Manage Your Wants

What's the difference between a need and a want? At the grocery store, a need is buying milk, bread and other food staples. A want is getting soda, corn chips and snack cakes. In recreational aviation, a need is something required to meet your flying goals and your budget. A want is not required but desired.

For most of us recreational pilots, airplanes really aren't needs. They are wants. But one benefit to working hard through life is to be able to afford some of the things we want. However, once we own a plane, we cannot skimp on its needs.

The key to selecting which wants to fund lies in first defining their value to us. Everything costs something. Buying a faster aircraft has a price tag. Moving across the country for a new job also has economic, relational and emotional costs. Again, everything costs something. Value means getting benefits that are worth more to you than the costs. If a $50K aircraft will bring your life greater benefits than that money in the bank or invested in something else, then it has a value greater than the cost. If owning and flying a $50K airplane means you're going to have to sell other valuable assets, take a second job and miss out on some other priceless things in life, then maybe it doesn't have sufficient value to you. Value is as subjective as is setting a flying budget.

This seemingly is common sense. But we have all gotten over our heads at some point trying to define the difference between need and want – and assessing value. So a frugal pilot periodically reviews flying goals and plans looking for what will offer the best value: benefits greater than the cost. By looking at each purchase, upgrade, training and other aviation transactions as an opportunity to seek the best value, we can fund more fun flying.

Let's talk about how safety fits into the aviation equation. Once we buy a plane and/or get a license, safety is a necessary part of flying. It's a need. Flying may or may not be a personal need for you (though my guess is: yes), but once the decision to fly is made, safety is as critical as fuel. You don't want to just fly an airplane, you want a safe airplane. Frugal pilots aren't cheap or unsafe; they seek value for every dollar spent. That means safety is a vital need. For example, replacing worn tires comes before an instrument or interior upgrade. Finish that annual inspection before shopping for goodies. Spend some money on mountain aviation training before planning a long trip over a mountain range.

Frugal pilots can get more things on their wants list by shopping for value. Rather than just writing a check, they do a little research first to make sure that value is greater than price. Here are some examples:

Keep a wish list at your favorite airplane parts supplier's website and make purchases on long-term needs when the total or a special promotion offers free shipping.

Ask your pilot friends for recommendations on services, parts, medical exams, fuel and anything else you buy to fly.

Use the power of the Internet to search for recommendations and pricing.

If possible, delay large purchases for a few weeks or even months to analyze whether it will be a need or an impulse buy.

If you are upgrading instruments or other parts, resell the replaced parts (in good working order) through Trade-a-Plane, eBay, aviation clubs or to local pilots.

Ask your favorite mechanic if you can assist with the annual inspection and any necessary repairs. Even simple jobs like removing the interior and inspection plates can save the mechanic time and your money – and teach you more about your aircraft. (More on this topic in the next column.)

If you rent your wings, ask about prepayment discounts. Buying blocks of rental time can save you money.

The bottom line here is value: getting more than you pay for. It works for buying a house, shopping for groceries or flying an airplane. It's what makes you a frugal pilot.


Pilot Cave: noun:  A dedicated area of a hangar, garage or house where a pilot can be alone with an airplane and/or dreams of flight or socialize with other pilots.