By Raising Children Network
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Family shopping together (c) Yeulet

Smart, responsible shopping is an important life skill. You can help your child by talking about where you choose to shop, the way you make shopping decisions, and the products you choose to buy.

Smart shopping

Here are some ways to be a smart shopper – and how to help your child learn about shopping too. You might want to talk to your child about some of these things ahead of time, or focus on one idea each time you shop together.

  • Shop around to compare prices and value: whether you’re shopping online or in a shopping centre, this can teach your child about different products, what quality means, and how to make sense of guarantees, after-sales service and other added value items.
  • Set a price: put a limit on how much you’re going to spend. This helps you teach your child that there’s a limited supply of money and that you have to buy accordingly. It also helps prevent impulse buying.
  • Seek advice: either investigate the product on the internet or ask a sales assistant. Show your child that you need information before you buy something.
  • Look carefully at what you’re buying: ask the salesperson to show you how the product works and make sure you check what’s inside the box. You could also read the nutritional panel on food items together.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no: this helps your child learn about not being pressured into buying things by pushy salespeople or special offers.
  • Negotiate a good price or deal: this is always a good skill for children and grown-ups to have.
  • Use cash if you can: it can be hard for young children to understand the value of money if they never see it. If you take money out of an ATM, talk to your children about how it got there. Going shopping is a chance for you to teach your child about banks, debts and saving money, as well as how credit cards or electronic purchases work.
  • Keep the receipt: show your child the receipt. Let her know you’ll need it if you have to take the goods back or if there’s a query from the bank.
It’s important to teach your child about the power of advertising and how it influences shopping decisions. See our article on children and advertising for more information.

Teaching your child about consumer values

The way you act as a consumer sends a message to your child about your family’s beliefs and values. When you’re at the shops, it’s a great time to talk with your child about your family’s opinions on buying things. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about your family’s shopping values:

  • What are the pros and cons of impulse buys? Special offers or promotions can save money if you need the product. But they might be a waste if you’re buying something you don’t really need or can’t afford.
  • What things do you think it’s worth paying more for? Why? For example, you might choose to pay more for good-quality shoes that last longer. What things do you choose to pay less for?
  • Do you prefer to buy smaller quantities, or in bulk? Does your budget and storage space influence this decision?
  • Is it important to you to make green choices, buy local produce, check the packaging, or make sure things can be recycled or reused? 
  • Is it important to you to make healthy choices and check food labels?    
  • How do you feel about buying special treats now and then?

Quality versus price
Children can learn how to judge the benefits of quality versus price. When you’re shopping with your child, you can talk about:

  • The difference between brand and generic items. When and why might you choose one over the other?
  • Why brand items cost more. Does the higher price reflect better quality?
  • What you’re paying for. Is it the shiny packaging, the advertising behind the product, or the transport costs? Will the product last longer, taste better or give you more pleasure if you pay more for it? 
  • Why paying more might sometimes be better. You might get a longer guarantee period, or something slightly bigger that suits your family more.

Avoiding impulse buying

Here are some tips to help you avoid avoid impulse buys:

  • Be prepared before you go shopping. If you’re taking your child, sit together and make a list of what you’re going to buy.
  • Although shopping around can be good, try to limit the number of shops you visit and the amount of time you spend in them. You can research online if you want to find the best prices ahead of time.
  • Ask your child, ‘Do you want this or do you really need it?’ Go home and think about it.

Children are more likely than grown-ups to want to buy things on impulse – they see it and they want it. Businesses are aware of this. It’s hard for your child to resist the lollies next to the supermarket checkout, and just as hard for you to resist a little treat too.

But impulse purchases can really add up. You end up with things that have cost too much, that your family won’t use, or that are unhealthy treats. The challenge is to teach your child that we can’t have everything we want when we want it.

‘Can I have a lolly?’ ‘I want a ride!’ ‘Please, please, please!’ For more information on how to handle children’s requests for things when you’re out shopping, read our articles on Pester power and When your child asks for things.

Letting your child help with the shopping

Letting your child help you with the shopping can help develop savvy shopping habits. And giving your child a role to play when you’re shopping together means there’s less chance of bad behaviour. Here are some ideas:

  • Let your child pick items off the shelf and put them in the basket.
  • Give your child the money to pay for the items. For older children, taking and checking the change can be a good learning experience.
  • Your children can take turns being the chief packer.
  • Even younger children can be put in charge of reading the labels and making choices about brands with the fewest additives.
  • Signs and labels that you see around you are sometimes called ‘environmental print’. Getting your child to read environmental print is a great everyday way to encourage your child’s literacy development.
  • Tired, hungry or over-excited children don’t make good shopping companions. Take a break and try to avoid shopping at busy times.

Video savvy family finances

Need a top tip for keeping your family finances on track? ‘The real secret to money is planning,’ says financial expert Paul Clitheroe in this short video. Australian mums and dads also share their savvy financial strategies. For example:

  • budget for the year ahead
  • borrow stuff for your baby or children
  • make the most of government payments
  • use resources like your local toy library
  • don’t be afraid to reach out for help – many organisations offer free financial planning services and other support.
  • Last updated or reviewed 05-04-2011