Are You a Shopping Addiction Enabler?

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When you shop with friends, are you encouraging each other to overspend?

Writing The Inspired Shopper really got me thinking about how I buy fashion. Currently I have a moratorium on most mainstream brands, and am buying only from those with ethical (but not sustainable) accreditation, as well as secondhand clothes.

Recently I went clothes shopping with a friend in Acland Street, a tourist precinct near St Kilda beach that is famed for its cake shops, but in recent decades has succumbed to commercialisation. We wandered into one of those overstocked stores that sells obscure brands made in China and has prices that scream ‘sweatshop’. I didn’t buy anything myself, but when my friend held up a bright red fitted jacket and asked me what I thought of it, I found myself encouraging her to try it on.

While I was still completing The Inspired Shopper, I visited my dentist for a check-up and clean. I mentioned that I was working on the book as I was getting seated on the dental chair, and this gave my dentist and her dental nurse permission to discuss their shopping lives – I listened avidly, only able to nod vigorously, as tubes and drills were stuck in my mouth! The dental nurse confessed that her friends often encouraged her to buy expensive items that she often regretted when she got home.

Shopping with friends is a recreational pastime that never loses popularity. It’s fun, uplifting and a great distraction from whatever problems we’re dealing with. But friends can exert undue pressure on you to buy something, particularly when it comes to fashion. This can be difficult to resist, but often it’s their own agenda they’re pursuing, not yours.

Why does this happen? I think the human tendency to help other people spend their money actually starts with empathy rather than greed. Perhaps your friend is urging you to purchase that bright orange sundress because she’d like to buy it herself but it doesn’t suit her; or perhaps it’s beyond her budget and she knows that you can afford it.

Or perhaps your friend is addicted to shopping and, like a heavy drinker who needs to get drunk with others, wants a spendthrift companion to justify her own overspending.

In my case, the red jacket didn’t fit with my ethical beliefs, but I was still willing to encourage my friend to buy it.

My friend doesn’t have a spending addiction – in fact, she’s pretty careful with money – and neither do I. But what if she had had an addiction? Can friends shopping together encourage each others’ compulsive buying habits? Are you more likely to overspend if you go shopping with a friend?

The answer to the last question may be yes. According to retail guru Paco Underhill, women often spend more time and money when they shop with a friend than when they shop alone. (This is especially the case with teenage girls, who spend more money when they’re with a group of friends.)

It doesn’t have to be that way – when you’re shopping with another person it’s possible to have fun even if you arrive home empty handed. Here are some tips:

* Give yourself a breather before buying. If you're out shopping with friends and you see something you think you want to buy, ask your friends what they think, but don’t buy the item; ask the store to put it away for a few hours. Wait until it’s time to take a coffee or food break and then use the time off to decide whether you really want it.

* Use the day purely for recreation, not buying. If you think it might be too hard to make a buying decision with friends around, you could decide to simply enjoy the socialising and browsing aspects of the day without buying anything. If something catches your eye, you can always ask to have it put away for a few days, and return later to buy it if it still feels right.

* Try the ‘broken record’ technique. If your friends are insistent about you buying something, you can calmly refuse, without changing your tone or expressing anger, every time they insist. Each time you have to repeat yourself, change the wording slightly, eg ‘Thanks for your input, but I’ll have to think about it’; ‘I value your opinion, but I just don’t feel like buying that’.

* Shop with friends who are in touch with their intuition. It’s sometimes possible to harness the intuitive energy of others to make better decisions. I have a friend who is quite intuitive, and when I’m having trouble making a decision, she lets me know what her intuition is telling her; this sometimes helps me get more in tune with mine.

* Get into the habit of shopping with friends at thrift shops and recycle stores. Because the choices made at these stores tend to be more individualised and you have to hunt for goods that are right for you, you’ll probably put less pressure on each other to buy.

* Let other people make their own decisions. It’s important to let go when you think that a friend or loved one is making a poor shopping decision. Offer your opinion if it’s sought – and if you’re sufficiently close, even if it’s not – but let the other person make up their own mind.

* Look at your own motivations when shopping with friends. If you sometimes play the role of shopping addiction ‘enabler’ yourself, ask yourself why you want your friends to spend their money and whether you need to work on your own attitudes to spending.

