Wants vs. Needs

by Lori Sciame | May 23rd, 2011 | Money Saving Hints

As a child, we all had many wants – a new toy, a trip to the zoo, a puppy or kitten – and as adults, we still have wants, but they are many times influenced by slick messages from advertisers. In essence, companies try to trick us into wanting things we never even knew existed. (Most recently I found myself wanting the Sham Wow!)

But, if you want to become a person who has control over his or her shopping habits, it is imperative to shop with needs in mind. Here is a way to think about the concept of needs. Basically, we all need air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, and shelter from the weather. With those needs met, we then strive for safety and comfort. (Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to enter into a deep discussion concerning which needs are most important; the point I’m trying to make is that in order to stick to a shopping budget, think about satisfying basic needs first, then addressing your wants. It’s all about patience and discipline.

Consider the following case:

A college student receives $200 at the beginning of each month from his family for miscellaneous living expenses. Since his room and board are already paid for, his basic needs for food and shelter are already met. The young man has trouble budgeting money, and by mid-month, he always seems to be out of cash. What keeps getting in his way are his wants – clothes from “hip” stores, drinks during happy hour with friends, dinners out, concert tickets, etc.

The need-based answer to the problem:

As one learns how to better handle money, budgeting with needs in mind is helpful. For example, since the student has $200 to live on, he must prioritize spending. He has a place to stay, and food to eat and water to drink, so he needs to purchase personal care items and any medications first. Next, he needs to consider haircuts (unless he has a friend who can do the job for free). Since he is in school, he should place a high priority on the supplies he needs for class as well. Those are the true needs of a college student. After he purchases those items with the money allotted, he then can move on to satisfying his wants, such as an occasional concert or new clothes.

Victory over cunning advertisements, as well as the pressure in society to “keep up with the Kardashian’s” comes when one knows how to take care of his or her basic needs first.  After you learn how to control your spending with an emphasis on needs, it’s OK to sometimes give in to your wants.

No, I haven’t purchased a Sham Wow, but I do indulge myself now and again. And when I do make a purchase that satisfies a want – my heart’s desire – it feels like the well deserved reward it truly is.



  1. […] Among the articles published at WMG this week, we cover these topics throughout the channels.  For ideas on a pet that could round out your family and give your children an opportunity to learn how to care for a living creature, check out this article.  When it is time to do some shopping, consider what your wants and needs really are through some insight here. […]

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