Hi, I’m Ben. My most famous role is that of the husband to Lauryn, aka The Vintage Mom. So, I guess that makes me The Vintage Dad…
Lauryn has blogged before about our family’s system for saving 47% at the grocery store every week, a key part of which is me doing the shopping as a way to separate the deal-finder from the deal-getter. It’s a great system and works really well for us. But in the years since I started undertaking the grocery shopping job, it has morphed into something much more than just getting our food for the week. It has become one of the absolute best hours (or two) of my week.
Yes, I actually look forward to heading to the grocery store with a 6 and 4 (and sometimes 1)-year-old!
Having a good time when shopping (and doing just about anything else with the kids) hinges on a few things that I’ve learned and I thought I’d share them with you.
Set expectations. Telling the kids what to expect before we even begin was a turning point for us. We grab our cart, walk through the “magic doors,” and then I crouch down and we have a little powwow. Here are the ground rules we cover every time:
- Don’t touch anything unless Dad asks you to. This keeps us from having the my-kid-just-knocked-over-a-giant-stack-of-cans conversation with the store manager and also avoids any chance of having to wrench a coveted bag of candy from a kid’s hands that they clearly know we won’t be purchasing.
- Listen. Obviously!
- Watch out for traffic. This was a late addition for us, but we found that we were having so much fun in the store that we were in the way of other shoppers…a lot. So I always remind the kids to be mindful of where they are and of the other shoppers around them.
- Don’t be on the same side of the cart. We learned this the hard way. If you have both kids on the same side of the cart, it tips over! Live and learn…
- Have fun. In shopping and in life, don’t forget to add this part to everything you do. It’s way better to enjoy what you’re doing than not.
The other important thing that we don’t even need to discuss (it is so very well understood at this point), is that we are sticking to the list. For real. If it’s not on the list, we are not getting it. On other trips to stores that may not be as rigid as our grocery purchases, I always let the kids know that they are more than welcome to look at anything in the store, but we are shopping for ________ and we will not be buying anything but _________. Knowing that beforehand, the kids are remarkably good about not being able to make impulse purchases and don’t have a fit about it.
Get the kids involved. There are so many ways to get the kids involved and so many learning opportunities when shopping that can
inform their lifelong spending habits. When we shop, I rarely actually touch anything. I ask the kids to grab the goods and put them into the cart. They take turns, they use teamwork, and they are very aware of what we’re buying. All good things.
It’s also a chance for them to learn to comparison shop because there are usually a few things on our list that Lauryn hasn’t been entirely specific and we need to make a smart purchase. So we look at the prices of different brands, look for sales, and compare which numbers are bigger or smaller. The concept of price per pound is still a bit beyond them, but we’re getting there.
At the end of the trip, the kids love the challenge of bagging the groceries and have the basic concepts of hard things on bottom, soft things on top, and “don’t touch the meat!” ingrained in their brains.
Make it fun. It’s hard to be too stressed if you’re having a lot of fun! And the kidswon’t dread going because they know it will be a good time. It’s all about attitude. Sure, we could joylessly get the items on our list and be out of there 5 minutes earlier, but instead, we choose to add little bits of fun to the process. When we come to a deserted aisle, I tell the kids “Hold on!” and we run and coast with the cart to the end. We sing about the food we’re picking out. I try to catch them off guard and scrape them off the cart anytime we come across fixed structure. We joke about needing dog food for G, cat food for C, and H eating diapers for dinner. I start to run away with the cart anytime one of them stops paying attention for more than 3 seconds, making them run after the cart. We look forward to the novelty of the water fountain (though Mom hates that one).
But our favorite is the Fish Quiz. At the fresh seafood area, our store has all the available items behind glass, and for the most part they change it up every week. The kids go one-by-one and see if they can name each item. Jumbo crab legs, seaweed salad, tilapia, swordfish, salmon, crawdads, etc. It amazes me every time that the kids can tell the difference between cod fish and haddock! (Not that they’d ever eat any of it…) I’m savoring this one as soon they’ll both be able to read, and this game will just be a memory…
Reward them. If they follow the rules and have a good attitude, the kids know that they get a quarter to buy a gumball at the end of the trip. This also helps temper any concerns from them that they won’t be able to get anything. But it’s very important for us that it is not an empty promise that if they’re good they get a gumball. In 2 years, we’ve had one time that they did not earn their treat. It was a sad day, but them knowing that there are no free passes is a really important lesson. And it goes both ways, I always make sure I have two quarters with me – if they earn it, they get it.
A short side story: One time, C and G had done a great job and were using their quarters in the gumball machine. C went first and got her gumball. G went next, but as he opened the little trap door to get his prize, he bobbled it and it rolled under the machine to the far back corner, never to be seen again. I had no more quarters and no cash on me, so there was little I could tell G except for “sorry.” He just stood silent for a moment with tears beginning to well up in his eyes. Then his sister stepped over to him and with the cheeriest smile, bit her gumball in half and handed half to G saying, “Here you go. We can just share. Now we both have one.”
It’s all about attitude. The kids take their cues from me. If I go into the trip stressed and on edge, so are they. No matter what else is happening in my life, or how I might be feeling at 2pm on any given Sunday, when we walk through those doors, it’s just me and them and we’re going to have fun.
That’s it. The Ben Blakesley guide to shopping with the kids.
One other point: we never go for the car cart. You know, the cart that has a giant plastic car on the front. Just a personal choice, but for me, it removes the kids from the experience. It makes it much harder for them to participate and actually contribute to the family’s shopping. Plus Lauryn thinks they’re covered in germs!
What are your kid-friendly shopping tips?
Make sure to check out some other great inspiring posts over at A Life in Balance’s Motivation Monday Link-up!