Needs vs. Wants


My previous post “Is living on minimum wage possible” brought quite a bit of mixed opinion. In fact a few strongly disagreed with me in the ability to live on minimum wage. Words like “impossible” were thrown out, which actually surprised me a bit. Maybe I’m just picking a fight here, but I think people often forget needs versus wants. So where do we draw the line… what’s a need, what’s a want, and most importantly, why should you care?


A few people reminded me that I only really mentioned food, water, shelter, and maybe a bit of clothing in my minimum wage budget. I consider those the basic needs and I think it’s something I learned in elementary school (a few years ago 😉 ). If you have these basic needs covered, you’re not going to die. Everything else is details.

There are people a few blocks from where I live who choose to live in tents, use public water, and focus mainly on the needs listed above. In fact I even met a lifeguard who lives out of a VW van because he didn’t see the purpose of having an apartment and all the expenses that went along with it. His expenses are a few bucks in gas for whenever he moves his van and his small food bill. His clothes are limited, especially since his uniform is a t-shirt and swimming suit. This guy would live like a king on minimum wage.

Is health insurance a need? Is a car a need? A few people mentioned that they needed a car to get to their job. What would happen without the car? Would it be possible to move closer to the employer, would one have to get a new job closer? Where we live is not a need, it’s a want. Before agriculture (again a few years ago 🙂 ) human’s didn’t have the luxury of where to permanently live, it’s been developed as a social norm, but in reality where you live is a want.

Social Needs?

We are social creatures, and therefore we desire the love and affection of others. We receive that love and affection when we’re like others. In nature being an outcast or runt will get you killed, in our society it makes you different, and thus not part of the normal social circle. So how do we gain social acceptance? We act like others. How do other act? Well that depends on where you are. If you’re in the U.S. that means you’ll spend about 50k a year have 2.5 kids, a house, and two cars. You’ll work Monday through Friday 9-5 and do so for 40 years. If you do this, you’ll fit in and therefore you’ll gain social acceptance and love. **Extreme generalization, I realize there are different situations, just going off the “American Dream.”

If you set an Maasai tribesman in Manhattan what happens? Different culture, thus different amount of love and acceptance. The comments reflected in my previous post show directly the social norms from those who are answering the question. The same scenario was given to everyone yet some found it possible and others not so much. It does not matter where you come from, the needs are the same… so what creates the confusion between the two camps?


Wants are anything that you don’t need. Health insurance, cars, tv’s, eating out, entertainment, and the list goes on and on. Your existence will continue without these things (health insurance could be argued I suppose), but you might consider life a little more boring or not as much fun. Why is it not as much fun? Because society tells you that. Don’t have the iphone? That’s too bad because all your friends do and now you can’t compare apps. It’s all based on relative comparisons and the only reason you’re bored without the newest gadget is because you’re told that you should be bored. Books, nature, outdoor activities, many hobbies, and friendships are all free, yet they’re not enough for some reason. The Maasai Warrior I mentioned earlier isn’t bored without an iphone, why are you?

I can see the argument for wants being needs. I see this argument because giving up on a lot of your wants you’ll also be giving up on social normalcy (depending on where you live). Many people have a strong desire to fit in, to be loved, and to be accepted. That’s completely normal, and I experience that myself (yes, I am human). But realize that on a basic level you do not need the things that bring acceptance, you simply want them as do the other people who “need” them.

Why Am I making a point of this?

I brought up the minimum wage post because that’s literally as low as you can go in terms of wage income. Worse case scenario, you’re working a minimum wage job. If you can survive the bottom of the barrel, and realize that you can live only on your needs you’ve got power. You have the potential to do anything you want because the worse case scenario is something you’re no longer afraid of. If you can live on minimum you will never be forced to do anything you hate in your life again since you won’t be tied to debt since the ability to pick up a minimum job is like shooting fish in a barrel. Once you have that confidence you’ll be able to pursue the things you enjoy or launch your business knowing… worse case scenario is something you can handle.

I’m not advocating that you should go live on minimum wage (although I think it’d be good for some politicians to do so for a few months), but I do think if you realize that you have the ability to live on minimum wage will help you release some of your fears and ironically enough, accomplish more. Come full circle and you’ll begin to see that you have freedom, and if you decide that your wants are needs your wants are what likely imprison you from what you really need, to follow the things you enjoy in life.

