A Super Soaker or a new backpack for school—can your kids tell which is a “need”, and which is a “want”?

The ability to tell the difference can help get you and your kids through the back-to-school shopping season while teaching them a lifelong lesson in personal finance.

You can’t create a budget unless you know what you need to buy vs. what you want to buy, right?

This short and fun activity can help—it’s perfect for kids in pre-k or elementary school, and only involves a little sorting. By the end, they should be able to define and identify examples of needs and wants.

Teach your kids about saving and investing

Download the activity sheet

Getting started

What you need for the activity:

  • Needs vs. Wants activity sheet — Download and Print [PDF]
  • Scissors
  • Extension: prepare pictures of items your child has expressed wanting or needing and add them to the activity

After cutting out the pictures (and adding some others if you’d like), your child will sort them into the appropriate column: “Needs” or “Wants”.

If you need an easy way to define the two:

What’s a “need?” – Something kids will use every day. Maybe new shoes, or a lunchbox for school.

What’s a “want?” – Something that’s special that may take a little while to save for. Like a new skateboard, or a trip to Six Flags.

Note: Consider rewarding your child for their great saving habits by matching their contributions in their Stash custodial account. You can use Stash dollars to signify each deposit!

Full instructions

  1. Cut apart the activity pictures.
  2. Read the heading on the two columns, but do not discuss the meanings.
  3. Have the child sort the pictures into the column they think the item belongs in.
  4. Define need (something you can’t live without) and want (something that would be nice to have, but you can live without).
  5. Look at each item they have classified and ask, “Can we live without this?” Reclassify the items if needed. Discuss misconceptions
  6. Extension: Share pictures of items you collected. Ask your child, Is this an item you need or item you want? Discuss misconceptions.

Talk to your kids!

Completing the activity is one thing, but you’ll want to make sure your kids understood what they were taught and can take something away from it. Try asking these questions, and continue the conversation to reinforce the lesson:

  • What do you need to be healthy?
  • Why is a _____________ an item you “need”?
  • Why is ______________ considered a “want”?
  • Name an item not previously discussed. Is it a want or need?

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