Taming The Want List

Despite the fact that I’ve been in declutter mode lately, I find I want a fair amount of new things.

For instance, I want a new phone (and have wanted one for at least last September.) And I think I’ve found one that will be a pretty decent bargain for me: Amazon’s Prime Exclusive Moto G Plus. But it isn’t a need, and I’ve held off on the purchase.

I want a new Kindle. I’m bouncing between a Kindle HDX with a cracked screen (and therefore reduced touch sensitivity) and my original Kindle Fire. They both work, but with glitches. Wouldn’t a new Kindle 10 be nice?

Since my Fitbit band died, I’ve wanted to buy a replacement. I miss knowing my steps for the week, and my ability to get Achievemint points. Jon’s promised to epoxy my old Fitbit band, but it’s sat on the counter untouched for 2 months.

Oh yeah, and with summer coming up, I’ve been idly scrolling through local websites to see if there’s a pool we might join for fitness and fun. And maybe some music lessons for Little Bit this summer. And a copy of Moana. Some raised beds for gardening. And a puppy.

Wants. All wants. and it’s not terrible to have wants or even to satisfy wants if you have the means to do so without compromising your needs. And we can. I could pick up all of the above and it wouldn’t hurt our bottom line. But it still might cause me problems, because it’s too much.

As Paula Pant would tell me, We can afford anything, but not everything. Satisfying my want list won’t end want, it will probably just feed it. I’ll just find new things to want (a copy of The Force Awakens? An endless list of e-books? A personal library? Two puppies?)

So what’s the best way to deal with myriad wants? How do you narrow down and structure satisfying a few cravings without giving into indulgence or gluttony? How can you satisfy your wants and stay financially responsible?

First, figure out what you want. Not just kinda want, but really want.

Make a Want List

I started losing track of all the things I wanted, so I started making a list. What did I want, and what would it cost?

I started making a list of my wants and realized it was pretty darn long. And actually, some of my list items were pretty silly once I got them down in writing. I even realized a couple of things probably fell in the need category, like new glasses. Some of the items would clearly compromise other goals, like decluttering our house. I wrote short-term wants (night out with Jon) and long-term wants (walking tour of Ireland).

But making a want list, even a long sometimes silly want list, meant I could begin analyzing my wants. Once I began analyzing, I could ward off impulse buying. I could cross some things off as pipe dreams. I could see what fit into my budget, and how.

For the rest, I could see what fit into my budget, and how, and when. Because the clear goal of making a want list was to narrow down the list to the things I actually want and the things I’ll actually pursue.

Delay Gratification

The enemy of my budget is the impulse buy.

When I give in to impulse buys, I end up spending more. I buy things that sit unused in corners and in closets, or things I’ll invariably donate or give away.

I don’t want to buy on impulse. Not even the things I’ve been craving for months or years. I want to sit on the decision. Think about it. Let the idea wax and wane, until I know for sure that it’s what I want or need. I find that those things that keep coming back to mind are the ones I’ll use or keep.

Sitting on your wants for a while helps you avoid overspending and spending regrets. It can also give you a greater appreciation for the things you already have. Plus, getting something can feel so much sweeter when you’ve wanted it a while, like that perfect present on Christmas morning.

So make your list, but don’t act on it right away. Build up some anticipation, even for the lowliest and most immediate buy. After you go through the rest of the process, you might decide you don’t want that easy buy after all.

Find a Substitute

Step two in taming the want list is figuring out if there are substitutes that satisfy your wants, either in your life or that make your wants less expensive.

Sometimes, when you make your want list, you realize that you already have something that satisfies that want. For instance, I want a copy of Moana, but I have a Netflix subscription. Netflix has a Disney deal. Moana will be on Netflix soon enough. My want is satisfied, albeit at some future time.

Several of the e-books I want are at the library, in physical or e-book form. I can read them if I’m flexible and can wait.

You might also realize that your want is more general than you first thought it was. My family’s talked about taking a Disney cruise to Alaska, but do we really need it to be a Disney cruise to get the experience I want? Would a Norwegian cruise be just as fun? Or do we just want a trip to Alaska? We may really want to visit Alaska, which probably costs a lot less than the Disney cruise.


Not all wants are created equal. 

I want a new phone and a new Kindle. But my current Kindle with its cracked screen and the older glitchy Kindle cause me less aggravation than my phone makes me constantly delete apps and clear the cache. The phone is a bigger priority.

