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Tell the Difference Between Needs & Wants

Have you ever struggled with separating needs from wants? Read on to learn how to tell the difference between these two spending categories.

Defining needs and wants

A need is something necessary to live and function.

A want is something that can improve your quality of life.

Using these criteria, a need includes food, clothing, shelter and medical care, while wants include everything else. However, these terms are more fluid than they appear to be at first glance, and some items can seem to fit into both categories. A good trick for dividing wants and needs is to let some time pass before fulfilling your desire for the item. The desire for a need grows stronger with time, while the desire for a want will weaken with passing time.

Listing your needs and wants

Now you can begin listing your own needs and wants.

Start with needs, including basics like food, rent or mortgage, as well as other fixed expenditures that are necessary for you to live and function, such as transportation costs and insurance coverage.

If you get stuck on a particular item and don’t know where to place it, hold it up to the following questions:

• Do I really need this item to live and function?
• Is it possible to fill this need in a less expensive way?
• How would my life be different if this item were not a part of it? When you’ve completed your list of needs, you can list all remaining expenses in your category of wants.

Reviewing and tweaking your lists

After completing this exercise, review your list of needs to see if anything can be removed. Will you still need these items a few years from now, or even a few months from now? Can any of your needs be swapped for a cheaper option?

Do the same for your list of wants, paring down your list until you’re only left with the wants that truly add value to your life.

Now that you know how to tell the difference between needs and wants, creating a monthly budget is simple. Assign dollar amounts to your fixed and non-fixed needs, set aside money for savings, and use the rest to pay for your wants.

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