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!

This Greenlight teen used his savings to publish a book series about overcoming your fears

Writers move and shape our world, and we know a Greenlight teen who is making a big impact with his wordsmithing wisdom. Stephen M. is a 13-year-old who wrote a book, runs a side hustle and is saving his money to publish an entire series. Writers and dreamers — this one’s for you!

Meet Stephen 

Stephen is a writer, artist, musician, athlete and entrepreneur. WOW! He’s been playing baseball since he was little, coached by a special someone — his dad. Recently, he moved all the way from Florida to Alaska. (Talk about a big move!) And at 13 years old, he decided to publish a book.

Ever since he could talk, Stephen has had a stutter. While 5-10% of children have a stutter at some point, about 3 out of 4 children outgrow it. Stephen did not outgrow his stutter, but he did outgrow his fears. So, he turned to his pen and paper to weave together a story made to inspire and educate the world on speech fluency disorders and disabilities.

How Stephen got started

Growing up, Stephen faced challenges with his stutter. He took the time to learn about it and he discovered that our differences are what make us unique and special.

In true writer fashion, he channeled his thoughts and feelings into a story and named the book Stutter-fly. Stutter-fly follows the story of a butterfly named Jimmy, who goes on a journey to learn how to overcome his stutter. What he ends up learning is so much bigger: He learns to love himself for who he is.

When he finished his story, he had one last step before publishing it. He needed an illustrator to bring his words to life with beautiful imagery. Here’s where Stephen’s entrepreneurial spirit comes in handy. He pulled together his resources, whipped out his business brain and started selling water bottles and candy to pay for a professional illustrator. 

He set a savings goal of $2,000 in his Greenlight app and picked up weekly chores to earn an allowance on his Greenlight card. After reaching his goal and picking an illustrator, Stutter-fly was born. 

Just like Jimmy the Stutter-fly learned (you’ll have to read the whole story!), Stephen has learned an important lesson about being nice to others. He plans to publish a book series to inspire readers of all ages to appreciate our differences as part of our stories.

To put action behind his words, Stephen saves 10% of his earnings for a non-profit organization he’s planning to start for young Black authors aged 5 to 17. No matter how old you are or what you do, there’s always a chance to do good with your money. 

What’s next?

Writer’s block isn’t hitting Stephen anytime soon. He’s already brewing ideas for the next book in his series. That’s right — series. He’s got big plans, with a goal of $8,000 to help him live out his dreams and bring his words to the world. 

In honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day, we hope Stephen’s story can inspire you and your family. To learn about International Stuttering Awareness Day, read more on Stephen’s website or order his book, Stutter-fly, on Amazon.

5 ways to use your kids’ debit card to talk about holiday spending

As we come up on March 95th (er, autumn), it’s safe to say we could all use a little joy around here. The holidays are around the corner, which might mean gifts, homemade meals, decorations up the wazoo and of course… holiday spending. Grab your kids’ debit cards and open your Greenlight app for ways to budget for the season. 

Create a fall budgeting bucket list 

Illustration of fall leaves and rake

You’ve probably seen the fall bucket lists that are all over Pinterest right now. Your kids can make one too! With your budgeting bucket list, talk about saving, setting spending limits and picking up extra work to bump up the budget. Here’s a list for your kids to get started: 

  • Pick three outdoor chores to add to your rotation as the temperatures drop. Every two weeks of allowance (it’s automated!), put a % in your holiday gift funds.
  • Spend on one fun fall activity. Take a picture and pat yourself on the back because you budgeted for it. 
  • Set a new savings goal every month for the rest of the year. Have some fun with it! 
  • Have a practice negotiation exercise with a scarecrow or a pumpkin. Remember: negotiating your allowance impacts your budget! Make it fun with an autumn-themed negotiation subject. 

Let them spend

Probably not the advice you were expecting, right? Well, if you haven’t heard it enough from us… kids learn by doing. They learn what it means to spend money when they actually do it. 

Let’s face it — they’re going to spend money at some point. And if you want a nice gift over the holidays (wink, wink), it’s better to be there with them for their first big purchase so you can point out ways to save up for the next one. Go online shopping together and let them pay for a holiday item of their choice (like decorations for their room or a holiday gift) using their Greenlight card.

Look for sales together

Jack-o-lantern saying "Deal or no deal?"

You know what’s better than scoring a sale? Finding a sale with your child. It’s the parent jackpot because 1) You’re both saving money and 2) You’re laying the foundation for your kids to always look for sales. 

From early bird October deals to Black Friday, you have lots of opportunities to teach your kids the value of a good bargain. When Cyber Monday rolls around, take a moment to talk about online safety. And when we get to December (finally!), show your kids how to use their Greenlight app to create different buckets for their holiday spending. P.S., if it gets too out of hand, set spending limits in your companion app.

Make a gift list

One of the greatest joys of the holiday season is giving. Instill this habit in your kids by sitting down and drafting a gift list with them. From Uncle Jim’s chocolate-covered pretzels to gag gifts for the siblings, this exercise will get your kids ahead of the game on their shopping lists — with an estimated cost for each gift. 

Aside from holiday gifts, kids can also celebrate generosity by giving back to the community. This year, volunteering might be tough (unless you’re volunteering virtually), so a nice alternative way to give is by donating to charitable organizations.

 Remember what matters

It’s easy for shoppers of all ages to get caught up in the holiday spending chaos. With COVID-19, budgets may be tighter and celebrations may be different. Come back to what matters most: your family. 

While this may not be a “money talk,” it’s a great real-life talk. Let your kids ask their questions or express their opinions about this holiday season. We’re all doing the best we can, so if you need a friend, coupon expert or budgeting tool, you can always lean on Greenlight.