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How Grocery Shopping with Your Kids Raises Their Financial IQ

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Tips like these helped us pay off $127K in debt. You can read our story in Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.

Kids and the grocery store go together about as well as peanut butter and motor oil (and you thought everything went together well with peanut butter, right?). There are the fits, the whining, the tired legs, the sneaking items into the cart and the “Are we done YET?!”s. As a busy mom of two, I know EXACTLY how you feel. There are far too many weeks when I would rather just wait until after bedtime or head to the store during school hours. Loading up the kids and the cart can be a hassle at best and a nightmare at worst.

However, the simple weekly act of grocery shopping with kids can increase your child’s financial IQ exponentially. Age appropriate lessons of budgeting, bargaining, and delayed gratification are simple to convey in a very concrete way. Bonus: Taking your kids shopping will cause you to be on your “best behavior” in all of these areas, too. We all know “do as I say, not as a I do” is a poor teaching tool. When you have little eyes watching the cart and your wallet, you might be spurred on to shopping excellence as well.

But how do you begin instilling financial wisdom while grocery shopping? I’m so glad you asked. Here are some concrete steps to ensure your trip to the grocery is a learning experience.

  1. Make a list and talk about your budget before you leave. Our meal plan drives our grocery list. Either before we head out the door or once we’re in the car, I have a discussion with my daughters about what we’re getting and how much we plan on spending.
  2. Let older children add up the cost. Princess Eldest – Anna – typically gets to hold my phone and use the calculator app throughout the entire grocery trip. This helps her both get caught up in the “game” of making sure we come in under budget and I’m doing something sneaky at the same time. If every week, you press the buttons $2.29 for Oats or $1.19 for Tortilla Chips or $1.69 for a dozen eggs, you begin to absorb that information. I’m intentionally sending subconscious messages to her brain about the cost of items in our cart. In no time at all, she has a great handle on how much food actually costs. My six year old isn’t ready for this task quite yet and every child will be different, but this is a fairly simple step with great staying power. You could keep a calculator in the car, let them run it on their iPod or other device.
  3. Give them $2 of the budget and let them go wild. I set aside $4 of our weekly budget for the girls. It’s a bit of a sacrifice but has long-term value. I don’t budge over $2, not even a penny (including tax). So both girls are tasked with finding a food item for the week that comes in under that amount. There are some limits (i.e. ain’t nobody buying pop tarts or a bag of sugar to consume) but for the most part, the choice is theirs.
  4. Model wise spending and put items back. Since our family abides by a “cash only” grocery store policy, there are times that we are tasked with putting items back at the grocery store to come in on budget. You can save $5-10 off your bill without a single coupon by simply removing 3-5 items from your cart.

Little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening. If you want children who go the distance financially and make better choices than you have with money (I think this is our aim no matter how much we rock a dollar), then make the extra effort to turn grocery shopping into a learning experience.

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