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like How to Distinguish between a Good and Bad Impulse Buy.
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Furnishing the Future: Fringe Furniture Exhibition Showcases New Design from Old Materials

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In its 26-year history the Fringe Furniture Exhibition has proven to be an accurate barometer of emerging talent, trends and ideas in interior design and architecture.

So much so that it now has iconic status as a central part of Melbourne's annual Fringe Festival, a showcase of innovative and cutting-edge art across a range of genres.

The theme of this year's exhibition, 'Dancing in the dark', fittingly deals with the elephant in the room when it comes to the future of design, and indeed Life As We Know It - sustainability. Forty-five up-and-coming furniture designers have responded to what seems like an overwhelming environmental challenge with a tiny 'dance step' towards a greener future. Their work is showing in an industrially themed space fittingly located in the picturesque Abbotsford Convent.

There were plenty of enthusiastic visitors when I popped along last Saturday afternoon. Some of the works opted for a homely aesthetic that privileged function over form. But a number of works delighted the eye as well as the conscience.

David Davenport's square table with diagonal legs, made from recycled Australian hardwoods, was an example of classic elegance melded with contemporary design. Christopher Shaw's 'Maeva' cabinet, made from Sydney bluegum, and Ryan Straford's 'Red Hill' seat, made from oak wine barrels, both used shape and texture to create warmly pleasing furniture. MacGregor Knox's 'Rosa' (pictured below) a bold curvilinear lounge chair made from salvaged sequoia wood and reclaimed soft urethene, created visual impact through exaggerated form.

The lightshades in particular shone - pun intended. Who knew recycled champagne bottles could be so attractive? Ashley Allen, that's who. Then there was Sally-Anne Mill's flamboyant chandelier collection, 'Spring collection II', made from salvaged springs. This collection deservedly won the Best Design Addressing the 2011 Fringe Furniture Theme award, as well as the Lighting Design award.

But the highlight for me was the collection of 'Mr.Cooper' pendant lights by Kate Stokes (pictured above). Inspired by the old tin can telephone, the lights are made from spun copper and combine modern simplicity with a charming retro feel.

The exhibition is on at the Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St Collingwood, in the Industrial School building in the Sacred Heart Courtyard. It runs until 8 October, from Thursday to Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm. Entry is free.

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Kylie Kwong Partners with Oxfam to Bring Fairtrade Design to Your Table.

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Be a Creative Stinge – 12 Great Tips for Cutting Your Spending and Saving Money

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Discovering new ways to save money and reduce consumption is a creative act - once you're on the journey to frugality and buying less, it never ends. After a while, thinking up new and different ways to save money and consume less becomes a habit.

Below are some of the things I do to cut spending and stick to a budget. While the focus is on saving money, some of these tips will help reduce your consumption and therefore waste. Do you have any creative stingeing tips you’d like to share?

1. Get more from your groceries. When a bottle or container of a liquid product such as dishwashing liquid, moisturiser or shampoo is getting low, leave it tipped upside down in a plastic cup (with the lid still on), giving the liquid the chance to travel to the lid. Do this until you’ve used it all up. Do a similar thing with cooking oil, leaving the bottle standing upside down on a wad of newspaper. If there’s still a decent amount of product in there and the bottle is made of thin plastic, see if you can cut the bottle using scissors (be careful doing this!).

2. If you’ve bought goods in bulk, use them sparingly. Storing goods in larger quantities can encourage you to use more of the goods at a time. A study conducted by Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink in 2002 noted that people tended to consume some products at a greater rate if they were bought in bulk. To curb your unconscious eagerness to use up the product, try to challenge yourself to make it last as long as possible. Alternatively, transfer the goods to small containers to give the illusion of a lesser amount being available.

3. Cut down on the amount of washing powder you use per wash by at least a half. A washing machine mechanic once told me that washing powder companies encourage consumers to use far more product than they need to; this can actually reduce the effectiveness of the wash. Front loaders require less soap powder than top loaders because they use less water, but the advice applies to both types of washing machine.

4. Re-use tissue boxes. Don’t like spending a lot of money on tissues but prefer boxes with attractive patterns? Buy a fancy box of tissues and when they’ve run out, keep refilling the box with store-brand tissues.

