Wants vs. Needs For The Holidays - Hogwash

Nov 17, 2022

“ As the saying goes, “If you want to be good with money, you have to know the difference between a want and a need.” Now, let me say this … Hogwash!”

 - Sarah Newcomb of Morningstar.


 Sarah reframes this teaching in her wonderful book Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How To Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind. (Hint: Great Holiday Gift). We miss the more profound truth when we frame things as needs vs. wants. Beneath every want is a more profound human need. Our job as consumers and gift-givers this holiday season is to stay connected to this reality. 


As humans, we all have many different needs to feel fully alive. The study of positive psychology helps us understand that mental health is much more than just the absence of anxiety and depression. It is the experience of vibrancy, excitement, curiosity, and so much more. 


So this holiday season, as we begin to buy for those we care for, lets us match our gift-giving to the unique psychological needs of the gift recipient. 


Unmet Needs From Past Holidays

Many of us get swept up in buying gifts to fulfill unmet needs from our childhood. As cliche as it might sound, our childhood holidays memories of what we did not get and longed to get can be particularly strong during the holiday season and send our shopping and spending into overdrive. 


What do you remember about gift-giving when you reflect on your childhood experiences of the holidays? 


What feelings does this leave you with now? 


Tense shoulders

A pit in your stomach

Light heart

Relaxed jaw


If we have unmet needs from our childhood memories of the holidays, it may make us more vulnerable to overshopping and overcompensating for what we did not get during our childhoods. On the other end of the continuum, denying the pain of not having needs met during the holidays can make us vulnerable and unwilling to meet our own needs and the needs of others in our lives now. 

Discovering Your Needs This Holiday Season 


One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and others is developing your awareness of various human needs. Unfortunately, this can not be bought but can be learned and developed. 


I have become a big fan of the human needs wheel from Human Systems. The human needs wheel helps me explore the range of human needs and reflect on what needs I have and what needs my loved ones have. 


According to Human Systems, there are four core psychological needs, and connected to each of those are many more nuanced needs. I like to think of them as different sizes, shapes, and colors of lego blocks, all available for building a wonderful life. 


4 Core Psychological Needs


Individuality and Relationship


Safety and Growth


At first glance, you might say these needs are opposites, and you would be right. But at a much deeper these four core needs work in collaboration. Each of these core needs has different, more nuanced associations. 


We need all four elements to feel fully alive and flourishing. When we understand and accept this, we create opportunities for ourselves and others to experience life more richly and fully. 


Financially Flourishing This Holiday Season

The exciting news is that we can use the money to meet our different needs. We can also use who we are as a person to meet many human needs without spending additional money. It is not an either-or scenario, but rather a both and. 


Money is a tool this holiday season to help you meet the needs of your gift recipients this year. Instead of feeling guilty about the gifts you’re buying this year, ask yourself what need I am trying to meet for the recipient. The options are endless, and if you take time to review the human needs wheels and reflect on which needs your trying to meet, all the better. 

A few examples of how gifts meet psychological needs

  1. Safety - Bicycle helmet for a child
  2. Relationship - Tickets to go to favorite sporting events
  3. Growth - Favorite books
  4. Individuality - Trip to the spa for self-care


Here is some more good holiday news, when we feel like we are getting our needs met our sense of satiation goes up. We don’t “need” as much when we have our needs met. Much like in nutrition, when we eat what is good for us, our bodies signal and let us know we are full. The same is true of human needs. When our needs are met, we don’t long so much to have our needs met in compulsive and self-destructive ways. 


This empowers us to explore our own needs. We can be low in specific needs and over-full in others. Taking the time to continually come back to and explore the various needs we have which are unmet, met, and saturated will guide us on what we truly need for the holidays. 


If you find yourself saying 

I want this - ask yourself what need am I trying to fulfill. 

I don’t need this - ask yourself what need might you be denying. 


When we get into mid-January, what do you want to be able to say when you look back on this holiday season? 


What needs will you have discovered of your own that have been reconnected with?


What needs will you have met through your gift-giving? 


Will you have overdone it and overspent trying to meet needs that were not important to you or the person you bought for? 


Imagine what it would be like to look back in mid-January and say, “ Wow, that was a wonderful holiday season where our needs were met, and we spent an amount of money that matters to us. 

 If you have trouble imagining your future and finances, perhaps its time to check out Therapy Informed Financial Planning. Schedule here for your 30-minute free discovery call. 

Wishing You The Happiest of Holidays,

Ed Coambs




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