Having a want list allowed me to rank and prioritize. I put some things so low I’ll never pursue them, and others so high I’m certain I’ll find a way to make them happen. It’s important to know the difference.

If you don’t rank the importance of your wants, you may satisfy the cheapest or easiest wants on your list instead of the most important. Satisfying the wrong wants leaves you still wanting. Address your most crucial wants and you are far more likely to feel satisfied in general. Knowing you’ve assigned a lower priority, you help keep the little impulse buys away. You’ve already considered them and decided not to pursue them right now, and that makes them easier to resist.

Trade Off

Working your want list into your reality often means trading off your desires. You need to ask yourself what will it cost you to satisfy this want, in terms of both costs and opportunities.

If you cut 20% from your monthly grocery bill, how long til you can take your dream vacation? If you sell some stuff around the house, can you afford the pair of must-have boots? What will you give up to get the wants you’ve prioritized?

And how do they play off against each other? Would picking up a pool membership compromise our ability to take a vacation in November? Probably. Which would I rather have? Which wants are mutually exclusive and which ones are complementary?

Once you’ve done this step, you’ll have a good idea of which wants you value and to what degree. Then you’re finally ready to think about crossing a few wants off your list…as purchases.


Taming the Want List: Keeping Desire from Wrecking Your Finances


Look for Bargains

Once you know the true costs and your priority for the items on your want list, you can start looking for ways to make your priorities more affordable.

And, yes, that may change some priorities and trade-offs. A $1500 trip using credit card points can move a lot further up the priority list than when you planned on a $5000 trip with no points.

So why not look for your bargains earlier? Because finding the bargains can take time, and, for me, it’s better to spend the time researching what I’ve already decided I value most. And a lot of time, bargains are often time-sensitive, and I don’t want to put pressure on myself to pull the trigger on a want until I know where it fits in my budget.

But I don’t want to pay more than I have to, either, and that means good research. Because I need to know how much I need to get together before I go scratch my itch.

Earmark the Funds

However you work your budget, you want to work your top wants into it and earmark the money for them before you spend it.

Some folks budget specifically for certain categories, like travel and entertainment. If you do, then you can just save up your allocation for the relevant category over time until you have enough to fund it.

Some have a larger category for all their fun money, and again, you just trade off your savings in that category until you have enough. Others earmark windfalls or second jobs to pay for the bigger items off their lists.

What you don’t want to do is to use the money you don’t have to fill your wants, or take the money you need for necessities for items on your wish list. Don’t put it on credit cards you can’t pay, don’t raid your retirement funds, and don’t completely deplete your reserves. Have the money put aside ahead of time, and limit yourself to just that amount.

Tame Your Want List

Few of us will ever decide we’re perfectly happy only satisfying our basic needs. We’re going to have wants, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

But you can’t let your wants get out of control. Use a system that allows you to work on satisfying your most important wants, and it will help make you the master of wants rather than letting them master you. 

Fill out your want list, and make that sucker work.

What’s your best method of keeping your wants under control and within budget?

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*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

35 thoughts on “Taming The Want List

  1. Good advice Emily. It can be tough to manage wants. Knowing WHY I really want something helps me to evaluate it against my values and other goals. Also, when you know and understand your biggest want and why, you can then compare lesser wants against it to make sure you are focusing money, time, or attention in the right direction.

    • LOL, yes, my gift cards invariably go for a) presents for other people or b) Little Bit’s purchases (She pays me in cash for things she wants to buy from Amazon, but somehow the cash always ends up for something like other allowances, Girl Scout activities, etc.) Maybe I should just leave my Swagbucks alone for a while?

  2. Another benefit to itemizing your wants is to discuss them as a family. I know my list of wants and my wife’s often overlap, but they also diverge. Figuring out what we each want is a big help in then figuring out what we both want, and which wants we might satisfy. I like the idea of putting off the bargain hunting until you’ve sorted your wants out first. You’re right that bargain hunting is time intensive, and it’s better left for when you have a sense of what your true priorities are.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Financial Literacy Month: Teaching Your Kids About MoneyMy Profile

    • Oh, yeah, Gary. There’s definitely some things that Jon and I differ on, like the pool membership (which we are unlikely to get this summer.) Plus, there are things he wants that I hadn’t thought of that should be high priorities for us all as a family, and things that as we talk about them become lower. Plus, you can brainstorm your substitutes and bargain-hunting strategy.

