As an independent advice-based planner, your job is to guide your clients through life as both a fiduciary and financial counselor. This means that you’re much more than a stock picker or someone your clients call on when they want to put more money into their retirement accounts. You may find yourself helping them with issues like resolving family discord or even navigating a mid-life crisis. However, many of your discussions with your clients will probably be related in some way to their finances even though many other issues may come into play. I find that one area in which many of my clients need assistance is in identifying the difference between a need and a want—and how that impacts their overall financial decisions. Do you find this is an issue with your clients? If so, here are some lessons you can help them learn that I have found to be useful for those I work with.

Needs and Wants Are Always Changing

Some of your clients may believe that needs are fixed while wants can be a passing fancy. In some cases, this may be true. However, most people’s wants and needs are continually evolving based on the stage of life they’re in, their improved economic status, and their shifting priorities. For example, a one-bedroom apartment close to the beach but with no working shower and a shared kitchen may fulfill your client’s needs just fine when he’s a 23-year-old bachelor, but not so much when he’s a 40-year-old father of two. Help your clients be aware that keeping tabs on how their needs and wants are shifting is vital to planning accordingly.

Noise Creates Confusion

How many ads do you think you’re exposed to per day? Depending on how much media you consume, it could be hundreds or even thousands. This ‘noise’ creates confusion in your clients’ minds and blurs the line between a need and a want. Do they need to upgrade their wardrobe to succeed in life? Probably not, but there are plenty of ads that will try to convince them otherwise. Help your clients reduce the noise levels in their lives by reducing the amount of time they spend watching television or on social media or help them get better at recognizing when an ad is trying to tell them something that just isn’t true.

Align Intentions and Actions with a Value System

When your clients can align their intentions and actions with their value system, it becomes much easier for them to be emotionally agile and to make good buying decisions. For example, if their intention is to simplify their lives in the new year and it’s based on a solid value, it should be easy for them to opt out of buying fancy gadgets or joining pricey country clubs. If your clients don’t have a solid value system, you need to start there first before you begin the needs and wants conversation. Watching clients make financial decisions that are poorly thought through or that seem to make no sense is a clear sign that their value system needs some serious work.

Identifying the difference between needs and wants is an important step in your clients’ financial journey. When you can help them make good decisions based on solid values, you’re acting as a true fiduciary who is continually focused on being of value. Do you have questions about guiding your clients through the needs vs. wants process? Please leave them below!


When you become a mentor to your clients, deeply understand them, and guide them toward a better future, then you’ve learned the ways of a financial caregiver. You’ve come to know what it means to be a true purveyor of advice, and how to use money as a conduit to a more fulfilling life for yourself and those you serve.