Does Your Child Understand the Difference Between Needs and Wants?

Disclosure: This blog post was written for The Momiverse, pursuant to their engagement by brightpeak financial. All views expressed are entirely my own, and were not influenced or directed by either the Momiverse or brightpeak financial.

“I need the new?Janitors book,” my son announced a couple of months ago. “It’s coming out, and I need to read it.”

Listening to my son talk about a book he?wanted prompted me to consider how often we speak in terms of “need” — even when what we’re talking about is actually a want.

While we, as adults, understand the difference between needs and wants, it’s not always so easy for children to understand why something is a need or a want. It’s also hard for children to understand that they can’t always have what they want.

However, this is an important distinction to make when teaching children about money. If I let my son go on believing that any book he wants is a need, he’ll believe that he should spend all of his money things that don’t matter much. And he’ll think he should be doing it even if he can’t afford to.

One of the best ways to teach them about money is to just talk to them about these issues as they come up. Don’t shy away from money issues — especially when they are foundational issues like needs and wants. Resources like those offered by brightpeak financial can help you figure out what to say.

Putting Needs Ahead of Wants

“You mean you?want that book,” I said. “Is it going to kill you if you don’t get it?”

“I might die of curiosity if I don’t,” he shot back.

Rather than ask him if curiosity would kill him — and be rewarded with a quip about cats — I decided to talk to him about true needs.

We talked about needs in terms of survival. “You might feel like your life would be more interesting, and you might be more entertained, if you had the new book,” I pointed out, “but having the book doesn’t affect your ability to survive.”

It was a good conversation about how needs are items that we require if we want to survive. Food. Shelter. And, if we want to work outside the home to earn money for food and shelter, clothing. Transportation is also needed, for those who work outside the home for their sustenance.

And, because my son is almost 11, we also talked about how we sometimes rationalize our unnecessary purchases by calling them needs. We need food, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we should eat out all the time, or use our money to buy unhealthy junk food. Additionally, the need for shelter doesn’t mean that we should buy a house we can’t afford.

My son came away from the conversation more thoughtful. “I guess I don’t need the new?Janitors book,” he said. “But I do want it a lot. But I suppose we need to make sure the bills are paid and we have food to eat first.”

“That doesn’t really matter for our household spending,” I said, “since you’re buying the book with your own money if you want it. I hope you have enough in your spending jar.”

My son just rolled his eyes.

And went to his room to count his money.



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