Not shopping with kids

One huge advantage of our carfree lifestyle is that we don’t shop very much. I believe being without a car means fewer shopping trips, but I don’t have any research to back me up. If you’ve seen any, please leave a comment! I did find a study today that shows shopping trips are the most underestimated category of car trips — a household’s number of actual shopping trips in a car exceeded the number planned by 200%. So people do drive to stores to shop even when they weren’t planning on it. I think this happens less for carfree households. Fewer stores are accessible to me, and I’m unlikely to go to a shopping center as a form of recreation. My daily commute takes me by fewer stores, so I’m less likely to stop and shop on impulse.

This filters down to our kids. We very rarely shop with our 3 year old, H. The baby is more likely to shop with one of us, since we are more likely to run errands on a day when one of us is at home with him, but H almost never sees the inside of a store. We grocery shop by bike every two weeks, and the bike is heavy enough on it’s own — I’d never bike H to the store as well. She’s probably in a grocery store once every couple of months. We don’t shop for entertainment, which keeps us out of toy stores and gazingus pin stores for the most part (though not completely). H’s most frequent shopping excursion is to the liquor store (or “the wine store” as she calls it) because her daycare is right next to the liquor store and she and I stop on Fridays for a bottle of shabbat wine for grown-ups. Plus, the men working at that store are absolute sweethearts who love to talk to H and ogle the baby.

The other day I had some urgent errands to run, so I went into the natural health store and the grocery store with H. She wanted pretty much everything in both stores. She asked several times if she could buy something, and each time I said a clear “no.” But I realized that if we were stores together more often, she’d be asking more often, and then one time I’d decide to say “yes.” That in turn would mean that she’d ask me more often, and we’d be in a vicious cycle that leads to the gimmies.

And just so you know, I really do think this is only an accidental result of our carfree/mostly-TV-free lifestyle that we’ve avoided the gimmies thus far. We rarely go out to eat as a family, but when we do, H gets a chocolate milk. Why? Because she asks for it and we want our restaurant outing to go smoothly. Before baby R was born, H and I used to take occasional trips to Whole Foods during which we’d get her a drink and a cup of soup. Guess what she now demands on our rare trips to Whole Foods? Guess what I often get for her?

Most parents cannot stand up without fail to a young child’s demands for stuff. And saying “yes” to demands for stuff is like trying to hack off a hydra-head. Each time you say “Yes” you are causing ten more future asks, each of which increases your chance of another “yes” which in turn will lead to more asks. I am grateful that because we rarely find ourselves in stores and don’t have a TV, the most annoying “stuff” requests my daughter makes are for chocolate milk at restaurants and checking a DVD out of the library. I hope this trend continues, but I know that as our kids get older, they will be exposed to more stuff and that means they’ll want more stuff. We’ve probably only put off the battles of consumerism in our children for a little while. In the years ahead we’ll be teaching our kids about money, including spending, saving, and giving, as well as how advertisers and businesses try to separate us from our money. Some would say we should already be starting that process. For now, however, a big piece of our educational strategy is simply not learning to shop.

About Angela

Angela is an associate professor of mathematics and enjoys writing, reading, and talking to people about her bike. She's the proud mother of two cute kids, H and R.
This entry was posted in Best of, Child-related issues, Frugality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Not shopping with kids

  1. Jen says:

    What do you do about produce if you only shop every two weeks? I'm trying to get a handle on our shopping and produce and dairy are the big problems.

  2. Amy says:

    Angela,
    Come with me to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood conference in April! I went 2 years ago and it was amazing, astonishing and life-changing. It's at Wheelock College. -Amy

  3. This is really not about having cars, but about how accessible supermarkets are to you.

    Here in Queens, NY, we've got a supermarket around the corner. Everyone walks to it; we can get there in five minutes. Pretty much every day, we stop to pick up a few things. That means we don't have to keep very much in the house, produce doesn't go bad, and we can decide what to have for dinner an hour before we sit down to eat.

    When I was a kid I used to ask for things all the time at the supermarket, but our kid doesn't. We made it clear to him that he gets his treats at dessert and snack time (if he behaves). If he wants something sweet, we buy it and put it away for the next dessert or snack. That pretty much eliminates instant gratification. It took him a while to learn this, but now he's fine with it.

    I don't think that an arrangement where everyone bikes two miles to the supermarket is sustainable or desirable. You can have a perfectly decent car-free lifestyle with a supermarket around the corner, and deal with the consumerism issues as they come up.

  4. Jen says:

    It's also about how you approach family life and chores. I rarely take the kids to the store because it's no fun, even with a car. I go when they nap, or in a worst case scenario, after they go to bed. I want my time with them to be fun, not arduous. I will occasionally take one of them with me if scheduling and other chores dictate, but it inevitably takes longer, is less effective, and just generally unpleasant. We don't accede to requests, either, but keeping track of the preschooler, who doesn't want to stay in the cart, or keeping the toddler from losing his mind, is also challenging and frustrating. Both like to grab things, too.