Needs and wants are different. Just because we have the ability to make shinier newer products that doesn’t mean we need them, we simply want them because they’re entertaining, advance our social standing, or make our lives easier. You also didn’t need to read this post 😉

What do you need beyond food, shelter, and clothing?

Image from wwarby

Simple in France
Ryan, I love a good “needs versus wants” post and think every blogger should write one from time to time so that we can remember just how much we have that we don’t really ‘need.’ I personally feel health care is a need–but I realize that people all over the world live without access to health care (and die much earlier than those who can access it by the way). Then again, I live in France where working minimum wage or even being unemployed does not preclude you from such coverage. And I’ve known people who run their own businesses… Read more »

I totally 100% agree…. to some people not having an ipod is a fate close to death and the CC Companies harassing them for the rest of their lives is worth it!

If you have to you CAN live on the minimum. I am shocked by the amount of people I personally know who live on the bread line yet have flatscreen televisions!
.-= Forest´s last blog ..FREE DOWNLOAD -Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin =-.

The Simple Machine
Ryan, great post on Wants vs Needs! I like the idea of realizing that if you can live on minimum wage than you can have a sense of financially security. Mind you for a lot of people going to a lower scale is a mental hurdle and affects their self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with the job, it is just that we are trained to succeed and never taking steps back. The only part I do not agree with when you say, you will never have to work a job you do not like. A lot of the minimum wage… Read more »
Investing Newbie

I don’t think I “need” anything tangible beyond the bare necessities such as food, water and shelter. To think about what you really need is a mental strengthening exercise. I can live without my iPhone… I can live without those extra pair of shoes. Do I want to? No. But I can.
.-= Investing Newbie´s last blog ..The Secret [Raise] =-.

Search Engine Viking
Killer post – totally took this to a place I was envisioning from your last post (and all the associated comments). Although I do think the line between NEED and WANT does get blurry in certain circumstances, but that’s thanks to our ever-more-complicated society rather than anything else. For instance: – A watch/timepiece, probably with some kind of wake-up alarm. Could be as simple as a dollar-store digital. – Health Insurance (I’m staying out of the political argument), but I have seen several of my friends end up medically bankrupt because they either did not have health insurance and wound… Read more »
Noah Rainey

Everything is a want, and nothing is a need. Including the need for water.
.-= Noah Rainey´s last blog ..Google the Monopoly? =-.

LenciB: Falling Into favor

Wants vs Needs. Good points. True happiness probably comes with a detachment to stuff, in a way. If I constantly need the next thing I’ll always be chasing something and never content or happy with where I currently am. Its good to evaluate your needs and wants from time to time, keeps things in focus.
.-= LenciB: Falling Into favor´s last blog ..Giving: Convenient? Meeting a Need? =-.


It’s Parkinson’s Law. Expenses rise to meet income. I do believe we can live on minimum wage. We all started at some income level and made it work. 🙂 Once our income rises, we think we need more stuff – the iPod, flatscreen tv, etc.

I’ve seen my friends and family lose their jobs or see a decline in their income, and make it work too. They cut the cable, the internet, and their iPhone. We do the best we can with what we have.

Very thought provoking subject! I don’t need more than food, water and shelter – but I want more. I also see a difference in our wants being comfort items or luxurious. I sometimes take my utilities for granted. I adore the light bulb, hot or cold water, cooked food, heat and air conditioning. I think age plays a role because I can remember life before computers, cable TV and cellphones. I don’t understand why someone would choose a basic minimum wage lifestyle such as the VW lifeguard on a permanent basis. My culture teaches it’s our responsibility to take care… Read more »

Reading your post reminds me of the ultimate parental sacrifice. Giving up your food, water and shelter for a child’s survival…
.-= scottbarrononline´s last blog ..ONE campaign =-.


Great topic, something I think that people can never hear TOO often. A constant reminder of your WANTS vs your NEEDS can really keep people in check.

