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Financial Lesson Learned From “Half Broke Horses”

May 10, 2011 · 39 comments

in Life, Personal Finance

I recently read the book “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls (which is a book I highly recommend).

Half Broke Horses:  A Summary – But I Am Not Ruining The Book For You!

The book is about Lily Casey, who raises her family in various places in the southwest, mostly on ranches.  The book is ‘spoken’  in the first person by Lily, although she was actually long dead when the book was written.  The author is actually the granddaughter of Lily Casey, and wrote the book based on stories told to her by both Lily and her mother, Rosemary Walls.   The book is based in truth, but some creative liberties needed to be taken to fill in gaps. Therefore, the book is technically considered a work of fiction.

The book takes place over many years, including The Great Depression and The Great War (as it is called in the book).   Throughout the ‘biography’, Lily Casey grows up, marries, and experiences a variety of financial circumstances.  At one point, Lily even has indoor plumbing, complete with a toilet!  However, as life events change, her family finds themselves looking once again for work and a home.   The Casey family is reduced to the most basic of accommodations, and Lily is forced to use an outhouse once again.

Basic Finance From Half Broke Horses:  Wants Vs Needs

Now, you would expect that a person in such a situation would be angry and bitter.  Instead, Lily accepted her circumstances and actually stated that indoor plumbing was more a want than a need, and that she was just fine with having to use an outhouse again.

That thought process just smacked me right in the head.   Who could possibly consider indoor plumbing a want and not a need??

It made me think about my own life.  There are so many things I have now that were once a want, and I now deem a need.  For example, I consider a texting plan a need to a degree because it is an easy way to keep in touch with my kids.  Therefore, the cost is justified because it makes life easier.  However, do I NEED a texting plan?  Heck no, I want a texting plan.

The Evolution of Wants Into Needs

The list of wants that are truly needs could go on and on.  What may be a want for one person could be a need for someone else, based on the financial situation (or other circumstance) of each individual.  Growing up, air conditioning in the car was a want.  However, I consider air conditioning a need in any vehicle I purchase now.  I truly think so many things have evolved into ‘needs’ over the years that truly are ‘wants’.  We all lived for years without cell phones, internet access, Ipods, big screen TVs, and more.  Now, most of those items are the first thing people will buy when they hit adulthood, if not sooner.

Take Action and Think About Each Purchase You Make

I wish that we all could reset ourselves and get a new perspective on what is truly important.  So many people spend money on cars, homes, and electronics that they really can’t afford.  Many of these items are purchased because it is expected, it is just what you do.  However, if people stepped back and really got back down to basics, I bet so many things would be left on the shelf instead of ending up in shopping bags.

Next time you are on the fence about making a purchase, really, really think about it.  Do you truly NEED that item?  Is there a substitute that is less expensive?  Must you have that item right this minute?  Most importantly, if you lost your job, would you still be buying that item?

What do you think?  Have any of your wants evolved into needs over time?

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos May 10, 2011 at 6:53 am

Nice sentiment to consider, if we were suddenly unemployed would we still make that buying decision?
I think consumer spending would take an immediate nosedive if we all followed this rule.


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

101- very idealistic to expect people to really evaluate their spending, but it would be a wonderful thing. All that some people know is instant gratification, and it is so sad.


Nicole May 10, 2011 at 7:47 am

We just broke a heat record from 1937 yesterday. I need my a/c. I wonder if people died from heat stroke back then.


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Nicole, I loved the book Half Broke Horses because it gave an entirely new perspective on how people dealt with what nature sent them. It was a perspective I will most likely never know, and I love learning about other ways of life.

I am guessing people in 1937 had other ways to deal with the heat besides hunkering down in the house like we do now with our AC.


Nicole May 10, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I bet some folks just up and died too.


Kris May 12, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Oh I am sure they did. I just think we are less tolerant of just about everything nowadays than people were in the past.


Niki May 10, 2011 at 7:49 am

Definitely. My laptop. If it broke tomorrow, I would be on the search for a new one. I don’t work from home and we have desktops, but I would say that I need it. Which in reality is not the case.
Dang, I really hope my laptop doesn’t breakdown.


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Niki, I am in the same boat as you. I had to buy two new laptops last year. Well I didn’t have to, but I did buy them. My kids need computers for homework, and I needed one for blogging in my own mind. (Plus, with 5 people, it is hard to get by with just one computer during the school year.)

Take care of that laptop. I have had awful luck!


Moneycone May 10, 2011 at 8:00 am

I call it the ‘need’ creep! If too many of my ‘wants’ become ‘needs’, I have a problem!


