Effective Consumer Decision Making

by Tammy Harrison

My in-laws spent an entire year shopping around for a CD player. Yes, you heard me right--they compared prices, manufacturers, features and I think they even researched the color of the interior of the back panel where batteries go! What a waste of time and money!

Effective consumer decision making is not usually something taught to our youth. Kids see mom and dad go into a store a buy something, but do they really see the thought and plans and goals associated with a purchase? We as parents and consumers need to teach our children the entire decision making process before the cash register announces our total and the statisticians mathematicize our purchase on the GNP Index.

We hear so much from the "experts" about what is the right way and the wrong way to teach our kids responsibility--and in today's times, giving an allowance is not necessarily politically correct. They should be rewarded with touchy feely hugs and kisses for a job well done. But, a hug doesn't buy a little girl that very special toy and a kiss doesn't help your teenager upgrade his computer. There are many types of responsibilities that we have to handle as adults and purchasing power is one of them.

We have a system worked out in our house for needs and wants. Our needs are usually basic things like food and clothing, diapers and dog food. These items are placed on a list every week for the trek to our grocer. We also create a special list for our four year old for the needs that she has such as cereal, fruit and chocolate milk. She plans her list while going through the "kid" drawers in the kitchen and telling me what we are running low on. Then we discuss special items that we would like to make that week such as cookies or cake or holiday treats, and what ingredients we need for those. If she wants something that is expensive we also discuss a compromise with everyday items. Then, off to the store! Our store really helps my little shopper by providing "kid carts"! She grabs her wheels and I grab mine and we systematically weave our way through the aisles of tempting fare. We truly make every step along the way a learning guide for consumer decision-making! When we reach the checkout stand I give her money for her groceries and she buys the items herself! I also try to ask the sales person to tell her how much each item costs so that she is aware of the amount of money necessary to eat. When we return home she takes her own bags and puts her purchases away and has such a look of satisfaction on her face that I take a few moments to savor her accomplishments as well as take a deep breath for all of the trouble I had to endure!

Our wants are scrutinized in a completely different light. Our rule for the kids is if they want something that they do not already have (they have enough, thank you, and sometimes forget what is at the bottom of the toy box) they have to give up something of equal value. Sounds simple but we make them pick out what they want to donate to charity and that is sometimes quite emotional!

When we have a large decision as a family to make we are sure to allow the kids input. We recently moved halfway across the country for a job opportunity for my husband. This was no minor decision for any of us but we put our emotions aside and made a list of our short and long term goals for our family, for our finances and for our children. After we then completed a list of "pros and cons" we elicited input from our oldest daughter. She, of course, had no concept what moving away meant but she found out there was snow in the mountains and her decision was set--in fact, while driving away from the only state she had ever lived in and she saw her first white-capped mountain she demanded we stop so that she could "lay my whole body down and make a snow angel"!

It is important to remember a few important lessons when deciding how and what to purchase:

  • Never go to a store with your checkbook but no list;
  • Always plan for a purchase, if possible, by comparing manufacturers and prices;
  • Give your children a sense of financial responsibility by teaching them the value of a dollar;
  • Always use a credit card for a major appliance purchase and always pay it off before finance charges accrue;
  • Enjoy what you have instead of always wanting more;
  • Never buy on impulse;
  • Make a list of needs and wants and a timeline for the purchase of such;
  • Budget your money;
  • Some generic products are acceptable over name-brand items, try some out to see if you like them;
  • Never buy something because it "makes you feel good"!

My children receive an allowance if their chores are completed each week. They also learn about goals, money and purchasing power through interaction as a family unit. Our discussions about purchases are open to all opinions within the family and we take all aspects of buying something into consideration. They are so very pleased with themselves when they have finally chosen a toy to be donated out of their collection--and the reward for this mom when they bring home a new replacement is some of those touchy feely hugs and kisses!

© 1999 Tammy Harrison Tammy Harrison has a degree in finance from Mizzou in Human Environmental Sciences, Consumer Economics and Management, Personal Financial Planning. Tammy is a mom to three children ages four and under and always "The Bride". She is the Independent Creative Representative for Home-Based Working Moms (http://www.hbwm.com), the association that helps bring working moms closer to their children. To read more from HBWM and Tammy, please subscribe to our weekly free e-Newsletter "HBWM Place" by sending an email to hbwmoms-e-news-subscribe@egroups.com with "subscribe" (no quotes) in the subject matter.

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