5. Halve the money you spend on tissues – literally! Tissues are two-ply – simply divide them into their separate sheets before use, and use one sheet at a time.

6. Renovate your car as an alternative to buying a new one. Do this only if you’re sure your car is reasonably mechanically sound and that you will be holding onto it for a number of years. For example, have the windows tinted and the exterior and interior detailed, and, if you can afford it, treat yourself to any new accessories you’ve been thinking about.

7. Park your money in a credit union rather than a bank. The overall fees are usually much lower, and internet savings accounts can offer excellent interest rates. My credit union allows me to conduct a certain number of transactions for free every month, including using another bank’s ATMs. When you’re comparing the fees of different financial institutions, look at fees for out-of-the-ordinary transactions (eg cheque dishonour, bank cheque, account overdrawn) as well as the usual account-keeping fees, as the former especially tend to be far lower for credit unions.

8. Spend less money on recreational items by swapping with friends. Do your friends and family have similar tastes in magazines, books, computer games or DVDs/Blu-rays? Arrange with them to swap these items so you end up buying fewer. Sort out your DVDS, books and games, store them in alphabetical order, and set up your own ‘library’ so you can keep tabs on who is borrowing what.

9. Make your own greeting cards. There are many ways to do this; for example, the internet is loaded with free vintage images that can be printed out for use in cards as well as items such as calendars. If you’re not the crafty type, stake out places to purchase cheap cards and buy them in bulk a long time before the relevant birthdays, choosing them to suit the individual recipients. Discount stores and large galleries often offer relatively cheap cards, and galleries also sell art postcards that are cheaper than standard greeting cards.

10. Make your own Christmas decorations. Use odd pieces of wrapping paper, and cut them up into strips of equal size. create a loop with the first strip using sticky tape or glue, then link each strip in the ‘chain’. Hang the decoration from a mantelpiece or wall.

11. When it comes time to renew your home and car insurance each year, shop around. Prices can vary hugely for very similar products, so it’s worth comparing your premium with those offered by other companies to ensure you’re still getting a good deal. Even if you want to stay with your regular insurer, give them a call and bargain them down if you think the price has increased too much from the previous year.

12. Look after your clothes, even if you buy cheaply. If you have a top loader, consider handwashing some types of items you normally wouldn’t, at least for the first few months of wear. When you need to replace your washing machine, keep in mind that front loaders will be more gentle on your clothes, as well as being more environmentally friendly.
Until next time!

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How to Distinguish Between a Good and Bad Impulse Buy

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The impulse buy – the expensive item you come home with when you actually intended to pick up a packet of pasta, a jar of anchovies and some tinned tomatoes – is an institution in our shopping culture. ‘I just bought it on impulse’, we say, or ‘I was just passing and I saw it and I had to have it’.

Impulse purchases are unplanned purchases. They often occur at cash registers where goods are displayed so as to tempt shoppers as they leave the store. You’re most vulnerable to an unwise impulse buy when you’re tired, hungry, or feeling low.

The irony of the impulse buy is the contrast between the buyer’s lack of conscious planning and the lengths that stores go to in preparing their ambush. About 60 per cent of what we buy is unplanned, and store displays are carefully designed and positioned to tempt us to reach for our wallets or add an extra item to our trolleys on the spur of the moment.

The internet is rife with its own triggers for impulse buying. Anonymity, easy use of credit cards, navigational software and a seemingly infinite number of choices make the internet an ideal environment for encouraging us to buy on impulse.

Impulse buys aren't all the same

The difference between an impulse buy and something you buy intuitively – something that you really do need and want – isn’t always obvious. In fact, they can sometimes be the same thing – it depends on the reasons behind the purchase.

Often when we buy things suddenly, we’ve actually been planning the purchase for a long time. One evening my brother-in-law Robert came home with a shivery little ginger-coloured spaniel. He’d supposedly bought the pup ‘on impulse’, but his two young daughters had been nagging him to get them a puppy for over a year. Perhaps Robert hadn’t planned to buy the puppy – but his unconscious mind had.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling low and find yourself poised to purchase some overpriced video game based on a blockbuster that you enjoyed at the cinema, although you have no idea whether the game itself is any good, this is less likely to be the result of intuition.

