Financial Literacy

Build a Healthy Relationship with Your Wants

Build a Healthy Relationship with Your Wants | www.TheHeavyPurse.comFrom young children shouting “I want” to grown-up “I wants”, wanting has a bad reputation. But has it earned that reputation? It’s true that buying everything we want mindlessly can get us into trouble, but wanting itself is not actually bad. It’s human nature.

Nevertheless, people still feel bad when they want something — practical or frivolous, although the differentiation between the two may vary from person to person. Do not feel guilty because you want things. That is not the problem. It is our response to our wants that matters. This is why I’ve taught my daughters to learn how to respond properly to their wants, rather than respond emotionally or mindlessly to them.

What is a Want?

First, we need to define what constitutes a “want”. Merriam Webster defines wants as:

The truth is wanting isn’t the problem – how we respond to our wants is what gets most of us into trouble.

How Wants Spin Out of Control

Wants are normal but left unchecked, they can also lead to substantial debt. Here are a few reasons why we succumb to our wants.

We Don’t Want to Miss Out

Facebook feeds have become synonymous with brag pages. Filled with updates from friends, family members and co-workers who share pictures from their latest vacation or shopping spree. We don’t want to miss out or be outdone, so we spend money to “keep up” and update our friends with all the exciting things we do and buy.

We Tell Ourselves We “Earned It” or “Deserve It”

Spending money increases endorphins in many of us. When we have a tough day or experience a set back, we spend money to feel better and/or reward ourselves. We tell ourselves that we “earned” it or “deserve” it to justifying buying wants.

We Haven’t Set Goals or Given Our Money Purpose

It’s easy to spend mindlessly when our money doesn’t have purpose. Knowing what we truly want, makes it so much easier to identify those emotional wants that can lead us to significant debt when we get in the habit of always fulfilling them.

It’s easy to believe that wants are evil or bad and dismiss them, but again, wanting is normal. And I would argue necessary.

The Danger of Dismissing or Belittling Wants

I see things that I like or want every day as does everyone. So trying to never want anything is an exercise of immense frustration and ultimately failure. And it’s unnecessary. Wants help us identify the things that matter, so don’t dismiss your wants as being superficial or a failure on your part to be frugal. If we don’t know what we want or what matters – how can we create that life? Or make decisions that help us achieve our best life? We can’t.

Wants play a powerful role in creating the life you want for yourself, which is why we must learn how to respond properly to our wants. And fear, guilt or shame is not the best response. It is very difficult to truly build a healthy relationship with money when you have so much fear and guilt associated with money.

How To Get a Handle on Your Wants

I was taught money was a gift and want you to see it the same way. To eliminate those fears and doubts around your wants and replace those emotions with confidence and clarity.

Wanting is Okay

There is nothing wrong with wanting. I repeat – there is nothing wrong with wanting. Do not judge yourself (or others) poorly for wanting something. There is nothing wrong with you. The trick is being able to tell the difference between a true want and an emotional or temporary want that can lead you to spend money unnecessarily. The best way to differentiate is to ask yourself, “Do I really want this or am I feeding an emotion?”

You must be 100% honest with yourself and do not feel ashamed or bad if the answer is feeding an emotion. Instead be proud that you caught yourself before you spent your money mindlessly on an emotional want. Many of us have been conditioned to satisfy our emotions through spending. You are breaking the habit, which is something to celebrate, rather than mentally berating yourself for wanting something.

How Does Your Wants Compare to Your Other Priorities?

We live in a world where we have the ability to instantly gratify our wants and doing so has become increasingly common. We adopt a YOLO mindset and live in the moment. We forget to consider how or if these wants fit in with our other goals first, which is our mistake with wants. We need to have a proper plan to assess our wants to truly determine whether it’s worth your hard-earned money.

It begins with setting goals to use as your measuring stick or barometer against wants. When you do find a new want, slow down, then compare it against your goals. How does it fit in against your other goals? Perhaps, after careful consideration, you realize it is such a low-priority want that you move on without regret. Or maybe you decide it is something you really value, even above some of your previously set goals, now you can prioritize it appropriately and save for it.

