Wants that Morph Into Needs

Last year I finally caved in to my baser urges and bought a Wii. I also bought the Wii Fit and balance board to go with it so I could get a little fun exercise on bad weather days. I’ve loved the Wii and bought all kinds of games for it. In my opinion, it has paid for itself in entertainment value and was well worth the “blow money.” Fast forward a year. The balance board broke last week. It started thinking I was on it when I wasn’t and it wouldn’t stop telling me to get off. After trying every fix I could find on the Internet and calling Nintendo, I am forced to accept that the board is toast.

I have two options, both expensive: Buy a new board or package the old one up, send it to Nintendo and let them fix it (for a fee, since the board is out of warranty). Either option is going to cost money and the price difference, frankly, isn’t that great between the two. Briefly I gave some thought to just forgetting the whole thing and going board-less. One look around my game cabinet, however, took that option off the table. I now have too many games that require the board for play to just not have a board. If I go board-less, then half of my games become either unusable or restricted in the their play. In other words, I now need a balance board.

What was once a very frivolous want has now become a need. If I don’t do something about the board, the “value” of my Wii (to me) will decline. The investment I’ve made in games will be a waste. I either suck it up and pay $100 to solve the board problem, or I lose hundreds more in games that can no longer be played. I have cast my lot with Nintendo and now I “need” their products.

Certainly I could let the whole thing go. I could say to myself, “Well, it was a great year but now it’s come to an end.” I could sell the Wii console, sell my games and thus would not need a balance board. Technically, I can avoid spending this $100. It’s not a need in the sense that food or water is a need. However, I don’t consider that a realistic option (and many other people probably don’t, as well). If money were a major issue, certainly I’d go board-less, at least for a while, and maybe fix it later. But, having invested the money in the games and not being willing to give them all up at this point just to save $100, I need a new board.

It’s funny how what sometimes starts out as a want suddenly becomes a need. I have a friend who got an iPhone a couple of years ago. It was purely a toy for him, just something he really wanted. A regular phone would have met his needs just as well, but he wanted an iPhone. Fast forward a couple of years. He’s got tons of apps for the phone. He has accessories that work with it. He has files stored on it. He drops the phone and cracks the screen. Now he “needs” a new iPhone. To get another, cheaper kind of phone would mean losing his apps, having file compatibility issues, and having to re-buy accessories. His want has morphed into a need.

It happens with lots of other products and services, as well, but it seems to happen most often with consumer electronics. These things have so many accessories and add-ons that we buy over the years. You buy a DVD player as a want to play maybe one special movie or series you just had to have, yet five years later when the thing breaks you have a whole library of movies that require a player. Not replacing the player means losing your movie collection, thus you need a new player. The same is true for a Kindle or other eReader that you have outfitted with lots of books, an Mp3 player loaded with songs and movies, or a Tivo with a hard drive full of your favorite shows. To not replace these wants means losing even more invested money and time.

We tell people all the time in personal finance circles to stop spending on everything except needs when times get tough. Yet that dividing line between wants and needs can get awfully blurry sometimes. It’s hard to say just what someone can survive with and what they cannot. In most cases, many of these things can really be put aside until things turn around. You can probably wait to buy a new balance board, cell phone (maybe), or DVD player with few adverse affects. But some things, like Internet access (which used to be a want) may really be a need, now. Sometimes when thinking through your want vs. need list you have to think beyond the cost of the product and look at what other money might be wasted if you don’t replace the former “want.”

I could rant and rave about manufacturers who tie us into their products and make them indispensable in our lives and then reward us with cheap crap that breaks too soon, but that’s a whole other argument. My point is that when you buy something frivolous, you’d better be sure you can pay for a replacement or repair in case it breaks. You may think it won’t matter today (especially while it’s under warranty), but it just might a few years down the road when your frivolous gadget has become a big part of your life and you’ve invested hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting it with content and accessories. Your want has become a need and you need to make sure you can deal with that.

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11 Responses to Wants that Morph Into Needs

  1. joebossinge says:

    Thank goodness not every purchase doesn’t fall in this category. I will consider the potential pinning associated with new tech buys after reading this. It seems once the accessories surpass the value of the purchase a flip flop of which relies on which occurs.

    These games are great for mental stamina and keeping your reflexes in tune.

    The Iphone is an absolute essential! If anyone is on the fence about getting a smart phone which uses “apps” … GET ONE. You’ll not regret it, and wonder how you ever did without it.

  2. Monkey Mama says:

    This is why I think it is important to consider the ongoing costs of certain purchases. You point out things that aren’t obvious, but that can be thought through ahead of time.

    As far as the balance board, keep an eye out for a used one. Even if you have to buy a whole system (or a game) to get the board, you should be able to sell what you don’t need.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    I agree with Monkey Mama. You do have to consider ongoing costs and should budget accordingly. Luckily that DVD player that broke will probably cost you less than when you first purchased it. I think that is why so many people subscribe to Netflix or use Redbox. They have watched their VHS movies go extinct and now their regular DVDs are going to BluRay and maybe to 3D. People are also backing up things so they can just reload when the iPhone or iPod breaks. Usually the breakage is just in time to upgrade to that new system that just came out.