So how do you distinguish between a good impulse buy and an unwise one? Here are some tips to keep you on track.

1. Have a budget in place. A budget with allocated spending for different categories gives you a structure that helps you to identify whether you can afford the item that’s clamouring for your attention.

2. Start a Priority List. A Priority List, which I describe in detail in my book The Inspired Shopper, makes a great supplement to a budget. It’s basically a list of all the things you want and need. Prepare this list slowly and mindfully, noting how you feel as you write an item down. Do you really need the item or not? Could you repurpose something instead?

If an item you get the urge to buy on impulse is on your Priority List, it may be something you want and need. But you still need to ‘check in’ at the time to ensure that it feels right to buy it.

3. Get in touch how are you’re feeling. There are many emotions that can tip us over into wanting to buy. Sometimes the item may be directly related to how you’re feeling (a chocolate bar when you’re hungry) or sometimes it’s just that you’re desperate to buy something – anything – and the item conveniently presents itself in front of you! Common feelings that can set off the urge to buy are sadness, disappointment, anger, fatigue, hunger – but even positive emotions like joy, triumph and relief can lead us to buy.

4. Tap into your intuition. There is another layer of experience deeper than emotions – your intuition. It’s always there, regardless of how you’re feeling. Once you’ve worked out how your intuition responds in shopping situations, you can always rely on it. Start to experiment with it in simple scenarios, like choosing the best bunch of celery, and go from there.

5. Let go of the item. Letting go of an item before you decide whether to buy it – a process I call relinquishing – is very similar to a cooling-off period. But it doesn’t rely on moving physically away from the item, or waiting a long time before making a decision. What’s important with relinquishing is that you actually let go of the item mentally. You decide that you won’t buy it, place it back of the shelf or rack, and then you stop to listen to how your intuition responds. Does it feel genuinely wrong to leave the item behind? Or is there a sense of relief?

The impulse buy and your Priority List

An impulse buy that your unconscious has been planning for a while may sometimes be a good thing. Deliberately hunting out a new wool wrap, kitchen trolley or pair of summer sandals can lead to a long, fruitless and debilitating search; when you most feel you need something, you often can’t find it.

The Priority List lets your unconscious do the searching for you. When you have an idea of all the things you need, you can be proactive without really trying because your unconscious mind will be on the lookout for those items. When the right item appears, you’ve checked out the specifications, the price is right and you’re ready to buy, snap it up.

However, in the case of any significant purchase, you’ll need to carry out research before you buy. You can delay what would otherwise have been an impulse purchase by researching the item once you’ve found it.

Should you buy something on impulse if it’s not already on your Priority List? Ultimately you make the rules – how much structure you need depends on how prone you are to overspending, and how confident you are that you can stick to your budget.

The more you practise, the better you’ll be at distinguishing between intuitive and purely emotional shopping desires. It’s better to err on the side of caution if you’re unsure –you can always put something on your Priority List once you find it, and go back and buy it when you’ve had time to decide whether it will genuinely enhance your life.

Until next time!

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Kylie Kwong Partners with Oxfam to Bring Fairtrade Design to Your Table

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Iconic Australian chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong has launched a stunning range of Fairtrade tableware, soon to be available online and in Oxfam shops within Australia.

The collection includes a soup bowl, rice bowl, Chinese teapot and teacup, all adorned with a striking hand-painted pink lotus flower design. It was created in conjunction with Oxfam Australia.

The range is handcrafted and hand painted in Vietnam by Oxfam’s Fairtrade producer partner Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts. Kwong travelled to Vietnam and consulted extensively with the artisans during the design phase.

Each item is smoothed by hand using a pottery wheel, fired and glazed. The pieces are then carefully hand painted before being fired in a kiln to create the vibrant tones that adorn the finished range.

'I wanted to create a design that was not only aesthetically pleasing but which also had great depth and a wonderful story to it', Kwong said.

'As part of my inspiration I looked towards the symbol of the lotus flower. To me the lotus ... represents femininity, spirituality, and the importance of nature and the environment.'

Founded in 1990 to support Vietnamese street children, Mai now employs the mothers and elder sisters of these children and most of its employees are women. Workers receive decent wages and training in areas such as quality control, marketing and export procedures.

