Needs vs. Wants : How to differentiate them in your budget

  • Posted on: 16 Aug 2023
    Needs vs. Wants : How to differentiate them in your budget

  • Budgeting can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to distinguishing between needs and wants. Understanding the difference between these two categories is crucial for effectively managing your finances. By analyzing factual data, we can explore the various aspects of needs and wants and learn how to prioritize them in our budget. So, let's delve into this fascinating topic and discover the key strategies for differentiating needs from wants in our financial planning.

    Defining wants and needs

    In our pursuit of happiness, it's essential to understand the difference between wants and needs. While needs are the basic necessities required for survival, wants are desires that go beyond what is necessary. This knowledge empowers us to prioritize and make informed choices about what truly matters in our lives. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the concept of wants and needs, exploring their significance and how they shape our understanding of what is truly essential. So, hop on board as we embark on this enlightening journey of self-discovery.

    The difference between needs and wants

    Needs and wants are two distinct aspects that play a crucial role in our lives. Needs refer to the basic necessities required for survival, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. These are things that are essential for our physical and emotional well-being. On the other hand, wants are the desires and cravings that relate to non-essential items or services that enhance our quality of life but are not vital for survival. Wants are often influenced by societal factors, personal preferences, and the pursuit of comfort, luxury, or status.

    Understanding the difference between needs and wants is essential to make sound decisions about resource allocation, financial management, and overall satisfaction in life. While needs are fundamental to our existence, wants are more of a choice and are often subjective. Needs are what we cannot live without, as they fulfill our basic requirements for survival and well-being. Wants, on the other hand, are more of a luxury or desire that can be fulfilled without severe consequences if not obtained.

    Examples of needs

    • Food: groceries, pantry essentials, and other necessities to prepare food
    • Shelter: rent or mortgage payments
    • Utilities: electricity, water, and sewage
    • Services: High-speed internet service provider (if you work or study from home) and cell phone service
    • Clothing: basic clothing, sturdy shoes, and possibly work clothes

    Examples of wants

    • Food: restaurants, takeout, and bars
    • Shelter: high-quality furniture, televisions, and home decor
    • Transportation: a vehicle (if public transportation is available)
    • Services: High-speed internet if you do not work or study from home
    • Clothing: additional and expensive clothing or shoes

    Personalizing your needs vs. wants

    After acquiring certain instances of necessities and desires, you can customize and arrange your budget accordingly. By answering the following queries, you can evaluate if something is truly essential. Subsequently, you can utilize your personal finances or credit options to determine if this purchase is advisable for you.

    Does this fulfill a basic need?

    Basic needs usually consist of essential items like food, water, and shelter. Sometimes, basic needs can also encompass other necessary items such as clothing. Therefore, getting a new apartment or buying groceries would fulfill a basic need, while purchasing a luxury handbag or upgrading a computer would not be considered essential.

    However, there are situations where wants can be deemed as needs. For example, if your computer malfunctions and you rely on it for work, you would need to replace it in order to earn an income. This distinction is primarily relevant to situations involving the temptation to make non-essential purchases while browsing online or in-store.

    Will you be OK without this?

    One significant difference between a need and a want is that failing to satisfy a need can have detrimental consequences for your health or safety. On the other hand, not fulfilling a want may only result in temporary discomfort, which is not as harmful as when a need is unmet.

    To control your expenses and decide whether to make a purchase, consider if you can survive without it. You can also test this by postponing the purchase and observing if you still desire the item after a week.

    Putting aside exaggeration (you won't literally die without a new sweater), carefully assess whether you will be fine without it in an hour, a week, a month, or six months' time. If the absence of the item will not have a negative impact on your life, then it's clear that it's a want and not a need.

    Will this make you happier or healthier in the long term?

    When considering the comparison between needs and wants, you will find that needs remain relatively constant over time, while wants can be fleeting trends or fads. While it may be difficult to resist the allure of something popular or trendy, it is important to evaluate whether a purchase will bring long-term happiness, health, or fulfillment. On the other hand, purchasing items solely for the temporary pleasure they provide can often result in forgetting about them shortly after. It is crucial to think about the long-term value of larger purchases, assessing whether they will continue to fulfill their purpose and do so effectively in two years' time. If there is a possibility that you will lose interest or forget about the item within that timeframe, it may be more prudent to forgo the purchase.

