The $20 Challenge: Never Too Young!

With the first two rounds of The $20 Challenge completed and recorded as successes, my youngest son of ten years old, stepped up for his turn in the ring. He had planned his menu weeks in advance. He couldn’t wait to create his favorite meal: cheeseburgers and potato salad. I had approached my son two weeks ago and asked him if he was ready to head to the store with me to shop for his meal. An interesting exchange began. He had compiled a list, something I always applaud. I gave his list a quick look over and determined that he had forgotten to include cheese.

“I don’t need to buy cheese; we have some in the fridge.”

I explained to him that, yes, we did indeed have cheese, but the whole point of this exercise was to purchase all of the ingredients himself.

“But it’s already here; it would be a waste to buy more.”

I offered up to sell him the cheese in the fridge. I would simply deduct the amount from his $20.00.

“That’s not fair!”

This exchange continued and promptly ended when I reminded him, once again, how the challenge works. I explained that I thought it would be best if we tried this again in a few weeks. I can’t say that he was terribly happy with my decision.

Waiting would prove to be a good thing. When approached yesterday about taking the challenge, my son was completely ready. He understood what he needed to do. He informed me that he had changed his menu and wanted to make meatball sub sandwiches and a salad. Fine with me. He again prepared his list and was ready to go. We arrived at the store and as we were walking to the entrance, I glanced over at my son. With pen and notepad in hand, he approached the store with a bit of a swagger. Now normally an over confident swagger is frowned upon, but today it made me smile. Here was the little guy in the family with $20, a list, and the responsibility for feeding his family, and he was all in. He loved it. He had been entrusted with this task. He was told that he wasn’t too young to pull this off. He walked a bit taller.

I explained to my son that we should begin our shopping by picking up the most expensive items first. So, we headed off to the meat department. He picked up two packages of ground turkey for just about $8.00. Next, we needed mozzarella cheese. I was impressed that he noticed that the larger package was actually cheaper than the smaller package due to a sale. Now we were off to buy tomato sauce. He noticed a jar on sale for $0.99. I had to stop him here and explain that a cheaper price is not always the way to go. I knew for a fact that the brand he had selected was, well, kind of nasty. I just was not willing to eat that sauce for dinner. Jarred sauce is not my favorite ingredient to begin with; we’re a bit spoiled because I tend to make my own. I showed him an acceptable option that was priced at $1.99. Into the cart it went. We quickly picked up some Italian bread on our way to our final department, produce.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is the most impressive part of this shopping trip. My son, with his notepad and pen, was recording the price of each ingredient he put into the basket. I hadn’t told him to do this. He told me that he wanted to keep track of what he was spending. Gold star, pat-on-the-back, A+…give him what you want (I chose to give him a big hug), but this was awesome! I’m telling you, kids will step up when you give them responsibility.

As we were milling around the produce section, my son had a hard time accepting the fact that lettuce was not cheap. We finally settled on a head of iceberg lettuce, an item my children have never seen me buy. I always opt for a more nutritious variety of lettuce, but iceberg was what worked in his budget, so I turned a blind eye. He also picked up a bag of carrots, three plum tomatoes, and a cucumber. As he was looking through the cucumbers, he turned to me disgusted because they were all soft and wrinkly. A worker overheard our conversation and told him that she had a fresh box of cucumbers he could choose from. How nice! On a bit of a side note, the produce department is a great place to work on mental math skills with your kids. So many items are priced as a group like 3/$2.50 or 2/$5.00, allowing kids to divide mentally. Most everything else is priced by the pound, leaving kids to weigh and compute a price on their own.

Once we had filled our cart with all the needed ingredients, my son completed his calculations. He was over budget by roughly a dollar. I offered him two options: put something back or purchase the cheaper jar of sauce. He acknowledged that I had said that the sauce was “gross” and was not willing to make that switch. He opted to forgo the tomatoes. I told him that there was bit of extra red pepper from lunch that he could include in his salad…free of charge! With that, we headed to the cashier to check out. His total came to $19.68. Now that was a successful shopping trip.

Once home, we began to cook. My son often helps in the kitchen and has a high degree of comfort there. However, he told me he was not looking forward to one part of the meal: sticking his hands into raw meat to make the meatballs. I was a bit surprised by this because he’s a boy and has never really been shy about making a mess! Well, once he got his hands in the mix, he was just fine! Into the oven the meatballs went. He then turned his attention to shredding cheese, chopping lettuce, and slicing carrots, cucumbers, and peppers. He was doing great! In short time, dinner was ready and on the table. Everyone agreed that dinner was delicious. My oldest son commented how delicious the salad was because of the addition of iceberg lettuce, noting that mom never buys that “stuff”.

As we were enjoying our meal, we discussed who was up next for our $20 Challenge. We asked Dad if he would like to try. Let’s just say that we will need to work on him a bit. I suggested that I may take the $20 Challenge to show the kids how far you can really stretch a buck. So, next up? Mom. Let’s see what I can do with $20. I think the kids will be shocked!

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