You Will Still Make Money Mistakes

One reason people mistrust their wants so deeply is because they worry about falling back into old habits and going back into debt. Just as you will always find things you want, money mistakes will still happen. I don’t say this to make you feel badly, but to alleviate a bit of pressure off of you. We don’t always realize how our past money mistakes affect our financial confidence.

Some second-guess or doubt their ability to make good decisions, especially with wants. They almost give themselves a complex over them. Please don’t. Mistakes will happen. What matters again is your response. Don’t allow yourself to wallow or berate yourself for your mistakes, but take immediate action to correct your mistake and move forward.

When you have a healthy relationship with money, you realize you can’t stop wanting things but you can control your response. And most importantly – you trust yourself to respond properly.

How do you respond when you find something you want?


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August 4, 2014  •  41 Comments  •  Financial Literacy

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  1. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    EXCELLENT topic, Shannon. I love this post! Personally, I try to say "no" to myself daily, so I'm in the habit of not acting on all of my wants (this is helpful for me because I do like to shop!). Also, I am conscious of never using the entitlement mantra of "I worked so hard; I deserve this". That will get you in trouble so fast. Finally, I try to keep what I want in mind for a while and only buy it after wanting it for more than a few weeks (this ensures I'm not impulsively buying things).
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      It sounds like you have a great place to handle your wants and make sure that you buy them intentionally. It's really great that you avoid the entitlement mantra as it's a very easy habit to develop. We are surrounded by marketing that tells us we deserve it and should treat ourselves. We do deserve a great life, but that means being purposeful with how we spend our money, which is what you do.
  2. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    We have gotten SO much better at defining emotional wants vs. true wants, and it's saved us thousands of dollars over the last year and a half. We've also learned not to belittle ourselves for wanting, which, in turn, has made us want less! Great post, Shannon.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Good for you, Laurie! I am so proud of how for you and Rick have come. Those emotional wants get all of us when left unchecked and sadly many don't realize they even exist. And I am thrilled that you don't belittle yourself for wanting because there isn't anything wrong with wanting or desiring something. Frankly, making yourself feel bad over wanting - increases the likelihood of you spending! And it is an interesting side effect that not judging yourself for wanting, helps you want less, not more.
  3. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Could not agree more Shannon! It's inevitable that we're going to run into situations where we want something. That's not bad at all - we're human. :) I think the danger comes in when we start believing, or telling ourselves that we deserve whatever the given thing is or that we have done something to earn it. When we run into things we want, we analyze it against our goals and if it indeed turns out it's something we do want to buy we set a goal for it. Of course, we're not perfect but it works for us most of the time. :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      I agree, John. It is very easy to convince ourselves that we deserve something or we "earned" it. And that's a dangerous mindset to develop because it makes so hard to tell yourself "no" and justify every want. Your plan is very similar to my own and it works for us too. And I'm not perfect either. :)
  4. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    As you said Shannon, wanting things is not wrong and we shouldn't feel bad about that. It is how we choose to respond to those wants and deciding if they are really in our best interest and that of our family. Sometimes, it's an easy no, whereas other times we can get a bit derailed and try to find ways to justify it. If I see something I want, I tend to wait at least 48 hours and believe it or not, 9 times out of 10 I either forget about it, or the desire for it has waned. Marketing is still a powerful tool but I can control and limit its effect on me.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Marketing is an incredibly powerful tool and it's great that you have a strategy in place so you can limit it's influence on you. The waiting period is always a great strategy and it's amazing how a little time can make an item lose it's appeal.
  5. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Your post was like the answer to the post I wrote today, so thank you! :) "Facebook feeds have become synonymous with brag pages." OMG! So true! Funny story but I hid the feed of a guy I dated awhile back, because I could not take seeing one more damn selfie of him and his 10 years younger girlfriend anymore. The thing is I'm totally not remotely interested in him, but it's the thought that I don't have what he has: a significant other. No matter how mature or evolved we think we are, it's still tough to see what others have and not feel bad about some things which are harder for us to attain, so I thought this post was a great answer to that. :) PS, just because they post all those disgustingly happy selfies does not mean they don't have problems going on behind the scenes. I'd like to think they do…muahahahaha. Is that mean? :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      I loved your post too, Tonya. I could definitely see you as an anthropologist! We humans are interesting characters. :) It is very hard when others around us have things we don't have and want, such as a significant other. And it's even harder when it's constantly in your face. You feel almost compelled to answer back with some great news of you own and for most people that means buying something to impress others. And I agree - we choose what we post on Facebook and most people choose the best things to share. We want everyone to think we have the perfect life, but no one does. We have all issues! And you're not mean!!!
  6. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    You hit my weakness right on the head. I tell myself I deserve something all the time, mostly it is eating out. So i stayed broke and fat for the longest time. I have had to conquer both problems recently.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      The "I deserve this" mindset is one that is so easily invoked and always gets us into trouble. I'm glad you've conquered both problems!
  7. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    When you mentioned all the posts on Facebook I instantly thought of Pinterest, which is filled with so many items from new clothing to new cars and new homes.

