D is for Desires – Needs vs Wants

The Oxford dictionary defines desire as ‘a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.’ 

We all have desires in our lives, and as they are connected to the things we want and wish to have, they are separate from the things we need to have.

On estimation, we make around 35,000 decisions every day, and part of the decision-making process is deciding whether what you are buying is something you want or need. For instance, when you go out shopping for food, do you need to buy a packet of biscuits, or do you just want to buy them? 

‘Too many people spend money on things they have earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t actually like.’ – Will Rogers

We love this quote by Will Rogers, which is included in our ‘Don’t get your neck tattooed’ book. Our needs can link to our societal position, such as wanting to have social acceptance, belong in a group and be appreciated. These needs can make us want to have or do certain things to ‘fit in’ and impress those around us.

There is nothing wrong with having desires. However, you must ensure they don’t take over your decision-making to the point they negatively impact your life. For instance, the desire to own expensive designer clothing to impress those around you could result in you struggling financially. Or you might desire to be socially accepted but doing this can affect your behaviour. Doing this can make you someone you are not and negatively affect your mental health.  

Needs vs wants

need is something necessary to live and function. E.g. Air, Water and Food

want is something that is unnecessary but is desired. You believe it could improve your quality of life. E.g. Games, Accessories and Sweet treats

Depending on your circumstances in life, this will affect your needs and wants. Over your lifetime, you will find that your needs and wants will adapt and change as your circumstances change. So, when it comes to needs and wants, there is a form of crossover.

Example 1:
  • An 18-year-old who lives in a city and has learnt how to drive might want a car but doesn’t need one. 
  • A 35-year-old with kids living in a residential area needs a car but may not want one. 
  • Someone buying a top-of-the-range car may need a car, but they want to have the expensive one.

Example 2:

We all need to get a good night’s sleep, but depending on your age, determines how many hours you need each night to have quality sleep. So, 13–18-year-olds need 8-10 hours of sleep per night, whereas anyone over 18 needs 7-9 hours. So, as you get older, your need for hours of sleep changes.

However, although we know we need a certain amount of sleep per night, many of us want to stay up late because it may be the only time we can have some time to ourselves.

Review your needs and wants

Throughout your life, you should review your ‘needs and wants’ and then adapt your lifestyle to match. When reviewing, you need to prioritise your needs before focusing on your wants. For instance:

You might have graduated from university and got a job, but you’re living with your parents to help save some money on rent. You might get used to the lifestyle of having more disposable income because you are saving more money, so you might buy yourself more clothes or go out for lots of dinners. 

However, when you move out and get your own place, you then need to make sure you have enough money to pay the rent and bills. You will also need to keep money aside for food, but you may need to go out for a meal less and cook more to keep costs low and stay within budget.


Identify what your needs and wants are currently and write them down. We recommend writing them in a two-column list. Now look and see whether everything on your needs list is actually a need rather than a want. Now go through the list and determine whether you prioritise your needs over your wants. 

Then think forward about what you would like your future life to be like (e.g. own a home, have a family, travel, have a pet) and try and write a future ‘needs and wants’ list. You can use this second list to help you plan for your future. For example: If you start saving when younger, this will help you to put a deposit down on a house, go travelling, buy a car etc. 

Think about what it is you desire in life. Then see what you need to do to achieve them whilst ensuring you are fulfilling and prioritising your basic human needs.

To find out more on this topic…

Listen to our ‘D is for Desires’ podcast episode!

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