Combining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & Personal Finance

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

Updated. You may or may not be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is part of one theory explaining human behavior by psychologist Abraham Maslow. It suggests that there are five general levels of needs:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Social
  • Esteem
  • Growth

These are often represented as a triangle due to their relative importance. Lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be addressed. For example, one must first obtain food and water (physiological) before worrying about what might happen if they get in a car accident tomorrow (safety). It’s just a theory, but an interesting one.


While not all of these needs can be explicitly bought with money, it’s not too much of a stretch to see the relationship between this triangle and finances. We usually worry about paying for rent and food first before worrying about giving to charity or that long distance telephone bill.

In the book Retirement Income Redesigned, the authors make a close correlation between the hierarchy of needs and planning for retirement. Here is a figure from the book:


The new levels:

  • Survival income. How much do you spend simply to survive?
  • What-if income. You will want to protect your life. This could mean health care costs, health insurance, and/or proper portfolio planning so you don’t outlive your money.
  • Freedom income. Money needed to do the things that bring joy and fulfillment to your life. Could be travel, education, or fine wine.
  • Gift income. Money for people and causes that deserve your help. This is the replacement for “love”.
  • Dream income. This is the elusive “self-actualization” level where you find true happiness and meaning.

By breaking down your income needs, this could be another way to track your progress towards financial freedom. You can make covering your bare necessities your first smaller goal, and move on from there. This would involve both measuring your expenses and also deciding how much you’d need to save to create that much income.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

User Generated Content Disclosure: Comments and/or responses are not provided or commissioned by any advertiser. Comments and/or responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser. It is not any advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. That’s a really interesting twist on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a great visual for prioritizing where we need to spend our money. The reason so many people get into trouble might be because we do not complete the bottom rung of the pyramid before moving up.

  2. Very interesting, I had never seen or heard of Maslow’s Heirarchy of needs. I think this is what we need to look at when we are tempted to buy things on a credit card!

  3. I think some people confuse survival money with freedom can survive without a lot of things.even, forgive me, the internet.

  4. I think that Maslow’s idea of the different emotional levels that explain human behavior and emotion as it relates to money is interesting. Most Americans can not stand putting off the instant gratification that money and spending on stuff gives them. Too often people justify spending as “survival” do to the rush it gives them and helps them to satisfy their own basic survival needs, no matter how trivial these “needs” are.

  5. Maslow’s hierarchy is taught in several psychology texts now, but I should take the time to point out that there aren’t any studies that back it up. It is, much like Freud’s work, just the musings of one person that people seem to accept as true.

  6. based on giving trends across this country, i think gift money makes an appearance, to some degee, much higher on the chart than listed here. an overwhelming majority of money given to charities comes from individual donors, and much of that is from the middle class. i think people who have anything that they can share, share it, even if they dont have a lot of “freedom money” on their hands. regardless, very interesting thought process, i have always been a fan of maslow, and this does give you an idea of how you would lump any given dollar that you may make.

  7. I am lucky because I read this theory in cyclopedia when I was 12. This is one of the 3 theories by which I tried to explain everything. The other two are: Big Bang theory and Darwinism. 🙂 My major is physics in both undergraduate and graduate.

  8. I read about Maslow in my MBA course and was impressed by it. However it remanded me of an OLD Sanskrit verse by an unknown ancient writer which I had read as a child.
    I will translate in English loosely like this : “Food, sleep, fear and sex (in that order) are common to all animals but moderation or discretion is unique to a cultured human being”

  9. In other words, money can buy happiness, right? I have always thought that people who say it can not either have no money and are trying to console themselves, or have a lot and don’t want other people to envy them. (Of course it is not the sole ingredient of happiness: the lack of it does not preclude happiness just as its abundance does not guarantee it.)

  10. It is interesting that self-esteem comes after belonging. I think that’s how people get themselves in trouble, generally speaking. I like the way you’ve mapped these — except for the top category, self-actualization — I don’t think this has anything to do with money – where’s the relationship?

  11. Uncommonadvice says

    Well said. The problem in today’s society is that people are much too keen to skip to the freedom, gift and dream level before they’ve built the proper foundations on the first two.

  12. It’s weird that you mentioned this. Maslow’s hierarchy was in my pastor’s sermon on Sunday too.

  13. MoneyBeagle says

    This is an interesting post. I recently took my Project Management Professional certification, and this was a pretty key topic. There are so many areas in life that this can be applied to. Very well done.

  14. Uncommonadvice… many people find it important to include things like the gift money, even if they dont have it. While you may not be set for life, many others are in greater need, and if you can help, it only seems right that you do.

  15. MultifolDream$ says

    Very interesting presentation of Maslow’s philosophy as a financial plannig perspective. Everyone who plans to become rich shold start filling the layers from the bottom up.

  16. auntie_green says

    Houston, a lot of people do practice moderation – but I do know quite a few who dont.
    At my age, its mostly lack of moderation with food. Lol

    I strive to be moderate with food and sleep. Luckily, I am happily married, so moderation with sex doesn’t apply 🙂

  17. I think it’s a bit cynical to combine Maslow’s theory with money, because it leads you to assume that things like friendship, esteem and self-awareness are connected in some way with the cash you have.

    In fact, I think that money is only necessary for the bottom two rungs of the needs heirarchy.

    The next two rungs are about interpersonal relations, love of people as opposed to love of things. The top rung is about understanding yourself and opening up.

    The translation of Maslow’s heirarchy into finances seems to show that you don’t need other people at all, just a boatload of cash.

  18. As a poor college student, I’m somewhere barely in the freedom money range. Hopefully, in a few years I will end up in the gift money or even dream money area.

  19. Good post, the Maslow diagram is often found in financial planning circles.

    Getting people to pay attention is the difficult part…

  20. Washington Mutual is on the brink of going into the tank.

    You may want to reconsider suggesting it as an institution where people can save their money.

    I am withdrawing my funds as I write this.

  21. Savannah Taylor says

    Thanks for this. I am a huge fan of Maslow’s Pyramid and am speaking on finances tomorrow 🙂

Speak Your Mind