    How to build a budget for needs and wants?

    1. Assess Your Income and Expenses:
      • Start by calculating your monthly income after taxes.
      • List down all your necessary expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, transportation, and loan payments. Be as specific as possible.
      • Subtract your expenses from your income to determine the amount you have left for discretionary spending.

    2. Prioritize Your Needs:
      • Identify your essential needs, such as food, shelter, and healthcare. These should be your top financial priorities.
      • Allocate a portion of your income to cover these needs every month.

    3. Set Aside Emergency Savings:
      • Aim to save at least 10% of your monthly income for emergencies.
      • Create a separate savings account and automate regular transfers to ensure consistent savings.
    1. Create a Wants Budget:
      • Determine the amount you can allocate towards discretionary spending, which includes non-essential items like dining out, entertainment, and hobbies.
      • Consider how much joy or value these want to bring to your life and assign budgets accordingly.

    2. Track Your Expenses:
      • Monitor your spending regularly to ensure it aligns with your allocated budgets.
      • Use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to categorize and track your expenses.
      • Identify areas where you may be overspending and adjust your budget accordingly.

    3. Find Cost-Cutting Opportunities:
      • Look for ways to reduce expenses without sacrificing quality of life. For example, shop for groceries in bulk, use coupons or negotiate better deals on bills.
      • Cut unnecessary subscriptions or memberships that you rarely use.

    4. Save for Long-term Goals:
      • Allocate a portion of your income towards long-term goals like retirement, buying a house, or education.
      • Consider opening an investment account to grow your savings over time and take advantage of compound interest.

    5. Review and Adjust Regularly:
      • Your budgeting plan should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.
      • Review your budget regularly and make adjustments as necessary.

    Budget for both needs and wants

    Budgeting for both needs and wants is a crucial aspect of personal financial management. When it comes to needs, these are essential expenses required for survival and maintaining a decent standard of living. Examples of needs include housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, healthcare, and education. Allocating a significant portion of the budget to these needs ensures stability and prioritizes the fundamental aspects of daily life.

    On the other hand, budgeting for wants involves discretionary spending on non-essential items or experiences that bring pleasure and enjoyment. This category may include dining out, entertainment, travel, luxury goods, and hobbies. While want to contribute to the quality of life, it's important to ensure they are balanced against needs and within financial means. By establishing a clear budget that incorporates both needs and wants, individuals can better manage their finances, avoid overspending, and work towards achieving their financial goals.

    Remain mindful when using your credit card

    When using a credit card, it is crucial to remain mindful and cautious. First and foremost, it is essential to regularly check your credit card statements to identify any unauthorized charges or errors. By promptly addressing any discrepancies, you can avoid potential financial losses. It is also advisable to keep your credit card information secure, never sharing it with anyone unnecessarily or storing it on unsecured websites. Furthermore, it is important to be mindful of your spending habits and keep track of your credit card usage.

    Overspending can lead to mounting debt and financial stress. By setting a budget and sticking to it, you can maintain control over your finances and avoid unnecessary debt. Finally, it is advisable to understand and fully utilize the benefits and rewards offered by your credit card. Whether it is cashback, travel discounts, or reward points, being aware of these perks allows you to make the most of your card and potentially save money. In conclusion, by remaining vigilant, conscious of your spending, and educated about your credit card's features, you can effectively manage your finances and make the most of your credit card usage.

    Don’t let your wants hurt your credit

    Don't let your wants hurt your credit. It's easy to get caught up in our desires and overlook the long-term consequences. While it's important to indulge in life's pleasures, it's equally crucial to maintain a healthy credit score. Your credit score affects your ability to obtain loans, secure rental agreements, and even land a job. By overspending on unnecessary wants, you not only risk accumulating debt but also jeopardize your financial well-being. It's essential to strike a balance between fulfilling your wants and managing your finances responsibly.


    In conclusion, understanding the difference between needs and wants is crucial when managing your budget effectively. Needs are the essential items and services necessary for survival and maintaining a basic standard of living, such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. On the other hand, wants are the non-essential desires and luxuries that enhance our quality of life but are not necessary for survival. While it is natural to have wants, it is important to prioritize needs when allocating funds in a budget.

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