  5. Angela V-C says:

    @Jen — In the winter we do fresher veggies the first week and frozen (or sturdier veggies like cabbage and carrots) the second week. In the summer we usually have a CSA that brings in fresh veggies.

    @Amy — That sounds like a great conference, esp being local. Looks like we can get a registration discount if we get our act together this week. I'll let you know if we plan to go!

    @Cap'n Transit We also have close grocery stores, but we don't like to shop at them (so we tend to use them for emergency supplies). We've made the choice to bike out to our favorite cheap source of groceries even though it's further away, and we've consolidated down to two trips a month as a result of that. I know lots of folks prefer the route of frequent small trips, but we like to have everything planned in advance and a small number of trips. To each his or her own!

  6. That's fine, Angela, if you want to go shopping less frequently to a store that's further away. We did that, too, by subway when we lived in a different neighborhood where the groceries weren't as good. But that doesn't really have much to do with whether you have a car or not.

  7. Dorea says:

    @cap'n transit — Angela makes a clear case that we are in stores less, and thus our kid is in stores less, partially because we do not have easy access to a car. Sure, some people live close to stores, and some people live far from stores, no matter how they get there (car, bike, foot, transit), but the point remains that we'd have far more stores easily accessible to us if we drove, and as a result, we'd probably go to them more. If it was easier to take our kids with us, which it would be in a car, they'd likely come with us more often.

    In our case, limited shopping with kids (whether you think that's a good idea or not) is at least partially a result of not driving, and as Angela said, we've noticed that's a nice side benefit.

  8. Lex says:

    We don't like to shop much either (pretty much comes down to drawing straws re: who has to go grocery shopping), and our kids REALLY don't like to shop (and thus, we prefer not to shop with the kids). But when they were younger and I used to always bring them with me to the store, things went much more smoothly than they do now that shopping w/ kids is a rare occurrence. I made a point of never giving into requests, and the kids quickly stopped asking. I'd involve them in our shopping in other ways, (i.e. "who can remember where the milk is? Which way do we go?"), and they really did just fine. It's only since shopping has become less regular that the kids (who are, of course, now older as well) request special treats and other foods that looking appealing to them in the moment. Thus, if you ever found yourselves in a situation where you had to bring the kids with you every time and/or shop more frequently, I'm guessing that it would quickly become less of a "gimme" struggle.

    Interestingly, I feel like we do MORE window shopping type shopping when we're traveling by foot or bike than when we have the car. We often go through downtown on the bike or when walking, but generally avoid that route when driving due to traffic. Part of what I love about getting around car-free is all of the spontaneous interactions that occur, and where we live all of those occur downtown. But the side-effect of going through downtown more is that we stop into stores more. Parking is such a nightmare in town that we rarely feel inspired to do it when traveling by car. We were never the type to go shopping at a mall or someplace like that, but I can see how if we were, not having a car would reduce those kinds of trips.

    RE: consumerism in kids, it was when our older two started kindergarten that we started hearing about the things that they wanted (that their friends who watch TV wanted or had). But after a rough first few months of pointing out repeatedly that all families make different choices, that definitely died down. Now, if you ask our kids directly, they will still say that they wish they could have all of the toys that their friends at school supposedly have, but they don't ask us for them anymore. It was quite disappointing to realize that sheltering our kids from mainstream toy stores and TV only went so far. But I still know that it would be SO MUCH WORSE if they were seeing commercials or visiting the toy aisle in Target, etc.

    I always HATED doing errands with my mom when I was a kid (she'd usually leave me in the car for huge amounts of time–totally different era!), so I think it's pretty great that your kids are spared that, for whatever reason.

  9. Jen says:

    I think we shop about the same amount now that we don't have a car as we did when did have a car. We shop for groceries pretty regularly at shops that are within walking distance and much less regularly at places that we need to bike to. We almost always bring our child shopping with us because it takes a while to walk places and we often combine shopping with another outing or we make a trip of it. We do try to save up lists before we go to more distant stores, and we do more shopping online and we try to go without, but only to a certain degree. I figure that being able to carry less when you shop on foot means more trips and that balances out the more trips that the convenience of a car affords.

  10. Seannon says:

    I have older kids and have two things that have helped. One is that I give them both a small allowance that they can spend or save as they wish. When they ask if they can have something I say, sure, did you bring your money? They are more likely to get toys and save for toys than get candy, which is good. They are much less willing to spend their money than they are to spend my money. :)

    Second, I tell them they can ask for whatever they want as long as they are OK hearing no as the answer. Whining and begging are not being OK hearing no as an answer, and thus aren't allowed.

    That's helped cut down on the begging for stuff quite a bit from my 9 and 7 year olds.

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