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Issues and Advice

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Raising Smart Shoppers

Mom and son shopping
Photo © Corbis

A great thing to do with your kids is to use real-life money situations as teachable moments. Many parents devote at least part of their days to household chores and running errands – those little stops to pick up cleaning, get film developed, buy groceries, etc. If your children are with you, consider turning these errands into opportunities to teach some smart shopping tricks.

Here are several things you can do that are fun, easy, reinforce good consumer buying habits and promote comparative shopping. They're best suited for grocery or drug stores, but adapt to most retail outlets.

Using Coupons

Kids, especially the younger ones, are interested in those colorful fliers that come with the Sunday newspaper. You can also find coupons on the internet. Just search for "coupons," and you'll be amazed at the offerings. Give kids the responsibility of clipping out (or printing out) coupons using these guidelines:

  • The item needs to be something the family uses or, if a new item, will try. Clipping a coupon for dog food when you have goldfish is not useful.

  • Stick with food items you use regularly. The notion of saving money on food purchases helps engender an understanding of the cost of feeding a family.

  • Sort the coupons alphabetically, by food group, by expiration date or any useful method. This will reinforce skills your children are learning in school.

When you get to the store, involve older children in making decisions about using the coupons. With some items, using a coupon is not a good bargain when compared to items that are “on special” at the store.

Example: You have a coupon for 75 cents off of a 64-ounce bottle of tomato juice. The price is $2.19. This week, the store is offering a half gallon of 100% cranberry juice for $1.59. Have the children calculate which is the best buy. You, as the parent, will be the decision maker on which item to purchase.

Shopping Game

This game is designed to teach older kids the basics of budgeting and comparison-shopping. Your kids will need a pad, pencil and calculator.

At the beginning of each aisle in the grocery store assign an item and a budget. For example: two rolls of paper towels for $3. At the end of the shopping trip, tally up the budget and the actual cost of the products. The child gets to keep the difference, if she's saved you money.

This is also a good time to teach your children about generic products. Buying generics is not always the best buy based on either price or quality. Your kids may need to “product test” them at home to compare generics with brand items. You’ll pay for that. After the competition, if your children under-run their budget -- but with products that are not acceptable to you -- they do not get the savings.

Filling Up at the Gas Station

This is an opportunity for children to learn about comparison shopping for price as well as quality. Price differentials are created by the choice between full service and self service, and of course, the octane rating of the gasoline.

Help your kids understand the difference in prices and how you determine which service and which grade to use. Also, why do you elect full service versus self serve? It can be as simple as not wanting to risk getting a spill on your new clothes. You might also point out that a station across the street from your regular stop has different prices. Point out where the prices are posted and how to shop for the best price.

Buying Big Ticket Items

For items like furniture, expensive electronics, a car or other big purchases, consider having a family discussion in addition to online research and reading consumer articles. When you and your children go to a retail establishment to look at the item, you'll likely compare it to more and less expensive items and make a buying decision -- or not.

Often you'll find yourself in a situation where you're standing in front of an array of similar products, trying to determine which one to purchase. When you find similar, but not identical products, teach your children to read the labels of both products and then make a determination as to which one best matches your needs.


This article was written by Neale S. Godfrey and provided by ©2009 Copyright owned by Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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