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Needs, Wants, and Wishes ... Oh My!

Throughout our lives we make tens of thousands of purchasing decisions–some more thought out than others. Knowing the difference between our wants and needs is an important part of learning to manage our money in a mindful and empowered way. It’s easy to spend money. What can be more challenging is spending money in a way that is truly attuned with our values and desires.

One simple way to guide conscious spending is to get super clear on our needs and wants, and actually list them all out on paper:

Needs are the essentials—the basics of life that you must have to survive: food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.

Wants are basically everything else: eating out, entertainment, travel, gifts, gym membership, etc.

One of my mentors, Mikelann Valterra from the Women’s Earning Institute, offers some parameters to delineate needs and wants. She suggests analyzing:

What is all the stuff you need or want?
What are all the services you need or want?
What are all the experiences you need or want?

In addition to needs and wants, I like to tack on another list to the mix: a wish list! This is where you start to dream—digging deep—and imagine things that might somehow be off-limits to your conscious mind. These are usually the desires imprisoned by limiting beliefs. I love to help clients with this process of opening up their desires to discover wishes they fear may be unattainable for them.

Personally, I adore hearing my client’s wishes! This is often where their “dream big” ideas come out to play, and it is a delight to work with them to create a plan on how to achieve them. I push the envelope to uncover that part of them, where their true desires hide, so they can come out in a safe space and be honored. I hear things such as “I want to hike the Appalachian Trail,” “I would love to get a weekly massage,” or even “I want to start my own business.”

Obviously, needs, wants, and wishes are completely individual, and will differ widely. What is important here, is for you to get clear on what these are for you.


There are three valuable benefits from creating such lists:

  1. This information can be used to support aware and empowered financial decision making that is aligned with the larger vision you hold for yourself and your life. 
  2. Engaging in this exploration can inspire you to think about the ways you can start earning more money to obtain your goals.
  3. When we are able to map out our financial wishes and make a plan for bringing them to fruition, it results in a powerful sense of self-sufficiency. Think about what it would feel like to return home from a fantastic vacation with some souvenirs, rather than with a boatload of debt. Yes, you can be your own fairy godmother and grant yourself wishes!

As an added bonus, creating these lists for yourself also makes things easy when someone asks you what you want for your birthday, holidays, etc. Just whip out your handy lists and offer some suggestions!

Financially Smitten Call to Action for You today:

That’s right … it’s list making time! I encourage you to create a sacred space for yourself when doing this exercise. Make sure you have the time, light a scented candle, sip on a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, play some relaxing music … what ever gets you in the mood to dream—and dream big!

Start by making lists of your needs, wants, and wishes, and put a dollar figure next to each of them. Try to get as specific as possible, thinking both short and long term. For example, if a wish might be to take a trip to London, do some preliminary research and determine a guesstimate of what this will cost. Keep on dreaming until every last wish is extracted. You can always review, prioritize, and modify your lists. This is an evolving process, as new desires emerge and existing ones are obtained.

Once your lists are clearly itemized, before you buy something ask yourself, Do I need this item, or do I just want it? Knowing what’s on your lists will help you make a swift and informed decision. It will prevent impulsive, unnecessary purchases, and keep you on track with your true goals. You might want to carry your wants and wishes lists in your wallet or on your PDA, to keep them close at hand and at the top of your mind. This will ensure that what you buy is not some random, fleeting desire.

For some Financially Smitten extra credit, set up a saving account at ING Direct Bank, where you can itemize up to twenty-five sub-savings accounts! Think about it … you can have saving accounts for twenty-five short and long-term desires.