Wishful Wants Versus the Necessary Needs

We all want what we can’t have right? The concept of wanting in one hand and the need in the other, a tricky balance when it comes to financial maturity and responsibility. Often as adults we find ourselves making unnecessary purchases – in turn our children watch our spending habits – and in turn they live by example. The one that you have set for them. We are going to help you break down the importance of this balance to your children by age.

How then can we protect ourselves from not only ourselves but the world of consumerism? We can do it by taking a moment to think, “Do I really NEED this item, service or other?”. When you see something you want and you do not have enough money for it keep in mind that wanting is better than owing. And if you do have the available funds, are they already spoken for and could serve better purpose elsewhere?

What is the difference between a want and a need?

To put simply, a need is something you must have to survive, like food, water and a home. A want is something that’s nice to have, but you can actually live without, like an ice cream or a new video game.

Promise To Pay

Starting from youth, it is vital to teach our children the importance of value, period. The concept of “promise to pay” is essentially a debt. A small loan from a person, establishment, or other source that HAS to be paid back on time, and could occur interest depending on its source. Now is a good opportunity to teach your children that it’s good to want something – save for it – rather than to ask and borrow and fall into a debt.

Elementary School Age – Want Vs. Need

By the time your little one is in elementary school, they should have a basic understanding of some math skills. Though they don’t know much of what they need, they for sure have an idea of things they want.

A good example would be, say you take your child to the dollar store, give them $5 and have them pick out toys within that budget – nothing over the $5 limit. They will see more than the 5 items there that they will want. This is when the need vs want teaching opportunity arises for the first time with your little one.


If your child can read, let them help hold the grocery list as you shop and identify those items to them as needed. As you walk through the store and pick up items, ask your child if it’s a need or a want. Writing a list is a great way for them to visually see what is a need vs a want. Laundry detergent, dish soap, and trash bags are on your list, so those items are a need. Ice cream, video games, and accessories aren’t on the list, so those items are wants – and we can do without.

Middle Schoolers – Want Vs. Need

By this age, your middle schooler is in school electives and extracurricular activities that more than likely cost for them to be in. Along with these activities, comes needs, and wants. Now is a great opportunity for your middle schooler to learn the value of the items they like, need, and want.

Your child will need guidance from you about how to save, manage, and budget their money. So before unleashing the reins, sit down together and figure out what their needs and wants are for the school year. Softball, basketball, football, prom, movies with friends, and other activities that are outside their needs. Explain that you will provide their needs, but a want will come out of their allowances, or pay from work.

Let them decide how to spend what they earn on other wants. If your child spends their finances all at once – do not give them more. Missing out on hanging with friends, movies, or being unable to make another purchase will teach your youth how an impulse purchase can impact your life. There are natural consequences for all our actions. In being this way, your child will learn the value in money, and learn how to be financially aware for the rest of their lives.

High Schoolers – Wants Vs. Needs

Well, you have a high schooler! This is the age of all the electives, friends, social out-tings, what’s in and what’s out, the years you’ve been preparing for – and the ones they have been waiting for too. This time is exciting, but can also prove to be tempting in the world of money for our children.

More than likely your high schooler has a part time job at this point, and has some cash flow outside of their weekly allowance at home. Their money flow will be limited, and they may find themselves reaching out to you for a want instead of a need when they no longer have the funds to support their spending. This is a vital time to teach them valuable life lessons.

As the adults, we can take away many valuable lessons from our children in this aspect. They teach us the value of knowing what we really need, and what we just really want. We need to continually give our children these valuable lessons so that they may apply them to their lives past youth.