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm

MC- I think the need creep has attacked many people. Look how young kids have phone and Ipods as just a part of life. These things aren’t considered something to strive for and earn, rather it is just something you get. How far will it go I wonder?


krantcents May 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm

It is funny, I never think about wants and needs! If I want it, I must need it, however my wants and needs are reasonable and I can afford them. If I cannot, I won’t buy them. For example, I have a 16 year old car with A/C, but I only use A/C on the hottest of days. I live in southern California, A/C is important. My wants and needs are blurred, but constrained by sensible spending.


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Krant, I don’t really think about wants and needs either. However, I am going to very soon. I would love to sit down and really, really think about what we really need and see what happens.


Mr. Money Mustache May 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

So true, so true. As a fellow frugality blogger who is trying to make my fellow citizens richer, It annoys me quite a bit when people speak of really luxury-oriented things as needs.

But the good news is, here in the US, we are so rich that we can still afford all of the true needs and plenty of wants to add some fun to our lives. Even as a minimum wage worker in high school, I was always well above the basic needs level. So an average income person can still end up saving about 75% of his income by spending on ALL of his wants and just the very most useful and fun of his needs. And then retire at age 30 🙂


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Money Mustache- (love the name by the way)
I need to follow your guidelines if I can find a way to put away 75 percent of my income and retire 13 years ago! 🙂


First Gen American May 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

You know, I was just thinking the other day about what enabled me to live on peanuts when I was in college and these are the things that stood out:
-No cellphone, no internet, no computer (ie, limited electronics service fees and/or replacement costs)
-Much much lower health care costs, no life insurance.
-Eating at work for free or a crazy discount.
-No drycleaning costs, clothing from thrift stores, lower utility bills because we lived in a tiny apartment.

There are many many things that I have/maintain now that wasn’t remotely considered a necessity by the early 1990’s standard. Sure, some people had those car phones that you carried around in a bag, but most people didn’t.

I often wonder what would be easy to cut back on if we went down to one salary.


Kris May 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm

First Gen, I actually had one of those bag phones! My husband wanted me to have one because my job was 45 minutes from home and he was nervous about flat tires or whatever happening.

There are SO MANY things I could eliminate. I do plan to sit down someday soon and decide what should go and what should stay.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager May 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I definitely believe cell phones have turned from a want to a need in society. Seems like everyone “needs” one for one reason or another.


Squirrelers May 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I totally try to think about wants vs needs, and discern between the two. Of course, I don’t always follow through on that (example: my smartphone), but as long as I’m thinking about it and follow through a signficant amount of time, it’s better than the alternative of not even considering it.

Actually, this topic is one I often discuss on my own blog and believe it’s worth considering by all who want to improve their finances.


Kris May 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Squirreler- I am thinking about a smartphone now too, but only because I saw a group of people using theirs to play Scrabble against each other and it looked fun!


Little House May 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm

This is so true. Just yesterday, my husband told me he “needed” to purchase these specially ordered sunglasses because he really needed sunglasses. Since the price is a little higher than just any old pair of sunglasses, I told him he had to wait a couple of weeks. Boy, you’d have think I told him he couldn’t breathe! All of a sudden these special sunglasses have gone from a “want” to a “need!” I’m sure I’m just as guilty as saying I “need” something that I really just “want”, but I know that if I had to live with much less, I could do it. 😉


Kris May 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

That is a funny story little house. His ‘want’ sure transformed quickly.

Does he have the glasses yet?


Jacq May 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Call me crazy – why yes, I am crazy – but when I moved to Houston, I brought my little jeep down that didn’t have A/C. It wasn’t such a big deal. We just went to the swimming pool every night too since I didn’t like having A/C on in the apartment (it makes me feel all stuffy).

Hey Kris, you were asking on my site about some advice on writing from inspiration – you might like this post:


Kris May 12, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Thanks for the link Jacq, I will definitely check it out.

I can’t imagine being in Houston without A/C. I would cry.


Jackie May 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm

The internet at one time was considered a want but as time has passed we now consider it a need. My husband attends an online college, I handle most of the finances online and the schools require the children to do more and more of thier work online. In fact our school now provides the students with thier own laptop through the school year instead of traditional school books and they turn their homework in via email instead of traditional pen and paper. On the thought of Ac, I think that would depend also on where one lives. In my location I would categorize it as a want and heat as a need but my mother who lives on the gulf coast considers Ac a need and heat a want. To me the needs vs wants changes not only with the perspective of the individual but also thier location.


Kris May 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I need AC and heat! I am so crabby when I am either hot or cold that maybe it is a need for my family that I am kept comfortable.

I totally agree that some things can start as a want, and end up as a need. That is how I am with home phone service. Everyone asks why I don’t ditch it, but I need it for conference calls at work and such. Using a cell for that would be miserable.


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