Wants and Needs

As I sit and listen to the latest fevered announcements on the news or the Internet about the latest economic happenings, I think back to the advice on money given to me by my father:

Wants and Needs.

His point was that until you could distinguish between the two – and act accordingly – you would not get ahead financially. Money, he would say, should be put to work to meet your needs. Only then would you be able to afford those things that you wanted in life.

To be fair, distinguishing between a “want” and “need” isn’t always that easy. To my father, a mathematically inclined person denied the chance to finish even high school by the Great Depression; education was a “need” not a “want”. With education he believed, people had choices and opportunities that a person without an education did not have. He and my mother worked toward the common goal of a college education for their children above anything else they may have wanted.

But for some, education is a luxury, not a need. Decades ago I read a book written by the mother of a woman who married a distant cousin of mine. She had been born in Lithuania, immigrated to Ohio where she married and the daughter who married my cousin was born. She then returned, with her daughter and husband (an American of Lithuanian heritage), to Lithuania to buy a farm and to give birth to a son. As the situation in Europe deteriorated, her husband and daughter, as American citizens, were permitted to leave and go back to Ohio. It would be over 20 years before she saw either one of them again.

One night Soviet troops came to her home and she just had moments to decide what possessions to take with her to sustain her and her son in the Gulag. I don’t recall the entire list of what she took but one thing still stands out years later – lard. She credited lard with sustaining their lives until she could figure out the system and find a new source of food. How many of us could, in a few minutes, choose those items we need to sustain life not only for ourselves, but our children AND carry it with us?

So, what does this all have to do with the economic crisis we’re currently find ourselves in? A few specific moments come to mind:

1) Private Jets: Hat in hand begging for money from the American tax payers, auto execs went to Washington in not one, but three private jets. Throughout this crisis, those who helped create it have been unbelievably tone deaf about their own situations.

American taxpayers may not have to choose what items to take to the Gulag, but they are cutting back and not because it is what they want to do. Hearing that the leaders of the big three auto makers can’t even fly commercial in a crisis does nothing to convince anyone that a real crisis exists.

And what of the lawmakers listening to their pleas? We have lawmakers who have sweetheart deals from mortgage lenders they supposedly were overseeing and others who don’t think the tax code – that they helped to write – should apply to them. Can they be trusted to look out for the American taxpayer?

2) Economic gurus: Are there two who agree on what should be done in this crisis? Every time you turn the page or a station, there seems to be another opinion. If there is a consensus, it isn’t apparent … and not helped by seeing friends of those gurus getting their own piece of the bailout pie.

3) The media: When the experts and the lawmakers cannot be trusted to tell the truth, who can we go to but the media to ask the hard questions? Or can we?

Anyone who has taken a look at the bottom line of various media outlets knows that they are likely to be the next in the bailout line. It isn’t in their own self-interest to ask too many of the hard questions let alone to follow up until those people responsible provide some real answers.

So, we, the American tax payers, are screwed. Or are we?

It’s time to ask ourselves what is it we want and what is it that we need.

Don’t understand what your real financial situation is – or are you afraid to find out? Suck it up and ask someone you personally feel that you can trust to explain it to you. You can’t do anything about it until you know where you really stand. This type of education is a need, not a want, in this circumstance.

Warning – it may not be fun. Too many of us have too much debt.

However, a certain amount of the stress many of us are feeling these days is manufactured stress. We don’t know where we really stand and we are afraid to find out because, if we do, then we will have to take some responsibility to do something about it.

Well – surprise. You may not be in all that bad of shape and some of your worry may be unnecessary.

Then take an honest look at what your wants and needs are and do something about it. Do it as a couple (if applicable) and include the kids if they are old enough. Make it a family project to find places that you can save. Pick a goal to work toward together. Depend on yourselves first, but be educated about your choices and your opportunities. Then, help someone else do the same.

It’s a good bet that your lawmaker or a CEO of a major corporation is not going to be looking out for you.

Author: Rose Hughes (OhioAnne)

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