Oxfam Australia’s Director of Trading, Nadine Silverberg, who initiated the Lotus project, said Ms Kwong’s involvement would make a huge difference to the producers Oxfam works with, both in Vietnam and more broadly. 'Kylie’s support is also playing an important role in raising the profile of fair trade in Australia', she said.

Kwong's involvement in the project supplements her passionate advocacy on behalf of fair trade. It's the same holistic philosophy that she brings to her celebrated Sydney restaurant, Billy Kwong.

The Lotus range is now available at Oxfam’s Australian online store (which also sells to international customers) and will be available at Oxfam's retail shops in Australia from 1 October. For further inquiries call 1800 088 455.

Until next time!

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Green Fingers: Gorgeous Gardens on the Cheap

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Want to spruce up your garden but trying to save money? Here are some great tips for developing your garden without the need to hire Jamie Drury!

Cheap and cheerful plants

* Choose hardy plants that are suited to local conditions.

* Use plant cuttings – politely ask for them when visiting friends and family. Choose plants that transplant easily, such as cactuses. (In my experience, cactus cuttings don’t even need root powder to take.)

* To help cuttings grow roots in the soil, most of the time you will need root powder. This is available from the hardware store, but you might also want to make your own. Here’s a method for making your own root powder.

* School fetes are often great places to get cheap plants, as the stock has to be cleared on the day. Large nurseries often hold sales or discount days - if there's one near you, sign up for their mailing list to be notified of future sales. Farmers markets sometimes sell plants at reasonable prices.

* Some op (thrift) shops sell cheap plants. My local op shop has an amazing volunteer who paints tin buckets and plants cactuses in them before covering the top of the soil with decorative pebbles. Of course, you might want to do this yourself.

Perfect pebbles and ornaments

* If you want to decorate your garden with pebbles and rocks and are buying in bulk, it’s cheaper to buy them in bulk from a landscape supplier rather than a hardware store. (Try to ensure they have been ethically sourced, and don’t pick them up yourself from natural environments.)

Pots with punch

* Do you have friends or family members with a garden shed or garage full of junk? Offer to help clean it out in exchange for thrifty finds – it’s almost guaranteed there’ll be some pots and garden ornaments you can take home with you.

* Recycle household items, including furniture, to make planters; suitable items are only limited by your imagination. Here are some great ‘out there’ ideas for making planters from recycled materials. The comments in this article about making your own pots from tin cans include additional recycling ideas.

* The main thing to do when making any kind of container for a plant is to provide a drainage hole for the plant. In the case of glass you may have to use a drill. Here's how to drill a hole in a bottle.

* Restaurants are a great source of recycled materials for making planters – as well as throwing out tin cans, they may also be able to supply vegetable packaging (useful for seedlings) and glass containers.

* If you’d rather buy pots, haunt garage (yard) sales for cheap pots, or buy them in bulk from out-of-town pot suppliers, which are often cheaper.

Great garden furniture and ornaments

* Use local council hard rubbish pick-ups and garage or yard sales to find garden ornaments, furniture, and shelving for outdoor pot plants.

Fantastic fertiliser

* Water-soluble nitrogen of conventional fertilisers is a huge contributor to water pollution. The internet has heaps of information about making your own more environmentally friendly fertiliser. There are some great ideas in this article, and some more in this one.

* Compost makes great fertilizer – this site provides very detailed information about making compost.

Marvellous mulch

* Make your own mulch from lawn clippings and dried leaves. If you’d rather buy mulch, landscape suppliers offer mulch in bulk. Another good source is tree removal companies, which often sell prime mulch at bulk prices. Some local councils supply free mulch that can be picked up from transfer stations.

Happy herbs

Grow your own herbs on the cheap. Herbs can be produced from cuttings; this article shows you how. Some brave souls have been known to use fresh herbs bought from the supermarket to propagate their own.

Don’t be a Wally with water!

* Keep a bucket in your shower to catch the flow, and use the water on your outdoor plants. Also use the rinse water from handwashing of clothes. Some people catch the water from running the kitchen tap and recycle it in the garden.

If you’re serious about growing a gorgeously frugal garden, there are plenty of blogs that provide forums and advice. A good one is Frugal Gardening.

