Survival Guide for Shopping with Three Kids

Shopping with kids

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always gone grocery shopping on Sundays. It just makes sense. It’s like the new deals call to me. My wife, Nicole, and I usually plan out two or three meals for the week and Sunday is a good day to get the ingredients and supplies we need so we aren’t visiting the store a million times a week and spending extra money on things we don’t need when we are there. You all know you buy more than you need on every visit, so minimizing the visits makes sense.

When we had our first daughter, E, I would take her with me to give Nicole a break. Nicole was home most of the time with E and I thought it would be nice to give Nicole some much needed rest. At first, it was a little daunting to bring E with me. This little kid and I were going to go grocery shopping. What would I do if she pooped or she cried? How would I handle these situations? As E and I shopped more though, I developed a few tricks and realized things weren’t as bad as I had envisioned.

However, in 2012, we added A to our family and then in 2014 we added P. Three kids. Nicole said I was crazy to bring two kids to the store with me, and when we had P, she said I was psychotic to bring three kids with me. The irony is that where I was intimidated to bring E with me when she was little, I couldn’t wait to bring P with me and the other kids. It was like a game. Could I do it? What I was unprepared for was the fact that actually bringing the kids made me a better and thriftier shopper. So, without further ado, here are my steps to shopping with three kids and although my list is geared toward Target and Copps, the rules can be pretty much applied at any store.

  1. Know what you want to buy

    The absolute worst thing you can do is go to the store without knowing what you want to buy. Time is a precious.
    I get about an hour and a half at both Copps and Target combined. If I didn’t know what I wanted, I could easily add another hour of time to this journey, not to mention, I’d probably be spending more money on junk I didn’t need.

  2. Write out a list (on paper)

    I learned early on that trying to do a list on my phone and look tech savvy was silly.
    Usually, one of my kids would grab my phone and mess me up or throw it on the floor or something. By using pen and paper, not only is it quicker to scratch things off but if you’re kid does get the paper, they usually can’t break it. And sometimes giving them the list is a good distraction too. Just stay off your phone, it’ll make it easier.

    Additionally, if you’re a Target shopper, you no doubt are aware of the Cartwheel app
    you know, the inconvenient app that lets you save more by using your phone to scan an item to see if there is a secret deal. Look up the items ahead of time (which you can do on the app) and add them to your phone in advance. I’m not sure why Target insists on this silly app. Maybe it helps their bottom line or something. But, it really is inconvenient to look up each thing there on your phone. But, for as inconvenient as the app is, you do save money. To date, I have saved $186.05 because of Cartwheel. I usually save between a dollar and two dollars a week, but as you can see, it adds up over time.

  3. Get the right cart

    Do not be fooled by the “fun kid” carts, they are anything but.
    At Target, they have these carts where two kids can sit side-by-side. They suck. My kids usually end up hitting, teasing and pinching each other within five minutes. Copps isn’t much better. They have this car thing where the kids pretend they are driving a car and again sit right next to each other. These types of carts are only good for a quick in and out and besides the actual cart part on these things only fit a limited number of items.

    Use a traditional cart.
    My oldest is the best listener and she usually walks. My second oldest sits in the cart part and my youngest sits in the seat part. It usually works pretty well. This brings me to my next point.

  4. Where do you place your food?

    If you ever seen me, my wife or our kids, we’re tall people. I can’t usually fit everything in the cart and nor would I want to. Fragile items like eggs, fruit and overall squishy things go on the bottom. And usually the fragile items are little, so you have plenty of room down there.

    And make it a game, I usually bury my second youngest under the food, so sometimes just her head is showing. It’s funny.

  5. Make connections with the employees

    I usually go shopping at about the same time every week.
    I see a lot of the same people working and over time you get to know them. I admit, the Target crew doesn’t know me as well, but I definitely know them. I know which cashiers are slow, which like to talk and which well, seem to struggle at checking my items out.

    Copps, on the other hand, I know these employees well. From the deli department to the bakery department to the meat department—I buy items in all of these places each week. Make conversation with these people, it will pay off. Many times they give the kids treats and it’s a welcome break from rushing around while the kids chow down on cheese and salami. I take a few minutes to ask the staff how they’re doing and in return, they are genuinely friendly to my family. In fact when I come with only two kids or none of the kids, they always ask where the absent kids are.

