Teach Your Teen to be a Smart Shopper

Most financial experts agree that the best way to teach kids to manage money is to actually give them some and let them learn from their own successes and failures.  Since one of your biggest recurring expenses is your grocery budget, this is a great place to start. 

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If you consider that your teen is going to be doing their own shopping for their own family in just a few years, now is an ideal time to start teaching them.  And if you think about it, if you help them build some really great shopping skills, you could be saving them literally thousands of dollars in their lifetimes.  I so wish my own Mom had passed this knowledge onto me, but being a smart shopper was never a skill she possessed, so I had to teach myself through trial and error.

The incentive for your son or daughter is that if they do get smart about their shopping and work hard at saving some money, they get to use that money for things they want.  You can decide if you want to let them use it for all the junk foods near and dear to a teenager’s heart, or use it as part of their allowance for clothes, CD’s, or extra lunch money.  You might choose to let them keep all of it, or maybe just split it with them.

  • You really need to hit the prices as close as you can.  You may want to only do 15-20 items at first, rather than a whole list.   If you aim too high, they will think it is a piece of cake and you will be out some serious dough for incentive items. Too low and they get discouraged at not having a very big incentive, though it might be a great learning experience to have the embarrassment of putting things back if they go over budget.  Such are the realities of shopping with cash.


  • I suggest that you go with your teen on the first trip to give them a few pointers, such as how to select fruits and vegetables, safe handling of meat products, etc., but please refrain from giving any pointers on prices. That is part of the learning process. 
  • Be prepared to show a little flexibility. They most likely will have a completely different style of shopping than you do, or may want to use different stores than you do. You may end up eating some mushy vegetables or bruised apples, and you might hear a complaint or two from your husband if they switch the family to generic TP. Tell him to just grin and bear it, and be sure to compliment your kids on the good choices they do make. 


{Sidebar: I wrote a post a while back called the Fast Food Challenge where I shared that young adults from 18 to 25 spent about 49% more on fast food than other age groups.  Yikes!  These kids are literally eating their disposable income instead of using it for important things like paying bills, saving for a house, or building their retirement savings.}

Now this might sound a little scary, but I am suggesting that you throw your teen in the deep end a little bit.  You turn them loose in the store with a list, some money (cash is best), and a calculator.  

This may test your shopping skills a bit because you have to estimate the costs pretty tight to your list.  Keep in mind that you are figuring the costs for a “regular” person who isn’t doing any coupons, price matching, or cost cutting, not what it would cost for an experienced shopper like you to buy these things.

The beauty of this program is that it gives them the opportunity to make a few fairly harmless mistakes and learn some lessons they couldn’t learn any other way.  They will learn that meat marked “reduced for quick sale” doesn’t always work out well, they’ll learn that generic canned vegetables and cereal don’t taste the same but are tolerable, and they will understand why you get so mad when they burn through a $4.00 box of cereal in two days.

Because they have such a good incentive, they will have more of an interest in learning how to use coupons, compare prices, and choosing the best stores to shop. They will learn how to make good decisions about food and gain an appreciation of how much work their mother has gone through for all these years to keep food on the table for them. Like the commercial says – some things really are priceless.

Obviously, a program like this is fairly simple to set up, but here are a few pointers that might help you avoid some problems. I suggest you do this for at least a 2-3 month period.  It takes a while to learn these lessons and both you and your kids need to make a commitment to it. 

Hearing your appreciation and positive comments are an important part of the program and will make them feel like they are making a valuable contribution to the family. They are, and isn’t it nice to sit in the car and read a magazine while the shopping gets done? Hey, Moms need all the breaks they can get!

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  1. I love trying new things to teach my kids about money. I am planning on handing over the reigns to my 10 year old next year… in the mean time she loves to plan meals and go grocery shopping. I think it is a great idea to have her do some of the budgeting for the meals she makes the family. Stopping over from SITS.

  2. Great Post and Tips! I’m in the midst of this lesson with my 17 year old and at times I wonder where he thinks money comes from…LOL We definitely need to try some of these tips…

  3. Good points here. The idea of sending my teens to the grocery store with money for the week scares me, but I think you’re right, it’s important to be done. So I will give it a try once my oldest starts officially driving (he is taking his time). My middle child is quite good at finding bargains with her clothes shopping, since she is spending her own money, but with food, I don’t think she pays as much attention. She is more concerned with what’s healthy than being price conscious. I guess on the good side…she spends no money on fast food. Thanks for sharing this — it was a great reminder for me! It’ll be a great exercise to get them ready for the “real world.”

  4. This is a great post. My two oldest are 9 and 7 and I am trying to teach them to save. One is doing great and has a goal of 200, he’s at about 85 and the oldest wants to buy candy in the grocery store line…This is a great idea for when they get older!

  5. Oh wow! The thought of turning my son loose on the grocery store with money gives me a major panic attack! LOL I can’t believe that Fast food fact. That’s crazy!

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