Teaching kids to budget isn’t exactly a once and done deal. It’s one of those long, drawn-out processes that is continually on-going the entire time your child lives at home. Sounds like fun, eh??
Well, I’m not going to bore you with all the tiny little ways here and there that you can reinforce budgeting over the 18 years your kid lives at home. Instead, I’m going to share one of our favorite ways, because even my kids think this is fun!
Let’s actually rewind a few decades back to when I was a kid myself. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and there were 6 kids in the house… sometimes my mom was just plain, ole tired! But instead of saying she didn’t feel like cooking dinner that night, she’d declare it Fend For Yourself Night and take us to the grocery store where we each had $1 to buy our own dinner!
Yes, you read that correctly… $1. Guys, these nights were THE BEST!! Seriously, I can still remember my sisters and I running around the store trying to figure out what we could buy for $1. Sometimes we’d go off on our own and end up with a $1 frozen pizza. Other times we would pool our money and get something a little more “extravagant” to share. It was fun, it was a challenge and it gave my mom the night off for once!
I’ve continued the same tradition with my kids, but I vary how much I give them to keep them on their toes. We’ve been doing this for years and, I swear, it never gets old for them!
We don’t have a set day of the week we do this, or even a set number of times we do it per month. We just aren’t scheduled enough in that way. It usually ends up happening about twice a month, though. They’d do it twice a week if I let them. Seriously, they love coming grocery shopping with me!
There’s no fussing while they’re there. There’s no bugging each other. There’s really not. This isn’t a case of selective memory or me trying to sugar coat it so you think I live some ideal life. They are told how much they have to spend on their dinners before we ever arrive at the store, and they know there is not allowed to be one instance of asking for more money or bickering if they can’t agree on something. They also are 13 and 15 and have been doing this for most of their lives, so keep in mind that they have experience under their belts.
I even took some of my favorite recipes and tweaked them to be a bit more kid-friendly for when my kids were younger! I wrote up all my tips and tricks, meal prompt ideas and even created a printable shopping list for little kids. This is perfect for them to write down their ingredients, keep a running total of the money they’ve spent and check off what they’ve bought!
Plus there are 10 of our favorite kid-friendly recipes included with ways to tweak them for various ages! You can’t beat that for less than the cost of one meal!
I wish I had a better memory, but I think we started when my kids were around 4 and 6. I was much more involved then- helping them with calculators, prompting them with ideas, they had to stay with me the whole time, helping at home, etc. But even then, they still had to be involved with every step down to the dishwashing (even if I redid it after they went to bed). Now, I’m barely involved at all.
The most I ever give them is $5 each to spend. Sometimes I give them $2.75 each. Sometimes it’s $3.30. It’s different every time, and I usually try to tell them the night before. Although remember, I stink at schedules so sometimes it’s only like an hour before!
Don’t be like me, though, because letting them know the night before gives them time to look at the grocery flyers. My kids would kill it at that Price is Right game where you have to name the current price of items. They LOVE looking at the grocery store flyers and planning out what they’re getting the next day.
My son cracks me up because he will actually make a list with everything priced out- avocado, dozen eggs… he’s even asked the butcher at the meat counter for $1.25 worth of fresh, ground sausage because that’s what he had left from his budget and he was in the mood for an omelet!
There are a couple rules that they have to follow for Fend For Yourself Nights. It’s not just a free for all in the store with my money.
- You must buy dinner quality food. Like I mentioned up above, I allow omelets or similar items but they can’t just buy a box of frozen waffles and syrup and call it dinner. They also can’t buy bags of chips, cookies or junk food. I would never serve that as a dinner, so it doesn’t qualify on these nights either. Disclaimer: Sometimes they have some extra money after they’ve decided on their dinner. I have allowed them to buy a donut or something small with it as a treat.
- Whatever they purchase, they are also in charge of making. Fend for Yourself Night does NOT mean that we come home and I have to cook 4 different meals. Part of the reasoning behind this tradition is to help them feel more comfortable in the kitchen making a variety of different meals. Sometimes they just grab a rotisserie chicken or salad, because they also don’t feel like cooking. Other times, I’ve caught them buying a single pork chop from the meat counter and coming home and cooking it for themselves. I will help guide them with seasonings and steps, but they have to actually do it themselves.
- They’re allowed to use items we already have in the house. This comes in handy when they’re planning their meal ahead of time using the store flyers. They decided to make homemade pizzas the one time, but they both like different toppings. So the night before, they decided to pool their money for the pizza crust, cheese and pizza sauce. My son asked if he could use 2 eggs (he’s on this fried egg on everything kick) for his half. My daughter found 1/2 of a ham steak that was leftover from our dinner the night before and asked if she could chop it up for her half of the pizza. Absolutely! I love that they’re learning how to be resourceful and not waste food! They aren’t allowed to grab a pound of chicken from the freezer as part of their meal, but they can absolutely use other small ingredients we already have to make their meal.
- They’re also in charge of their dishes that night. If their meal takes 4 pans, then they have 4 pans to wash. If they buy a cup of soup and cornbread from the soup bar, they know they have no pans to wash. Honestly… it hasn’t seemed to make any difference in how they plan their meals. They seem much more concerned with what they’re eating than they are worried about washing dishes. I’m pretty happy about that.
Last week, they decided to combine their money and try some recipe they found on Pinterest (yes, they’re even checking online for recipes now). It was a chicken mushroom over egg noodles type of thing. The recipe had them buying raw chicken and cooking it so that they could later shred it and add to the mushroom sauce. The 2 of them sat at the table the night before with their sales flyers and discussed whether or not they could buy a rotisserie chicken that was on sale and just shred that because it would be easier than dealing with raw chicken. I even heard my daughter pipe up with a “I just know it will work! I’ve seen mommy do that if she doesn’t have time to cook chicken for buffalo chicken dip!”.
I swear, they’re like a little old married couple sometimes planning their meals! They’ve had to scrap some ideas altogether, because they didn’t have enough money allotted for that trip. They stand in the store with their calculators out adding things up and putting things back.
It totally cracks me up! But they’re learning! They’re learning how to cook a variety of dishes, we’re teaching kids to budget, and they’re having fun while they do it!
If your kids are younger than mine, you might want to spend a few dollars and get some kid-safe knives. Hopefully this will become a tradition for your family and for less than $10, these Curious Chef Knifes are a pretty good investment! Depending on what you already own or how reluctant your child is to participate, you might want to also grab some fun measuring cups that have a non-slip grip! When my kids were younger, nothing could ruin these nights faster than a bowl full of ingredients ending up on the floor! It only took this happening once or twice for me to spend the $10 for a mixing bowl with a handle that has a non-slip bottom! Just a little word from the “tired of cleaning” mom!
For those of you who like to have a concrete place to start, I’ve made it super easy for you with my Kids in the Kitchen ebook!
It’s filled with:
- Tips and tricks to make sure Fend for Yourself Night is successful with your kids
- Our rules that we follow to make sure everyone has fun
- A printable shopping list to keep little ones on track
- Meal ideas to use as prompts for your kids
- and 10 easy recipes for kids of any ages to start feeling comfortable in the kitchen!
It’s a short read (only 16 pages!), but for less than the cost of a meal, it’s worth it to start a new family tradition and raise kids who are confident in the kitchen and grocery stores!
And because sometimes us adults have to keep within a budget too, be sure to check out my freezer meal post to help you stick within yours! Not only will you save money, but you’ll save lots of time too! Double winner!
And I would love it if you would share or pin this post to help encourage others to teach their kids how to budget and feel comfortable in the kitchen!