My dad’s supermarket quirky game saves me over $ 1,000 a year on food

  • While my mother was in the hospital, my father took care of the shopping.
  • He taught my brother and I to shop carefully by playing a game where we ran through the corridors.
  • We grabbed everything we wanted, then went through it to see what was really worth buying.

When I was a baby, my mother had to spend a month in the hospital after her appendix burst. During that time, my father became the family grocer and took the opportunity to teach me and my older brother (aged 12 and 9) how to spend carefully.

Every week my dad would take us to the supermarket, take a shopping cart and start running up and down the aisles. He literally ran, swerving around other customers, the cart wheels rattling away, and whatever my brother and I could successfully toss into the cart, within reason, we could have.

During the race, my brother and I ran in front of our dad to confirm that our first choice chips were in stock. If they were, we made sure they got on the wagon in time, and if they weren’t, we rearranged and took our second choice, then ran forward to beat him to the next corridor. It was a lot of fun, like participating in “Supermarket Sweep”.

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My father’s run to the supermarket taught us to shop wisely at the supermarket

Realistically, my brother and I could select an article from each of the non-essential corridors and then hope the article gets approved. My dad exercised veto power to protect the budget, so imported British chocolate is back on the shelf and we’ve learned to make sensible choices. And no purchases were allowed in the checkout aisle, where we had to linger in line and fix three different flavors of Skittles.

My father’s goal was to make us think about the products that make up a large part of the store: candy, snacks, sodas, and other odds and ends. This was partly to keep us healthy, but also to lower the bill. Per serving, oatmeal was cheaper than Cocoa Krispies, even if you added honey or brown sugar to it.

It was the 1990s, so in our local HEB there was an entire aisle dedicated to generic products in simple, black and white packaging, and my dad urged us to read the ingredient list to determine if there was any difference in quality between generic and branded. To date, I estimate that my dad’s run to the supermarket saves me about $ 1,200 per year on non-essential groceries alone.

My dad also suggested we do some meal planning. We had a say in which frozen Night Hawk dinners we brought home and whether we had peanut butter sandwiches every single day for lunch or turkey every other day.

There was also an important non-financial advantage in this game: my father successfully distracted his children from the chilling reality that their mother was in the hospital with a life-threatening condition.

He started teaching us how to manage money many years ago

My dad started teaching us personal finance well before our run to the supermarket. I was about 7 when he introduced me to his mantra that “debt is slavery”, which has more meaning since my brother and I are half black, and we lived in Texas, where literal slavery was rife.

My father was in debt, but he wanted us to have as little as possible and for him careful spending was a stepping stone to financial freedom. We’ve had countless talks about the difference between wants and needs, my dad said yes to new shoes when our Payless sneakers were fraying, but no to the latest Des’ree album because listening to the radio was free.

In high school, my after-school job was tutoring younger students, and due to my father’s early influence, I budgeted every penny of that income with my ledger and No. 2. Before going out with my friends, I decided if I had enough money for both pizza and bowling, or maybe just one of those things.

To this day, I rarely shop on impulse, in the supermarket or elsewhere. I took out student loans and, more recently, a mortgage, but otherwise my consumer debt was virtually non-existent.

This is not to say that as a family we have not spent money on fun things. My dad regularly took us to the cinema, he just didn’t let us buy refreshments there, and instead we sneaked bags of tortilla chips into the cinema. He once he bought our tickets with change, insisting: “He is legal tender!” while my brother and I pretended not to know him. But his financial lessons lasted much longer than my embarrassment.

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