Understanding the Difference Between Needs and Wants


A need is a feeling of dissatisfaction at a particular point in time and context. This lack of satisfaction leads to action that seeks to remedy the situation. The concept of needs and wants is common to fields such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics and politics. The term need is used in a similar manner to the verb want, but has more of an urgency and imperative feel to it. This difference between the two concepts can be confusing for people, especially when attempting to create a budget.

The word need comes from Old English and is related to the noun want. It also carries connotations of dissatisfaction and a sense of craving. The adjective need is often used to describe things that are essential to a person’s survival or well-being. This includes food, water and shelter. In some cases, the inability to satisfy a need can result in death.

According to the theory of psychologist Abraham Maslow, human needs can be categorized as basic, secondary and tertiary. The first four categories are considered basic needs, whereas the last one is a desire or wish. A person’s psychological well-being depends on the fulfillment of his or her primary and secondary needs. The inability to meet these requirements can lead to psychological distress.

While a person’s ability to fulfill his or her basic needs is constant throughout their lifetime, wants are subject to change. This is because the level of importance that a desire has can change on a daily or even hourly basis.

A person can determine which expenses are classified as a need by evaluating how much money is available to him or her. He or she can then create a list of all items that fall into the need category, including food, clothing and medical care. To separate a need from a want, it can be helpful to consider how a person will feel if the item is not fulfilled.

If an item meets a person’s basic needs, it can be labeled as a need, if it is a luxury item, it will be considered a want. When constructing a budget, it is important to make sure that needs are met before desires can be satisfied. This will help a person avoid becoming depressed, stressed or homeless due to inability to meet financial obligations. In addition, if an individual cannot afford to fulfill his or her wants, the desire for these items will weaken over time. This is because a person will realize that the item is not truly necessary to him or her. This can cause the person to reevaluate the desire for that specific item and ultimately decide not to purchase it. The re-evaluation process will make the individual more content and may help reduce stress levels. This, in turn, can increase overall health and wellbeing. This article was written by Jessica Lahr, Ph.D., a writer and blogger who specializes in the topics of personal finance and self-development.