    When we live our lives on a wing and a prayer we may tend to buy whatever catches our eye, whether we need it or not, and whether we even end up using it or not.

    When we have a plan or goals for different areas of our lives we will question ourselves before buying something we want, and if it doesn't fit in well with our plans then there is no good reason to buy it.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Oh yes, Pinterest can definitely bring out the wants. People create boards of everything they want. Yes, we don't spend mindfully, we buy those items that strike our fancy initially but so often we realize later that it really wasn't worth it. Having something you want more or goals, make it so much easier to say "no". Goals make almost all money decisions much easier!
  8. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Ah yes, Facebook really easy to become envious when you see peers posting about the latest fancy vacation they went on, the new car they bought or fancy gadget they got. That and the constant barrage from the media telling us what we should WANT. A lot of the wants I have for money revolve around investing it and watching it sounds kind of odd but putting that money to work for me is more exciting than spending it on stuff.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Absolutely, Andrew. We are surrounded by images and voices telling us to buy, buy, buy or we'll be left behind. It's great that your wants revolve around watching money grow! Making your money work for you is the right mindset to have and one many people lack.
  9. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Love this! I totally think denying every wasn't can lead to binge spending. I put wants on a list and let them sit for a while to see if I still really want them or if the desire was just fleeting.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      I agree. Denying yourself can lead to binge spending. It sounds like you have a good plan to handle your wants. Time really helps give those wants some perspective.
  10. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    When I want something, I typically put it on a list. If I have some funds to spare, I take a look at my "want" list and pick my top priorities to fund from it.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      That's a great plan, Stefanie. It gives you the space to assess whether it's really a want and an ability to prioritize your wants when you have the money available to mindfully indulge yourself. Win-win!
  11. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Great tips! Simple yet effective. It’s surprising how much of our needs aren't really needs but wants after all..
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Thanks, Alicia! Yes, wants often appear as needs at first glance. :)
  12. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Whenever I see something I want, I hold off on buying it right away. I sleep on it instead and if I still want it the next day then I probably get it. 9 times out of 10 I end up not buying that "thing" because I realize I really don't need it.
    I used to buy a lot of things out of impulse and it used to get me into debt, but now I just wait 24 hours and realize maybe that pogo stick is not a good purchase.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      It sounds like you have a good plan in place, Aldo. It always amazes how a little time and distance can make a huge difference. Many people get in the habit of buying thing on impulse but even a 24 hour delay can bring a great deal of clarity on what you really want, pogo stick or not. :)
  13. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Wants are maybe the hardest thing I struggle with. Not so much as worrying about getting them, but the mental process of letting myself know that some wants are OK. I think it might always be that way, and that's maybe not a bad thing. Having to think a little extra before buying or making arrangements to have something that is not a need is probably what I should have always done.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Some people really struggle with giving themselves permission to want and buy wants. Giving yourself the space to think through a purchase is definitely a good thing and a habit that more of us need to adopt. Our credit cards wouldn't get the same workout and that wouldn't be a bad thing.
