I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want...

There are wants (might buy) and needs (must buy). But what about the things I don't actually need, but really, really want?

Paul Sakuma / AP / File
Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about pricing for the new Ipod Touch at a news conference in San Francisco, Sept. 1. Given how expensive they are, can you justify buying one? Even if you really, really, really want to?

I received an iPod Touch as a Christmas gift in 2008. Since then, I have used and absued the thing at a level perhaps beyond what Apple ever intended. I’ve used it as a constant pocket notebook. I’ve used it as a podcast and music player every time I go on a walk (usually several times a week). I also use it as a pedometer to help record my exercise. I’ve used it to check email and reply to it. I’ve used it to entertain my children and for music in the car on long car trips.

A few days ago, on a long walk across town, my long-used and long-abused iPod Touch finally bit the dust. I was holding it in my (slightly sweaty) hand and dropped it. When I picked it up, it wouldn’t boot. I took it home, called the Apple Store, and they offered to perform surgery on it. Before I took it in, I tried everything I could find online to fix it, to no avail. After examining it, the person at the Apple Store told me that the motherboard and the battery were both shot.

What’s next? Do I buy a replacement (getting 10% off by trading it in), do I find a very low-end mp3 player for something to listen to while I’m walking, or do I buy nothing at all?

Clearly, such an item is a “want” item. I will continue to survive just fine without such a device, as I had for many years before having it.

The real question is when does something you want elevate to the level of a worthwhile purchase?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question, and I think different people are going to come to different conclusions. When I’m thinking about such a non-essential purchase, I ask myself the following questions.

What is my financial situation? Am I having difficulty making ends meet? Are there high-interest outstanding debts that I should be paying down?

Do I know I’ll actually use this item a great deal? Have I used a similar item a lot in the past? Is this item a direct upgrade or replacement for something that’s in heavy use?

Do I have that much money available in my “free spending” account? By this, I’m referring to the fact that my wife and I each have small amounts of money we’ve each agreed that we can spend freely each month. Can I simply buy this item out of that “free spending” money? Is the item that urgent that I can’t wait for a while to replace it (assuming I don’t have enough “free spending” money)?

Is there a lower cost alternative to a direct replacement? Do I really only use a subset of features on the item, in which case a lower-cost alternative will do the trick?

After evaluating all of these questions, I came to a few conclusions about this potential purchase.

First, the thing I’m really going to miss is the ability to easily manage podcasts and listen to them while I walk. I listen to a fist full of podcasts and the thing I value most about my iPod Touch is that it helps me to listen to my unlistened ones easily and works with iTunes to manage all of those subscriptions. Not only can I get lost in the podcast while walking (helping me get into shape), but I learn a great deal from all of the podcasts I listen to. Sometimes, I do also listen to music (it can help me set a walking tempo), but I listen to many hours of podcasts a week on this device and that’s what I would miss without it.

Second, many of the other features are either relatively unimportant to me or are replaced by other things. I can carry a paper notebook in my pocket to handle notes. I have other things (like my laptop) to help entertain the kids in the car. I really don’t need any device for these things.

What’s my solution, then? I’m purchasing a lower-end mp3 player. I’m looking at a lot of options at the moment before I settle on one. Some of the options I’m considering include a SanDisk Sansa 2GB ($40; a lower-end choice), a Sony Digital Walkman ($75, a more feature-rich choice), and even an iPod Nano ($130, has every feature related to walking and listening I could think of).

While I haven’t made a firm choice there, I have decided not to replace the iPod Touch, which in itself will save me hundreds compared to any of the above choices.

It all comes down to understanding the degrees of importance of the things you want.

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