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.
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.