Until next time!

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Shop with Your Children without Having a Nervous Breakdown: Nine Great Tips

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Shopping with your beloved children in tow is an experience that represents life at its most unpredictable. Depending on what happens, the shopping trip could be a fun adventure or a journey to the outer limits of your sanity! The tips below can help you avoid the pitfalls and turn your next shopping trip into an outing, both for you and your children.

1. Shop with another parent and their children.

Having another adult around means you can take turns to mind the children when one of you is trying on clothes or busy with a salesperson. One enterprising parent on the Simple Savings website goes grocery shopping with a close friend and ‘swaps’ children for the duration – the children are much better behaved because they’re not with their own parent!

2. Use positive reinforcement.

As I entered a busy mall on a recent Saturday morning I passed a young family, two small daughters flanked by their mum and dad. ‘You shared really well then’, the mother said to the elder girl. ‘How did that feel?’ Positive reinforcement is simply providing positive feedback when your child does the right thing. It tells the child that they’re on the right track without being bossy, and is a great way to build your child’s self-esteem and confidence.

3. Use teachable moments to help your children become smart, effective shoppers.

Everyday occurrences can offer valuable lessons in life. When you’re at the supermarket, point out how the cereals are displayed so as to encourage people to buy them; ask the children if they think the loaf of bread you’ve chosen is good value; let them help you choose the freshest fruit and vegetables. Before the trip, involve them in preparing the shopping list (‘Do you think we should get some zucchini?’). Try to avoid making negative comments about how expensive things are getting – give your children a sense that you’re in control of your shopping and spending, and that they can be too.

4. Acknowledge emotions.

You can support the development of your children’s intuition and emotional intelligence when you’re out shopping. Be aware of how they’re feeling and acknowledge their emotional state, eg ‘You’re looking tired – do you want to sit up here?’ Gently remind them to stay centred with a prompt like ‘What’s your heart telling you to do?’ Encourage them to think about how they are feeling when they demand that you buy them something. If they’re being a bit loud and overactive, respond positively: ‘It’s great that if you have so much energy, but you can shout and run around outside once we get home’.

5. Learn when it’s better to leave your child alone.

We all need periods of withdrawal and contemplation. While it’s great to involve children in the shopping process there will be times when they just want to withdraw. Children are easily stimulated and the retail environment can be overwhelming for them; sometimes they need to take stock and get back in touch with their interior world. Use your gut feeling to decide when to engage your child and when to simply leave them be.

6. Plan ahead to avoid tantrums.

Try not to shop at times when your child is likely to be hungry and tired, and take their needs into account once you’re out. Bring along small toys and books to keep them occupied. When supermarket shopping, have a plan in place to deal with demands for food. This could mean letting your children choose a piece of fruit as soon as you arrive at the supermarket; bringing a healthy snack; or having an agreement with your child that a particular snack will bought after the shopping trip. Plan activities to distract your children at the crucial time when you’re approaching a cash register; for example, you could start a game of I Spy.

7. Deal with bad behaviour calmly.

It’s easy to go into bossy mode when a child is acting up, especially if you’re both tired. A useful technique when your child starts to misbehave is to present them with a choice, eg ‘Sweetie, you have two options: you can give the toy back to Samantha, or I’ll have to do it. Which would you rather?’ This encourages children to behave without disempowering them.

8. Deal with tantrums if they do arise.

If your child is really upset, try to think of yourself as an oasis of calm in their storm. Take some deep breaths before reacting, then acknowledge how they are feeling. This is more easily said than done, but it helps your child if you’re able to model how to stay in control while they are still learning how to deal with emotions. Don’t give into unreasonable demands, however upset your child is: you’ll set a precedent and create a monster. If the tantrum continues, sometimes removing yourself and your child temporarily is the best solution.

9. Build in the fun.

Try to make the whole trip fun for your children with games and challenges. Treasure hunts, guessing the weight of fruits and vegetables, finding low-cost goods, and finding items starting with particular letters of the alphabet are just some possibilities. Create a sense of adventure, and reward your children when they behave well. Remember, too, that rewards don’t have to be about food: shopping at the mall could be followed by a ride on a mini-merry-go-round or a trip to a nearby park.

Hope these tips help! Until next time

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