Kids & Money

Grocery-nomics: As you cruise the aisles, test the kids’ shopping skills


You’re standing in the supermarket checkout line with six bags of groceries and kids in tow when the cashier delivers the magic words.

“Today, you’ve saved...”

And then comes the grand finale. With a flourish, the clerk pulls out a pen, marks a big circle on the receipt, and informs you that you’ve also earned more “bonus points” toward the cutlery set or the casserole dishes.

The kids are wide-eyed and beaming. You’re mumbling something about food prices being sky high.

Saving money is a good thing, of course, but in cases like this, I always shake my head because I never really feel like I’ve “saved” anything. Indeed, my checkbook says I just spent $50, or $80, or $200 on groceries. How am I saving?

By my way of thinking, the only way I would have saved money would be by not buying anything. On occasion, I’ve even corrected the cashier on that fine point.

Why am I steering into semantics? Because this all seems like a teachable moment — an opportunity to open your kids’ eyes to marketing and advertising, packaging, grocery price tags, product comparisons, budgeting, and a whole lot more as you cruise the aisles.

Call it grocery-nomics 101.

As you make trips to the supermarket during the holidays, include the kids on the expeditions. They could learn some valuable lessons. Some strategies:

▪ Evaluate advertising and promotions. Take a trip down the soft drink aisle, for example. Buy your favorite top-selling national brand, then throw the store brand that costs half the price in the cart. When you get home, try a blindfolded taste test. Do the kids notice any difference in quality?

Your kids might also find it interesting to know the pecking order for product placement on store shelves — the more expensive stuff is often at eye level, while the bargain brand is relegated to the very bottom or top shelf.

▪ Price comparisons. What’s the better deal? Three juice drinks for $3, or one for $1.50. And before they put three drinks in your cart, stop and ask if really all you need is one.

▪ Packaging. I’m totally convinced that there’s more air in a potato chip bag and fewer chips these days. You can take this observation in several directions. It’s an opportunity to learn how to read product labels, including serving sizes and servings per container. Then you can compare different brands and determine the best value.

And if you’re really game, buy two bags, and when you get home let the kids open them, pour the contents in a bowl, and count the actual number of chips in brand A and brand B.

▪ Meal planning. Let your youngsters plan a special lunch or dinner during the holidays. Create a budget — say $15 — and have them clip coupons as an aid before hitting the store. Then sit back and see what goes in their cart and whether they hit budget. As an incentive, let them keep any money left over.

▪ Food waste. What happens to all the unsold items —from produce and meat and deli items to canned goods? Some certainly goes to food pantries, but not everything.

Most kids get their earliest views about spending and shopping from a seat on the grocery shopping cart. Make it a learning experience.

Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879