  14. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    I usually take a few days or weeks so decide if I really *want* something, and that act in itself is usually enough to make me change my mind. We rarely buy anything on a whim anymore, and it has made a big difference!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      It really makes a huge difference! And what I love is not only the difference it makes financially but also emotionally. If you told yourself "no" right at the store, there was a time, you probably feel deprived, which may have ultimately lead to you spend on something else to alleviate those emotions. Now, you don't feel deprived but feel good because you made a wise decision.
  15. Monday, August 4th, 2014
    Haha this title -> "We Tell Ourselves We “Earned It” or “Deserve It”" made me think of my friends and I joking when we are at the lake or hanging out on the weekend "this is what we work for, boys." Kind of the same concept. We all want a great home, car, etc. but it can definitely spiral out of control fast.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      LOL! It is a similar concept. We all work for our things and I just want to be sure that I'm truly using my hard-earned on money on the things that I really want, not an impulse buy or to feed an emotion. Wherease I "deserve" or "earned" it purchases tend to be band-aids for bad days or set backs.
  16. Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
    I always try to defer the purchase of an item I want until later, especially if it's a big ticket item. Waiting 24-hrs. or longer has often kept me from making an unwise purchase. With time to think about it, I've often realized I didn't really need the item I wanted.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
      Time is really our best friend when it comes to wants. If we all just gave ourselves a little space, we'd have more money for the things we truly want and a lot less clutter! :)
  17. Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
    Lately, when I want something I don't give in right away. Instead, I write it down with a date next to it. If, after at least 2-ish weeks, I still want it and I can afford it, I do (usually) buy it. Most of the time, I find that after thinking it over I don't really want it anymore and it was just an in-the-moment want.
  18. Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
    When I used to be an emotional shopper, "I deserve it" was my battle cry. "I had a bad day, I deserve new shoes". Or, "I had a bad day, I deserve new clothes". And on and on. It was definitely a vicious cycle. I'm glad I broke it!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      I'm glad you broke the cycle too, Mackenzie! Our emotions can definitely encourage those "I deserve it" feelings, but thankfully you know better now. :)
  19. Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
    Great post, Shannon, and I agree comparing the wants with other priorities has been really helpful in curbing these wants. A lot of the times, they are so fleeting when compared to more "major" priorities, and just as quickly as I wanted it, I also forget about it. It's a learning process, but being mindful about every want instead of just feeding into these tendencies has been really helpful.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Thanks, Anna! Being able to compare wants against goals really makes a difference and gives much needed perspective. Even better, it allows you to make a mindful choice to walk away without feeling deprived because you are working towards something that truly matters to you.
  20. Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
    Great post Shannon!

    I avoid those "I deserve it" phrases because you're right it only feeds into the bad kind of wants. And like most of us here, I can get lost in Pinterest looking at all the things I want!

    If there is something I truly want I think about it and see if it's something that would be useful I can justify buying it. But if there's no reason for wanting it other than just because, I just don't buy it.

    Great post and tips Shannon! Happy Tuesday!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Pinterest can be a lot of fun, but it's always easy to get a case of the "wants" too. It's great that you are able to separate true wants from just because wants. It's an important skill to acquire and unfortunately many don't have it yet.
  21. Thursday, August 14th, 2014
    I am the most guilty with the "I deserve this" statement. That is how I got myself in trouble with spending on things that I really didn't need. It is a hard habit to break.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Friday, August 15th, 2014
      It's an easy habit that claims many victims and you are definitely not alone. The good news is that you are aware that you do this, so you catch yourself and create a new habit.
  • Meet Shannon

    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan