Needs versus Wants

“I need a new car.” “I need a vacation.” “I need a new cell phone.”

Both as business people and individual consumers, most of us do not go through a set process to differentiate between our wants and needs. Clever marketers like it that way. Back to that in a bit.

Living in the modern world, needs and wants are often confused. Not making the distinction between needs and wants has its roots in failing to define them.

Possibly, the best way to define needs is by restricting them to a biological context. We need fresh drinking water. We need some food. We need some level of clothing and shelter. We need medical attention when appropriate. Those are biological needs. Biological needs are required to sustain our lives. This, however, is limited to the purely physical realm.

Once we move away from biological needs, the line between needs and wants gets blurry. Do we need cars? To sustain our lives in the strictest sense, no. Might we be able to utilize public transportation to get to work instead? Yes.

However, what if we are traveling salespeople? What if our work calls for visiting a vast array of customers in a short amount of time? What then? Certainly a car might be a requirement for that job and therefore it would be a need, albeit not a biological one. After all, we could seek a job that does not require a vehicle. Or we might be able to visit our customers by walking, bicycle or the bus, though that might be inconvenient.

In the modern world, few things we perceive as needs are actually necessary to sustain life. Again, clean water, decent food, basic clothing, some kind of shelter and medical attention when called for, are biological mandates. And these should be given top priority.

The rest of our so called needs depend on what kind of life we lead. An urban office worker might perceive that he needs a laptop computer and a smart phone. Yet, it is a less than accurate perception. And smart people in marketing have worked hard to blur the lines for us, between what is a need and what is a want, in order to sell more products.

In the context of modern living, it is best that we introduce a couple of words to help us delineate between needs and wants. Those words are budget and practical.

Once we get beyond biological needs, perhaps it is best we do not speak of needs at all. Instead, we might focus on those things that are practical acquisitions, helping to make our lives – personally and businesswise – more readily livable, enjoyable and efficient. And these acquisitions should be made, if they are made at all, on the basis of contextual relevance and a prioritized budget. Food for thought.

Image: phanlop88 /

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