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.