I love to bargain shop, probably because I grew up with parents who were very conscientious of sticking to a budget. Whenever it came time for birthdays or holidays, my parents would spend the exact same amount on each of our gifts and were very upfront about how much they had budgeted. Thus, I became a master of comparison shopping to get the best deal on whatever I wanted to make the most of what was allotted for my gift. If we wanted a special toy during any other time of year, my sister and I would save up our limited allowance and were allowed to spend it however we wanted.

I quickly learned that each store had a different price structure. If I looked hard enough, I could find the exact same item at a lower price. This was important to make best return on my allowance investment. Now that I am an adult and have a three year old son, I’m considering how I can instill this concept of comparison shopping in him.

We have already started talking about the different sizes of his toys and arrange them in order of largest to smallest. This is one step towards setting him up to understand how to compare prices. Next time we are at the store and he tells me how he just has to have the latest race car, I will use the opportunity to explain that there may be a different store that has that exact same car for a lower price. If we can find it somewhere else at a substantially lower price, then we might even be able to get two cars. I know his eyes would light up at the idea of getting two toys instead of just one.

Comparison-Shop-PINParents, when you take your children with you on errands, why not make it an educational experience and have them price the items that they want at different stores? Ask them track the cost for each store, either by writing in a notebook or for older kids have them use their phone’s notebook function. There are also several different apps that your kids can use to research right there in the store and learn that a phone can be used for more than just games and socializing. (Some apps you can try to get started: Redlaser, Shopular, and Shop Savvy.)

Once you are back at home, have your children search online stores for the same product to see if they can get it cheaper online. After they have done all the research, work with them to create a chart with the name of each store, the price, the shipping fees and the total price (sales tax included). Then you can help them compare the prices, find the best deal and talk about the variance in pricing on the exact same item.

Comparing prices is a way to teach children that the choices they make have future consequences. It is also an opportunity to introduce the concept of opportunity cost: If you buy the latest toy, you cannot buy other items on your “wish list,” at least for a while.

Teaching our children how to make their dollars go as far as possible is invaluable. By showing them how to save money on purchases you not only show them that they should value every dollar they have, but you are also showing your kids one of the many ways the math they learn in school is invaluable in their every day lives. The bargain shopping skills I acquired at a very early age have saved me thousands of dollars over the years and have enabled me to get more for my money. This is a skill I definitely want to pass along to my son, so he’ sure to save up enough money to take care of me in my old age!

Parents, what strategies do you use to get your kids to “comparison shop?”

Christie Silverstein is Vice President of Public Engagement at Expect More Arizona, and the proud mother of Dylan.

Teaching Kids the Value of Comparison Shopping