Explaining Needs vs. Wants to Your Child (Without Overwhelming Them)

Explaining Needs vs. Wants to Your Child (Without Overwhelming Them)

Explaining needs vs. wants can be a complicated topic no matter how old you are. It's clear from just observing the world around you that there are many adults who have trouble with this concept. Still, knowing the difference between needs and wants is an important skill to learn, and the sooner you learn, the better. Talking about needs vs. wants with your kids can help set them up on the road to financial success.

The Difference Between Needs and Wants

On the surface, the difference between needs and wants is obvious. A need is something that is required for your survival or that would significantly affect your life if you went without. Think of things like rent, utilities, food, or fixing your car when it breaks down.


A want is something that may be desirable, but won't really impact your life if you don't have it. New clothes, a new video game or going out to eat would be examples of wants — especially for kids. Most of us know this on an intellectual level, but it's in the implementation that even many adults fall short.

Explaining Needs and Wants for Kids

When you are explaining needs and wants for kids, you want to talk in fundamental terms, using examples they can relate to. Instead of talking about buying a fancy car you don't need, talk instead about a toy or video game they're interested in.


Another thing to keep in mind is that one reason it can be challenging for kids to understand the concept of needs vs. wants is that most kids (especially younger kids) have all of their needs met for them by their parents. Most kids don't even have the concept of what it is like to go without their basic needs met (which is a good thing!).

Keep it Simple — Don't Overwhelm Them

Like dealing with most topics and kids, the main point is to keep it simple and age-appropriate. You wouldn't explain needs vs. wants the same way to a 5- year old as you would to a 15 year old. One good strategy can be to let your child drive the discussion. Asking questions like "What do you think?" can be a great way to make sure you're answering their questions without giving too much information.


Giving your kids an allowance or offering them opportunities to earn money with extra chores around the house can be a good way to teach needs vs. wants. Again, keep it age-appropriate — a 6-year-old doesn't need the same amount of allowance as a 16-year-old, because a child doesn't have the same needs as a teenager. As your kids get older, slowly give them more opportunities to earn money and also be responsible for some of their needs. That will help them start to understand the concepts of budget as they grow into adulthood.


Remember, you're going to have to cover needs and wants with your kids more than once in their lifetime. That gives you the opportunity to keep it basic when talking with younger kids and go into more detail with tweens and teens. Look for opportunities to share how you deal with deciding with needs and wants as an adult. That will give them real-life examples of how to tell the difference.

Written by GoHenry Published Nov 15, 2021 ● 3 min. read