Friday, October 7, 2011

Needs and Wants

Whenever I hear someone talk about the differences between needs and wants, I want to check and make sure my wallet’s still there. Whatever it is that you’re grabbing onto in your head--don’t worry, I’m not going to make you sell it or give it to charity.

One time in Indonesia, my dad, my older brother, and I were out looking for a crashed World War 2 fighter that locals claimed crashed on the more jungle-covered East side of the island toward the end of the war. We drove out to the beach and talked to some local fishermen about where we might find the relic.

It wasn’t long before we were all sitting on a mat talking and drinking the fresh coconut juice that they offered to us. After talking for a while and then saying our goodbyes, we continued on our adventure.

At the time, it didn’t strike me as odd, but looking back, those local fishermen had more than they needed--not by much, but they did. They had food, shelter, and some boats to get their work done. On top of that, they had rich friendships, healthy families, and a pile of coconuts. They even shared what little they had with us--the friendly wandering white guys.

We never found the World War 2 fighter, but even after all those years, I can look back and see that I really don’t need anything. When we look at it that way, we’re incredibly rich. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, so long as we keep things in perspective and spend intentionally.

My wife and I got married in college and decided early on to spend a week with each of our families for Christmas. The first Christmas was easy because we were only a few hours from her family in Fort Worth, Texas, and a plane ride from mine in Boise, Idaho.

My job took us to Iowa, and Christmases became more difficult. One year we decided to drive all four thousand miles with two dogs while still maintaining a week with each family. By the time we got back to Iowa, I needed another week to recover. If you asked my wife or me if seeing both families each Christmas was a want or a need, neither of us would hesitate to tell you that it’s a want. But it’s an intentional want.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that something is a want, because we’re afraid that when we finally cave in and say, “No, it’s not a need,” then someone will snatch it away or heap guilt on us for keeping it. We can have some wants, but we have to know the difference.

If we keep calling wants needs when they’re not, we get our priorities wrong. That’s why it’s so important to plan when you have a clear head--so that you have a plan when you lose your head. Otherwise we spend all our hard-earned saved-up dollars on a cheap no-good ipad knock-off (hypothetically speaking). Emotions can make us do dumb stuff.

Our needs are food, shelter, electricity, and basic transportation, but we can and should buy some wants. We have to call them what they are and keep them in perspective.

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