Needs or Wants


Those who give financial advice often try to get the people they are advising to distinguish between their needs and their wants. Similarly, when the topic of debt was discussed, I would give my students a list of about 50 items and have them mark whether they considered them needs or not. I don’t know if that exercise had a positive, long-term impact on their spending behaviors. However, the discussions that followed this exercise revealed the values that my students held. And on the occasions that I had couples taking this course or attending one of my workshops, it was interesting to watch them “argue,” often passionately, about whether an item, such as season tickets, was really a need.

What I learned from these exercises was that one person’s wants may be another person’s needs, and over time needs and wants can change. For example, when cell phone technology was first introduced to consumers, most people considered cell phones a luxury, not a need. At that time, people generally had no idea of the impact that cell phones would have on all facets of their lives or how “needed” they would become.

Those needs or wants discussions did lead me to develop a set of questions, titled Focus on Spending, to help my students consider the impact of their spending. (I’ll present those questions in an upcoming posting.)

With needs and wants regularly changing, my “I-want-things-to-stay-the-same” feelings were threatened so I asked myself if there were any constant needs . . . and they do exist . . . . . basic survival needs. And a topic for another day.

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