Have you ever told your kids about needs and wants? When our kids ask for something, we like to distinguish the difference. I think they get it, but that doesn’t always change what they want.
It’s not about only letting them buy needs and never wants. It’s not about always telling them how kids in third world countries don’t have anything compared to what your kids have.
So what is it about?
It’s about instilling gratitude and appreciation for the things they have. It’s about helping them understand how much they do have. And it’s about simply knowing the difference between what they need to have and what they want to have.
What are the Needs?
Needs are typically defined as food, shelter, and clothing. However, food is the only true need there. We need food and water to survive, so that’s a need if you want to survive.
Clothing, and especially buying new clothes, isn’t technically a need.
The same goes for shelter. We don’t need shelter to survive. It’s important, but we can live without it. Millions of people do.
So am I saying your kids don’t need clothing and shelter? Not really. I’m saying it’s a key concept that they understand even these seemingly mandatory things are still not technically needs.
This entire conversation comes back to an appreciation for the things they have. That’s why we talk about this in the first place.
Kids are pretty sure they need toys, video games, a television, and so on. It’s not their fault. If you’re reading this, your kids were likely born into affluence, by world standards and by comparison to those standards.
So while I think it’s ok to define a need as food, clothing, or shelter, it’s also ok to let your kids know they need less than they think they do.
What are the Wants?
So what’s a want? Almost everything. If we consider a need as the three basics, that means most of the things we have are wants. Extras.
Let’s break down how the needs are mostly wants too.
Clothing is necessary for us so we don’t get arrested when we walk outside, and for our kids so CPS (Child Protective Services) doesn’t take them away, but “clothes” and “buying more clothes” are two different things.
At some point, if you have this conversation often enough, kids are going to try to convince you to buy them new clothes because clothing is a need. This is a teachable moment. This is when we can take them to their closet and show them why they don’t need more clothes.
We shouldn’t feel guilty for having an abundance of clothes, but again, we have to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that we do.
The same applies to shelter.
How big is your house?
Could you live in a smaller home?
We all could.
Does that mean you should sell your house and move into a smaller one? Maybe, but that’s not my point. The point is, you likely live in a house that has more room than you technically need. Again, this is a time to help your kids appreciate what they have.
When it comes to the extras, like the things I mentioned above, this is where kids truly need to understand how many things are wants. Even educational toys and tools are wants.
And this brings me to my main point…
Wants aren’t a Bad Thing
You don’t want your kids to roll their eyes every time the “needs and wants” talk comes up.
The best way to make sure they don’t is to allow them to have wants, as long as they understand that’s exactly what they are.
So show your kids how good they have it compared to the rest of the world. Show your kids the abundance they live in. But don’t do it to make them feel guilty or to make them think they don’t need anything else, ever again.
Through intentional conversations, your kids will begin to understand the difference between needs and wants. Through these conversations, your kids will begin to appreciate what they have and think twice before they ask for more.
As I write this, I’m listening to music like I usually do. I’m currently listening to “10 Feet Down” by NF. Ironically, this is what he just said in this song (and the playlist is on random):
“Church is where I found God, but it’s also where I learned to judgeNF
Yeah, I had to learn there’s a difference between what you want, and what you really need.”
First off, I appreciate God selecting the songs and helping me write. And second, this really makes me think. He’s saying church taught him to judge, which sadly is the case so often. As much as we preach not to judge, the church is often the worst about doing it.
When he said, “what you really need,” I think that shines light on my overall point here: many of the things we think are needs are really wants. Once your kids understand this, they’ll see the world from a different perspective.
It’s ok to want nice things. But if we learn to be grateful givers, we will want less for ourselves.
Practically Teaching Needs vs. Wants
The simplest way to start the talk is to write it down.
Get out a piece of paper and write needs on one side and wants on the other.
Let your kids write what they think is a need and a want.
Once they’ve filled it out, go over each item and determine the level of need and want each thing really is.
Now it’s time to put this in the budget. We’ve talked about teaching kids to budget, but now we’re going to assign whether each budget item is a need or a want. This is a great exercise all around to give your kids some insight into your budget, instead of keeping them in the dark about your finances.
This will open their eyes to how much money you have to spend simply to live (the needs). They’ll see how much goes to your home and how much goes to food. Then you’ll add in the rest of it and show them again that it’s ok to spend money on wants, but only after the needs are covered.
You can take this a step further by letting your kids pay for their wants, while you cover their needs. We all think differently when our own money is on the line.
To keep teaching, pull some lessons from the children’s books below.