If you’re like most parents and caregivers, you’ve probably gone through the drive-thru once or twice, bought pop/soda at a gas station and even grabbed a quickie pre-made sandwich or Lunchable from your local grocery store. The thing all these actions have in common is the convenience factor. Even though this is fine to do once in a while, teaching kids to rely on convenience products can be disastrous for their financial sense and independence.
Where the Problem Lurks
Generally speaking, convenience products are things such as pre-constructed or preassembled foods or items that are packaged based on a single serving or use size. Kids also run into convenience at specialty events or when marketers know consumers might associate two products together. For example, popcorn at a movie theater is a convenience snack, and notebooks and pens at a school store are convenience products.
Why Convenience Is a Threat
Convenience is the opposite of frugal. When people buy convenience goods, they rarely do comparison shopping for the best deal. Instead, they grab whatever they want, relying on previous brand experiences and emotions. The items usually are priced at a higher per unit cost, with less being in a package. Retailers and manufacturers justify a markup in price by claiming that the product or food offers some kind of benefit, such as the fact a smaller portion of food won’t spoil or is easy to measure in terms of calories. Kids are especially prone to grab convenience items, because they are still developing a solid sense of rationalization that balances the initial emotional response to things they see for sale. Kids also still are developing planning skills, which makes it a little more likely that they’ll forget something they need or wanted to bring and pick it up elsewhere. Lastly, with more parents and caregivers working overtime, and with kids scrambling between extracurricular activities and homework, finding the time to plan everything is difficult even when children have the mental capacity to look ahead well.
Convenience items are particularly problematic for a child’s finances because, whereas an adult might have a steady job and significant savings that makes the occasional convenience purchase affordable, kids might not have steady earnings. Even if kids have an allowance, choosing convenience items takes a larger percentage of their income than if they chose to buy in regular or bulk sizes or at traditional retailers.
An important point to get across to kids about convenience items is that, despite their name, the goods or foods really do a number on independence. For example, if a child is used to running to a fast food chain for a lot of meals, they might not learn how to cook for themselves as well. Not only that, but even though convenience foods and goods are promoted as time saving, smaller packaging means you run out faster and have to keep going back to the vendor. Often, the amount of time taken to go get a convenience item is the same as your child would spend preparing the item or retrieving it from a home storage area himself. Lastly, kids sometimes buy into the illusion that convenience items somehow are wrapped up in a guarantee of higher quality. This is by no means the case—more than one gas station and similar store has been caught with consumables that were wildly out of date. In fact, you or your child needing it quick is what allows some retailers to skimp.
Fighting the Convenience Battle
By far the best weapon you can give your child in the fight against convenience costs is lessons in strategic planning. One of the major reasons people buy convenience items is because they fail to think ahead, so if you can teach your child to do this, he can find alternatives to convenience options. Planning also frees up more of your child’s time, making it less likely he’ll buy on the run. If needed, show your child the math on how much convenience items are marked up and tell him it’s okay to go against the social grain to remain financially sound.