Sunday, February 12, 2006

Buying Groceries With The Children

A post over at David On A Diet tells of the trials of ordering food for young ones. But, ordering from a McDonald's isn't the only challenge one faces with food and children.

Many years ago, I would take the children with me when I went grocery shopping. The Little Princess is three years older than the Little Prince, and that meant two small children to keep up with while negotiating the aisles of the Winn Dixie.

Like any parent, I would try to save money when I shopped. So, when I went by myself, I'd buy the Fruit Rings instead of the Froot Loops. Or the Toasty-O's instead of the Cheerios. Okay, I'm cheap.

But when the children were with me, they'd always want the higher-priced items. Not the 99¢ Koko Krunch, but the $2.39 Cocoa Puffs. So, I bought them, the whole time cursing the TV advertisers that market to kids.

Then, one day, an epiphany.

When my son said he wanted the Froot Loops instead of the Fruit Rings, I picked a box of Froot Loops, and he said "No, not that box. That one!" -- pointing to the Froot Loops box right next to the one I picked.

The difference? The one he wanted had a pack of Life Savers inside. That's what it said on the outside of the box, anyway.

Okay, I thought. File that way for future use.

When we opened that box of cereal, they fought over who got to get the first bowl-full. And they eventually got the prize inside: a five-pack of Life Savers. Yes, a half-roll of Life Savers. For an extra $1.40 -- the difference in price between the Froot Loops and Fruit Rings.

I did some more math in my head and my plan was formed.

Next time I went grocery shopping, I took the children with me. And, sure enough, they kept wanting the cereal boxes that had prizes inside. Little prizes inside each. But this time, I was the mean daddy. I said "no" and got the cheaper brand. They were not happy. But knew that when I said "no" I meant "no." So, they sulked instead of cried.

At the check-out counter, I snuck into to my cart some candy: Life Savers, Snickers, Milky Way bars, gum, and other such favorites of theirs. Those went into a separate bag. And when we got home, the bag of goodies the children never saw went to the top shelf in the pantry, right above the cereal.

Next time I fed them cereal, I opened the box in the pantry and grabbed a roll of Life Savers (the regular 10-pack roll) from the goodie bag and dropped it in the box of Fruit Rings.

The look on their eyes when I poured the Fruit Rings and a whole pack of Life Savers came out was priceless. They were not expecting that. They looked at the box and never saw anything about a special prize inside. I told them I knew which boxes to get. They accepted that.

Now, there were some cheaper cereals that they didn't like. And I understood that, and we'd avoid those. But many of the cheaper brands they'd eat, especially knowing that I knew which boxes had the prizes inside. So, we saved money on groceries, even counting the extra cost of the candy, gum, or cheap toy I'd buy on the sly and slip inside the box in the pantry.

And the next time I took them grocery shopping, they wanted the Fruit Rings instead of the Froot Loops. And they let me pick out the box.


  1. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant lol!

  2. I've never had a problem just pointing out to the kids the opportunity costs of getting the more expensive cereal. Sure, we *could* get the more expensive one, but then we'd have to put back this bag of cookies and have no cookies this week, or eat beans instead of this yummy meat. You ask them what we should put back so that they can have their cereal, and they get the idea real quick. Hopefully learning how to make trade-offs while young will serve them well later in life.

  3. I like both ideas... yours with the toys and Wacky Hermit's trade-offs... will keep them in mind as my kids get older.


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