How to Play the Need and Want Game

The Need and Want Game is a game of shopping. When you head off to the supermarket, department store, mall or box store, this is the game to play. The reasons for playing it range from keeping within your budget, being considerate of the environmental impact of your purchasing, and not cluttering up your personal life with items you truly don't need. Ready to get started? Here goes.


  1. Image titled Play the Need and Want Game Step 1
    Understand the rules of the game. Basically, you are to go shopping and only come home with what you need rather than with any impulse buys or things you thought you wanted but really don't need. To win this game, there must be no wants in the stuff brought home (subject to the exceptions to the rule below).
  2. Image titled Play the Need and Want Game Step 2
    Eat and sleep well before you shop. This will help to give your mind the advantage over your stomach and general feelings of fatigue. It's far harder to resist purchases when you lack energy (including as a result of lack of sleep) because you're more likely to feel like you need a "pick-me-up" and it's far harder to excuse yourself for unnecessary purchases.
  3. Image titled Play the Need and Want Game Step 3
    Write a list. You're more likely to win this game if you already know what you need before you go shopping.
  4. Image titled Play the Need and Want Game Step 4
    Go to the relevant store. Start playing:
    • Get out your list.
    • Every time you see something that is not on your list and find yourself wanting to put it in your basket or cart, you have to ask yourself: Do I need this? Or do I just want this?
    • Stick with what you need. Every time you answer "want", put the item back on the shelf. Walk on.
  5. Image titled Play the Need and Want Game Step 5
    Proceed to the counter. Make your purchases. At home, tally up how well you've done. If you have no impulse buys, purchases that were not on the list, no "wants", then you win. For every slip-up, you've succumbed to wants over needs.
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    Keep playing until this becomes second nature. Whether you are trying to save money, save resources, or stop cluttering up your life, you will discover over time that this not only gets easier but makes the few times when you do buy a treat so much more exciting and rewarding than giving in to wants all of the time.


  • Exceptions: Decide in advance what exceptions you will permit, taking into account the need for these to not become excuses:
    • You genuinely forgot to add something vital to the list, such as milk, the dog food, a medication.
    • The special is so incredible that a bulk buy makes good financial sense. Weigh this up honestly though - it must be an item you will use within the use-by date, for your usual needs.
    • You're treating yourself on a rare occasion for a real achievement. Note that this is not the same as buying to make yourself feel better. This is the self-reward for getting through something hard or challenging in your life, like getting a degree, winning a sports event after years of training, finding closure for loss of a loved one, etc. Yes, those really big events only, and even then only buy quality, and be honest with yourself in advance that this is the purpose for your shopping trip. The list idea is still a good one for even the reward too - something you've wanted for years.
  • Consider giving yourself a service reward (a massage, a movie, a meal out), over buying more things.
  • Get in the habit of not buying gifts at the last minute. This induces panic buying and leaves you open to purchasing at too high a price, and often unwisely. Plan well ahead for birthdays, special holiday events, etc.
  • Try walking to the store. Having only two arms to carry the items home soon changes spending habits.

Things You'll Need

  • Carry bags - leave the plastic bag in the store

Article Info

Categories: Buying Wisely | Sustainable Living