Debt and Identity

 Would you grocery shop with this bad boy in hand?

DD2 = Dear second daughter

DH = Dear husband

DFF = Debt-free friend

“such smart moms”

When DD2 was in kindergarten, she came home from school one day with a story of her mishap with the yogurt I had packed for her snack. The container had spilled, her hands and shirt had become messy, and the teacher had to get a paper towel to help her clean up. “Some kids have a napkin in their lunch bag so they don’t need the teacher to get a paper towel if they make a mess,” she explained to me. And then with solemn earnestness, “Aren’t they such smart moms?”

I said something like, “They sure are!” But I was wincing on the inside. My young daughter had found me out. I was not, alas, one of the smart moms.

Sour grapes

There are people who just seem to have an innate disposition towards competence. They always know what to do, and they do it well. Sharp, on the ball, certain. I’ve always regarded such individuals with awe, keenly aware of the relative fog and scattered uncertainty in which I, by contrast, function. Sour grapes have grown over the years and decades as I’ve rationalized: He is having a lot of success, but he’s superficial. / She is able to do three times more than I do, but she’s cold. / Their house is very neat and orderly, but they’re judgmental. Thus I found peace. I may have been a bit sloppy and disorganized – less than stellar in terms of general competence – but at least I wasn’t superficial, cold, and judgmental. Hmmm …

Adventures in grocery shopping

My New Year’s resolution for 2015 has been to spend no more that $150 per week on our groceries, and while I was happy with my success for weeks 1 and 2, I knew that I would face a challenge today for week 3. I had already spent a total of $65 on groceries Friday evening at Costco, so that meant $85 for today’s shop. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it for under $150,” I said to DH this morning as our grocery list kept expanding. But we both wanted to stick to the resolution, so I went shopping with a strategy. I would do my best to get everything on the list, but I’d prioritize and be prepared to forego the purchase of some items if necessary. I brought a calculator. Something I’ve never done before. “Did you bring that big desk calculator?” DH asked me later. I had. “Well aren’t you brave,” he said. Let’s just say I probably didn’t come across as cool at the grocery store.

For me, this was shopping at an unprecedented level of focus and intention. I weighed the red pepper.  I decided that two small packages of chocolate chips were a better deal than one large package. The bananas were over-ripe. I’d pay 10 cents per pound extra at another store. The broccoli was in bad shape, but it was extra-cheap, so I’d get the best one I could find. One bottle of rice vinegar was 20 cents cheaper than another, but it was seasoned, so I chose the more expensive bottle. As I picked up each item, I punched in the cost. I realized, when I was almost ready to go to the cash register, that I wasn’t going to be able to buy everything on my list. I had to have enough left over for bananas at the other store, so my bill at this store needed to be under $80. I put the sugar and cilantro back on their shelves. I would not buy turkey slices. There. $78.61 – give or take a few cents.

When the cashier told me my total, I was surprised. “That will be $81.82.” Had I made a mistake? I’d been so careful. Maybe they’re the ones who have made a mistake. DFF had told me once that if a grocery store charges more than its display price and you catch it, you get the item for free. It was one of many frugal tips of hers that I considered to be beyond me – but here it was, coming to mind. I looked carefully at the itemized receipt. Another first. Broccoli – $2.47. I’m sure it was under $2.00. Chocolate chips – $2.99 each. No. They were just under $4.00 for two packages. “Excuse me,” I said to the cashier, “I think that two of the prices are wrong. Can I leave my cart here and go check?” Broccoli – $1.97! Chocolate chips – $1.99 each! I was right!

“Just take this over to check-out #1,” said the cashier, handing me a slip of paper. Yet another first! Free broccoli. One free package of chocolate chips – and a $1 reimbursement for the other. A total of $6.46 credited to me. In the end, I was able to buy the sugar and the lunch meat. And I came in at a grand total of $148.78. I was SO proud!

A new identity?

If you had told me even a few days ago that I would be able to look at a grocery bill and identify two errors, I would not have believed you. “I can’t retain that level of detailed information,” I’d say. But because I had punched every price into my big calculator, I had gained the recall. It was a moment of uber-competence for me, and while I’m rather thrilled with it, it’s a bit uncomfortable. I’m not judging you, I feel compelled to tell all the people who didn’t notice the wrong prices for broccoli and chocolate chips on their receipts. And please don’t think I’m cold or superficial! As I accept a new and emerging self-concept, I’ll have to shed the prejudices I’ve allowed to develop along with those old sour grapes. Perhaps a person can be on the ball without being superficial. Perhaps people can be organized and competent without being cold or judgmental. It is possible that the fog is lifting. It is possible that after all, I am one of the smart moms.


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