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At what age should parents start teaching their kids to conduct basic financial transactions?
“How come we never get to buy chocolate, or candy, or Froot Loops?” was the constant question that our mom would skillfully evade. Every trip to the grocery store was riddled with the barbs of horrible sales pitches (“C’mon mom! Why not?!”) for sugar-infused items masquerading as food.
We even paired up, like a team of reverse pick-pockets, and tried every diversion tactic possible to slip tasty treats into the grocery cart without being noticed.
Our mom was the healthy-eating, bargain-hunting, grocery shopping equivalent of the Terminator — and she wouldn’t stop until her shopping list was completed.
And then, finally … an opening.
“When you start buying your own groceries, you can buy those things” was the response that changed everything.
Wait, wait, wait … what? It was an opportunity, a crack in the shopping list walls of Mordor, a light at the end of the Fruit Loops tunnel. My younger brother Jon looked at me the way Lando made eye contact with Luke on Jabba’s Sand Barge in Return of the Jedi.
Our eyes said, “It’s about to go down.”
Finally, we asked, “Can we do that now?”
My mom mulled it over and agreed.
For all the years of plain Cheerios, sugarless gum, and the secret reduction of our bags of Halloween candy — it was as if we were each given the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Then came the twist.
I’d blow half my budget on Milky Way bars and ice cream, only to be left with Top Ramen and chili as my primary meal options.
“I budget $100 for groceries. So each of you kids will have $20 to spend. Now if you use it all on candy, you won’t have anything else to eat — so you’ve got to be smart shoppers.”
We learned that lesson the hard way.
Those first few weeks were hilarious. I’d blow half my budget on Milky Way bars and ice cream, only to be left with Top Ramen and chili as my primary meal options.
I was, essentially, eating like a poor college student.
There was cereal, but because we knew there was a budget, we began to buy the economy packs. My mom would get jeers and boos when she’d pick out the large bags of store brand knock-offs of corn flakes, and here we were buying it ourselves just to save some money in our shopping budget.
We learned how to do more comparison shopping by looking at the price per ounce on the price tag, how to utilize coupons, and the importance of not shopping on an empty stomach. Every one of these lessons was something we had a chance to experience first-hand. Instead of having it preached to us, we were living it, and my brother Jon and I were preaching it to our 2 younger siblings (mom would help them a bit more with their shopping).
Here are some highlights from our time of buying groceries for our family.
My brother figured out that he could pocket half the money, survive on a big box of Ramen, a gallon of milk, and cereal so he could buy Legos.
Later, all my siblings came up with a mutual pact to pool our resources, and share the essential items like milk, eggs, and cheese with each other.
We each learned to manage money, because it felt like our money.
I realized that I could buy a 6-pack of Milky Way bars much cheaper than buying them individually, and if I put them in the freezer — I couldn’t eat them as quickly.
My mom used to get warnings from everyone about having teenagers. We are each 2 years apart, there are 4 of us, and people were trying to brace her for it like an impending earthquake, with 3 additional aftershocks. Today, she tells people how much she loved having teenagers. As I reflect back, I really believe it was this grocery store experiment that allowed for a better transition. For everything that could have splintered us as a family — divorce, financial struggles, remarriage, and puberty — this grocery store experiment is what gave us a common goal. We were excited every week to go to the grocery store. We would write out our own shopping lists, speculate on the costs, budget, and we even clipped coupons.
How many kids do that?
We each had a positive awareness of a budget. We each learned to manage money, because it felt like our money.
We looked out for each other.
My mom taught us finance through buying groceries. We learned to budget, and we learned to save. In hindsight, the potential risk of this lesson had an exponential return — because it saved our family.
Chris Lynam is a father of 3, and the creator of #DADventure. He writes about parenting, relationships, and fitness. You can read more from Quora here:
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