Differences in Needs vs Wants (List With Examples!)

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Differences in Needs vs Wants (List With Examples!)

Needs are things we must have in order to survive. Wants are items that make life more enjoyable but aren’t necessary for survival. When it comes down to it, you can live without a lot of your wants – but not without your needs!

The best way to determine if something is a need or want is by asking yourself these questions:

  • “Do I need this item?
  • “Do I absolutely require this item in order to live my day-to-day life?”
  • If you answer yes, then it’s probably a need.
  • If no, then it’s likely a want.

It may seem like an easy distinction at first glance – but there are many exceptions! For example, some people might say they don’t “need” food because they’re on an extreme diet and only eat once every few days – however, most would argue that food is still very much needed for survival even when someone doesn’t eat often. Other examples include water (a necessity) vs soda (a want), shelter (a necessity) vs TV (a want). There are also different types of needs such as emotional needs or physical needs and wants.

Read more about how to tell the difference between what you really need versus what you desire (want).

Who Is Maslow And Why Do I “Need” To Know

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who developed the Hierarchy of Needs, which is depicted as a pyramid. He believed that humans must meet their lower-level “needs” before they can pursue higher-level “wants”. At the bottom of the pyramid are our Physiological needs such as hunger and thirst. Next up is Safety needs to ensure that we’re protected from harm. Before we can pursue things like companionship, esteem, or self-actualization – we must be able to meet those first two needs!

What Are Maslow’s Five Categories In The Hierarchy Of Needs

  • Physiological Needs – what you need to survive
  • Safety Needs – what you need to safely live and provide for
  • Social Needs – human emotional needs to feel connected to other humans
  • Esteem Needs – while most important for children and young adults (teens also). Seen as self-respect first then the desire to be respected by others.
  • Self-actualization Needs -fulfilling of self-potential, seeking to achieve goals; each individual is unique in the self-actualization needs.

Knowing about the hierarchy helps understand better about your needs, where they lie, and how to identify them vs when you are wanting (your wants/ desires).

How Fulfilling The First Two Needs Categories Leads To Wants 

In order to pursue higher-level needs/wants your physiological and safety needs must be met first – which is why most people only “want” things like romance, fun with friends, excitement, etc once they have food, water, shelter, and safety! If you don’t meet your basic human need then you can’t pursue higher-level need fulfillment – which is why those at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy are those who can meet the first two categories!

What Is The Difference Between A Need And A Want?

In general, needs and wants can be added together to determine what we desire in life. We don’t need a lot of things but we want a lot of things! However, since needs are much more important and enable us to get what we want – NONE of the wants would ever be possible without first meeting our needs!

wants vs needs examples. image of path splitting in two directions only to meet at end

What Are The Four Basic Needs For All Budgets?

  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Utilities (Electric And Water)
  • Transportation 

H3: How To Know What is a Need vs a Want When Budgeting?  

  • Ask yourself “Is this something I need to survive?” If yes, this is a need.
  • As yourself “Is this something that would make life easier or even fun?” If yes, this is a want.
(50% Income)
(30% Income)
Savings & Debt Repayment (20% Income)
Housing (mortgage/rent)Cable TVEmergency Fund
GroceriesOut to EatRetirement Funds
UtilitiesVacationSave for House
Car or Public TransportationNew or 2nd carLoan payment
Auto Insurance (if applicable)GiftsCredit Card Payment
Health InsuranceMembership to Gym (other)

When Does A Need Become A Want?

Needs become wants when you are meeting your basic needs yet doing so above your ‘means’. Meaning you are likely purchasing something you need yet purchasing a more high-end or luxury item. We try to justify meeting our needs with wants by upgrading our expectations without upgrading our budget. This is a slippery slope.

Great Read: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Spending

What Do Most People Place On Their “Needs” List And How To Prioritize:

Write down your bills, spending, check your bank statements for quarterly bills, etc. Try also keeping a spending diary for a month or more. This is a good way to track your expenses when you’re unsure where all your money is going. Here is how to create your personal needs vs wants list:

  1. Make a list of all the above expenses. On one side of paper or spreadsheet list ALL EXPENSES. Next to that make a column titled Needs or Wants. Following the guideline for needs, put an N next to Shelter Food, Utilities, Transportation expenses. Next any medical or insurance put an N next to as well. Do the same for reasonably priced ‘needed’ clothing.
  2. Anything without a mark next to it is a want.
  3. As mentioned above, Needs are about what is required for survival and Wants are about what is desired for comfort.
  4. Be completely honest with yourself when you do this exercise, it will help you understand your habits and where you are doing great already!
image is quote: Everyone needs something

Wants vs Needs List Examples

  • Buying clothes is a need, buying trendy more expensive clothing is a want.
  • Transportation needed for employment is a need, buying a new car with all the bells and whistles is a want.
  • Renting an apartment that fits your needs vs renting a luxury apartment that has an on-site gym, pool, indoor parking is a want. A home with ‘enough’ bedrooms is a need, upgrading to a home for guest rooms and home theater is a want.
  • Brown bag your lunch is a need, take-out sushi is a want.
  • A computer with internet access to perform your work from home job and/or schoolwork is a need, A computer with 4 monitors, massaging game chair is a want.
  • A trip to the pharmacy for cold medicine or first aid is a need, adding a bag of chips, a magazine, and some nail polish on the way to check out is a want.
  • Your shower is leaking and you need to call a repair person is a need, replacing the entire bathroom is a want.

