Family Finances

How I Teach My Kids About Finances and Economics Series: Episode 2 – Creating a Smart Shopper

March 15, 2017
Create a Smart Shopper

How did you become the smart shopper you are? Did your family coupon and rebate when you were a child? Were you mom’s helper when she made up the grocery list,  or did you go shopping with her? Did you watch her go over the store ads and pull coupons from her file?  I did, and it’s how I learned to implement smart grocery shopping techniques as an adult. We learn from our parents, by the examples they set, or don’t set as the case may be. Our kids are no different. In this second article, I will be talking about teaching my children how to grocery shop on a budget, and stick to it. The results may surprise you!

I grew up with a father who provided for his family, and a mom who stayed home with their 4 kids, so needless to say, we lived on a budget. All of us children played sports and other activities, so my mom would save where she could to budget for fees, new cleats, uniforms, etc. Now, my family was fortunate because my mom is a total June Clever, but without the heels and pearls. She could do every craft, sew us beautiful dresses, cook, bake, and still have time to do activities with us children, all while running a home daycare to help bring in extra income on the side. I was the oldest girl in the family, so I spent many hours helping my mom in the kitchen, running to get things in the grocery store, etc., and like all children, I learned from what she did.

My mom was really good at rebates and couponing. Back then it didn’t get the same attention that it does now. Downloading coupons online or getting instant rebates from one of the many apps available on phones (smart phones didn’t even exist) wasn’t an option, so she really had to work at it! Mom saved every coupon in her humongous coupon box, even getting coupons from family and neighbors. Every rebate offer was saved in a smaller file box. She cut every UPC label off boxed and canned goods, and stored them in garbage bags.  I remember sitting on the floor with her, picking through UPC codes in the heap of a pile we dumped from the bags, so she could send away for Del Monte stuffed animals. My beloved Snuggle Bear was a Snuggle Fabric Softener rebate. Ah, memories!

smart shopper teaching kids to become savvy shoppersSo how does this relate to my children? Well, if I hadn’t been raised to be a smart shopper, I probably wouldn’t be so coupon savvy. I also wouldn’t be so methodical about my grocery shopping. I learned from the best, and I have stuck to those roots.

My lists are made before I shop, and are based on my meal plan for the week. Planning out what you need helps ensure you buy the right groceries to get you through the week. If you stick to the list, you are less likely to buy things simply because you’re hungry, which are usually items that are less healthy. I check to see what coupons I have based on my grocery list. Then I peruse the grocery ad to see what stock up items are on sale, or coupon bundling deals are available. With list and coupons in hand, I head to the grocery store and execute. When my kids were younger, they would ask for every item that caught their eye. It made shopping trips longer and more dramatic than necessary. As they got older though, they learned the rules and now shopping trips run smoothly.

Here are our rules for grocery shopping:

  1. My kids help me cut out and organize the coupons in my file.
  2. My kids help me plan meals for the week. They each get to pick one meal or dish that week and I fill in the rest.
  3. When at the grocery store, we only buy what’s on the list.
  4. Everyone helps load the car, then carry in groceries and put them away.


Now, I know what you are thinking – three kids sticking to that? Yeah, right. Well, I did say it took several trips to get them all in the swing of things. They don’t have to be teenagers to be smart shoppers, either. My kids were 4, 5, and 6, and this was the routine. I have two examples of why you should shop with your children and including them in the process, rather than simply leaving them at home.

My first smart shopper moment came when my youngest asked me for a box of cereal that he liked.  My daughter turned to him and informed him that “Mom didn’t have a coupon for that, so no”. He didn’t even bat an eye, and I just kept on going. I didn’t have to defuse a tantrum, and he had learned to pass on the urge for an impulse buy. How amazing is that? Wait, it gets better.

A few summers ago, I had coupons for popsicles that were on sale. My coupons doubled to more than the popsicles cost, making them free. I had four coupons, so I got four boxes. As we were checking out, I handed the coupons to my son (he was 9 at the time). I instructed him to check out, knowing no money would be owed. My son approached the register, super nervous, and kept asking me for money to pay. After the woman scanned his coupons and handed him the receipt, he looked at me in shock, but said nothing. Later, while eating a popsicle, my son pronounced in awe,  “Free popsicles taste DELICIOUS!” He was still stunned over this money saving concept. Now he asks me what deals we are getting as we shop. That’s the exact engagement we want!

These examples have shown me that my children are watching me select healthier foods and use my list and coupons to ensure I get the best deals, while sticking to my budget. The kids are storing this information away for when they do their own shopping one day. ….and so the cycle will continue.

How You Can Apply This at Home:

Smart shopper teaching opportunities can be used with anything from food and clothing, to toys and video games. Even eating out can become educational when you clip restaurant coupons, or check their apps. Read the ads with your children if they have saved up for some treasure they have been wanting. Teach them to find it on sale, do a price comparison, and look for any available rebates. Wait until you see how quickly your child learns, and become a smart shopper all on their own. You are also setting them up to make smarter decisions as adult consumers, and curbing impulse buying urges.

If you are just joining me in the series, don’t miss the introductory post, How I Teach My Kids About Financing and Economics.

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