Learning To Tell the Difference Between Wants and Needs

I lost a Ferrari, Las Vegas, Nevada

I woke up the followin’ day and went harder

Drake’s hit song Wants and Needs, featuring Lil Baby, may be unrelatable to most normal people. Who thinks about losing a Ferrari in Vegas then shrugs it off? But what is relatable is the subtext, which is about filtering what you really want out of life from a seemingly endless barrage of meaningless nonsense, which everyone claims will help you fill the void.

Learning how to tell the difference between your wants and needs will help you see through the consumeristic culture and mass marketing campaigns that are desperately trying to separate you from your hard-earned dollars. It will help you become more mindful about your spending, which will help you live a richer life.

Learning To Tell the Difference Between Wants and Needs

Differentiating between our wants and needs isn’t always as easy as it seems. Our minds have tricky ways of making us believe we genuinely need something when in reality, we just want it badly. Here are some ways to help you determine whether you need something or whether you just want it.

1. Give It Time

If you need something, you will still need it tomorrow or next week. Therefore, a great way to determine whether it’s truly a need is to wait. Don’t make an impulse decision. If it’s not an immediate need, then it won’t matter if you wait a day or two until you buy it.

The item you are considering will still be available a day or a week later in most cases. There is no reason to buy it the minute you see it.

However, remember that businesses don’t want you to wait, which brings us to our next point.

Related: Who Is the Richest Family in the World?

2. Appreciate Marketing for What It Is

Sometimes things can feel like needs because marketers put the FOMO (fear of missing out) in you with advertisements meant to get you to buy it right now.

“Last Chance!” “Don’t Miss This Deal!” they will shout, making you think it’s now or never.

That very rarely is the case. Don’t let yourself be manipulated into buying something you don’t need by savvy marketers appealing to your emotions. Their goal is to get you to buy something so they can make money. They don’t care whether you really need it or not. 

3. Look at All the Options

When we need something, our brains might trick us into thinking we need the latest and greatest version, when a cheaper or older model would work just fine.

If you need a new laptop, do you really need the five-thousand-dollar ultra-gaming laptop? Maybe if you are a Twitch streamer or Youtuber, but if you are only using your computer to write blog posts or keep up with friends on social media, you don’t need a powerful machine. The same is true for a wide variety of consumer products.

The television that I had for four years went out on me the other day. Now I know I don’t need a tv – watching television can be a giant time suck. But I also knew that I wanted a new tv because I love playing video games and enjoy relaxing in the evening with Netflix.

But I don’t need a $6000 tv with 8k resolution and quantum matrix pro-technology, whatever that means. A $400 flat screen smart tv is more than enough to meet my needs.

When you decide that you need (or want) something, explore all the available options and research what you actually want and need out of it. Don’t spend extra money on bells and whistles that you don’t care about.

4. Determine What Would Happen if You Don’t Get It

A final method of distinguishing between your wants and needs is to conduct a thought exercise on what would happen if you don’t buy the thing you think you need. Would it severely impact your life tomorrow, next week, next month?

 Let’s go back to our computer analogy. Do you need a new computer? Is your old one broken, unusable? Perhaps you rely on your laptop for your income. 

Many people need their computers because they use them to make money. If they don’t have a computer, they can’t do their jobs, won’t get paid, and can’t pay their bills. Folks who need their computers for their jobs definitely need a new computer if theirs breaks. 

Next, you need to determine what type of computer you need.  Can you get away with a cheaper model that runs online programs just fine but doesn’t have the memory for gaming or video editing? Do you need to pay extra for word processing programs, or can you get away with using free tools? What would happen if you went with the cheaper model? Would it affect your livelihood?

These are questions you can ask yourself about anything that you are considering buying as a need. It might turn out that you need it for your livelihood, or it might turn out that you need a similar item but don’t need all the bells and whistles of the one that you are looking at. Conducting this thought exercise will help you figure it out.

On Buying Things You Want

Learning to tell the difference between wants and needs isn’t about not buying things simply because you want them. There is nothing wrong with buying something you want. Financial independence isn’t about limiting yourself. It’s about prioritizing and controlling your spending so that you can design the life you want.

Most of the time, the life we want includes far more than just having our basic needs met. It consists of a whole host of wants that might be different for different people.

Some may want to travel the world; others may want to become a famous artist; still others may wish to have every single issue of every Spiderman comic ever created. All of this is okay – better than okay – great! We should be using our money to find and explore our passions and do what we want with our lives!

Why Distinguishing Between Wants and Needs Is Important

It’s okay to buy things you want, but it’s essential to know that you are buying them because you want them. People do themselves a huge disservice when they can’t distinguish between their wants and needs.

They end up eating ice cream for dinner, buying expensive designer clothes, getting the most costly television with all the bells and whistles, and being trapped in debt trying to pay for all this stuff they thought they needed.

Confusing your wants and needs is a consumeristic trap meant to keep you buying more and more. Learning to tell the difference will help you make more purposeful purchasing decisions. It will help you buy things that enhance your life, rather than buying something just to collect more stuff.

A bonus is that it won’t impact your life negatively in any way. Now that you know the game, you won’t feel like you are limiting yourself or restricting yourself by opting out. You’ll know that when you buy something, it’s because it will enhance your life, and when you don’t buy something, it isn’t really that important to you.

Related: 10 Real Ways to Get a Free Car

I Know the Difference Between Wants and Needs. Now What?

Now that you’ve evaded the marketer’s trap and learned to tell the difference between what you want and what you need, you are well-prepared to start your journey to financial independence. Rather than buying all the things, prioritize your spending and only buy the things that will enhance your life.

Use the money you are saving to pay off debt or invest in the future. You will be surprised at how quickly your savings will grow when you stop spending needlessly and amaze that your daily life isn’t impacted at all.

Skip the marketer’s game. Know exactly why you are buying anything that you are buying. Not only will you save money, but you will be happier and healthier overall.



Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self-educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming, and her cats.