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Take Your Kids to the Grocery Store

by Kelly Nelson 

I can hear the voices already "Look, Martha, that Frugal Finesse lady has lost her mind!".  But hear me out.  One of the many reasons kids have
trouble understanding money is they don't get enough opportunities to see how it's really spent.
What better place than the grocery store for a little hands-on experience?

I admit I used to do everything in my power to keep my kids out of the grocery store.  After turning
it into a lesson in frugality, I now take them once a month or so.  My younger son is especially
good at finding unadvertised bargains.

Let's start with a few tips:

1.  Do this on a day when you aren't stressed or pressed for time.  I know that's almost impossible,
but give it a try.  This trip may take up to three times longer than a usual quick run to the store.

2.  Keep your list fairly short.  A week's worth of groceries is enough to give the lesson without
giving them a chance to get bored and tired.

3.  Feed 'em just before going.  This tip is good for children as well as adults.

4.  Use only cash on this trip.  And get the money before you get them in the car.  Kids tend to get
the idea that you can take money from the "magic machine" any time you want.  Or write a special
paper (check), or use a special card (credit).  Let them see actual cash change hands.  Save the
banking explanation for another lesson.

You need a grocery list, a set amount of money, and a calculator.  Tell your kids you are going to
the grocery store and you want them to help you stick to your budget.  Explain to them that you only
have this amount of money and you're buying for a set amount of time.  I used $60 and one week.
That's a bit more than I was spending at the time, but I'll show you why in a minute.

Explain that you will use any money left over for a treat as a reward for their help in sticking to
the budget.  Be specific about the treat and how much it will cost.  Remind them that if there is
not enough money left, there can't be a treat.  It's important that you make this rule, and stick to
it.  The lesson won't sink in if you give them a treat anyway.  The idea is to delay gratification
for a larger gain later.  And isn't that what we're doing by living frugally anyway?

Head out to the grocery store and begin your shopping.  As you choose items, show them why you
picked brand X over brand Y.  Compare the prices as well as unit prices and serving sizes.  Even if
you aren't going to buy any, look at the more expensive convenience foods.  Show them how much
cheaper it is to make your own spaghetti than buying a can or kit.

Make sure you hit the cereal aisle if your kids eat it.  Compare name brands to store brands.  Show
them how you can get the types of cereal they like on sale or in a store brand and still have money
in the budget for your treat.  If they haven't made the switch to store brands, you might find they
are willing to try after seeing the difference in price for themselves.  Especially if they've got a
trip to McDonald's (or whatever) riding on it.  The same thing goes with the potato chip section.

Give them the chance to figure out the best price on a few items by themselves.  They'll love using
the calculator, and I won't tell 'em they're doing algebra if you don't.  You might even decide to
make a substitution on a menu item because it's too expensive.  If chicken is not on sale this week,
choose a roast or some hamburger.  Be sure to ask questions so you know it's sinking in.  Compare
the price of shredded cheese, chunk cheese and even deli cheese.  Ask why the price is different for
the different styles.  Make sure they understand the price we pay for convenience.  Compare in
season fruits and vegetables to higher priced, out of season, produce.

When the groceries are bought, brought home and put away, head out immediately for the treat.  Don't
wait or you may undo all your hard work.  Congratulate your children on their frugal triumph.  And
give yourself a pat on the back for taking one more step in raising frugal kids.

As your trips continue, make the treats smaller and then stop them altogether.  But take them to the
store every now and then to reinforce the lesson.  You may find you have a super shopper in your
family, too.  And when they're teens you can send 'em to the store without fearing for your budget.
Your time and patience will have truly paid off.

If you have any thoughts that this won't work, listen to this:  My daughter was watching cartoons
the other day when a commercial came on for a cereal she likes.  She came to me and said "Does
Cookie Crisp ever go on sale?"  When I told her most cereal goes on sale from time to time, she
asked if I could get some when it went on sale...if I had a coupon!  As it happens, the cereal did
go on sale a week later, and I did have a coupon.  She got her cereal, I got a bargain, and we both
knew the value of the deal.

Kelly Nelson is FINALLY "at-home" and fulfilling her dream as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in online newsletters and web sites. A third generation tightwad, garage sale addict and thrift store fiend, she enjoys teaching others to be frugal and have fun with it. You can find more of her work, and other great writers, at her new website:

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