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.