Understanding the Difference Between Needs and Wants



Need: A requirement, necessary duty, or obligation.


Want: A pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself.


One of the main tenets in Jill and my drive towards frugality, and minimization, is the balance of needs versus wants.

A need is a requirement, a necessary duty or obligation, as the above definition states. Jill and I need to eat, to breathe, and to sleep. When it is broken down to basics, not much more than that. We both consider pretty much everything else wants.


Our room in Akamal, MX. A want, not a need.


Our wants include computers, smart phones, the beach, and other material objects that most people might consider needs. Everyone has different values, there isn’t any right way to live your life.

The reason I bring up the ability to eat is it is a want. Most people take for granted that the way they eat, and what they eat, is necessary. Many people may believe going to restaurants is a need but they tend to ignore that the majority of the world subsists on around a dollar a day.

Most American citizens eat far more than they need and definitely enjoy the wants of food that are beyond the wildest dreams of the majority of people in other countries.

When I was a social worker, making $45,000 USD, I made more than about 6,500,000,000 people in this world. In spite of that, I often felt as if I led a threadbare life, choosing not to have many of the wants that my friends and family members could afford.

Jill and I have developed our ideals of wants vs. needs over many years, and these have now become our moral beliefs.

For us to survive, and thrive, we believe in defining the difference between wants and needs. We consciously don’t buy wants just because others have them. We don’t care about “keeping up with the Joneses.” We do our best to remember what we truly need to stay happy and content.

If it we do decide to buy a want, then we judge its costs versus its benefits and whether it is worth our hard-earned dollar.

Jill’s “new” computer is a perfect example of this mindset. We bought her a brand new Lenovo Flex 2 with a 14 inch screen. We had been planning on upgrading since her previous computer was about 4 years old and starting to fall apart. Pieces of her computer were actually falling off as we traveled around the world. We were also heading to Mexico, and other parts unknown, for the next few years. We had dragged both our computers to China, Greece, Turkey, Malaysia, Mongolia and then all over the USA.

I mentioned above that we value computers as being wants. We also value being able to live a happy life. Being that Jill runs two online businesses, her computer became a need and not a want.

I have always been frugal and balanced needs versus wants. Jill is more open-minded about this and tends to indulge in ways that would normally scare me. This is not a judgment but an evidence based fact.

An example of this is when I had student loans that I had paid off long before meeting Jill. This was 100% my choice, and I see it as a moral value, to pay back loans as soon as possible. I see them as a gift to further my education and life and I do not believe it is fair for me to abuse that generosity.

With that attitude, and that intention, I paid back $65,000 US in student loans in exactly 6 years.  I did this while living in the Bay Area making less than $50,000 US a year. For at least two of those years, I survived on about $25,000 US as I earned my 3,000 hours to become licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

This point isn’t made to denigrate others who have a different life. I realize it can be very difficult to choose between wants and needs.

I was not married. I did not, and still don’t, have any kids.

Other than my student loans, I didn’t, and still don’t, carry debt. I have 3-4 credit cards, which I pay off every month. I essentially use them as cash. They helped me achieve an almost perfect credit rating without ever paying a late fee or interest.

Back to Jill’s computer: We needed to keep her SF Tourism Tips site going, and build Dream Explore Inspire, so we needed to find a replacement. In addition to buy a new computer, we also discussed the option of her taking over my computer. I would then need something to work on and thought about buying a tablet. There were many different tablets available and thought that would be a good solution for me instead of buying a new computer.

There were some issues that came up with this option: As much as I wanted a tablet, I would have limitations regarding editing website posts, photographs and possible keyboard issues. Therefore, we decided a tablet would be defined as a want and not a need. Jill truly needed something, as her laptop was about to die.

We probably could have kept her computer alive for a while longer but we were afraid of losing information and critical data. I did a lot of research on the web, read many reviews, talked to friends who used different computers, and even posted on Facebook and other social sites letting everyone know I wanted their opinions.

We purchased when it was still a want, and not an immediate need, so we were able to take our time and find the computer that would suit us. I found the Lenovo Flex at a bargain price because we weren’t in a rush and could searched for exactly what we wanted.

This may seem like a tangent, but we’ve learned that by asking for what you want is a huge part of my being able to differentiate between a want and a need. Oftentimes, people that have more wants than needs will donate, or help out, people that don’t need as much. This is a way to also reduce waste and will allow you to be more frugal.

To balance out the material gifts we have received, Jill and I have been, and continue to be, generous with our time, knowledge, and support to others.  People seem to feel this is a fair exchange.

After Jill received her new computer, the Wi-Fi card was faulty and didn’t  work so we had to return it. We decided it was best for her to take over my computer and I would decide what would be best for me.

With Jill taking over my computer, I didn’t feel that I needed a computer, but I was still considering purchasing a new tablet. In my mind, both were a want. I easily could use the tablet I had while Jill used my computer. As I wrote above, Jill is more comfortable buying a want than I am. That often limits what I’m able to do and I sometimes have guilt when I buy an object that I only want and don’t need.

Jill has a slightly different mindset and that allows her to buy more of her wants, which actually become needs, compared to me. She’s taught me that there is a balance to needs and wants and being comfortable is not a sin. In this case, she encouraged me to buy a new tablet, even if I felt it was more of a need as I already had an older, but much smaller sized, tablet. In the end, I decided to stay with my current tablet and use that until the need came up for me to buy something else.

After living abroad for about three months and deciding that I wanted to pursue a career in photography and writing, having a computer has become a real need for me.. My tablet was great in the beginning, but is too small and doesn’t offer enough functionality for my work.

My initial thought was to buy a new computer and have it shipped to where we were located. This is something I never would have considered before, but I’ve learned that it’s okay to spend money on a handful of items that might be something I think I need, but are probably better defined as a want.

In the end, I got lucky and a friend gave me her old computer. We didn’t even have to ship it down here because another friend was visiting and brought it down to us. It ended up costing very little and made the other people feel good about their charity and generosity. A win-win for everyone involved.

I’ve learned that it is fair to balance those needs and be at peace with spending money if needed. This is especially true if you get something that will benefit you and increase your joy. I have helped Jill to see that there is a balance in taking your time, using investigative research to find exactly what you want, and then purchasing it without remorse or guilt.

That is the balance of need versus wants: You find what you want, make sure you take your time and find out all relevant information, and then move forward without fear or regret.

Studies have shown that people often feel let down after getting something new and yet then want a newer version to feel more fulfilled. If you don’t know your needs from your wants, it can be a never ending cycle of spending and wanting more and more.

If you want to learn more about how to figure out your own needs versus wants and need some coaching, we’d be happy to help you.

It seems complicated in the beginning and using our expertise allows for a new understanding of what truly matters to you and what a waste of your time, energy, and money.


Thoughts to ponder:

What do you consider a need?

What do you consider a want?

Is there just one wants that you could redefine as a need? How would this redefinition save you money?

How would it help you feel more in control of your spending habits?

Ten years ago,  what was a wants and what was a need?

What do you think, 10 years from now, will you consider a need versus a wants?

How does the way you use money satisfy your desires?

As always, please comment, subscribe and share.  Any and all thoughts are welcome.


The New Normal

The Costs and Benefits of Choices

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