Consuming Goods and Services


  • Identify the factors that determine consumption;
  • Identify the reasons why consumption habits can change;
  • List the responsibilities of consumers.


The teacher leads a discussion with the class on goods and services consumption. In small groups, students analyze their most recent purchases.


  • Potential answers and topics of reflection are provided to the teacher to foster discussion.


Preparatory exercise: At the class before this lesson, the teacher can ask students to draw up a list of their purchases over the past three weeks (including prices).

To begin the activity, the teacher leads a class discussion. He or she asks the students:

Q – When you're buying something, what are you thinking about?

A – About the price, the product quality, the environment, my needs, the look, its usefulness, the comments others will make, etc.

Q – How does your consumption differ from that of your parents? From that of your friends?

A – Make the point that consumption is different from one person to the next based on personal values, priorities, age, gender, income, economic background, etc.

Q – What is your process for deciding to purchase one product over another?

A – The students can give many answers. The following elements should be mentioned:

  • Assess my needs
  • List the various options available to me
  • Find out more* about the different options by consulting the Internet, my parents and friends, and by visiting stores
  • Compare the options based on the information gathered
  • Make my selection
  • Assess my decision

* What elements should be considered when looking for a product? Product durability, warranty, the store's exchange and refund policy, price, reputation for customer service, client satisfaction with the product.

Q – In light of the purchasing process learned in class, on what did you base your purchasing decisions over the past three weeks? (question to be asked if the suggested preparatory exercise was carried out)

A – Using the list of purchases prepared before class, students must assess whether their purchasing decisions were impulsive or properly thought-out.

Q – What affects your purchasing decisions?

A – Friends, family, advertising, salespersons, media, fashion, social pressure, budget, beliefs, multinationals, other?

Why? To strengthen my sense of belonging, because I trust my family’s consumer habits, because everyone has one, because I make purchases based on my values, and so on.

If the suggested preparatory exercise was carried out, ask students which factors affected their purchases over the past three weeks.

Q – What's a need? Give examples.

A – Basic needs are those that absolutely must be met in order for us to survive. For example, we absolutely have to meet our need to drink, eat, be clothed and sheltered, stay warm and safe, create bonds with others, and so on. That means we have no choice but to buy food and clothing, pay electricity bills and rent, etc.

Q – How can you tell a need from a want?

A– Needs are also universal in nature: everyone has the same ones. They stem from a lack or will cause one if not satisfied. For example, a lack of food leads to hunger; if we are unable to meet this need, we will run out of energy and be unable to concentrate.

Q – What's a want? Give examples.

A – A want arises from a choice or a desire rather than from necessity. Satisfying a want is not essential, but it does make life more pleasant. Wants include the desire to eat junk food, buy a videogame, have a new pair of stylish shoes, go to the movies or a restaurant, etc. Unlike a need, a want does not stem from a lack and does not create one if unmet. Satisfying a want makes us feel good, but only for a short time.

We often confuse wants and needs. Needing food, water, warm clothing, or contact with people is different than wanting a high-performance bike, the new chocolate bar advertised on TV, or an afternoon at an amusement park. When we buy products and services we don't need, we risk getting into debt in the medium term. Being a consumer is about making choices, since we can't buy everything.

Q – What accounts for different wants?

A – Our personal tastes and priorities, culture, and fashion shape our purchasing decisions. That cannot be said of needs. For example, a young person living in modern-day Québec has just about the same needs as a young person living in Russia about 20 years ago (food and drink, shelter, clothing, warmth and protection, etc.). However, you can be sure their wants are very different because they are living in different eras, contexts, and cultures. Their realities are different.


Students separate into smaller groups and answer the following questions:

  • For my last purchases, what questions did I ask myself before going ahead?
  • What questions should we ask ourselves before making a purchase?

Next, the teacher brings the class together again for a discussion. Below are some questions that may come up during the group discussion:

  • What will I use this for?
  • What genuine need will this satisfy?
  • Is there something I already own that could be recycled, exchanged, or reused?
  • How long will I use this object if I buy it?
  • Will I be happier if I own this? How? Why? For how long?


The things we want to buy are often temporary wants that will soon be replaced with other more recent or fashionable wants.

Reinvestment activity

The teacher can ask students to do research at home on options for a different approach to consumption and to reflect on which ones they would be willing to adopt as part of their lifestyle. This exercise could be the topic of discussion in future classes.

Potential avenues: favouring quality over quantity, buying used, consuming less, buying locally, applying the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), bartering, etc.

Additional resources

Achète-toi une vie” [buy a life] (in French only), an educational kit created by the youth wing of the consumer organization Option consommateurs. This kit is designed for 14- to 21-year-olds and includes an information guide as well as exercises, educational video capsules, and excerpts of short films by youths. Young people can use this kit to discover what their needs are and how they can use this knowledge to better control their personal finances and their life.