The Insatiability of Human Wants: Why Money is Never Enough

The insatiability of human wants: Why money is never enough

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fact that no matter how much money people have, it never seems to be enough to meet all their wants. If you don’t have enough money to meet your basic needs (i.e., essential things you need to survive), then there is an obvious problem. But it is a different kind of problem when you have enough money to cover your basic needs, and yet you are still not able to meet your wants (i.e., things you desire to have, even if you can live without them).

I took a trip down memory lane to when I started my first full-time job. I was so happy when I found out how much my starting salary would be. It didn’t take long until the money was no longer enough to satisfy my wants. Within a few months, I got a 20% salary increase. Surely, the money should have been enough then. But it still wasn’t. A couple of months down the line, I got a promotion, and I started receiving double my starting salary. Yet somehow, it still wasn’t enough.

It is difficult to compare my financial position now to where I was three years ago, because I am now in a different country, and you have to take into account inflation, cost of living differences, exchange rate differences, and so on. But even with all of these, I have no doubt that I make significantly more money now than I used to when I had my first job. Yet, it’s still not enough to satisfy all my wants.

I have certainly not reached where I want to be financially, but it recently dawned on me that I cannot even foresee a future in which I will be earning enough money to satisfy all my wants. I remember when I watched Sugar Rush. In the movie, the Sugar sisters stumbled upon $800,000. They started rejoicing that they were suddenly rich. They moved into a fancy house, bought designer clothes, bought flashy cars, and even started looking to relocate to the UK. And I was just thinking, after paying for all these things, how much would actually be left from the $800,000?

It’s the same thing in real life. When you start making more money, you suddenly feel richer, and you want to splurge. But no matter how much the money is, it likely won’t be enough to meet all your wants. The more money you have, the more your list of wants grows. Maybe you’ll want to buy some diamond earrings, or you’ll want to get a crocodile tote bag from Gucci. Maybe you’ll want to buy a Ferrari, or you’ll want to move into an expansive mansion. The list goes on. Once you deduct the cost of all these things, how much is left for your daily essentials?

So, I have come to the conclusion that money will never be enough. And it is clear to me that the root of why money is never enough is capitalism. Granted, other factors, such as social pressure, cultural expectations, and individual psychology, also play a role. But I would argue that each of these factors is still heightened by the capitalist system, with its emphasis on consumption and wealth accumulation. As long as we continue to live in a capitalist society, there will always be something you want that you don’t currently have. Wasn’t it Burna Boy who recently bought a $1-million chain? No wonder he sang, “Dangote still dey find money. Who I be wey I no go find money?”

As long as we continue to live in a capitalist society, there will always be something you want that you don’t currently have.

It’s the basic problem of economics I learned way back in secondary school: human wants are unlimited, but resources are limited. In other words, human wants are insatiable, and resources are too scarce to meet them. In a capitalist society, the insatiability of human wants is heightened, because there is always an incentive to consume more and pursue material possessions. This is why there has been advocacy for alternative economic systems that are more equitable and sustainable. But this blog post is not aimed at advocating for a new economic system (frankly, I’m still trying to decide whether or not I believe in capitalism). I am more interested in understanding how to thrive in a materialistic society such as ours. This is where financial discipline comes in.

A useful piece of financial advice is that if you get a salary increase, just pretend that you are still earning the same amount and don’t increase your expenses. You will be amazed at how much money you will amass. But, of course, this is easier said than done. A more realistic piece of advice is to divide your income into at least three strands: (a) one for your needs, (b) one for your wants, and (c) one for your savings and investments. Any material thing you want – diamond earrings, for example – should come from (b). Once you start dividing your income like this, you’ll realise that you have much less money to throw around than you think.

What I find quite helpful is using saving vaults. There is something about seeing money in your account that makes you want to spend. Even though you know that part of your income is meant for rent and food, you will still feel like you have more money to throw around than you actually do. But when you remove the money from your account and put it in a saving vault, then you can clearly see how much is left for you to spend.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to accept that money will never be enough. But once you start earning enough to meet your basic needs (rent, food, transportation, etc.), there is no reason why you cannot live a comfortable life. Hopefully, we can learn to have enough financial discipline to be able to meet not only our needs but also a significant chunk of our wants.

More in this series on class inequality:

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