How our teenager money hacked the family budget

written by Bari Tessler September 6, 2023
How our teenager money hacked the family budget

Dear Money Adventurer,

I’m not sure if I’ve ever used the word “hack” before. It’s always kind of turned me off. But lately this is the word that’s been coming to me so I’m rolling with it.

So, what’s my latest money hack?

We’re shopping at Trader Joes instead of Whole Foods and we are spending A LOT less on groceries.

That’s it! It’s that simple. And, I’m proud to say that the idea came from our teenager.

In the past I might have referred to this money hack as “cleaning up money leaks.”

But I always applied the idea of money leaks to smaller expenses that we are no longer using or expenses we can press “pause” on for a while to save some money.

It could be a gym membership you’re not using. Or TV streaming subscriptions that your family isn’t really watching. Or even making coffee at home instead of getting a daily mocha.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these spending choices, but little expenses can add up quickly. So, it’s a good idea to have a weekly and monthly money date and check in to see where you can save more or where you might want to use it in other ways.

But this money hack feels bigger than cleaning up those little money leaks.

Maybe because it came from my teenager.

In our family, it’s important that we are very open about finances. We’ve been including him in money conversations and decisions for years now. Of course we don’t share everything – meaning all the details of the ups and downs with him – but we do share a lot about business ebbs and flows.

Lately, he’s had more to say about money, especially the cost of food and groceries.

We started shopping at Trader Joe’s because our teenager encouraged us to start saving money on groceries – and also because there are some great snacks there.

While he’s aware of food costs, he still wavers between wanting the lobster roll and specialty drinks and wanting to be really mindful of day-to-day grocery spending.

We all have different ways we like to spend money and different ways we like to be more frugal, and it delights this mama’s heart to see him honoring that for himself.

Recently, he’s become more adamant about his grocery hack. He even asked us to vow that we would totally stop shopping at Whole Foods because he can’t believe how ridiculously expensive it is.

Personally, I like to shop at one place and not run around to different stores because my time and energy are also really important to me. For years, I justified the prices because it’s important to pay our farmers and buying all organic food was a meaningful priority for our family.

Because of my own personal and ancestral history with food, this was an area of life that I didn’t want to limit. I would rather forgo other things to have abundant access to good, nourishing food.

But I must admit that part of me was being unconscious around the grocery costs at Whole Foods, and maybe even a little stuck in my ways.

I used to shop at Trader Joe’s when I was younger, but once we started making more money years ago, I started shopping at Whole Foods instead, and it felt like a deep need was being met.

Now, we’re in a life phase where we need to be more mindful of where we are spending – as so many of us are – and our teenager has his own strong opinions and priorities about where he wants to be spending, too.

So, I decided to try TJ’s out again. I’m happy to report I can get the bulk of our fruit, vegetables, and meat there, all in one place. (And, yes, they have an incredible selection of snacks which is great when you have a teeanger, too.)

Every time I shop there, I walk out in amazement that I paid half (literally half or even less!) of what I was paying at Whole Foods. Plus, we’ve noticed that the people who work at TJ’s genuinely seem happier than at Whole Foods and we love the caring questions they ask at the checkout.

The History of this Family Money Hack

Years ago, when my dad was alive, I remember showing him my business’s profit and loss statement. It was the first time I had shown him my personal or business finances, and, in that moment, I was so proud to show him what I was doing.

My father was a small business owner himself, managing rental properties and the first gay bars on Halsted Street in Chicago with my mom and beloved uncles. He had been through his own ups and downs in business and I wanted to share my numbers with him. I was running my own small business – and it was doing well.

He looked over my reports and said, “Good job on everything! The only advice I would give is to stop shopping at Whole Foods and you’ll be doing even better!”

I wasn’t ready to hear the advice yet, but I felt proud to share my reports with him.

I had a complicated relationship with my father. He could be both very loving and very intense and controlling. He would be generous in one moment and then lay down conditions after the fact that he didn’t clearly communicate beforehand.

This dynamic obviously shaped me, my work, and my relationships.

Sometimes, while I was visiting my parents in Chicago, I would get triggered by his behavior and need to leave the condo they were living in. I remember walking to Whole Foods just to take a break and chill.

Seriously, I would walk to Whole Foods because the moment I stepped inside, the scent of lavender essential oils and the sight of all the delicious foods and products that I love would bring me a sense of calm and give my nervous system some peace.

In one of the last chapters of my first book, The Art of Money, A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, I wrote about lineage, legacy, and the stroke that utterly changed my father in the final years of his life. Of course, it changed our dynamic, too, and I was able to have some beautiful healing closure with him in our last years together.

Fast forward, many years later, and now our teenage son is demanding that we stop shopping at Whole Foods and switch over to TJ’s. It’s funny, this synchronicity and it feels full circle for me.

Both our son and my father – when he was still with us – love to spend money in other ways. They also share a love of food, but want to be mindful of how it’s done.

And, I’m finally ready.

I’m listening now.

So, here’s to you, Dad and your money advice that I needed more time to sign on for. And, here’s to our teenage son, who picked up the mantle of being mindful of grocery costs.

That’s the story of our latest family money hack that’s helping us save more for what matters most to us.

What’s your favorite big (or small!) money hack that you are using right now that’s really shifting things and feels good to you?

I’d love to hear about your latest money saving moves, so hit “reply” and share some of the savvy steps you’re taking…

Sending my dearest wishes to you,

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