    Last week alone, four different employees asked where my kids were. They were almost concerned. The bakery lady even offered to send home free cookies.

  6. Bathrooms

    On occasion, one of the kids brings up the frightening topic of the bathroom.
    What I’ll say first, is always try to get your kids to go to the bathroom before you leave. But, sometimes the need to go hits them multiple times within an hour.

    If you can, look for a private, family bathroom.
    But, don’t count on the family bathroom to be by the other bathrooms. Target, that sneaky devil, keeps the family bathroom by the pharmacy. Why, no idea? A puzzle just like the Cartwheel app. Anyway, if you’re in there, make all of the kids go again. Why waste time returning over and over.

    If there is no family bathroom, don’t be embarrassed to take your kids to the bathroom.
    Being a guy with three girls, I was a little apprehensive in the past. But, I realized, there was no need for me to get out of the way of other people, usually people get out of my way. If I have to take the girls to the bathroom, I wait until the men’s room is clear and go on in with everyone. Usually as one kid is going the others are talking with one another. It’s quite the scene, so much so that other men will avoid the bathroom. It practically becomes a pseudo-private family bathroom.

  7. Have your kids help

    This one is pretty self-explanatory. My kids are getting older and they do get bored. Usually, if they get bored, I asked the two big girls to help me find stuff on the shelf even if I do know where it is. They know the store as well as I do because they come so often so it usually doesn’t waste too much time. Additionally, I usually have E hand the items to A who is in the cart and she pretends to scan the stuff.

    It’s a good distraction for them and you’re still getting the shopping done.

  8. Reward them

    E loves to look at the headbands and A loves to look at the toys and most times they are really good and we have nowhere else to be after shopping, so why not let them look? It takes about five minutes. They do know that most times they won’t get anything big but once in a while, I break down. What can I say? They’re good assistants. They need to get paid too.

  9. Crying kids equal more discounts

    What, you ask? How is this possible?
    First, let me say that in all of my times shopping over the last four years, I have only ever left the store one time over crying. E saw a purse that was designed to look like a poodle. The poodle purse had some great power over her. She lost it when I told her she couldn’t get it. I mean, like The Exorcist lost it. I simply couldn’t continue because she was convulsing on the floor. Besides for that though crying happens once in a while, but not much. If it does happen, it’s usually at the end of the trip.

    The reason I say that crying equals discounts is because employees are uncomfortable around crying, they rush to get you through. On two occasions at Target, the cashier hadn’t applied a discount that was advertised. Crying or no crying, you better damn well believe I told the cashiers said items were on sale. Now, if I was alone, the cashiers would’ve had someone go check the sign and all that jazz. You know how that goes. Not these times though.

    Sundays at Target are packed and when you add crying kids, the stress is at its peak. I could’ve said the crap was free and they would’ve given it to me. Now, I’m not advocating for lying but crying kids help save time.

    I’ve also noticed that lines can be incredibly long at Target.
    But, I don’t panic. A Target worker usually opens up another line and quietly waves me over and that’s even when the kids don’t cry. Even other shoppers will invite me to go ahead when they see all the kids I have. The other shoppers usually say things like “oh you have your hands full, go ahead” and I usually respond, “well, if you insist.” I suppose all of these crying discounts support Nicole’s argument to have a fourth kid.


I used to be worried about going shopping with the kids, but oddly enough, I miss the kids when they’re not with me.

There have been times I tried, even begged the kids to come with me when they maybe weren’t in the mood. It seems really empty at the store without them and it still takes about the same amount of time without the kids. Even though I tell the employees it’s nice to have a break, it really isn’t. I know it is a matter of time when the kids will never go shopping with me again. Heck, when I’m alone I even look at the toys and try them out in the aisle just like A would. Or I look at the headbands to see if there are any new styles or colors or ones on clearance. I get some really strange looks from people, but I guess it makes me feel like the kids are with me and well, now that I think about it, maybe that’s why it takes me the same amount of time to shop by myself.


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