it your goal to spend as little money as possible? To have as little impact on the environment as possible? To live like someone in the 3rd world even though you aren’t? For myself, I believe that wisely spending money is a good thing for our society and our economy. I am against being a miser for no good reason–that’s called a waste of time or even avarice. If you aren’t… Read more »

Jason Beck
Jason Beck
10 years ago

I assumed by the title of this article that we would talk about things like air conditioning (in your car) so I was pleasantly surprised by the living accommodations and perspective. I think of so many things that people “need” including cell phones and cable TV and AC in their car and home. As an exercise, I look over all the things I spend money on that my dad doesn’t and add them up. And it’s huge. Several thousands of dollars for EACH thing over the years. My dad lives without broadband, cable TV, a cell phone or a car… Read more »

Debra
Debra
10 years ago

Great post! Reminds me of an incident with my husband. Having never been on a cruise, I suggested one to him. “We can’t afford that — it’s thousands of dollars!” he replied. I was shocked because in my research the numbers came to under $1000 for the two of us. As it turns out, his “needs” and mine were — to put it kindly — divergent: * I wanted a quickie 5-day to Mexico since we could drive to the embarkation point, while he “needed” 10 days to Alaska (which would require flying to Vancouver). * I was fine with… Read more »

Ace @ aceofwealth.com
Ace @ aceofwealth.com
10 years ago

Adam, I have to say that I am impressed. It takes a lot to be able to look back at your past decisions and admit that you’ve taken an indulgence. I think that for many of us, we have a tendency to go in the opposite direction, when we look back at past decisions. Rather than saying, “I wonder if 3 bedrooms is more than we need right now”, we tend to say, “We have a growing family, and we’ve always wanted more space….” and so on. This was a great lesson for you to share with all of us… Read more »

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

My husband and I started our budget with the actual “needs” (utility bills, food, cars since we work away from the bus schedule in Houston, gasoline, car insurance, etc). Then we added the “luxuries” by prioritizing what we really wanted (3 bedroom house, biweekly housekeeper, biweekly lawn care).

We left out a ton of other wants in order to get the ones that were most important to us. We love our home and all all our little luxuries…it really does make them that much sweeter when you know you picked them since you liked them the most…

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

Debra, I am so glad you went on the cruise with a friend!!! Didn’t your hubby hear about your great time and adjust his “needs”?

My husband and I are taking a 7 day Carnival Cruise this summer for about $2000 total since he’s a teacher and really couldn’t pull it off during the off-season – we enjoyed the 5 day one we went on last year too (that was about $1500 total). I’m with you, off-season cruising is one of the least expensive luxurious vacations ever! 🙂

Lauren Muney, behavior change specialist
Lauren Muney, behavior change specialist
10 years ago

Congratulations for finding either price range ($600 or $900). Where I live, either one is usually in a bad neighborhood, broken building, and/or can’t be trusted. Heck, Craigslist *scams* feature $900 prices.

That being said, it is important to make sure that wants/needs are carefully considered. While sometimes ‘want a separate office’ actually is a need: “Need a quiet place to work”. Make sure that the attention is realistic, and the price may make the difference between ‘getting work done’ or ‘being frustrated by not getting any work done’

Bill
Bill
10 years ago

The headline is “How Quickly Wants Can Turn to Needs”. I never thought of a house with more than one bedroom as a luxury. Get real. Why even get a house just rent a movable storage pod and live in that.

the other Tammy
the other Tammy
10 years ago

Our situation was kind of backwards…we bought our 3 bedroom fixer-upper house when we were newly married, and we rattled around in it. It has a foyer and two bedrooms we didn’t use, plus a nice finished workshop in the garage that we also did not use other than to store junk. Fast forward five years…both empty bedrooms are filled with kids, the empty foyer is now my husband’s office (now self employed and working from home), and the unused workshop is now the base of our computer repair business. It seems like the things that were wants to begin… Read more »

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

And of course a want that turns into a need often requires more wants and needs. A three bedrrom home often triggers purchases of additional furniture, to furnish those rooms, likely a want. And then you end up needing more in utilities to heat/cool the extra room. So the extra $300 a month doesn’t even account for the furniture costs and increased utilities (unless utilities are incldued). Not that having more wants and needs is bad, my concern is when wants become needs which become fixed costs. With a six month rental the extra money you are paying for that… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