Related: Find Out More About Instant Gratification

What Are Some Examples Of Wants?

Wants are very personal preferences. Some items, such as jewelry, clothing, cars, houses and vacations, are nice to have but aren’t necessary for survival. Other items, such as food, shelter, education and healthcare, are essential. 

However, we tend to confuse our desires with needs. Needs refer to the fundamental requirements for leading a healthy, dignified, productive life. 

When we compare wants to needs, we realize that we don’t always have control over our wants. Our wants require effort, time and resources to acquire. On top of that, they also require maintenance and upkeep. As we grow older, both needs and wants become increasingly important.

Needs include eating properly, getting adequate rest, drinking water and exercising regularly. Your health directly affects your ability to enjoy the other aspects of life. Without proper nutrition and sleep, you’ll experience fatigue and depression. Water keeps your body functioning properly. Exercising helps keep weight under control and improves cardiovascular health. All three factors play integral roles in physical activity, cognitive function and emotional stability. 

Adequate housing provides protection against injury, illness and natural disaster. Education is vital for learning new job skills, developing career interests and improving communication abilities.

Healthcare services provide assistance with treating disease, maintaining mobility and restoring vitality. Basic utilities allow residents to clean, cook and relax safely. Transportation allows workers to travel to day care centers, grocery stores and appointments. Healthcare professionals, childcare providers and educators teach children, support disabled individuals and foster independence. 

Many of these tasks are provided by government agencies, charities, religious organizations and businesses, among others.

How Do You Differentiate A Want From A Need?

To identify your needs, write down everything you eat, drink, wear, drive, read or watch each day. Next, list anything you pay for monthly, including rent, insurance, electricity, gas, phone bill, car payments and cable television subscriptions. After you have compiled lists of daily activities and monthly expenditures, divide the numbers into two columns: whether you have to have it or whether it is nice to have. 

Some things that you might have to have are: 

  • Food
  • Water
  • Utilities
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Vehicle
  • Heat/AC (although AC might be a want in many areas of the country)

Some examples of wants that we like but don’t need could be: 

  • Streaming/TV service
  • Internet
  • Cell Phone
  • Clothing (expensive or unnecessary types)
  • Eating out (food is needed but eating out is not)
  • Video games
  • Hobbies (again they are nice to have but not required to live

A good way to tell the difference between a want and a need in your life would be if your life would end (or essentially end) if you didn’t have that item. If it would then that is a need. If not then it is a want. 

Will your life end without watching TV? No, then it’s a want. Will your life end if you don’t eat food? Yes, then it’s a need. 

What Are Examples Of Wants And Needs?

Your needs vary according to location. Living within walking distance of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues increases the likelihood of visiting them. Similarly, proximity to family members reduces traveling distances. 

Distance from sources of fresh air, sunlight and greenery increase stress levels. Long commutes place added strain on your mental and physical health. People who prefer to remain near busy roads report higher anxiety levels than those who reside away from traffic. 

Additionally, communities lacking parks and green spaces suffer from high crime rates and poor morale.

You’ll also need to assess your age and stage in life. Young adults typically seek bigger homes, whereas retirees prioritize comfort and convenience. 

Consideration should also be given to your lifestyle habits. 

Prioritizing your needs and wants takes careful consideration. Oftentimes, we try to satisfy unmet wants instead of meeting our real needs. Rather than focusing on buying designer clothes, why not give to charity or give some time to a cause you hold dear? By volunteering your time, you’ll gain confidence and build meaningful connections. 

Not only does helping others allow them to be helped but it also creates positive feelings inside you. Volunteering builds self-worth and enhances your sense of purpose.

As discussed earlier, prioritization refers to setting aside unnecessary expenses and saving money for larger goals. You can accomplish this by trimming fat from your checkbook, reducing revolving debt and investing. Set reasonable expectations regarding your earning potential. 

Focus on generating passive income rather than trying to strike it big overnight. Establish your goals and stick to them. Keep tabs on your progress by reviewing your bank account, credit card statement and tax returns. Track your spending patterns until you learn exactly where your money goes.


Most people have trouble defining their needs and their wants, which leads to financial loss and often a feeling of not being fulfilled.

If you don’t know the difference between your needs and wants, you’re more likely to overspend on unnecessary items like expensive gadgets or furniture that will break in a few years leaving you scrambling for funds to replace, living with broken items, or going without. It easily becomes a cycle that can only be changed by understanding your needs vs wants along with a written budget.

Understanding and knowing your actual needs vs wants list will help you to build and keep your budget for financial success.

needs vs wants pintrest image: image of rocks balancing

Matt R

Hi, my name is Matt and I'm the founder of Barefoot Budgeting. This site is dedicated to one thing... helping you budget and save money.

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