Needs vs. Wants


by Ryan

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ) 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

Image from wwarby

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Simple in France March 23, 2010 at 2:24 am

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 in the States who will take on a side job (sometimes minimum wage) for the health coverage . . .so it’s still doable.

And I submit that your lifeguard friend in his bus might be happier than someone working a job they hate and living in a condo and going out to eat twice a week.

Nice topic.

The Simple Machine March 23, 2010 at 4:23 am

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 jobs are not necessarily alternatives to a bad high paying jobs (but perhaps that depends on what you want to do outside work).

Interestingly enough the first minimum wage job that came to mind was a fast food chain place (i.e. McDonalds). The problem with fast food chain jobs is that people do not interact with the customers. So essentially they are serving one after the next (imagine the cafeteria lady from school). Which made me think about the experience of getting in an elevator; awkward smiles, uncomfortable atmosphere and silence. If you are lucky the elevator has a little screen on top of the elevator door with news headlines. I suppose we are all selectively social!

Forest March 23, 2010 at 4:33 am

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 =-.

Investing Newbie March 23, 2010 at 5:52 am

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 March 23, 2010 at 6:03 am

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 up with a big medical bill, or had coverage but the insurer said “sorry, we aren’t paying, should have got a better plan.” I think of this as a cross between a savings account and gambling ๐Ÿ™‚
– Transportation costs. Getting around does cost something, even if it’s in the form of worn out shoes or flat bike tires. I got some killer velcro size 12’s at Wal-Mart for $10 that have lasted me more than two years.
– Access to What’s the point in living if you can’t check in every day ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thanks for another great post man – keep rockin.
.-= Search Engine Viking´s last blog ..Anchors Away: What Is Anchor Text? =-.

LenciB: Falling Into favor March 23, 2010 at 8:20 am

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? =-.

Kristine March 23, 2010 at 8:30 am

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

scottbarrononline March 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Very thought provoking subject! I donโ€™t need more than food, water and shelter โ€“ 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 donโ€™t understand why someone would choose a basic minimum wage lifestyle such as the VW lifeguard on a permanent basis. My culture teaches itโ€™s our responsibility to take care of our parents when they age. Itโ€™s understandable if defeat happens and we start over, but it seems selfish if we donโ€™t go beyond our needs.
.-= scottbarrononline´s last blog ..ONE campaign =-.

Noah Rainey March 23, 2010 at 11:45 am

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

Jeremy Johnson March 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

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, shelter, and clothing. Quite often this may involve traveling and purchases well beyond the basic necessities.
.-= Jeremy Johnson´s last blog ..The Insightful Valerie Mondesir =-.

MyFinancialObjectives March 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey March 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm

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? =-.

scottbarrononline March 24, 2010 at 5:27 am

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 March 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm

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 necessities right now that you really can’t communicate without. But those are relatively small expenses.

For me, there are certain things I definitely wouldn’t give up if I had any power over it.

I would continue playing chess. It is not an exaggeration for me to say that chess is my life. I would cut back and not go to big tournaments anymore, but the local tournaments that have an entry fee of $15 or $20. However, I make enough from chess to live on, but excluding that fact, I really wouldn’t be able to give it up.

I would keep all the expenses of owning websites, because I would not be willing to give up all the hard work that I’ve put into them, and they have the potential to make a living for me themselves.

So adding those few expenses with the $750 that you gave yesterday would be a monthly expense of $950 a month. Pretty interesting that I can actually picture letting go of all these things and my life and actually being fine with it!

For some people, some things that people wouldn’t even do if they were paid to do are needs for others. It definitely varies for person to person in that way, again as I don’t think I could really function without chess. Very thought provoking post.

j. March 26, 2010 at 2:10 am

@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 =-.

Griff Hanning April 6, 2010 at 1:51 pm

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 into their small homes and they would offer us tea, a piece of cloth that they had spent a week weaving, or whatever it was that they had which in most cases was literally next to nothing.
It was an inspiring experience and a reminder to evaluate once again what really matters in life. I think we could all benefit from thinking about it from time to time.
I do have to add- mostly because I found this amusing, that we were surprised to be in a very primitive location where the people live in bamboo huts with a grass roof, have no running water or electricity except for a few that had generators, that we would still find people with cell phones! They usually had one pair of shoes, an outfit or two maybe, a hole dug in the ground for a restroom- and a cell phone! ๐Ÿ™‚
While it is different obviously living here in America (it would not make sense to go and build a bamboo hut in the middle of your town) there are still ways that we can cut out wants and be more giving with what we do have.
I appreciated an earlier comment about it being a humbling experience to not have a nice place to have friends over to, but if they are good friends they will not mind in the least coming over to your small apartment or home. It might take giving up some pride, but in the end you will still be alright!

Belmont Thornton April 7, 2010 at 2:07 am

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. April 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

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 โ€“ Tips on Budgeting =-.

Roman Soluk April 29, 2010 at 4:15 am

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 July 7, 2010 at 5:34 am

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, go on a holiday. Its about the little things in life,isnt it?

We do have small needs, but our wants are much bigger. And our wants are produced by the media. Its as simple as that. If you hadnยดt any possibility to compare yourself to others by looking around in the shops / TV… you would never come up with that want.

After over 2 years of living like this, i had learned alot and traveled to places many people had never dreamed of going themselfs. And they wont, becayse they are too scared to break out their comfort zone and go for “uncertanity”

However, i need to make this point here: With only the basic needs covered, you are not going to die, right, but most days are going to lack the special feeling and happiness. Thats what i discovered for myself. I had changed and i realised that i do needed some small things in my daily life to feel happier. And i had realised that just when i had enough funds to get me going for another 2 years easily, living on savings.. Well i decided to invest that little bit of money…

Thanks for your awesome posts!
.-= Tanja Wanderlust´s last blog ..The Acer adventure =-.

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