The Fundamentals of Wants and Needs

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were financially-smart kids. The secret to setting your kids up for a solid financial future is to start with the basics. Deeper than the value of a dollar, budgets and why it’s so important to save lies the very basic lesson of: wants and needs are not the same thing. 

While the difference between wants and needs may feel straight forward to grownups, the concept can be complex to kids. Breaking down needs, wants, the fine line between the two and how to make trade-off decisions is critical for instilling money management and financial planning skills. 

Know your needs

Needs are essentials. When teaching your kids how to determine what a need is, it’s important to highlight what is a true necessity and what is a needy request —it’s all about perspective. Here are the categories we consider bare necessities: 

  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Water

We find that getting as specific as possible when explaining necessities helps kids master the concept and begin to apply it in real-life trade-off decisions. 

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

If you’re a parent, you’re probably used to hearing the rally cry “I want _____” from your kids. Wants can be described as the things your kids may circle in a magazine or put on an Amazon wish list for the holiday season. Greenlight mom Bonnie Koon even shared that her son once requested $10,000 via his Greenlight app. 

Wants are often inspired by peers, pop culture and hobbies. Here are some hopeful requests made by Greenlight kids. We’ll wait while you have a giggle or two.

When raising financially-smart kids, it’s important for parents to let their kids know that wants are a part of life but making smart choices around those wants will set them up for success. 

The gray area 

No lesson in needs and wants with a child is going to be easy peasy lemon squeezy, so it’s important to get specific for clarity’s sake when dealing with such an abstract conversation. 

Is ice cream a food? Yes, but ice cream is certainly not a necessity. Are Yeezy’s shoes? Yes, but $300 for a pair of shoes is not necessary or a requirement. 

It’s important for parents to let their kids know that it’s okay to want certain things. But making smart choices around those wants will set them up for success. In general, having a discussion around “wanting” things in life can be a powerful and inspirational discussion. You can want to make the soccer team. Want to be president. Want to have a family when you grow up. It is wants and dreams that put humans on the moon and brought us Beyonce. But when it comes to finances – you can’t always get what you want.

Being able to tackle these types of questions head-first will help kids understand the true meaning of a necessity instead of something they very much want, crave or think they need to meet the status quo. 

One way to help kids fully understands wants and needs would be to have them write a list of what they think are needs and what they think are wants. From there, break down needs — if they are a true necessity or not — and tackle what goes into getting a want (such as saving for that pair of Yeezy’s or picking up extra babysitting opportunities to help pay for the spring break trip to New York City). To take it a step further, discuss a budget of $1,000 with your child and include a mix of needs (rent/groceries/phone or car payment) and wants (a new iPhone/concert tickets/new shoes) to showcase that all needs must be met before money goes to wants. 

Want it? Save for it 

Wants and needs make a perfect opportunity to teach the importance of saving money to reach a goal. Want a new pair of jeans? Save for it. Have $100 extra each month after covering necessities? Add extra money to your savings goal to buy a new MacBook. These wants can act as perfect motivators to increase saving.

Setting up clear savings goals with Greenlight will not only teach kids how to set a savings goal and budget to meet their desired goal, but it will motivate them to save more in the long run. We’ll be talking more about saving in November, so stay tuned for tips from Greenlight families on how to have the right money talks.

Save with Greenlight 

Set up a Greenlight savings goal today!

Using your kids’ debit cards to talk about money this summer

The money talk — not as scary as the birds and bees, but still a big deal.  In fact, 49% of parents say they’re not sure how to explain money to their kids [1]. Enter: Summer Break. More time at home means more time to talk about money management. Follow along for some conversation starters and tips on how to have the money talk.

EXPLAIN WHY BUDGETING IS IMPORTANT

79% of Americans keep a budget [2], which is great. Budgets may be a bit more involved for grownups, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t start learning the basics. How? Start off by explaining why budgeting matters. There’s a good chance they’re already wondering that.

Conversation Starter: “What’s something you really want but you haven’t had the money to buy?” Maybe it’s something you can’t fit into your parent budget, or maybe it’s something you think they should buy on their own. During the summer, there are lots of opportunities for your kids to make money — help them figure out how to manage their earnings.

BREAK DOWN COMMON BUDGETING TERMS

Fixed expenses and variable expenses — ring a bell? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, these are important words to teach your kids about budgeting. Break it down into Summer Break terms and they’ll get it.

Conversation Starter: “A fixed expense is one that doesn’t change. Like, our Netflix subscription. It’s the same price every month. A variable expense is one that does change. Like, a meal at a restaurant. It can go up or down, depending on where we eat.”