I used this concept today at work when a friend was trying to force an extra piece of pizza on me. He say me watching it, but I knew I didn’t NEED it 🙂

Jeremy Johnson
I’m a firm believer in the Six basic human needs: 1. Comfort 2. Variety 3. Significance 4. Connection 5. Growth 6. Contribution I believe those who meet these needs get lasting fulfillment out of life, particularly the last two needs. Sure, we can get by living in a cave wearing rags and eating berries. But with so many tools and resources available (like the Internet), there really is a great opportunity to connect with others beyond just trying to exist and not die. I firmly believe that to meet all these needs requires much more than just surviving with food,… Read more »
Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey

Living on minimum wage brings a sense of humility in our lives. Just like we want more social needs, more money, more, more, more… we can stand to learn how to cut back. I think there is a peace of mind that comes with relinquishing the need to want more. We should develop the need to be happy with what we have.

Great post!
.-= Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey´s last blog ..Got Validation? =-.


Isn’t this why TLC wrote the song “Don’t Want No Scrub”?
I don’t think society accepts just having our needs met.
.-= scottbarrononline´s last blog ..ONE campaign =-.

Daniel Johnston
On some level, I agree with you; many people are having to work minimum wage these days, and it may be a reality that they’ll have to work this much. On the other hand, I’m somewhat opposed. Many things besides those minimums are important to me. Health insurance is required now, but unless you can live close to both a internet place and your job, you’d need a computer, and you’d need internet. For your job, you’d definitely need an e-mail so they could contact you, and a phone so you could talk to your friends. Those are pretty much… Read more »
Daniel Johnston
I agree totally. Living for only $1000 a month is definitely unhealthy, because that allows for no social interaction it’s hard to be comfortable in an apartment that costs only a few hundred dollars a month with a roommate (who most likely will not be your friend since most people would live in a bigger place), no variety would exist because you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. Really, you would just be sitting at home with nothing to do living on the bare minimum. Internet and phone, I think, though, can take you a far way, with the tools… Read more »

@Daniel- minimum wage jobs don’t require email. If they can’t get in touch with you and you don’t show up for your shift, they assume you’ve quit. Fast food and retail jobs aren’t that involved. Phone is easy- I have a pre-pay that cost $30, including $30 in credit. So the phone was “free”, and I pay maybe another $15 a month for more minutes.

There’s a way to make (just about) anything affordable, on any budget. Just takes some creativity, sometimes.
.-= j.´s last blog ..Day 41- Crazy Ideas =-.

Daniel Johnston
Most companies contact by e-mail. If you’re only working minimum wage, it won’t be worth it for them to call you, as there are plenty of employees who they could hire for minimum wage. Many companies also have a network where employees collaborate and work on projects. Besides, if you’re not going to have a car, TV, a house with a yard, books, really anything, then what will you do all day? In my opinion, the internet is well worth the investment, even if only to get tips on how to get a better paying job than minimum wage, or… Read more »
Griff Hanning
I completely agree with the point of the article. It is definitely time that we as individuals and as a society evaluate our needs. My wife and I just got back from a 2 week trip to India and were reminded in a real big way of what a need verse a want is. Many people there live on very little and are extremely content with what they have because they have enough to live on- and that is all they need. Not to mention that they were the most generous people that I have ever met! We would come… Read more »
Belmont Thornton

Beautiful thought! There is quite some ambiguity in the concept of need and want. I need what I want. This sounds impertinent. What if I say I want what I need? This certainly is a better approach towards life. This simply explains it all. Running after every wanting, we spoil a beautiful today in the hope of a lavish tomorrow. It is time that we reflect on the finer senses of life. Thanks for the lovely article!

Guy G.

As a personal finacial consultant, I try to teach these concepts to clients all the time when we discuss tips on budgeting and other financial strategies. It’s amazing how many people are struggling with debt and can’t cut the darn cable.
Thanks for the in debt explanation of the difference between a Need and a Want.



P.S. Let me know if you’d ever want to write a guest post.
.-= Guy G.´s last blog ..The Mind/Money Equation – Tips on Budgeting =-.

Roman Soluk

My teacher at the university once told us… that living on a basic needs is not living, it’s just existing. I fully agree with him. We must want much more, and we should try to achieve these wants.
.-= Roman Soluk´s last blog ..Music and its impact on our life =-.

Tanja Wanderlust
Very good article. I enjoyed rading it and i totally agree with you. In May 2008 i gave all my belongings away and started living as a nomad. I used even less money than living in a place. My budget was 10 EUR a day and then after a while, i had learned how to go even lower, to 5 EUR a day. Some people live off no money at all. Its possible, however, i understand not for everybody. The downside about it is, that you cannot go out, buy a fancy dress or invite a friend over for dinner,… Read more »