Needs vs. Wants

You may not give a great deal of thought to needs vs. wants, but hearing things like “I need a new car” when the person saying it is driving a perfectly serviceable car bugs me.

Don’t get me wrong — I find nothing wrong with buying new things, even big stuff like a new car. (Although I prefer used cars myself.) What irritates me is that the line between needs vs. wants gets crossed so casually. They don’t need a new whatever. They want a new whatever. There’s a big difference.

It’s ok to have wants, too

Believe me, I’ve wanted to buy some pretty expensive things (like a trip to Antarctica) and done so. But I knew that was a very strong desire, and not a need.

Of course, the difference between the two is not always as obvious as it was in that case.

The problem…

The problem with saying that you “need” something or that you “have to” buy something when you really don’t, is that your brain usually believes the things it hears.

And when you believe that you need to buy something that you truly only want or that you could borrow, it’s much easier to make choices that can be less than good-for-you in the long run.

The way you think matters

It’s subtle, but the way you think about wants and needs can have a big impact. Just being aware that buying the item in question is optional can make you stop and think. Maybe you’ll still decide to buy it — which can be just fine if it works for your situation — but at least you’ll have consciously decided to do so instead of fooling yourself into believing that a want is a need.

Of course, we’re all going to slip now and then and say things like “Ugh I need a new computer!” when what we really mean is “This computer is so slow that I want to scream and throw it out the window!”.

Consider this

But truly making an effort to change the way you think and talk about the things you’re considering buying can have a huge positive impact on your finances. And that makes it easier to get both the things you want and the things you need — while staying in good financial shape in the process.


  • I think that the biggest reason many people get into money trouble is by confusing the two, and turning wants into needs, or at least acting as if they were such.

  • I really wanted a cheeseburger yesterday but could have eaten leftovers. The cheesburger won and I that’s $4.00 tht didn’t go towards debt repayment.