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  • Writer's pictureThe Family Money Coach

What kind of parent purchaser are you? When knowing yourself is as important as knowing your baby.

How do you make a purchasing decision? Speaking for myself, many of my buying decisions (especially with a newborn – but even still to this day), were made in the “heat” of the moment, when I didn’t feel I had the luxury of considering the purchase. When we plan for our family or when we already have children, we tend to think less about the cost of something, and more about solving a problem, filling a gap, performing a specific task; meeting a need.

Shops know this, product buyers and marketing strategists make a living through their fundamental appreciation of this very logic. Because of this, when it comes to selling us products and services, shops have “room”, a margin. They can, within reason, charge whatever they like, because we aren’t consciously buying through “desire” or “choice” but because we feel we “need” it. When we “need” something, there is an urgency to our purchasing strategy (and our rationale), which makes us more likely to pay higher prices, simply to fix the problem that we have or fill the “gap” in our parenting armory.

The fact that our brains are wired to purchase as a “solution”, the fact that we have an inbuilt “provider” and caregiver role as parents (meaning that we feel the obligation to ensure we are doing and providing the best for our children), means one thing for shops: that there is room to charge more.

This strategy isn’t new, either. In fact, the idea of charging more for products that companies know we need or value highly (and are therefore much more likely to buy) has been around since the dawn of consumerism. So have false discounts – the idea of telling us that this product is now on “special offer” for a limited time to incentive us to buy something that we perhaps never intended to buy; something we never needed.

What to do? It’s all well and good of course, to read this blog post, to nod along and think “of course I will pay what the market dictates for the things my baby needs; what are my other options?” That is a natural response to the opening paragraphs I’ve written above, and to be perfectly honest, I’d be surprised if your initial reaction was a lot different.

The other options are limited, obviously. You might even think that there are no other options. The answer to that all comes down to one simple question:

what type of buyer are you? (And what type do you want to be?)

Let us discuss three common types of parent purchaser; by which we mean the process that your brain goes through when you are confronted by two realisations: first, that you and your baby need a particular product or service, and second, that the price of that “thing” is more than you wanted to pay.

First up, you can accept that you are being funneled towards paying whatever the market dictates and pay it anyway because the need trumps the cost (I call this parent the “buy now, pay later”).

Alternatively, you could choose not to pay it at all in the first instance; rationalising that you probably don’t need it if your parents/in-laws/friends managed to do without it; only to end up caving and buying it due to feeling “guilty” for not simply providing all along that thing that you need (also known as the “refuse, resent, repent, repeat” parent) .

Finally, you might go in a totally different direction, and decide that you (and your baby) are not going to be dictated to around what you do or don’t need, telling yourself that this purchase doesn’t fit within your “bigger picture” plan, and therefore completely utterly withdraw from the whole shopping experience – choosing to spend hours upon hours trawling for cheaper options, secondhand items, possibly going without where the item or service is not completely fundamental to your family life (the “need not, want not, buy not”).

Each of these types of parent purchaser fall into the same single trap – and it’s one that marketing professionals use every single day: self-criticism, or, to use another commonly heard phrase “poor parenting”.

Whether you are the parent that pays the costs because you think you have no other option, you feel guilty over not buying it so end up paying price or you eschew consumerism completely, but still look for secondhand options; we all come at the buying process as a parent from the same, single, viewpoint:

Of benchmarking our parenting against a particular “standard”.

That sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? After all, how many of us go about our daily lives, our run-of-the-mill tasks as mums and dads, constantly thinking about how we “measure” up? About whether the job of parenting that we do is any better than Julie’s or Susan’s or Tim and Dave down the road who adopted twins? Obviously, very few of us. Very few parents have the time, never mind the inclination, to weigh up our parenting choices against the other parents we know.

And yet, when it comes to making our buying decisions, to deciding what to buy for our children (and importantly how much to pay for it), we all subconsciously benchmark ourselves EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We do – it’s natural. We consume so much media. Every day, we read, listen to, talk about, so many channels of information that tell us what we “need” to provide, what the “best” thing is, the newest “kid on the block” in the parenting and child-rearing world is.

Because of that constant stream of influence, that we are exposed to on a daily basis, it is really, really difficult to step out of that world, of that constant media bombardment, and stop comparing ourselves; and ultimately, to stop ourselves buying in line with those subconscious comparisons.

But if we do, if we realise that the purchasing process is emotionally driven – psychologically designed to get us to spend – then we can adopt a different approach – a methodical approach. The “plan to buy and buy to plan” strategy.

This strategy simply means exactly that: that you are conscious of the purchasing choices you are making – and how they fit into your family plan (rather than how you fit into the shop’s marketing plan…)

Of course, this strategy will not, does not, apply to every single purchase that you will ever make for you and your family. You will still make some purchases because you need them, some because you want them; others because you have a tantrumming toddler and a cheap toy from the supermarket IS the quickest fix: I’m not here to judge. The point of this post isn’t to change your entire buying rationale or completely rewire a part of your purchaser psychology (although it would be lovely if 1300 words did have that effect); it is simply to remind you of one thing:

That you have choice.

And with choice, comes flexibility. Comes the ability to define how you spend your money to best complement and suit, the needs of your family. At the end of the day, you are always going to spend money in bringing up your children. Although you, like me, probably have those wizened great-aunts and kindly relatives who tell you they brought up your parents on 10 shillings, three eggs and one pair of trousers between 2 of them; the world is no longer like that: children are expensive.

So, the choice is not whether to spend or not – unfortunately the basic costs of life and inflation put paid to that. Instead, your choice is different – but just as fundamental. Whether to spend as society WANTS you to, or how YOU want to. Because everything you see on the TV, advertised in a magazine, or that your friends have purchased is an option, but nothing more. You do not have to buy what you are told – you can choose what purchases fit in line with your family values – you can make your own purchasing priorities.

And that, my family-focused friends – is the most important choice of all.

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