Before we once again revisit the issue of needs versus wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences, I want to share with you two experiences that I recently had in Chicago when we were there for our nephew’s wedding.

The first one I want to share, because it is just funny. It has no financial implications, unless you are a pizza chain. On one of the expressways there is a billboard, advertising for one of the pizza chains. It reads, “Pizza. That’s how you know that God loves you.”

Second, we have often discussed, from a financial perspective, how important it is to start saving early, and appropriately, depending upon your individual financial goals, if you want to have a retirement with dignity, especially since Americans are living longer. However, it is also important in retirement, from a quality of life perspective, to be active, to do what you can to stay healthy, and to feel that you are making a difference and are still “relevant.” There are any number of ways for people to feel that they are making a difference and are still relevant, including volunteering, and for some people, working part- or full-time, but sometimes in a different area than the one they worked in before retiring.

With that background in mind, if there is such a thing as a “dream job in retirement,” I found mine in Chicago. You can rent kayaks on the Chicago River. With the amazing architecture along the river in downtown Chicago, which we could see from our hotel room, and its wonderful Riverwalk, it
is a great experience. I rented from Urban Kayaks-Chicago. Here is the dream job. It has an employee with a megaphone, who all day rides up and down the river on a jet ski, checking on the kayakers to make sure that they are safe, and that they follow the rules of the river, given the many tour boats, water taxis, and private boats on the river. Now I could do that job, and, since I am retired, I would even do it for free, or, if forced to, I would pay them to do it.

I want to return now to the issue of “wants” in our hyper-consumer, keeping up with the Joneses society. By the way, according to Wikipedia, “The phrase originates with the comic strip 'Keeping Up with the Joneses,' created by Arthur R. "Pop" Momand in 1913. The strip ran until 1940 in The New York World and various other newspapers. The strip depicts the social climbing McGinis family, who struggle to "keep up" with their neighbors, the Joneses of the title. The Joneses were unseen characters throughout the strip's run, often spoken of but never shown. The idiom "keeping up with the Joneses" has remained popular long after the strip's end.

I learned about what may have been one of the first efforts to teach Americans to shop for wants, and not just their needs, on a tour at Ganondagan. It is the National and New York Historic site in Victor, New York, where you can learn about Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) history and culture. I have not done any follow-up research on this, so here is the essence of the story, as I remember it.

In about 1535, the French began trading with the Mohawk, one of the Iroquois Nations. The Europeans were interested in furs, primarily beaver furs. Since the Iroquois had no currency, the medium of exchange became a prized beaver fur. There were specific things that the French traders would exchange for a beaver fur, for example, two metal axes, eight metal knives, or a yard of wool. In addition, other furs had a beaver fur equivalent. For example, three muskrat furs might be the equivalent of one beaver fur.

A problem arose, however, because the Iroquois were only about needs, not wants. So a Native American might say that he only “needed” one axe, or four knives, and it doesn’t appear that there was the equivalent of a store credit, where he could come back in the spring, for example, and have a balance for the next round of trading.

As a result, the traders had to “teach” the Iroquois about wants. Don’t you want one of these nice metal pots, some rum, or another trade good to go along with your one axe or four knives for that beaver fur, even though you don’t really “need” them?

So for the next 480 years, retailers and advertisers have perfected their techniques, and have continued to “teach” Americans about what we should “want” and have, so that we can “keep up.”

In the next column, one result, at least in part, of those wants that we accumulate — the increase in the number of storage units.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at