Do you “Need” what you “Want”?

“He needed one to participate in his online classes. You want a smart phone because some of your friends have one. That is the difference!”

My colleague’s 11-year-old was upset that she had asked him to use her phone for his requirements but had willingly given an old phone to their house help’s son. It was time to explain to him the difference between needs and wants.

The lockdown was an eye opener for a generation of parents and children for whom the line between wants and needs had blurred. We realised that our requirements have often been defined by peer pressure and societal expectations.

A Need is something that is essential for our survival. A need could be either monetary or otherwise. During the lockdown, our focus was on basic needs – good health, nutritious food, clean habits and above all, bonding within the family. Most of our expenses were incurred on fulfilling these basic needs.

Our wellbeing is a basic need that depends on our ability to keep our body and mind active. Regular exercise or playing a sport can keep us physically fit. To keep our mind engaged, we must constantly strive to learn new skills and interact with others. Social interaction and investing in social relationships go a long way in promoting mental health.

A Want on the other hand is something we desire or aspire for but can live without. Forced to stay home, we were unable to go shopping, dine out, go to movies or gaming arenas or even go on long drives. As a result, our discretionary spending was minimised during this period and we realised that most of these were indulgences or ‘wants’ that we could do without.

As the economy has been badly hit, financial uncertainty is a serious concern for many. This again is an opportunity to educate children on finances. Parents can involve children in budgetary decisions. A minimalistic lifestyle may well be the ‘new normal’ and parents will have to set an example by adopting a simpler way of life.

As online education is likely to be the norm in the coming months, many families may need to invest in an extra computer and even upgrade the internet service at home. Families can look at reducing certain expenses such as petrol, dining out, shopping for clothes and travel, to save up for an additional computer.

In the absence of household help, families came together with every member contributing towards household chores. This was again a time we realised how important these support staff are to the functioning of our normal life. The people who iron our clothes, the local scrap dealer who takes away our old newspapers or our regular auto and taxi drivers have all been without income during the lockdown period.

Despite facing pay cuts and financial uncertainties, many citizens have reached out to those in dire need, to help them sail through this difficult phase. Compromising on some of our ‘wants’ could go a long way in fulfilling the basic ‘needs’ of others.

When a neighbour’s child complained about being unable to celebrate his birthday party on a grand scale, his mother suggested that he use a part of the money budgeted for his party on buying rice for the neighbourhood scrap dealer’s family. With no income for over a month, the scrap dealer’s family was running out of provisions. The neighbour purchased 10kgs of rice and had it delivered to the scrap dealer’s home. It was a wonderful lesson for the young child.

Every day of the lockdown has been a learning experience. In the post-Covid scenario, the ‘new normal’ could be a more humane society driven by needs and not wants. Hopefully aspects like spending time with family, focus on good physical and emotional health and mindful spending will become a way of life.

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