Need vs Want – How to Shop Sensibly and Stop Impulse Spending

by Guest Contributor

Need vs Want - How to Shop SensiblyAre you an impulse shopper?Is it a need vs want? If you buy things you didn’t set out to buy, and do so on a fairly regular basis, it’s likely that you are.

Everyone has the odd impulse purchase every now and again, but if you’re doing it all the time and using your credit cards to make purchases, then you could have a bit of a problem. It’s time to cut down, and the way to do this is to distinguish between needing something and simply wanting it.

There’s no getting away from the fact that we live in a consumer culture. People like to buy things, and shopping can give many of us a bit of a high, which is why shopping is often called ‘retail therapy’.

However, most things that we buy aren’t things that we actually need, in the true sense of really needing something, because the things we crucially need to survive are things like food, medicine, a roof over our heads etc.

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To cut down your spending, you don’t need to do away with everything but the basic things you need to survive. You just need to know the difference between purchases that are useful (i.e. a warm coat in winter if you don’t have one) and purchases that are simply frivolous (i.e. a new purse when you already have a closet full of perfectly serviceable purses).

Need vs Want – How to Shop Sensibly

Conversations To Have With Yourself 

What is a need vs want? When you’re out shopping, or browsing online, it can be difficult to separate the useful from the frivolous. It’s simply too easy to justify or rationalize it, convincing yourself that you do actually need the item.

You need a system, so try having this conversation with yourself before you have to apply for a credit card because you’ve maxed out the old one. Ask yourself ‘do I need it?’

If the answer to this is no, ask yourself ‘will I use it?’ If you can find a good use for the item and you don’t have something similar already, you can go ahead and buy it.

Before you do, however, you should be checking to see if you can find it cheaper anywhere else. Unless you have cash to burn, if the answer to whether you need it and whether you’ll use it is no, you shouldn’t buy it.

The last thing to do, if you’re really on a budget and you’re trying to curb a shopping addiction, is to give yourself one week before actually buying the item. This will give yourself time to cool off and assess whether you actually need to buy it.

Do you have issues figuring out the true difference between a need vs want?

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Guest Contributor has written 255 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen

Some very useful tips for impulse buying! I tend to use the wait a week..or longer before buying. I went a year before buying a SLR camera…but finally took that plunge after saving up. These days, I usually do impulse buys on food! Just yesterday I decided to finally buy the huge pound plus chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s!!!! I consume chocolate like crazy though, so it technically is buying chocolate in bulk right?


KC @ genxfinance

I do have an impulse before but I realized and experienced the consequences financially and it’s not something I want to be burdened about for a long time. So I weigh it first if I really need it or not before buying something.


Felix Lee

I used to be an impulsive buyer especially when I just landed on my first job. But in the long run, I learn how to think things over first before buying especially those I know that I can live without.



It is so easy to get sucked into the trap of purchasing things and feeling better. I remember when I watched the movie Supersize Me, it was the same thing, people who were eating fast food were making comments about how it made them feel better. Either way, that isn’t our source of true happiness. I don’t care what you buy or eat, it’s never going to really make you happy, it only kicks the can of depression down the road. It feels much better when you have a successful financial system that gets you where you want to go, not buying what you think you want.


Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen

I had to add this to my blog carnival today! Such a great post.


Pat S

Reminds me of the discussion in Your Money or Your Life about frugality vs. conscious spending. Spend more on what you love and less on what you don’t. It’s the easiest budget in the world.


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