@ Debra #24 LOL oh sigh! sometimes you can’t win! Well, you had fun anyway, right? DH and I tripped over a similar issue to Baker. We “needed” a bigger apartment. Really, we just needed a BETTER apartment; the one we were in was heinous. But … we went from the heinous $1450/mo 1-bedroom to a $2100/mo 2 bedroom that actually had twice the square footage, plus secure parking and entry, plus safe outdoor space for the cats, plus A/C, plus a 2nd bathroom … . There’s room for us to meet with clients, to have dinner parties, to practice… Read more »

TR
TR
10 years ago

Amazing how much of a difference location makes. It’s very hard to imagine a $1450/mo 1BR apartment being “heinous”.

TosaJen
TosaJen
10 years ago

I don’t know if you’ve signed a lease yet, but we found that a walk-in closet with a window, a door, and a coat of red paint made a more-than-adequate office when I was working from home, even with two kids.

To your main point — we’ve found it very important to keep our eye on both our luxuries and our necessities. With two kids, our needs and wants change as the kids grow, not to mention our priorities.

David/MoneyCrashers
David/MoneyCrashers
10 years ago

If one is completely out of debt, letting those “wants” slide into the “needs” column is not such a big deal.

However, to me, this was a KEY to getting out of debt. Honestly assessing each “need” and determining whether it is not truly a “want” that can be put off till later.

I consider the shifting of “wants” to “needs” as kind of a gift for the hard work of getting out of debt.

cherie
cherie
10 years ago

excellent example of how perspectives can change – thanks for sharing it!

basicmoneytips
basicmoneytips
10 years ago

Interesting article, I will say the writer does not seem to be over indulging too much here At least he realizes what is going on and can probably still keep a good handle on things.

Leah
Leah
10 years ago

re: #23, Jason: I forgo A/C in my home, but I definitely consider it a need in the car. I use it mostly when highway/freeway driving (speeds of 45 mph+). At one point in life, I didn’t use my car A/C on the freeway. Then, I took a road trip. I spent a good hour sweltering and mentioned that to my dad during a quick phone call. He said “just turn on the darn A/C.” It was either that or consume gallons of water to replace what I was sweating out. So, while I really dislike A/C, I definitely find… Read more »

finallygettingtoeven.com
finallygettingtoeven.com
10 years ago

My friends like to laugh at me because i wash out zip-lock baggies, they are only $1 a box they say laughing. Well maybe so, but for $1 i can buy 1 box of zip-locks (a need for me)..then reuse them over and over and the dollar i saved by not having to immediately purchase another box (need)… well with that i purchase my (want), a bag of jelly beans…

It’s all in how you look at things…

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

Actually, sometimes wants do become needs. Case in point: cell phones. When they first came out, they were a want, but as people got them more and more, I found myself shut out of plans with others and having difficulty internet dating because everyone expected me to have a cell phone. I know that when I finally got a cell phone, years after everyone else, it was a need and not a want. Because I still did NOT want it! I just felt that I had to maintain at least my normal level of social connection, and the rest of… Read more »

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

I’m still fighting the cell phone thing… when my 10yr old is in Jr high I think I’ll have to take the plunge to keep tabs on him with his sports. I think the things are evil – I don’t want to be interrupted to talk to someone on the phone (like when I’m grocery shopping or changing the litter box). I like my freedom & privacy… archaic terms in this day & age. I must be odd – anything that makes daily living more comfortable is a need to me – anything I don’t need to be comfortable is… Read more »

hmburgers
hmburgers
10 years ago

“The truth is, for our family of three, anything more than a safe, one-bedroom home with a roof, heat, and simple kitchen is a luxury. It’s a Want, not a Need.” I agree, that on the level of healthy, secure & safe survival a family of 3 needs a 1 bedroom home. But I’d argue that in a modern society it will odd to have a family of 3 (albeit with 2 of 3 as a couple) living in a 1BR home… Where does your child live? In the living room? Kitchen? Hopefully not in your bedroom… I’m having this… Read more »

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