Wants Vs. Needs

By night, I write about and share my budgeting and personal finance journey. By day, I’m a Grade 7 teacher who recently had the “Wants Vs. Needs” debate with my students as part of a Geography lesson. I’m amazed at the number of students who claimed that their PlayStation 4 is indeed a need that they absolutely could not live without.

It seemed ridiculous to me as I tried to convince them that although they would not like to live without these items (tablets, laptops, and TVs also made their list), they would in fact LIVE if those items were to be taken away from them.

Wants vs. Needs


But if I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I too have been guilty of blurring the line between what is a want and what is a need, and blurring that line has lead to overspending throughout my adult life. I could step into Target and within five minutes find ten things I didn’t even know I “needed”.

Part of breaking my bad spending habit was to truly define what in fact are my needs vs. my wants.

Defining Your Needs

After a solid half hour of debate, I finally convinced my Grade 7 class that a need is something that is required to survive and live somewhat comfortably:

  • Shelter (no mansions required)needs
  • Food (Fillet mignon every night for dinner doesn’t count)
  • Clothing (just not those $200 basketball sneakers)
  • Basic Furnishings (one TV is fine, having more TVs than people might be overkill)
  • Access to some form of transportation (including comfortable shoes if your main way of getting around is to walk)
  • Basic hygiene and personal care products (including access to medicine)


We could all agree then that anything above and beyond these needs could be classified as wants, and there is nothing wrong with wants, as long as you can afford them and you’re not putting them before your needs.

Once I had a solid definition of what in fact a need is, I found that I became much more content with what I have and the list of what I “needed” became much shorter. I also realized that a lot of those things that I thought I needed have simply become stuff. Luckily Ryan has already written about the purpose of stuff and the questions I need to ask myself as I begin the daunting task of decluttering in an attempt to simplify.

Your Turn! 

  • What item do you now realize was a want that felt like a need at the time (Hint: Mine may have been a red pair of heels)
  1. The most amazing part is when I got rid of all those clothes and shoes. Now as a minimalist, I have 3 functional pairs of shoes. Boots for winter, sandals for summer, and one pair of sturdy dress shoes. That is it. I have 2 dresses, one for winter and one for summer. Most of the time I wear comfortable pants and tops. Now my daughter and I can share a 2 foot closet with plenty of room to spare.

  2. What does a person need to know? How to grow food? How to repair the AC? How to select a person to be your friend or spouse? How to learn? How to know when a person is telling us the truth? How to be happy?

  3. i agree with all you wrote about need vs. want. and am rather disturbed at what a foreign idea need vs. want is. i would challenge you however or whether a TV is a need or a want. i would perhaps put TV in the same category as computer or books – things we want to have as distractions or hobbies. they’re not really NEEDS.

    • But Jacqueline, I would literally die without books!

  4. Great article. Sad that so many of today’s kids (and adults too) believe that if they want something…by all means they must need it. Couple that with the entitlement mentality, and it is easy to understand the financial mess we have brought on ourselves and our descendants.

    I can (and do) live happily w/o a TV, but a radio is generally always nearby.

    My Leatherman Tool though is my want that has evolved into a need. A rare moment when it is not being carried on my belt. Often use it 3X a day.

    Angela, I enjoy your writing style!

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