Your toddler is using your coupon binder as a drum, your infant is wailing in hunger, and your grade-schooler is sniffing every gum packet in the checkout aisle. Meanwhile, you are sweaty and frustrated as you quickly shove your items onto the checkout counter (and pray you didn't just break all the eggs) while trying to smooth out a stack of crinkled coupons from your jeans pocket.

Because I'm our home’s shopper, couponer and mostly stay-at-home mom, I'm often toting my two little girls with me. Couponing is an exhilarating and stressful experience, even when I'm very prepared for my shopping trip. But doing it with a one- and three-year-old along? Well, it's an adventure, to say the least. After many frustrating shopping trips, I've learned a thing or two about keeping the kids occupied while I coupon:

1. Get the ‘fun’ cart

  • They look like race cars but handle like anything but. They are bulky, sticky and awkward, but the shopping carts featuring steering wheels for your little ones can be your best friend.
  • Use the in-store wipes to scour away germs on the steering wheels, seats and bars; load the kids up, and go.
  • It's always wise to test the cart out to make sure all the wheels work correctly before you start shopping, and always buckle your children in the seat properly.
  • I used to avoid these carts like the stomach flu, but the more fun my kids have while I'm shopping, the more I can focus on saving money.

2. Bring drinks and snacks

  • When in doubt, feed the children (and yourself)! It never fails that my kids want a snack when I’m couponing, even if I fed them thirty minutes before we left the house.
  • Buy yourself some time, and bring along a snack that takes a while to eat. One small package of fruit snacks won't last more than a minute or two.
  • Another option is to allow your children a special snack at the store, like from the cafes that some Target stores have. For just a little over $1, you can purchase popcorn for your little ones. Ask the attendant to split the popcorn among several bags.
  • I take sippy cups for both my kids (even my older one who can use a regular cup) to avoid the inconvenience and mess of spills.

3. Teach

  • Give your kids pictures of items you are looking to buy on that shopping trip, and have them help you find them.
  • Use a cheap photo album (my local doctor's office gives them out for free) for the pictures, and make a game out of the shopping trip.
  • Talk about colors, shapes and textures as you shop.
  • Calculators (a couponer always has one handy) can be fun, too, especially if you have little ones who are learning to do math.
  • We also like to play the "healthy choice" game, where my older daughter will point to something and we'll say if it's a healthy food item or not.

4. Get physical

  • A child can only sit still in a cart for so long. If you are shopping when the store is less crowded, let your children walk alongside you.
  • Explore the toy aisles.
  • Allow kids to help you load items into your cart or onto the checkout belt.
  • My kids love when I let them carry a lightweight item throughout the store or we stop in the toy aisle to bounce a ball back and forth.
  • I do set limits. If my child chooses to run away in the store, it's back into the cart!

5. Be silly

  • Sing songs, skip, make animal noises and tell stories.
  • Don't worry about what anyone else thinks.
  • Your goal is to have a pleasant, money-saving experience, not to become Miss Most-Restrained-Shopper.

6. Praise and instruct

Despite your goal to get in, shop, and save, your number one priority is making sure your children are safe and well-mannered. As a former retail employee, I cannot even begin to count the number of times parents allowed their children to act inappropriately in a store—screaming excessively, running into consumers, knocking over merchandise, and running away from Mom or Dad.

  • Talk to your children before you enter the store about the behavior you expect, and follow through with punishment if necessary. I once had my daughter standing in the corner at Cracker Barrel; as I often tell her, there are corners everywhere, Miss!
  • Likewise, praise your child for positive behaviors: helping you load the cart, picking up a dropped snack, or saying "excuse me" when bumping into someone's leg.

No doubt you will encounter the occasional tantrum, mess and mishap, but overall, a little planning and a lot of patience will help you create a positive and productive couponing trip.

How do you keep your kids content when you shop and coupon? Share your ideas in the “comments” section below!


This is a guest post by Rachel.
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6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Happy While You Coupon