Fool.com: Defining Need (Fribble) August 1, 2000

Fribble Defining Need

By LarryJBlum@aol.com
August 1, 2000

One of my relatives had many children. How many? Let's just say there were enough to field a full team for almost any sport.

Since this was back in the days of the one-income family, there wasn't enough money to indulge the materialistic wishes and whims of a whole flock of little (and not-so-little) ones. (Even if there had been enough money, all those wishes should not have been indulged, but that's another story.) In order to reduce the number of requests beginning with "Pleeeeease, Mom, can I have a . . .?" the Matriarch, it is said, used a mantra of economic defense: "If you don't eat it, you don't need it."

The children were not deprived; they had the standard amusements of the day: television, radio, record players, board games, sports, books, a backyard, etc. They had food to eat, beds to sleep in, and a roof over their heads. They had love; they had each other. But of course, when the children got a good thing (or when their friends got a good thing) they quite naturally wanted more. And since children are generally not keen to listen to detailed explanations of household budgeting, the quick explanation became: "If you don't eat it, you don't need it."

The latest fashions? "No." The latest video game? "No." The latest electronic gadget? "No." Tickets to the big game? "No." A car? "No. If you don't eat it, you don't need it."

I offer that sagacious phrase for use by Foolish parents everywhere. Use it as a starting point to teach your children to differentiate between wants and needs. Perhaps their knowing in advance your response to a frivolous request will reduce the frequency of those requests. Hopefully, it will prevent many advertising-brainwashed children from succumbing to unbridled greed and a sense of entitlement.

Let it also serve to ask us, the adults, whenever we utter it: Are we setting the right example? Do we buy the newest clothes, the newest music, the cell phones, the extra cars, the boats, the backyard decks, the newest computer peripherals, the maid service, the riding mowers, etc. -- because we NEED them? Or is it because we WANT them to satisfy our vanity, or to banish feelings of insecurity and inadequacy? Do we want things because our friends have them and we don't want to appear behind-the-times? Or do we want things because our friends DON'T have them, and we have a chance to show them how prosperous and avant-garde we are?

If you need it, buy it. If you really want it, and you can easily afford it, think about it, then decide -- but remember: If you don't eat it, you don't need it.

Fool on.