8 Tips for {mostly} Stress Free Shopping with Kids

One of the questions I get asked a lot by friends and by those of you that read my Weekly Spending Summaries is how I manage to do so much shopping with my children in tow. Doesn’t it get a little crazy?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact it can!  And honestly, I much prefer shopping by myself while my hubby stays home with the children.  Unfortunately, most of the time that just doesn’t work out and since he really dislikes shopping of any kind, I generally end up doing it and taking all or some of the children along.  Thankfully I’ve learned a few tricks over the last almost 6 years that help keep it from getting too wild and stressful.  No, these tips don’t solve all the problems but they have sure benefited me an awful lot and I hope that they’ll do the same for you!

(Just for reference sake, I have 3 children- an almost 6 yr. old, a 2 ½ yr. old and a 3 mo. old.  I typically go shopping weekly and usually we’ll go to at least 3 stores.  Occasionally I’ll do two trips instead of one if it feels like it is going to work better that way.)

1.  Have a Detailed Plan
The more planned out my shopping trip is, the less muddled I’ll get when I have a 2 yr. old trying to pull something off the shelf or a 5 yr. old who suddenly needs to go to the bathroom.

In fact, I always shop with a shopping list in hand.  And on it I write down every single thing that I need to buy- even when I shop at the mall.  Somehow, when you have children distracting you it is just too easy to forget that one item that you were sure you’d remember even though you didn’t bother to write it on your list!

I’m an avid coupon user and so I also like to have all the deals that I plan to do written down in detail on my list.  For instance, here’s what I wrote this week for one of my deals:

(3) Glad trash bags $6.49 each
– (3) $0.75 coupons
– $5 off instant savings

This told me at a glance that I needed to make sure that I had the 3 coupons ready when I got to checkout and that I also needed to make sure the $5.00 instant savings came off at the register.  (Because believe it or not, there are too many times that it doesn’t!)

Find what works for you.  Some people feel it is helpful to write out their shopping list in the order of the aisles of their store.  Or maybe you simply want to group it into categories such as “Frozen” “Produce” “Baking”.  Really, it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you have a method that helps you stay organized and keep your head clear as you shop!

2.  Don’t go Hungry
You know how they say to never go shopping when you are hungry because everything will look so good that you’ll end up buying more than you planned?  Well, when you go shopping with kids and everyone is hungry, it’s twice as bad because you’ll be dealing with grouchy kids too!  And really, I can’t blame them because I can get kind of grouchy myself when I’m hungry.

So if at all possible, do you shopping right after a meal or at least well before the next meal.  If that isn’t an option, then take along a snack or be prepared to buy some food so that everyone can stay calm and hopefully happy as well.

3.  Don’t go Tired
Kind of like point #2…if kids (or mom!) are tired, it’s about four times as hard to have a good shopping experience.  The grumpies hit and everything seems bigger and more tragic than usual.  I realize that depending on what season of life you are in as a parent it’s going to be hard to go shopping when you yourself aren’t tired.  But at the very least, make sure the kids are rested and don’t be out over their nap time.  Because they will get cranky!

4.  Grab the Necessities
Before you head out the door, always make sure you have the necessities that you may end up needing while you are out.  For me this includes: diapers and wipes, pacifier, my water bottle, sippy cup for my toddler, my phone, and a snack, just in case.  Some seasons of my life (like when we are potty training) I even make sure that I have an extra change of clothes along for the child that might need it.

I’ve done this long enough that I simply have the mental checklist in my head.  But if it is helpful for you, go ahead and actually write one up and post it somewhere that you can easily refer to it.  Because the 5 minutes that it takes you to collect these things and make sure they are in your purse will be well worth it!  

5.  Communicate Expectations
As my children got older, I discovered that it helped if I clearly communicated what I expected of them before we went into the store.  At first it seemed kind of silly.  I mean they already know that they aren’t to go running down the aisles or grab things off the shelf, right?  So why do I need to go over that every.single.time?  Because children are just that- children, and they need to be reminded again and again about what is right and good.

So before we head into a store I might say something like this: “Remember the 3 things that you need to do when we are in the store?  I need you to walk beside me and hang onto the cart, I need you to look and not touch and I need you to be kind to each other and not fight.”  (Why is it that they so often like to pick fights when I am out shopping?!) And as I say each one I hold up a finger as a visual.  Then, just to get it good and clear, I like to ask them to repeat it back to me too.

My 5 yr. old is old enough now that I often just have him tell me the rules before we head into the store and that is a good enough reminder for my 2 1/2 yr. old as well.

It took me a while to figure this tip out, but I’ve been amazed at what this one simple little thing did to make our shopping trips less stressful!

6.  Praise the Good
It’s so easy to focus on what your child did poorly, like how he was running down the aisle and almost knocked down that genteel elderly lady while you stood there mortified.  (Um, please don’t ask if this is an illustration taken from real life!)  It’s okay to gently remind him that was not acceptable behavior, but it is just as important to focus on what your children did well.

When we are done shopping and are settled back into the car I like to try to think of at least one thing that I can praise the kids for, one thing that they did well.  It might simply have been that they obeyed cheerfully when I asked them to stop touching something.  Or maybe they showed kindness and helped someone by picking up something that they dropped.  Whatever it is, I let them know that I noticed and I praise them for it.  In fact, I’ve been know to occasionally even reward that behavior with a stop by Sweet Frog!  Because sometimes you just need an excuse to celebrate, right?

7. Let Them Help
Yes, it takes longer, but your children will enjoy it more and be happier if you allow them to be involved.  Let them grab an item off the shelf for you, give them a box of tissues to hold, have them help you put the groceries on the conveyer belt or scan the items at the self checkout.   If you are trying to decide between two flavors of something, give them the chance to choose.  You’ll make it fun and in the long run you’ll usually be farther ahead because you’ll keep them engaged and happy.

8.  Be Flexible
No matter how hard you try to plan everything out perfectly, you are still going to need to be flexible.  There will be interruptions that cause you to be out longer than you planned.  One of your children might suddenly become hungry and grouchy even though lunchtime is  1 ½ hrs. away.  Or you might get to the store and realize that you left your shopping list or coupons at home.  Be willing to be flexible!  Sometimes it is worth spending the extra money to buy the children a snack to keep them happy, other times it is best to just cut the shopping trip short and head home.  Decide what is going to benefit you in the long run!

Do you shop with your kids?  What do you find most frustrating about it?  Anything else that you’ve found helpful?

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  1. [...] most weeks I have to take 3 of them to the store with me, not just 2.  And while I’ve found things that help keep it somewhat stress-free, I still don’t like to make it too [...]