Entitlement: Confusing Needs and Wants

wants vs needs lead to debt problems

Over my nine-year career on television, I worked with a lot of people who couldn’t tell when enough is enough. Often impulsive, they had the sense that they could have whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. You might have looked at some of them dumb-struck at their sense of entitlement. But I believe that they were pretty typical of most of us – if taken a bit to the extreme.

When I ask people why they buy stuff, they tell me it’s because they need it, whatever IT is.  They need the gym membership to stay healthy. They need to spend scads of money on food because of various beliefs they have about clean eating. They need to get the dress for their best friend’s wedding. That’s not always true. In fact, that’s hardly ever true. Fact is, many people don’t NEED most of the stuff they buy. They WANT it. But making it into a ‘need’ gives them permission to spend money they don’t have.

Do you find yourself confusing needs with wants? You work hard and deserve nice things, right? Whether you’re thinking about buying a big-ticket item (we need a vacation) or smaller impulse purchases (I need a double tall latte with Venetian chocolate), your sense of entitlement can muddy the waters when it comes to what you want and what you really need.

Where do you suppose our sense of entitlement comes from?

People who are raised in North America may have a sense of entitlement simply because they have no idea how lucky they are. It’s easy for for you to have an inflated sense of what you need if you’ve never been hungry, never wondered where you would sleep, never had to go without shoes.

If every summer you went to camp, if each fall you started the new school year with a fresh wardrobe and all the school supplies you could imagine, if every winter your family went on vacation to a warmer clime, why wouldn’t you think you were entitled to continue the patterns set. Even if you haven’t got the income to support it, you have no idea why you can’t have everything you want when you want it. And if you’ve been handed a pile of credit, no doubt you’ll satisfy your sense of entitlement, damn the long-term costs.

People who watch a lot of TV, read home decor magazines and walk the malls have a sense of entitlement because they come to believe that “everyone else has one so I want one too.” But if everyone else is going into debt to have the lifestyle you crave, then what you’re craving isn’t real. It’s smoke and mirrors. Playing the keeping-up game is dumb at the best of times, but it’s suicidal if you’re doing it on credit.

You only have to look at the houses we live in now compared to those our parents were raised in. Way back, people had more kids but lived in houses far smaller and less posh than we’re willing to settle for today. Only the rich and famous could afford granite counters and marble floors. Now we want a room for every child, plus a living room, family room, media room, and kids’ playroom. And if we have to share a television, we’re hard-done-by.  But as our expectations have gone up, our ability to pay for them has been seriously challenged and we’ve gotten into the habit of spending income we have yet to earn on things we’ve morphed from wants to needs.

While we like to castigate the kids for their rampant sense of entitlement, it’s not just a problem of youth and immaturity. Look at the words that have arisen to describe our sense of entitlement: words like “consumerism” and “shopaholics” and “affluenza” and “selfish capitalism” and “consumercide” and the counter “sustainable living”.

Have we become so addicted to having (instead of being) that we are not longer able to distinguish between needs and wants? Is acquisition of more stuff our new life’s blood?

If you see yourself in here – anywhere – make a commitment to paying closer attention to how you’re spending your money and why. Choose one day of the week on which you will buy nothing. Look at how hard that is for you. How much planning does it take? How addicted to shopping are you?

Awareness is the first step to change. Today, choose to be aware.

Category: Debt Management |

Jan 21, 2015


About Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is the Gemini-award winning host of Til Debt Do U$ Part, Prince$ and Money Moron. She hosts The Monday Night Late Shift on NewsTalk1010 where she talks about life, the universe & everything. Gail blogs daily at gailvazoxlade.com and contributes to moneyproblems.ca. Gail is determined to eliminate financial illiteracy in Canada, and encourages people to join MyMoneyMyChoices.com to raise their Money IQ. Her books include: Debt-Free Forever, Easy Money, Never Too Late, Money-Smart Kids, It’s Your Money, Money Rules and Saving for School. You can also follow her on twitter @GailVazOxlade.

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