The Difference Between Needs and Wants

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needs versus wantsMy pastor has been doing a mini-series on stewardship and personal finance the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it was very practical, but the final week was more about how our hearts and personal tastes dictate how generous we are and how that affects the choices we make with our money. When you boil it down, making a financial decision with our money comes down to needing something versus wanting something. There is sometimes a very fine line and sometimes it’s very obvious, but one thing is for sure: we all have different opinions on what is a need and what is a want.

Many people might agree that clothing is a need, but I bet very few would agree on the place where you buy that clothing constitutes a need or a want. My pastor actually said, “I’ll give someone a million dollars (he doesn’t have it, but just to make a point, he threw it out there) if anyone can find 8 different people that all agree on the essence of a need or a want.” It’s pretty obvious that food is a need, but it’s not very obvious whether or not buying organic food from Whole Foods is a need.

So, what is a Need?

I define a need as anything that you can’t physically live without to have a safe and secure life. Shelter, basic utilities, clothing, food, and transportation are all basic needs. Again, I think we’d all agree on this part. I think we’d also all agree that paying for cable would fall under the “want” category. But, issues arise within these “needs” categories where you’ll find a lot of disagreement among people.

How Much Is Too Much?

A good example of debating over “how much is too much” is the size of a house. How much is too much house? There’s obviously no right or wrong answer to that question, but again, it all comes down to your heart. We build these huge castles for ourselves and a couple of kids, and we only end up using half of the house. There’s nothing wrong with having the means to pay for a big house and doing so, but is it a need? It’s probably not, unless you’re the Duggars and you have 19 kids. I recently saw a young couple with one infant. I looked at their driveway and they had a Chevy Avalanche and a Ford Expedition. Maybe they were planning on having a big family someday, but most people would agree that they didn’t “need” those huge cars. They aren’t doing anything wrong by having them if they can afford them, but they definitely don’t need those cars to meet their transportation needs.

The Most Effective Way To Build Wealth

Building wealth comes down to identifying needs and wants and delaying those wants until you can truly afford them. You may need a house for your family, but you probably don’t need a 4,000 square foot house. Delaying that want for a big house with a gourmet kitchen, outdoor fireplace, pool, and 3-car garage is one of the big keys to building wealth. My personal vice is gadgets. I am obsessed with having the latest technology from computers, to LCD TVs, to home audio systems. I want it all. But, for the most part, I delay a lot of my wants, because I know that getting out of debt is more important, and I’ll have more money to purchase my wants later on. If you can master this one self discipline of delaying the immediate satisfaction of buying your wants to accomplish your other financial goals, you’ll end up a very wealthy individual in your retirement years.

Knowing That Other People’s Needs Aren’t Being Met

If you struggle with spending and you think that buying clothes from Neiman Marcus is fine because clothing is a “need,” then here’s a solution to your problem. Whenever you find yourself thinking about something that you want, think about all of the children in the world that aren’t getting their needs met at this moment. It’s not my intention to sound like one of those “sponsor a child” TV commercials and give you a huge guilt trip, but it’s simply the reality. Whether we like it or not, there are millions of people every day, including children, that aren’t getting their basic needs met. And the more that we delay purchasing our wants, the more money we’ll have to give generously to those that need basic utilities, shelter, clothing, and food. In this regard, delaying your wants not only helps you get out of debt, but also affords you the opportunity to tithe even while trying to get out of debt., which will drastically improve the lives of others and make you feel like you’re truly making a difference. And I guarantee that people who need that stuff aren’t looking at who the designer is on the clothing tag.

Categories: Financial Advice, Frugality, Giving, Lifestyle, Spending and Saving

  • Mary

    The problem is people go for wants and end up in debt big time-Great post!

  • Paul Williams

    I think as Christians we should even be careful about our wants. When we pursue our wants outside of God’s will are we truly honoring Him? I think too many of us have bought into the materialism and consumerism of this world. We neglect God’s clear call to live a life of generosity, love, simplicity, and contentment. I’m not saying this as though I’ve fully achieved it either, but God is opening my eyes to how many of my “wants” really come from following the patterns of this world instead of His will.

    It’s also not a matter of laying a guilt trip when we talk about sacrificing our wants to meet the needs of others. If we only give what is easy to give, is that truly love? How is that any different from what someone would do who doesn’t profess to follow Christ?

  • laura m.

    Yes, many live beyond their means. Some things people can do in their communities- because your local area comes first; buy extra food for the food bank; go thru your clothes and stuff, furniture, good used toys, etc. and donate them to the Sal. Army, local rescue mission, etc. Many group homes (girls, boys, handicapped, etc) can use kitchen items, sheets, towels, clothing, etc. Another thought: people should only have children that they can afford to raise; the taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize others for irresponsibility. We are taxed too much, and giving has gone down. But many can clean out, downsize and donate. Laura