TALK ABOUT SAVING MONEY

Budgeting for Summer Break is one thing — saving for it is another. Instead of handing over a wad of cash and hoping they stash it away, make it a hands-on experience with a bit of fun along the way.

Conversation Starter: “Saving money lets you buy things that you might not have enough money for right now. When you add a little bit of money to your savings over time, it adds up so you can buy those things one day.” Tip: Help your kids make a savings goal (or better, lots of goals). Then, work together to plan out how they’ll reach that goal.

GIVE KIDS THEIR OWN DEBIT CARD

The fun part about the money talk is giving your kids their own debit card. Unlike a credit card, they can only spend what’s on it. The best part? They won’t realize that they’re learning valuable lessons every time they use their card — but trust us, they are.

With the Greenlight debit card and app, your kids can:

  • Set savings goals.
  • Learn to make trade-off decisions. Keychain or shark-tooth necklace? It’s their call.
  • Earn allowance through chores. Cool fact: Greenlight kids who earn allowance save 26% more. Woohoo!

A few other things you can do in your app:

  • Manage access to ATMs. Are they withdrawing a bit too much? Set limits.
  • Choose stores. You decide where they can and can’t spend. Gas only? Just at restaurants? Adjust the settings in your app.
  • Get real-time notifications and monitor their spend levels.

GET SET FOR SUMMER

Join Greenlight today and help your kids get a head start on budgeting for their Summer Break — and for life! Sign up now

[1] Investopedia.com [2] Debt.com

Everything you need to know about National Decision Day

For many high school seniors, May 1st is an important day: National Decision Day. It’s the day they decide what comes after high school — the first of many big decisions they’ll make for themselves. This year, it also marks a day in which their decisions are heavily impacted by the world around us. 

They did the work, took the tests, made it through the teenage years and now have their sights set on graduating high school. While you and your family explore different ways to commemorate this milestone (perhaps with video calls and virtual graduation parties?), we hope you can still find time to talk about the next chapter of your child’s life.

The new-age debate

Our Gen Zs live in a world of entrepreneurs and self-starters. They’re seeing success as seven-year-old YouTube influencers make millions and 16-year-olds start their own companies.

So it makes sense why your kids will have different thoughts and considerations surrounding the college talk. That’s not to say that they don’t want to go to college — they just may not see it as the only option. As parents, we need to listen to that so we can guide them toward a decision that we all feel good about.

To sign or not to sign? What to consider

The college talk isn’t just on National Decision Day — it’s year-round. It’s a good idea to stay in the loop with the merging views on the subject. When you delve into the college talk, you may come across split views on a few things: 

Student loans: 

Because every financial situation is different, student loans are a hot button for many parents. If you and your kids are thinking about student loans, take time to explore every avenue and talk about how it will impact them throughout and after college. 

In 2018, the average individual student loan amount was $29,200. Loans may or may not be an option for your family. Either way, National Decision Day is a great opportunity to talk through the numbers with your soon-to-be grad. 

Public vs. private vs. community:

The good news is we’ve got lots of options. The not-so-good news? Well, it’s hard to decide! It’s no secret that most private schools come with a heavy cost and community schools are typically the most affordable. Public schools tend to sit somewhere in the middle of the two. 

Talk to your kids about finances — how they’ll be managing their money throughout college, pros and cons of an expensive school and what matters most to them. Your conversation could bring you to a cost-benefit analysis (bonus!) or it could spark up a new outlook on the entire decision-making process. 

Career analysis: 

Anyone else feel like their kids are too young to decide on a career path? In many ways, they are. That being said, they may have a different perspective. 91% of high schoolers believe they know their dream job, according to a survey done by EY and Junior Achievement. 

To them, a career is fun, exciting and adulty (their word, not ours). You know better than them that careers are not just about fun — they’re about financial security and stability. 

The transition out of high school is a prime time to have an open, honest conversation with your kids about this. You have the best insight into your kids’ strengths and interests, and you can use this knowledge to help them choose a path that will give them the biggest return on investment. (Props to you if you can make ROI sound fun!) 

Looking for a way to start the conversation? Try these: 

“Are we there yet?”

You’ve got a lot to think about, but no need to stress about it. National Decision Day is an exciting time for you and your kids. No matter what path they choose, the most important thing is that they have you. 

And… they have Greenlight! They may be growing up, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop helping them make wise money decisions. If you haven’t already, join Greenlight to keep your kids financially-healthy and happy throughout this next chapter of their lives.