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 Responses to “Taming The Want List”
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