We may not like the word consumer – it may draw pictures of a world that we try and remove ourselves from. We may rather see ourselves as Producers. And yet, whenever we purchase something we become a consumer. We must teach our children to be wise consumers, not just able! This is, as all things in our life, an area where we must walk the talk, and be open to our children.
We need to:
- talk to our children about the cost of living
- be open about our decision making process (why did we buy this and not this)
- teach book keeping and savings
When we do our weekly run-around-town chores we have plenty of opportunity to involve our children and teach them about the consumer world. Here are some thoughts we have come across in our family.
Be a Wise Consumer
We discussed with the local bookshop owner how we enjoyed the music in his store. He told us of the research that he had been reading, about how music affects the customers. He has certainly hit the mark, for us anyway, as we feel really relaxed and welcomed when we walk in. After this discussion, the kids and I observed that when we walk in to another shop in town, how quickly we want to get out and we reflected on the music that shop plays. The girls immediately related this to how we play music in our home too. Music does set an atmosphere which affects our purchases.
Another day my daughter suddenly realised that the Café owners had to buy their food from the grocery store before they could serve coffee, milkshakes and cakes. When we bumped into the café shop owner we asked her why she bought from the grocery store instead of from the bulk supplier. Although this conversation happened in the car park, it was an important lesson in regards to starting a business and the many systems involved.
I don’t take much notice walking into a bank, and dealing with the customer service teller, or the cashier – it’s a pretty regular thing. But do our children? Our children may do banking and that is obviously an important life skill but that only deals with the cashier, as it is doubtful that our children have many queries to ask of a customer service teller. When you have to ask something of your bank next time, don’t phone – drop in when you’re in town, prep your child and see if they can walk in, wait in line, and confidently ask a question.
When Josh was around ten, he had a question to ask at the service desk of a local business but he kept being ignored – just completely looked over. This was a good opportunity to teach him to stand tall, to be a little assertive (without being rude) and to take his place.
I think all children love to collect the mail from the post office but it is also a ground for consumer practice. They can buy stamps, ask for postage rates, choose correct packaging, label parcels, and get that parcel on its way!
We all know the inconvenience of when we have to return something faulty or make a complaint. I remember realising one day I had missed a really good opportunity. Peter and I had to return some light bulbs and instead of leaving our children waiting outside we should have taken then with us to observe how we address these problems. If our children don’t observe our manner, the words we use, how we express our requests then they are not able to formulate a manner themselves and will be left floundering when they have to return something for themselves in the future.
Our children were very aware of advertising and how ads are appealing to, or trying to appeal to our needs and wants. In order to counterattack the instant gratification world that is all around us understanding advertising is an important consumer skill.
Since our children didn’t get pocket money they didn’t have a lot of personal opportunity to spend money. I have had to be intentional about giving them the experience to pay for a product with cash, to be aware of the price, the money in their hand and the change expected. I have also gradually taught the children to sign for a purchase on our accounts. This of course means they have to know when this account gets paid.
As our children grow older and start earning an income these lessons become imperative – and how much easier if we have laid the foundations, through living life, in their earlier years. Our children need to have confidence that when they are in the role of consumer they know how to make wise decisions and handle themselves with politeness and clarity.
Talk about it and show them an example
So the next time you do your run-around-town chores, involve your children. Discuss things like:
- the needs of your family, and how they are met
- family budget
- etiquette of a consumer (your rights but always with manners)
- the business side of business – supply / demand / overheads
- finance – cash, credit card, accounts, banking
- do your maths for the day – sales, discounts, coupons, loyalty cards, comparisons
There are heart issues to consider too
Any discussion on being a consumer has to be balanced with the character trait of Contentment; to be satisfied. If we are continually looking for more, comparing ourselves with the Jones’, and even focusing on material things not the things of God, we need to look at consumer issues from a different perspective. We first of all need to look at our heart and our relationship with God – can we, do we, trust him to provide all our needs. Do we know our purpose in life? Those without a vision will dwell carelessly, and this includes financially.
I am reminded of the wisdom that nearly every mum knows –
Don’t go shopping with an empty tummy!
You will shop a lot more compulsively if you do. But there is another motto that we should make our own:
Don’t go shopping with an empty heart!
We need to fill our heart with God’s love and purpose before we set foot in any shop in order to be a contented consumer!
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