B脫 | B脫 FIELDWORK

Discretionary vs Essential Spending

By Gemma Tortella, Digital Anthropologist | February 17th 2020

In Gemma Tortella's third article for us, she discusses the difference between wants and needs and why they are both relative and context specific.

One of the first things you need to do when you've downloaded B贸 is to work out what your bills are, things like rent or mortgage, transport and council tax. This is opposed to your discretionary or everyday spending, i.e. what you have left-over and you might use for buying groceries, drinks on the weekend, holidays etc.

Understanding wants and needs

Anthropology is particularly useful for analysing the categories we use to think with, categories which in this case we might describe as 'wants' and 'needs'. What anthropologists discover is that often a category like 'new' or 'old', 'want' or 'need' only makes sense within a particular context and are not innate properties of the things we're talking about. We all need food for example but once we've agreed that, what kinds of food we need, is totally wide open to interpretation. I realise, I'm getting a bit esoteric here but what I'm trying to convey is that when someone says 'this is something I need' as an anthropologist we want to know why they need it and not just assume we know.

Anthropology is particularly useful for analysing the categories we use to think with, categories which in this case we might describe as 'wants' and 'needs'. What anthropologists discover is that often a category like 'new' or 'old', 'want' or 'need' only makes sense within a particular context and are not innate properties of the things we're talking about.

Knowing your needs

For example, we might all need electricity, but we don't necessarily need to pay what we pay for it nor use a set amount. That's why we have energy switching services and energy-saving tips. Jenny, one of my participants in Worthing worked in some of the poorest areas and told me the story of visiting one of her clients to deliver a Christmas hamper. Her client was a young single mum with a baby, living in a bedsit with a bed and a TV and one chair - no table, no rug, no curtains. Could we say she has what she needs? How do we decide? Jenny told me she got very annoyed with people complaining that people on benefits still have flat-screen TVs and cigarettes because she felt that they didn't really see how those with very little money actually live.

Is cake an essential?

Similarly, another participant had just baked a cake for a friend of hers. Her own finances were very tight but her friend has dietary requirements that meant she couldn't use standard ingredients. She used maple syrup instead of sugar, gluten-free flour and very good quality chocolate with no additives and very little sugar. The cake ended up costing her about 拢12 to bake, rather than the 拢3 a cake might normally cost to bake yourself. Did she need to do this? Is cake essential?

How we work out what is essential is very much informed by where we live and how we've been brought up. Cake, for example, could easily be seen as an indulgence, nobody needs cake. However, when someone is getting married or a child is having a birthday celebration, in the UK, not having a cake would be considered socially unacceptable - cake is essential. For my participants in Worthing, their wider values and beliefs help them decide what they consider essential and the answer isn't always obvious.

Join B贸 in minutes

You must be 18 or over and a UK tax resident to be eligible for a B贸 account. You鈥檒l also need an iPhone on iOS 10 (or later) or an Android phone with 6.0 Marshmallow or above.

Get the app

B贸 is part of National Westminster Bank Plc (鈥淣atWest鈥), registered in England and Wales (Registered Number 929027). Registered Office: 250 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4AA. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. NatWest is entered on the Financial Services Register and its Register number is 121878. The Financial Services Register can be accessed at www.fca.org.uk/register. NatWest's registered VAT number is GB 243852752.

B贸 is protected by The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). Read more here.

* If you have accounts with B贸 and NatWest, the maximum you would be able to claim across all accounts combined is 拢85,000.

Photo credit: All our lovely shots come from unsplash.com. Thanks guys!