Grocery shopping with kids can be an expensive venture

October 12, 2000

Grocery shopping with kids can be an expensive venture

It's a happy place. Cheerful people are busy with their tasks. Bright lights and warm colors invite you to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds around you. A new delight awaits at every turn.

Where is this place? Where do you find such nirvana? The grocery store.

The grocery store? In the words of any parent, "Are you NUTS?!"

Don't misunderstand me, my grocery store is just fine. The folks who work there do a nice job. It's just that when you take the weekly task of filling a grocery cart and add three young children, suddenly the trip to Fantasyland has all the appeal of a three-week stay on Devil's Island. And you don't get to vote anybody off.

A grocery store tantalizes and entices people like me into impulse purchases.

When I recently visited the store with my three boys - ages 10, 8 and 5 - it took three seconds for impulse buying to kick in. No matter whether we needed it or not, no matter what the price, my impulse was survival. Get this done and get me out of here!


My boys are, by nature, good boys. But like all kids, when they enter the grocery store, some sort of "morph" action thing occurs. Suddenly, without warning, they turn into members of an elite demolition squad that can turn a pyramid of oranges into juice.

We all know animals can "smell" fear. I believe children can "smell" confusion. Case in point: When do your children want something the most? When they sense you are trying to determine the better buy - the coupon or the bonus sticker.

Parents do some sort of weird eye thing at the grocery store. Our heads and bodies stand frozen sideways in the aisle while our eyeballs swirl. Children recognize this posture and use it as an opportunity to bop each other on the head, sneak their own selections into the cart or run to the magazine and candy sections.

Parents everywhere have had these experiences for years. Grocery stores have tried all kinds of things to make the shopping experience as easy on the buyer as possible. They have tried providing pint-sized grocery carts for children, samples of baked goods, express checkout lines, even dry-cleaning and banking services. I read about one grocery store that offered free child care to its customers. When grocery bills started to decline, the service was pulled. It turns out, children are important, influential shoppers.

Now I see we are given the opportunity to check out and bag our own groceries while an employee watches. What's wrong with this picture? Candid camera has to be gathering some good footage at this checkout station.

Queen Mary to the rescue

My last grocery store visit with my children was a humdinger. I knew it was bad when the deli clerk took pity on me and came out from behind her station to help: "Oh my. Let's get you the proper cart."

She whisked to the front of the store and brought back the Queen Mary of shopping carts. That's the one with the extra kid seats on it. You need a commercial truck driver's license for this one. It's the newest attempt to accommodate us high-spending moms. I like to think of myself as a high roller in the grocery business since I spend half of my paycheck at the store every week.

Anyway, the deli clerk transferred all the cans, boxes and bags that eight arms had thrown in the basket. She then gave me a gentle, comforting pat on the back as if to say, "Good luck, soldier. You're gonna need it."

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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