Needs vs. Wants – Teaching Kids the Difference

Identifying wants vs. needs is a helpful tool for curbing spending – for both kids and adults. I mean, how many times have we heard our kids say, ” But I just need those new jeans.” Or, “I just have to get the newest Xbox game.”

I’m guilty as well! “I need these new yoga pants. And also this big box of wine.” Do we really need it? Really?

I get it. Our brains naturally go there especially during a season where gifts and catalogs and sales are everywhere.

As a parent, though, helping our kids identify and separate needs vs. wants is really helpful as we learn to be savvy savers and smart spenders. As such, I was totally stoked when my second grade son, Little I, came home with curriculum from Junior Achievement with a money lesson on wants vs. needs. (A money lesson in public school!? How cool is that!?)

Here’s what he learned, along with my $0.02, about needs vs. wants. This is a simple and effective lesson anyone can do from home with your kids.

Needs vs. Wants

So, what is a need? What is a want? What’s the difference?

As I wrote about in this post, I like to define a “need” as something essential. Will it increase our happiness, solve a problem, or improve our life? If so, it’s a need.

Here is what my Little I did to identify needs from wants. I’d say he nailed it!



What I really liked about this lesson was:

  • He is identifying needs vs. wants
  • He is explaining why it is a need or want
  • He is connecting work to earning money (or things)

All great money lessons for kids! (And no, despite his best efforts, we are NOT getting a hamster.)

If you have older children, it can be fun to go deeper. Yes, clothes are essential (although my two year old would disagree). But are the $50 jeans essential? You can see where this gets fun (and complicated) for us all. (Again, I love this chart.)

Do you agree on what’s a need?

Now consider this – do you and your partner agree on what is a need vs. a want? This might be a helpful exercise to go through with the adults in the family as well, especially if you’re in a spending freeze month where you’ve agreed to only by the “essentials.” Do you agree on what those essentials are?

Related: Creating a Meaningful Christmas on a Budget

Do you talk to your kids about needs vs. wants? Any tips or tricks to share? Comment below!

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