Updated on 03.21.12

Share the Thought Process Behind Your Purchases (80/365)

Trent Hamm

One of the best experiences I’ve had lately has been shopping with my oldest child.

He’s six going on seven, so he’s starting to take a significant interest in what adults do – and, perhaps more importantly, why adults do the things they do. He watches what Sarah and I both do all the time and often asks questions when he doesn’t understand what’s going on or why we’re doing something.

This carries over big time to the grocery store, where he’ll ask questions about almost everything that goes into the cart.

Now, some parents might find this kind of thing annoying and give trite answers (I’ve seen it plenty of times in the store), but I’ve found that taking these questions seriously and answering them to the best of my ability helps me as much as it helps him.

First of all, the questions that he asks helps me to filter my purchases sensibly. In some ways, he becomes the voice of my conscience. If I consider a junk food item, all I have to do is think about how I’m going to answer his inevitable question and it causes me to leave it on the shelf. If I choose “bread A” over “bread B,” I have to be able to articulate why I’m making that choice, which means I have to think seriously about it. I have to fight beyond the instinct and really understand my decision.

The flip side of that is that with every question, his understanding of the world is improving. He’s learning about the things that he should think about when deciding what food to buy. Is it healthy? Is it on sale? Does it form a component of a meal? Are there less expensive options that will serve the same need?

This becomes an educational process for the both of us. I’m teaching him how to make sensible decisions and the reasoning behind them, but I’m also digging into my own understanding of those decisions.

This doesn’t have to be something that happens just in a grocery store with a young child.

Share the Thought Process Behind Your Purchases (80/365)

When I was well into my teenage years, my parents began discussing the ins and outs of a lot of larger financial choices with me. I knew the details of my father’s retirement choices, the status of their mortgage, and many of the details of their estate planning.

These discussions have only grown from my teenage years. Over that time, I’ve really come to understand why they make their decisions. For them, I know from their comments that my questions have helped them reflect on certain issues. For me, it’s not only helped me to understand them better, but it’s also given me food for thought for my own decisions.

Talking about finances and sharing your thought processes with trusted people does nothing but improve the situation of all parties involved. It helps them to understand why they make decisions, often results in them making better decisions, and also helps you in reflecting on your own situation.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Nick says:

    I couldn’t even read this post because I spent the last few minutes trying to figure out the difference in photo A and photo B.

    I’m pretty sure they are the same which is amazing.

  2. Trent,
    Wise advice, especially when grocery shopping. Great to hear how you’re children provoke you think about your purchases.

    But do you think inquisitive children are the product of good parenting, which causes them to ask questions? Or is it the children’s natural curiosity?

    Thank you.

    -Christian L.

  3. Chains says:

    I am the same way when we are at the store but my answers are not always what they should be. When the little one asks, “why don’t we get the toilet paper with the puppies on it”. I like to answer honestly so I tell him, “That is the cheap brand, and you don’t cheap out on important stuff like toilet paper. Trust me.”

  4. Dawn says:

    I’ve always thought that grocery stores are great learning opportunities for kids. Not only can they learn the things you mentioned, it is also great to show them the power of marketing (i.e. why one item is at eye level or on an end-cap when you can get a comparable item for much less by bending down or reaching up). I love it when my grown child calls me to report a great sale she found on strawberries or something similar!

  5. Liz says:

    This is interesting, and helping me think about a purchase that I am planning to make tomorrow. I’ve wanted a Kindle for years, since they first came out, but didn’t get one. Then, about this time last year, I read an article that confidently predicted that by the end of 2011, basic Kindles would be under $100. So I waited. And sure enough, basic Kindles were under $100 by Christmas, and here I am, still no Kindle. I’m a grad student, and this week I finally, finally got absolutely fed up with dragging an incredibly heavy bag all over campus b/c I needed my computer to read pdf files. I’ve been reluctant to pull the trigger, though. But I’ve weighed all the options (literally and figuratively), and I know that a basic Kindle and my Blackberry will do what I need most days and that I don’t need a more expensive tablet. You’ve helped me articulate that I *do* have real reasons for this purchase, and I should just do it. Nice.

  6. kc says:

    The photos are quite different. In the first image, this family is checking to see if they’ve won anything in a sweepstakes they entered; in the second, they’ve just discovered that they won a yellow Neon!

  7. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    It took me a bit to figure out what you guys were talking about!

    I kept moving the image around in the post to find a place where I liked it. I left it in two places, which is now fixed. Good eyes.

  8. Steven says:

    I can’t help but think that life must feel very tedious tracking everything and mulling over every insignificant decision. You make it seem like every choice must be given a lot of thought…how do you manage to get anything done?

  9. lurker carl says:

    I remember our kids questioning purchases if something out of the ordinary went into the cart. Sandwich bread was met with silence but a package of dinner rolls would have definately brought about questions. But the kids would have known the reason for the rolls before hand, such as needing them for a special meal with extended family and friends that they were already looking forward to. But they didn’t really question the purchase, we just picked up on a previous conversation about the upcoming event.

    I guess the big difference is we buy the same items over and over. Same foods, same HB&A, same household products. No need to question what they saw or used every day of their lives, it was the normal experience for them. The questions were why we bought boring oatmeal instead of something magically delicious or didn’t grab some of the vast array of candies in the checkout aisle.

  10. Jennifer Lundgren says:

    Greetings! I am an American living in Europe and love your newsletter. I get alot of good ideas and insight. My husband is 50% employed and I am currently unemployed and we are looking at cost cutting. I was wondering if you have ever looked at the difference between using brewed coffee vs instant. We use bargain basement brands for both, both involve a slight use of electricity (water boiler for instant, coffee machine for coffee). We tend to drink more if we make it in the machine and the grounds are “recycled” by using them to help keep the sink clean…….just curious as to your thoughts.

  11. Jon says:

    Wow! Your parents actually discussed their finances with you. The only words I ever heard from my parents on money subjects were “we can’t afford it.” To this day, though they appear to have invested wisely over the years and are comfortably retired with a large nest egg, they are almost evasive when asked questions about what their investment strategy was – and once in a while I hear them complain about having to roll over CDs from one bank to another.

  12. Joan says:

    #10 How do you use the grounds to keep the sink clean?

  13. Liz says:

    I wish my parents had done this with me. My life would be very different now (in a good way). My mother was always stressed out about money and she imposed that attitude on me. Its only been in my 40’s that I’ve realized there is a calm and rational way to approach money.

    When I turned 19, she came to me one day in July and screeched at me for not doing my income tax for the previous year….first time she had mentioned it. She gave me absolutely no guidance or support and I had to figure out how to do my taxes on my own. Very stressful. You’re doing a good thing by communicating openly with your kids.

  14. Troy says:

    So you discussed finances in your teenage years with your parents which ultimately led you to “financial armageddon” as you put it, in your 20’s.

    Strong point.

  15. elizabeth says:

    That child looks rather older than ‘six going on seven’ – or have I missed something?

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