  4. Heather says:

    While I understand your strong urge to replace your balance board and the reasons you cited, this clearly outlines an issue the vast majority of people have with economic decision making. It is incredibly difficult to do, but realize that sunk costs are sunk. One should never consider what has already been spent when making a new decision. The only relevant information is future benefits/consequences. In this case, you can spend $100 for another year or so of entertainment (assuming nothing goes wrong with the console itself). Alternatively, you can forego that entertainment and sell your other equipment and games. What has already been spent is irrelevant, because it is done and in the past. So the question really is, how much is that year of entertainment worth to you? If it is worth more than the combined cost of the new board plus what you could make on the sale of the console and games, then replace the board.

  5. snafu says:

    Frankly, I feel that we’ve fallen to a new low in evaluating needs vs. wants. I sound like a luddite I know, but being plugged into music every waking moment is not a need. How many times have you played all those movies you bought? How many Wii’s remain silent after the initial 6-8 months of ‘new toy’ shine wears off? Same for gym membership or Zuma type activity.

    I still hate my cell phone that means you can reach me 24/7. The phone companies have reached their goal of charging not only for number of calls but talk time. Go over your plan and be prepared for pain in the pocketbook. With an iPhone I went from $25. landline to $80. monthly. When this contract ends I go back to pre paid cell.

    I see all the ‘convenience’ people ahead of me in line at the supermarket are buying. I hope they have shares in the chemical companies who make these unpronounceable additives/preservatives. For goodness sake, put a chicken in the oven, pour a glass of wine, cut up a few veggies as a salad or slip into the microwave.

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  7. blah says:

    Personally, I think your error here is buying products that are proprietary and thus cannot be easily replaced with just anything remotely similar. I could use any cell phone, even a go phone or other cheap phone I could find for super cheap or free even though I did choose to get a smartphone, I am not locked into it. Phones, however, are the worst example because they are the most proprietary of consumer electronics. For everything else you mentioned in this article could be replaced with a generic x86 computer and it wouldn’t even have to be that fast. I do everything you mentioned from video games to watching DVDs on my $200 Linux box. If you back up files, then theoretically, you could replace your computer were it to break, with a computer that was either very cheap or free. Since I pay nothing for my computer software since it is open source and free as in speech and as in beer, I really lose nothing if my computer breaks. As a matter of fact, I have so many spare parts I aquired for free, I
    could always build a replacement for free. mp3s can be stored on my used laptop I bought for $370, my $200 workstation, the 4 Gig mp3 player I paid $25 for brand new, or the cell phone I splurged on and paid $109 for, but don’t have to have. If my cell phone broke, I am not locked into a certain kind of replacement for it.
    I also try to buy cell phones that beyond basic phone service, don’t depend at all on the service provider. For instance, the one I splurged on has an independent GPS not an assisted GPS and it also has WiFi and so I don’t have a data plan. If you don’t want wants to turn into needs, you need to think about purchases differently and stay away from things that sucker you into depending on their specific product and more importantly, that can’t be replaced by free or cheaper alternatives without losing current investments in the other products and services you own that are associated with them.

  8. Reasonable says:

    We are considering upgrading from a PlayStation2 to a PlayStation3. The catch is, none of the PS2 games or even remote controls will work on the PS3. So we would “need” new everything. Elisabeth was right, you do need to budget for those ongoing costs.

    Funny how one purchase leads to the next. Well, it’s a little sad actually.

  9. Leah says:

    I think you’re confusing needs with things that you want but don’t want to pay for. Whatever tool/toy needs replacement is still a want, no matter how many other toys depend on it. It’s just that this time you begrudge the expense, and last time you didn’t. That doesn’t make it a need.

    I received an mp3 player as a gift. Despite not needing it, I used it a lot for two years – on my long commute by train, as my major source of news, and on all my car rides (my car only has a radio, no cd player). A couple of months ago, the mp3 player broke. Commercial radio in the car is annoying. My commutes are spent reading in silence. I have to go out of my way to catch the news.

    Is a new mp3 player a need? Not a chance! It’s a convenience and a pleasure and a want. I’ve got the money to pay for a new one, but I’d rather spend it on wants that I don’t begrudge than on convincing myself that I must use it to satisty some new “need”.

  10. I’ve never thought of being caught like this, yet we are. I agree with Heather though (or I’d like to train myself to agree) that sunk costs are sunk costs. Also agree with Leah that a want is a want, and our wants should be clearly recognized as such. Also, I think free trial periods help convince people their wants are really needs.

  11. 1th411 says:

    This reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode where the main character says, “They give you a thousand dollars a week, and they keep on giving you a thousand dollars a week until you can’t live on anything less.”

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