Teaching Kids About Needs vs. Wants

When your young child begins school, they’ll likely start to notice the different toys, clothes, and other things that friends or classmates have. These things may be similar to what your child has, or very different. When things are different, it may cause your child to start comparing what they have to what their friends or classmates have.

The differences could be as minor as color (“He has a blue bike and I have a green one”), or more significant (“She has her own tablet. I don’t have a tablet”). Either way, to a young elementary school student, it can be upsetting to realize that you don’t have the same things as everyone else.

As your child begins to experience this, they may start asking for you to buy them the things their friends have. And whether you can afford to or not, you’ll want to pause and think about the best way to address this issue with your child.

You can start by talking to your child about needs versus wants. Help your child identify what things they need to live (food, water, clothing, shelter) and what things are nice to have (toys, games, electronics). Rather than just talking to your child, make a game of it. Have them find three things in the house that they need and three things that they want. To make it more fun, set a very short time limit to find the six things, or have them find as many things as possible within a slightly longer period of time.

Help your child understand that when we earn money, we need to decide how to spend it. Consider using money as a visual to show them why it’s important to use money for the things we need before getting the things we want. You could even set up a pretend store with food and toys and other safe items from around the house and give your child a limited amount of play money. Help them determine what things they need and want, and how they would choose what to buy first.

After talking to your child about needs and wants, tell them that even though we have to make good choices with our money, there’s still a way to get the things we want – by saving. Have your child draw a picture of the item they want and help them find out how much it costs. Next to the picture of the item, draw a meter to show how close your child is to having enough money saved to purchase it.  When they get money as a gift or for chores, remind them of their goal and encourage them to save toward it rather than spending it on smaller things they want right now, like small toys or candy.

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