  3. Hmm.. keeping wants under control and within budget isn’t easy.

    Prioritizing and budgeting for specific wants looks like a plan, but you’d have to be careful to stick to it! I usually do, but many aren’t able to distinguish between wants and needs.

    For instance, I may be one of the few people crazy enough to have an argument with my boyfriend about buying a new phone or a fitness smartwatch 😀 Most women would be thrilled to get something like this as a gift! However, as long as my gadgets still work, I don’t plan on replacing any of them anytime soon!
    Adriana @MoneyJourney recently posted…3 types of good debtMy Profile

    • Saying “No thanks” to new stuff isn’t crazy, Adriana. It’s the hallmark of someone who’s trying to be responsible with their money and their stuff. And, if you and your boyfriend continue on and merge finances one day, you’ll find these early discussions to have been pretty useful in setting expectations for your future money management. As I recall my first real argument with my husband was over where to go to dinner…the frugal choice we often visited (his) or the more adventurous but spendy option (mine). It told us a lot about each other.

  4. I like this setup. I have played around with the idea of a want list, but have so far abstained. My current system is basically to see what naturally sticks. If I want something and don’t do anything about it, will I still want it in a month? Will I want it more or less? I’ve used this as a sorting mechanism to sift through and only keep the most important or strongest wants. My main concern is that a list will remind me of wants that I would otherwise forget. Is that something you’ve found? Or do you wait to add something to the list until it’s been kicking around for a while?
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…How to Grow Your MindMy Profile

    • Matt, I added everything, even the most ephemeral want, so that the fleeting ones could get dismissed. Those tend to the be ones that trip me up as impulse buys because I see them at Target or on sale at Amazon or something, and think “Oh, that’s not a bad price,” when really there’s an opportunity cost to getting them and not saving for something that would be a higher priority. I think recognizing and specifying “I want this, but I want lots of other things more” works as an immunization against the impulse.

  5. I’ve got a Moto G (2nd generation, I think). I bought it from Selectel and use their service for $30/month. It’s a decent phone but the one you’re looking at has a heck of a lot more storage. Accounting for the built in apps there’s not much space left over on mine. I also have a Kindle Paperwhite which I’m very happy with.

    For both gadgets it took me at least 6 months of planning to make the purchase. Like you, I like to do my research and delay gratification to make sure I really want something. In the case of the phone, I think you’re ready to pull the plug?
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…Early Retirement Highs and Lows: Eight Top Bloggers Weigh InMy Profile

    • LOL, yes, beyond ready! I hate my phone, in part because built-in apps take up over half the measly storage.

      My tentative plan on the phone is to wait until Prime Day in July to see if it goes on deeper discount, then pull the trigger either way. As a Prime exclusive phone, it very well might. The Kindles generally have been on pretty good discount that day. Regardless, I want our discretionary funds to recover a bit from paying for Little Bit’s birthday trip and our annual beach week rental.

  6. I’m laughing because the picture of this gorgeous library just fills me with desire! But as always, your advice is sound. I am in need of taming all my wants at the moment as well. This is perfectly timed. Because I know what I really want and need is to go on vacation with my family this year and that is what our money needs to be saved for.

    • Right? My fantasy house has a giant library like that. When we go to the local parade of homes, I’m constantly looking for a library (in houses that can’t be bothered to even have built-in bookshelves.)

      • The Morgan Library in NYC is one of my favorite places in all the world. I just sit there and imagine what it might have been like to be JP Morgan, building his library, acquiring all his incredible rare books and artifacts and building his library “vault.” Incredible!

    • Yes. you don’t have to have the name brand, but when I buy the knockoff, I do read the reviews pretty carefully to see if there are regular problems that crop up. Most of them are fine. Sometimes, though, you get what you pay for.

  7. Great post Emily! I think this is such important advice “If you don’t rank the importance of your wants, you may satisfy the cheapest or easiest wants on your list instead of the most important.” This ties in with what I write about in decision-making too. People get stuck because they haven’t ranked what’s most important. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of more material wants/needs that much. This is great to share with my kids too.
    Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions recently posted…Would Selling Most of Our Properties Be a Smart Decision?My Profile

    • I was thinking about it the other day…it’s the latte factor in action. Your “it’s only $5”, but if you put the money aside every time you say no to the latte (or the lunch takeout, or the trip to the movies, or (in my case) the bargain ebook), the money for those bigger purchases would add up pretty quickly.

