Friday, January 23, 2015

Grocery Shopping on a Budget: Teaching Life Skills to My Older Kids

My older two kids (8 and 6) are old enough now that I've begun to feel I should be teaching them life skills beyond using the toilet and bathing. For several months, they have been responsible for folding and putting away their laundry and their three-year-old brother's laundry. Soon, the three-year-old will be assigned to assist them with it, but he's still more of a hindrance than a help. The oldest recently volunteered to completely take over doing their laundry, now that he's finally tall enough to reach the dryer, which is stacked atop the washing machine.

They also are sometimes tasked with emptying the dishwasher and setting the table. Sometimes they help me cook, by measuring ingredients, stirring pots, or reading recipes.

I have them help me straighten up toys, sometimes do some light organizing, and sweep the floor.

Today, I decided to take the opportunity to teach them a little about budgeting.

I've only recently begun to seriously delve into the nitty gritty of budgeting and managing money more proactively. I started experimenting with a new budget software, and I noticed how many skills there are to build, and these are skills that can be easily taught at a much younger age than my tender 33 years. Managing money, spending and saving wisely, being choosy about where your money goes, these are things even a six and eight-year-old can begin to understand.

So I issued the family a challenge. We went to the grocery store this afternoon and we made a goal of spending no more than $150. The idea was to pick and choose the best deals, be aware of prices, find good value for the products we needed, and know when to give something up and when to insist on something based on our family of six's need to eat 20 or so meals per week (assuming we have brunch on the weekend!). I wanted the kids to see that when they ask for just one more bag of chips or a drink or treat at the end of the shopping trip, or this snack instead of that one, or "can we get this, too, please?", it all adds up and may prevent us from buying something else because it maxes out the budget.

I had made a pretty comprehensive list of things we needed. Uncharacteristically, we were out of basics like coffee and salt, sugar and paper towels, so I knew those would take up space in the budget that might otherwise be allotted to snacks or a treat at the end.

It made for a perfect lesson.

I handed the eight-year-old my phone in calculator mode, and every time we chose an item, he added the cost to a running total. We checked unit prices to see if what looked like a good deal actually was one. We chose one brand over another based on whether something was on special. I was able to show that by purchasing a large volume of nonperishable items that were marked down, it would mean we could go several weeks without having to buy it, and it would save several dollars in the long run. I was able to demonstrate that even though it took a little more space in this week's $150, next week we wouldn't need to buy that item at all, so we could use that same space to buy something else that was on sale another time.

And, we had to forego some items. Butter would have taken us over budget. The kids wanted a treat, but when we clocked in at a little over $148 when I added some bell peppers (on sale $1 each) and carrots ($.99/pound) and bananas ($.79/pound), I said we had to wrap it up.

We could have made some exchanges. Maybe we needed butter more than tortillas? Maybe, but a 24-pack of tortillas goes a long way, even in a family of six. Maybe we could have made do with less bread in favor of some apples? Possibly. This kind of thing takes practice!

After purchasing four bags (because, of course, I always forget to bring bags) and the tax on a few non-food items, the total came to $151.54. I gave us all a pat on the back. We did very well!

After the experiment, I asked them what lessons they could take out of our little game. We talked about choosing what we really need and not just grabbing what looks good. We discussed making choices that would be beneficial in the long run and not just something we want right now. We said how if we had to forego an item this week, if we got to buy it in the future, we would be that much more excited to have it. We learned how to read price tags and figure out what they really are saying and not just go, "Oh, hey, that's on sale!"

Now, if we had gone over by $25 or $50, it would have been okay. Truthfully, we may need to go back sooner than a week from now to fill in some gaps. I hope not, because that would dilute the lesson a little. But I think they enjoyed the game, especially my oldest, who is definitely a numbers guy. And I hope that now they can appreciate a little better when I say, "I don't have the money for that right now," or, "That's not in the budget this month," or "Do you want to spend your money on THIS or THAT?" They need to understand that money is finite and you have to make good choices!

What ways have you tried to help your children understand the value of money and how to budget?

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