Children’s Needs Versus Wants

— Written By Shirley Rush and last updated by
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Children must learn to distinguish between needs and wants. When they learn to do this, it becomes easier to budget money and they learn about priorities. Everyone has the same basic needs but how we meet those needs is different.

The relationship between needs and wants is an important concept for children to understand. Needs are things that we must have in order to survive – things we truly can’t be without. Wants, on the other hand, are things that we would like to have, but that are not necessary for survival. Sometimes wants are confused with needs.

Some needs and wants don’t cost any money at all. We all need air but we don’t have to pay for it. Likewise, we all need exercise to be healthy and we can run around outside for free. Many needs and wants, however, cost money.

Needs = things that we need to survive
Wants = things that we would like to have

Some needs include:

  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Transportation
  • Toiletry items
  • Basic utilities (e.g., heat, water)

Some wants include:

  • Cell phones
  • Electronics (e.g., iPad, iPod)
  • Movies
  • Television
  • Toys
  • Large House
  • Expensive Vehicle

Most people have jobs to earn money so they can pay for the things they need and some of the things they want. It is good for children to understand what a budget is all about. A budget will help make the best use of income, no matter how large or small it is. Wise buying as part of family money management is stressed because children, especially teens are known to have an impact on consumer sales.

Sometimes needs and wants can get a bit tricky. Parents use a car in order to drive children to school, get to work, go to the grocery store, etc. In most cases, people need a car. But, in many cases, people like to have a car that is bigger or more expensive than what they really need. So even though a car is a need, the car that many people choose is actually a want. The extra money spent on the larger or more luxurious car is money that could have been saved or spent on something else. So even as adults we struggle with our needs and wants.

Food is another example. We all need nutritious food in order to grow and be healthy. We need to eat protein, fruits and vegetables to get the energy, vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. We also need to drink lots of liquids to stay alive. But do we need ice cream, sodas, cookies or fast food? Even though we need food and water to survive, we do not need to always spend money on lots of sweets or fast food.

Needs and wants also vary from person to person, or family to family, and this can get confusing for children. We can help our children distinguish between needs and wants by discussing different items or looking through magazines and asking about whether things are needs or wants. Or, when shopping, ask your children to point out items that are needs and items that are wants.

One of the ways parents can meet their child’s needs is by giving them attention. Giving our children attention helps us to develop close and cooperative relationships with them and builds their confidence and self-esteem. It’s a way of showing that we care and that they matter and it doesn’t cost money.

For more information, contact Shirley Rush at the Hoke County Cooperative Extension Center at 875-2162 or email sarush@ncsu.edu.