  8. I used to get weirdly panicky that I would forget what I wanted, so I started a Pinterest board that’s my wishlist. 95% of the time, I forget an item is even on there a week later. Then for my birthday or Christmas, when people ask what I want, I direct them toward that board. And every once in a while, I decide I really do want something from it and just buy it myself. It’s worked out pretty well for me.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Piñata: The Brand Ambassador App ReviewMy Profile

    • That’s a good way of handling it. I know I do that for e-books with the Amazon wish list, then pull my list up at the library when I’m searching for books to read. I do like having the excel list for the total list, though, because I can sort, rank priorities, price, and adjust.

  9. Most of the time I find the wants when I watch TV commercials and I just have to have it. It’s usually some new gadget. I forget about them and I find that I can’t even remember them later. Now a new Kindle is something I think I might have to get. It’s saves me a lot of money but right now it refuses to get on the internet. I’ve tried everything. It’s now become a need. LOL
    Vickie@Vickie’s Kitchen and Garden recently posted…Free Kindle Books for 4/15/17 and Kindle Books That are Still Free!My Profile

    • Yikes. You may need to update your OS for your Kindle. But yeah, they are not nearly as useful if they don’t go online. I love mine and I use one daily.

      Fortunately, gadgets and most physical items that aren’t replacement are well down my list. Trips though….lots of vacations and event tickets are on there.

  10. I think one of the things that my wife and I have focused in on is not thinking about things that we don’t have. If we thought about all the things we wanted it would drive us insane. Instead we throw things we want on our Amazon Wish List and if we receive it as a gift throughout the year. Great and if not, we figure it wasn’t meant to be 🙂 Plus throwing things up on Amazon allows us to figure out if it’s something we wanted in the moment or something that we wanted long term 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Worth It?My Profile

    • I do the same thing, at least with the E-books I want, then try to pick them up at the library. There is a satisfaction in doing something to scratch an itch, even if you don’t actually buy the thing. And that works with putting it on my list, too. It can be enough just to write it down to think about later or to acknowledge the want.

      But I don’t let it drive me crazy, I guess because mostly I recognize that satisfying the wants won’t change too much. They may even change things in a bad way. For instance, I loved playing World of Warcraft before Little Bit came along, and had a bunch of fun playing last fall with a free trial. But it’s a huge time sink, and while I recognize that I want to play again, it’s also important to recognize it’s probably not a good thing for me to do, even if I leave off the $15 a month charge, just because it would take up so much time.

    • There’s that too. Waiting often means certain things fall away, no longer matter, or get addressed otherwise. OR, waiting can make the craving more intense, but then you know you should probably act on it. (#$*@ phone.)

  11. Thanks for sharing these great tips for dealing with your wants! I really appreciate the actionable ideas here. Also, I think you’re right to say that fulfilling a want will just lead to another want taking it’s place on the list. Good point and always something to be aware of!
    Jay recently posted…Trend Following Trade Ideas for April 2017 (Part 3)My Profile

    • Yeah, if you give in, very often you just want something else, unless you are very particular about the things you actually act on. But, if you have high criteria thresholds for acting on your wants, you’ll find most things just don’t satisfy those criteria.

  12. Wow – this is such great down to earth advice. I’m so short of self discipline & seem to just get obsessed with the latest thing & splurge…. them get buyers remorse like all the time!
    I’m going to bookmark this & try to refer back whenever the urge to splurge lands on me, hopefully over time I will get better at controlling my spends!
    Thanks for sharing, it’s really helpful!
    Michelle Smith recently posted…Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless (QC30) In Ear Buds ReviewMy Profile

    • I hope it helps, Michelle. I think getting your wants out in the open can really help limit splurging on things that don’t matter in favor of saving on the things that do.

  13. It’s always nice to read a post like this. Sometimes spending can get out of control even when we try to refrain from buying new things. A little extra motivation to stop ourselves can go a long way!

    • Thanks, David. Yes, if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to let your spending get out of control, or let impulse spending derail some of your financial options. And often, when the amounts are low (as with the proverbial latte), we don’t see how the two interact. But, gosh, I wish I had done better things with my money than buy a daily latte or a weekly e-book a few years ago when I could have drunk coffee at home and checked books out from the library.

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