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What Do You Need?

I recently facilitating a group discussion. During this discussion, I led the participants through an exercise. I separated the group into pairs, facing each another. For three minutes, one partner asked the other, over and over, without responding,: “What do you need?” After three minutes, the roles were reversed.

While the participants were engaged, I wrote to myself, 

I need:

  • unconditional love
  • to be surrounded by music
  • to be materially comfortable
  • to feel physically well
  • to be okay with not being perfect
  • to have close family
  • to have time to spend with friends
  • to have a spiritual community
  • to have enough sleep
  • to stop judging myself
  • to do meaningful work helping others
  • to be okay with vulnerability
  • to learn when and how to ask for help
  • to meet new people
  • to be understood
  • to be respected

Looking over the list, I noted that very few of my needs require large amounts of money. That being said, as noted by Maslow in his hierarchy of needs, I have the ability to focus on needs of self-actualization, esteem and belonging precisely because my material needs for survival and safety have been met.

We are all guilty of referring to our “wants” as needs, such as “I need a new outfit for the party.” We are human, after all, and we desire pleasurable things and push away unpleasant things. The problem arises when, in pursuit of pleasure, we put our security, and our values, at risk.

How can you be sure that you are making responsible spending choices? Before you make a purchase, ask yourself: 

  • will this purchase be contributing to high cost credit card debt? 
  • Will this choice leave your emergency fund with less than three to six months of living expenses? 
  • Will your spending keep you from saving towards your retirement?

And the most important question of all: will this purchase prevent you from achieving the life affirming things that you truly need, listed above? Close to four years ago I answered yes to that question and it changed my spending habits, and my life.

So, what do you need?