Food & Finance – Kids Survival Guide

by in View All Posts, March 26th, 2009

Winter’s gone by the wayside (hopefully) and the great outdoors await – after you finish your grocery shopping. You’ve followed my tips and made a detailed list. You have your coupons and your cash. But you’ve also got a car full of kids with a knack for wreaking havoc on your financial prudence.

Each one wants a different cereal, ice cream, lunch snack and juice box. One is hungry, another tired and yet another needs to go to the bathroom. You just throw everything into the cart in an effort to emerge from the store with your sanity, but you are also vastly over budget, having broken the cardinal rule of sticking to your list.

The stress that frequently accompanies taking children on a trip to the supermarket often results in additional pounds on the hips and fewer dollars in the bank. But this does not have to be the case!

Here are a few tips to transform your next “with kids” grocery trip from a anxiety-provoking budget buster into a fun and relaxed financial success:

1. Keep them Occupied. It will be easier to keep to your list (and budget) if your children are not constantly grabbing items from the shelves. Before you enter the store, assign age-appropriate tasks to your children. Divide up the list and let the children take turns putting things in the cart. If they are busy with the tasks that you’ve assigned them, they will have less time to focus on (or ask for) a new cookie or corn chip.

2. Set Expectations. Let your children know ahead of time what to expect at the grocery store. If you’ve built into your budget the purchase of your kids’ favorite cereal or a popular snack, let them know what made the list for that week. Also let them know what did not. For example, “This week we are going to buy Honey O’s and chocolate chip cookies, but we cannot get potato chips or ice cream.” If your list and budget do not permit the purchase of any of the kids’ favored items, let them know that as well. For example “We will not be getting any candy, ice cream or cookies this time, but we will be able to get a treat next week.”

3. Timing is Everything. By limiting your time in the supermarket, you limit your exposure to temptation and your vulnerability to your three year old’s request for marshmallows. Set a time limit for gathering your groceries – use your children to assist, even assigning time limits for locating certain items and placing them in the cart. Choose your time of day for shopping wisely; nothing provokes a meltdown like a one hour wait to get through the checkout at a warehouse club.

4. Come Prepared. Kids have short attention spans and perennially empty stomachs. It may help for them to have something to focus on other than the 200 different cereal varieties on the shelves – a small action figure or doll, a manipulative or other portable toy. Also bring a healthy, satisfying snack — if you make poor financial judgments when you are hungry, those mistakes will be augmented ten-fold if you are trying to shop while handling a two year-old’s hunger meltdown.

OK. Now get in that minivan and bravely (and confidently) go forth knowing that a trip to the supermarket with the kids can be both fun for them and fiscally sound for you. We love hearing from you, so if you have tips on “shopping while parenting” let us know how you do it!

Yours in frugality,

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Comments (7)

  1. Edna says:

    Use the shopping experience to get some foods which they will use, to make one of there favorite snacks. ‘When we get home I’ll show you how to make a Strawberry Shake. , so let’s get the strawberries, milk etc. and finish shopping quickly.”

  2. Lana says:

    Hi Roni – my comment is a bit tangential and even more nerdy. Bear with me.

    Grocery stores are a math teacher’s dream. When kids have learned about division and arithmetic with decimals (some time around the 4th grade), take them to the store with a calculator and start comparing unit prices (price per ounce, per pound or whatever).

    Most people are surprised to find that larger doesn’t *always* mean the better unit price. Usually, yes. But not always. Just yesterday my daughter and I found chicken broth – 32 oz. for $1.84 or 72 oz. for $4.86. Sure enough, the smaller package is the better deal by 1 cent per ounce.

    We’ve done similar math exercises in the cereal isle with the nutrition labels. We’ve calculated protein to sugar ratios and fiber to sugar ratios; my daughter (who has diabetes on both sides of her family) gets to choose her breakfast cereal based on the results of her research.

  3. Kim says:

    The best tip for taking your kids grocery shopping is DON'T. I leave my kids home while I shop. If even one of them goes with me I spend up to $100 more. Not even just on snacks or junk food but things they remind me we "need". Even if you don't have a spouse for them to stay with, you would probably still save money by hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours.

  4. cleyde says:

    Right on the money ! keep them home! Of course if you can…if not.. bring their favorite snack .

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