Think About Why You Want Something (361/365)

Each year, my extended family usually requests that I make up a wish list at to make it easier for them for gift-giving purchases. I don’t mind doing this at all, because it helps them out.

The problem with this is that I struggle for things to put on my wishlist. I usually have to start thinking about it several months in advance to come up with a reasonable handful of items for my list.

It’s difficult because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the reasons that I want things and I’ve realized after a while that most of the reasons I have for wanting things aren’t really good reasons at all.

I would invent usage scenarios in my head that weren’t realistic. I’d have an unrealistic belief about the quality of an item. I’d want an upgrade that wouldn’t really help me to achieve anything new. I’d want an entertainment item that I wouldn’t have enough time to properly enjoy, especially considering the entertainment items I already had. I’d be lured in by hype and not really have a good reason for wanting that item at all.

The simple act of thinking about why I wanted things has drastically cooled my desires for material things. I simply don’t want things as much as I once did.

Thinking RFID
Thanks to Jacob Batter for the image.

We all find ourselves wanting things at times, and it’s easy to build up those desires to incredible heights in our head. Why do those desires grow, though? If you really understand those reasons, it’s pretty easy to knock the legs out from under any desire.

The easiest way to get started is to focus on one big desire you have right now.

What is the material item you want most right now? Something will probably pop into your head as you read that sentence. It might be a smartphone or a car or anything else.

Why do you want that item? Can you explain it in a clear way, with actual reasons?

If you sit there for a minute without being able to come up with anything… why would you spend any money on it at all? Your desire is being driven by hype.

If you do come up with a reason, start thinking carefully about that reason. Do you want this item simply because of peer pressure? If that’s the case, you’ll just be encouraged by your social group to want something else tomorrow. Is it because of a particular feature of that item? Are you sure you don’t already have access to this feature? If it somehow gives you “better” access to that feature, how is it really better? Do you have time to actually use this thing? For example, there are a lot of computer games that seem fun to me, but I recognize I don’t have the time to play them.

Approach your reasons with real questions and don’t get angry or upset if you don’t have an answer to a reasonable question. If you don’t have an answer, you’re revealing that your desire for this item isn’t really built on anything too important, and if you’re not wanting it for any good reason, why are you wanting it at all? Not having an answer is a good thing, not a thing to get upset about.

Start knocking away material desires and you’ll find it a lot easier to enjoy the simpler things in life and to stop spending money on things you don’t really need or only want for silly reasons.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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