Aside from cooking, if there’s one important lesson I learned from my parents it would have to be about budgeting. I grew up in a large family of 6, and we enjoyed delicious home cooked Vietnamese dishes, so I’ve had my fair share of trips to the Asian market to pick out the dinner ingredients. We couldn’t always get the pre-packaged American snacks from the commercials, but now that I think about it, learning those lessons about budgeting for our family really came in handy for me now that I’m a parent- way more handy than any fun snacks or juice boxes would have been!
With twin tweens, a hungry husband, and now my parents in my household, budgeting is still important when it comes to food, except now it seems easier. My parents might have taught me how to balance a checkbook, but those days are long gone because now I’ve been using Mint to balance everything and track my spending. I love how my expenses are automatically categorized and I can even set goals for saving. Times have changed since I was young!
Although the menus and where we shop may be different than when I was growing up, I still want to teach my daughters about budgeting, and one place that is perfect for those lessons is the Farmer’s Market. Just like how I learned about budgeting when I was accompanying my mom to the market, my kids not only learning about budgeting- they’re also understanding how to eat healthy on a budget!
To help get your family started, here are my tips about how to use the farmer’s market to teach your kids about budgeting:
1) Set a food budget
Establishing a budget is usually one of the first steps when it comes to saving money, which I shared that in my last post about how to eat healthy on a budget. This tip goes both for parents and children. By starting with a budget, your children will understand the importance of this first step. I would suggest to be open about the budget and let them know how much you are allotted to spend at the farmer’s market, and that you are asking for their help to stay on budget. One extra perk of being honest about your farmer’s market budget is that kids are usually pretty good police when it comes to staying on track!
2) Write a grocery list together
When your kids write out the grocery list, they will realize that this is also an important step in budgeting. This step also gives a sense of ownership to your child because they feel empowered to make healthy choices. Allow them to choose some of their favorites, but also include some of your necessities so that they can help you complete your list. I found it helpful to have your kids take note of what foods are local and in season so they have realistic expectations of what to find at the market. It’s no fun if your child expects to get nectarines in the winter, but on the flip side, it can be so rewarding to have your kids wait for that special time when their favorite fruit is in season! It’s also important to help them understand that this is just a list to start from, and depending on the variety available at the market, they might have to be flexible. That is a whole other lesson in itself!
3) Load up their wallet with cash
Most of my spending is on a card, which makes using Mint so easy, but when it comes to learning about budget and money, cash is easier for kids. First, that’s how they learn about money and math in school, so it’s a great way to connect what’s learned in the classroom to the real world. Second, it’s a tangible way to see their budget in action- once the money is gone, then their budget is spent! I suggest giving your child a wallet with the budget broken down into various denominations and coins, so that they can have different options to pay with.
4) Do a walkthrough together first
Your child may get excited at the first sight of strawberries they see in the market, but when you’re dealing with a budget, it’s important to shop around to get the best value. Do a walk through of the whole market together and take note of the items on the grocery list, how much the foods cost, what kind of varieties, and even ask for some taste tests! Then, loop it back with your kids to see what they think about where their dollars should go, and what foods come home with them.
5) Allow your kids to handle the transactions
Your kids have the cash, so give them the power to use it and make decisions with your support. For farmer’s market first timers, it would be helpful to first model to your child about how to buy food and talk through each step. Show them how to pick the best produce, and if the vegetables are by the pound, demonstrate how to weigh it out. Use a calculator to add it up, or ask the farmers if they can give a price before you complete your purchase. But since we’re dealing with budget, always make sure to bring the learning back to the budget. Ask questions to help them relate the money in their wallet to their grocery list and the actual costs in the market. As a parent, you may know all the answers, but your child will learn so much more if you give them the opportunity to think things through and make a few mistakes along the way. Questions like, “If we buy this much, will we have enough for something else?” or “How many of that can you buy without going over budget?” can be helpful to make those connections.
Once your children have the hang of how the farmer’s market transactions happen, let them do the work while you take a back seat. Let them ask for help, but leave the rest to them. When it comes time to checking out, let them pay with the wallet, and while that may take longer than other customers, farmers are usually friendly and supportive when they see a young person involved in the process.
After your farmer’s market trip, spend a moment with your kids to reflect on the trip and the budget to close it up. Did you run out of money or do you have any left? Do you need to change your budget for the next trip? What are ways that you can save money next time? Based on the current spending, how much budget would you need for the month? This reflective part about spending is usually something that children aren’t involved in, but reflecting on my spending has helped me stay on track of my budget immensely. While I have tools like Mint to help reflect on my budget, our kids need us to help understand budgeting first, and trips to the farmer’s market has helped my girls so much!