The New Definition of Need

If we think back a few centuries, the word Need had pretty specific connotations. People needed a cow for milk. Farmers needed a good growth season to survive. And kids needed a bath once a week. They didn’t need matching dishes, or anything beyond a dirt floor. Wow have we changed.

As a society, we now operate more on a self-actualized plane of thought. I don’t want to diminish the number of starving families and children in North America, however if we look at our advertising, television, and merchandising, we’re into a whole different realm.

Black is the new White. Want is the new Need.

Suddenly need has more to do with the latest fashion, or HGTV. If you watch television, home buyers “need” a granite counter top and stainless steel appliances or they won’t consider buying the home. Really? Some people “need” both a mountain bike and a road bike, because heaven knows it would be grossly inefficient and tough to ride a mountain bike on the road. We need long winter coats, short winter coats for the car, and jackets – not to be confused with ski jackets! And suddenly within the last decade, none of us have teeth that are white enough.

You get the idea. Grant it, there is merit in having the right equipment for the right activity. And some evolution of products has reduced disease and death. But, we rarely “need” many of the items we buy. We need them because we’re told we need them to maximize performance. Or we need them because our neighbor has them, and “everybody is getting one”. The wheel of marketing manipulation is strong in this country, and it’s easy to get sucked in.

So do yourself a favor. Step back and assess what you have in life. If your family is healthy, you are protected from war, and you have loving friends, how much do you really “need” beyond that? Separate the Need list from the Want list. Pick one item from the Want list and move on. Save your money.

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, a web site for women focused on the psychology of money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Thoughts always welcome:

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