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All I Want of Christmas Is . . .  Less Stuff

All I Want of Christmas Is . . . Less Stuff

December 17, 2022

The Evolution of "Need" in Personal Finance

One of the most challenging personal finance issues we all face is an ever-expanding definition of “need.” As we try to prepare to retire, a central question is “what will you NEED to live on in retirement?" For many of my clients, this question is pretty hard to answer. And they are often surprised when we tally up what they NEED to spend each month.

Consumerism and the Blurring of Wants and Needs

It’s easy to see how we got here. America is a wonderful country. We have MANY cool products and services that do an EXCELLENT job of creating demand. So, things we once thought of as clear luxuries somehow become necessities over time.

Cars that seemed just fine a few years ago now seem old-fashioned. Remember when the idea of giving a kid a cell phone—much less a $1,000 smartphone – seemed ridiculous?

Practical Strategies for Drawing the Line

In the Holiday spirit, I offer these questions:

  • What if financial happiness is not about getting more but about wanting less?
  • What if things start out as wants and become needs mostly because we changed the way we feel about them?
  • What if you can never really get enough of something that you don’t really need?
  • What if comparison, is the death of joy? You may never have as much as some people do.

Implementing Financial Discipline

I’m sure we all remember the MUST HAVE Holiday gift that our kids just had to have that lasted about two weeks and then went in the pile of stuff for the garage sale or Good Will.

This is just one more example of why financial planning can be so hard. There’s no definitive list of the 100 things that every family must have. So these decisions end up being incredibly personal.

Practical Steps Towards Financial Clarity

But don’t despair... Over the years, some really smart people I know have developed some great suggestions to help draw a line in the sand between “want” and “need.” Try the following:

  1. Don’t buy things immediately. Sleep on the decision overnight. Pro tip: This works for e-shopping, too. Next time you find something REALLY COOL on Amazon, let it sit in your cart for at least 72 hours.
  2. Implement a “Stuff” quarantine. Nothing new comes into the house without sitting in the garage for three days. Then, if you still feel like you need it... it comes in. Otherwise, it can be returned to the store.
  3. Use the One In, One Out rule. For every single thing you bring in the house, one thing has to go out of the house (and not into the garage... far, far away). You can do this with books, clothing, anything.

Conclusion and Invitation for Further Guidance

The important thing is to commit to sorting need from want. It might not be clear in the beginning. But try to put some space between yourself and the impulse to buy and use that space to reflect. It might feel hard at first but work on the process and the line will get brighter, maybe.

You might find that it would help to talk with a fiduciary CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to clarify some priorities. If so, I would be HONORED to help. Just follow this LINK to find a time for us to talk.

A fiduciary, fee-first, CFP® professional can help you make great financial planning choices and develop a comprehensive financial plan that is driven by your goals and priorities and addresses all aspects of your financial life. With a big-picture approach, you will be better prepared to understand your options at every step along the way.

Yes, I am a CFP® professional. I’m always a fiduciary and I work on a fee basis. And yes, I’m still taking on a few great families to be part of my financial planning practice.

If this article has you thinking about your own circumstances, contact my office at I am always happy to meet with people who are working on their retirement plans. Dunncreek Advisors does not provide legal or tax advice, nor is this article intended to do so.