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You can get one thing

You can get one thing

When my son was a little boy, I would regularly bring him to the grocery store with me. And as any parent knows, as soon as kids can point and talk, they want you to buy them things when you’re at the store.

This is normal human behavior: see stuff, want it, try to get it. But of course no parent can buy everything; and even if you could, it wouldn’t be a good idea. Sometimes getting stuff (even as adults) isn’t in our best interests. Stuff may cost too much, it may be unhealthy, we may want to use our money for other things, we may not have the room or the means to care for the things, we may just be feeling a fleeting desire that we’ll forget all about in 5 minutes, etc.

So I saw these trips to the grocery store as teaching moments. I wanted to teach my son about money, stuff, and how you really can get the things that you want most. I also wanted to preserve my sanity on the shopping trips. So I decided to tell him yes to everything he said he wanted, with one condition: he had to pick just one thing.

When we got to the grocery store, I’d tell him “You can buy one thing. You can get whatever you want, but just one thing.” He’d ask me if he could get pop tarts and I’d reply with sure. Gatorade? Sure. Ice cream? Gogurt? Gum? Candy? Yes, yes, yes, yes, if that’s your one thing. You decide. It’s up to you.

When he was really little, his one thing would change with practically every aisle. He was constantly putting stuff back and getting something different instead — sometimes even right up to the checkout line. But as he grew older he became more sure of what he really wanted. It appeared to get easier for him to decide. He could cut through the things that only looked good at the moment for what he wanted most.

Maybe this is an extreme way of thinking about things, because of course we can have more than one thing in our lives. But it’s a good way to think about the power of choice. Every choice we make (and even the choice NOT to choose) affects our life. The choices add up. If we focus them on what we want MOST (whether it’s retirement savings, to get out of debt, or a trip to Antarctica) we’ll be much more likely to get them. We can’t have everything, but we can have the things that mean the most.

View Comments (3)
  • I think this is great practice for real life. And it’s great knowing you can have anything you want even though you can’t have everything you want–which I find to be true in my current situation.

    And although in real life it’s not “one thing” so much as “X dollars,” that’s close to the same thing at a grocery store, and much easier for the little ones to comprehend.

    I love it!

  • That is such a positive approach. Instead of the usual “No, no, no, we can’t afford it,” he gets to see a positive, abundant mindset. Oh so clever. I have no children, but I’ll definitely use this approach on myself!

  • I do exactly what you describe with my girls. The older one never asks for anything in particular anymore unless it’s a necessity but the little one still does. It works! Not sure if it’s any good lesson for life but it works for now :)

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