Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"I, too, come here to make confession."

Here's your disclaimer: I will try to make this confession as true as utterly possible. By "true," I of course mean honest. Which is just another way of saying I'm putting myself out on a limb here.

So, before we begin, let's lay down some ground rules. You are permitted to think me a mite foolish, an absolute moron, a smidge naïve, or just plain obtuse. You can "tsk," "oh geez," "you gotta be kidding me," or "she's nuts" all you want - But, please no name calling or judgments beyond the aforementioned allowances. Got it? OK. Now, where was I. . . Oh yes. . .

Confessions of an Idiot Shopper

Last night I was grocery shopping at that antichrist of grocery stores known as Wal-Mart. Since "tightening up the budget" is top on the list of things to do now that the hub is almost jobless, I started looking at prices of things. Not that I'm totally oblivious every other time I frequent the grocery store. I'm just not Carrie Coupongirl. Nor am I Bonnie Budgetkeeper. Or any of those other careful shoppers you know and model yourselves after. I don't usually go to the store with a budget. I stray from my list and routinely buy things that aren't on it. I buy whatever we need and want, spend whatever it all comes to, and skip on my merry Fully Stocked Refrigerator way, never looking back (at such things as the receipt to even make sure I was charged correctly).

So, suddenly coming to semi-consciousness about how much my current list items cost and redoubling my effort not to stray from my list this time (except for chicken which wasn't on it but a necessary staple), I thought I was being pretty careful and was doing pretty well. I get to the checkout and start watching the prices of my items as the overworked-only-had-a-break-at-the-start-of-her-shift cashier is scanning them. The total, ladies and gentlemen, was $113.38. That was a "light" trip. And suddenly my mind starts ranting: "Holy crap! That juice cost almost $3?!" followed closely by "What?! Why the hell did you have to buy 8 (eight!!) boxes of cereal!!?!? There are only 2 (two!!) of you for crying out loud!!!"

Great! Now I'm in trouble with my conscience! Added to that wonderfully bifurcated feeling, I also now feel like an utterly craptacular shopper and budgeter. And I feel a little snobby. And oblivious. And irresponsible. For not knowing better. For not doing better.

I recall bragging to Jen a couple of months ago that, for once, I had stuck to a grocery budget of $150. She sighed and said "I wish I had $150 for groceries!" That made me think about how people really do survive on less than I can imagine - because they have to. The light bulb, I think, first came on then, but burned out too quickly for me to really get it.

As M and I like to remind ourselves at times like these, we "grew up poor". I'm not talking "money's a little tight this month". No. Poverty. Truly. Hand-me-down clothes and shoes, weeks of only beans and tortillas for dinner because they were cheap, piecemeal bikes, and "Matchbox cars" made out of tree branches were the raw materials of M's childhood. And my youth would not have been the same without the token hand-me-downs, similar weeks of only beans and tortillas for dinner because they were cheap, homelessness, food stamps, and no electricity at times. We've been there, he says. We can do it again.

Yeah. In theory. Except, says my inner nag, that we've never lived like that as adults. We've never lived like that in our married life. Our parents did all the hard work for us. Growing up poor was essentially a spectator sport, even if we were in the front row and got to perform at half time. But even as mere patrons of poverty, we each were taught by our parents the value of money, how to work hard, and how to budget - because they had to and probably figured we'd have to too. So, yes, we have a "budget" - in name only. With two decent incomes, and money always coming in, we've never really paid much attention to it. Nor to how much we spent on groceries. Or much else for that matter.

So, lackadaisical student that I have been, I'm awake now. I'm paying attention. And I'm counting on the fact that I'm a fast learner to help me catch the learning curve and get up to speed quickly on what it means to budget. And shop on a budget. And stick to the list. And to the budget.

Now. Who wants to teach me?

[Title quote is from "Casanova"]


iguana banana said...

So glad that you stopped by my place, and glad to hear that I made you think.
I don't think you are stupid at all! That is a tough one for me too. Budgeting. Especially at the grocery story. It seems that is the one place that I can justify just about anything - we're entertaining, I had a hard day, I've been wanting to try that recipe - But I get to the check out counter and have total sticker shock. That, and I've been trying to feed our Littles mostly organic. HAH! (I need to get a better relationship going with a local farmer.)

One way that a good friend of mine deals with her shopping impulses is this: She lives in a cash only household. Oh, they pay bills on line or write checks but it's the other stuff... school lunch, groceries, gas for the car, "mad money" etc. At the start of the month/after the big check comes in she pulls out her envelopes that are labeled with the things that she is going to need to spend money on that month. Then, she divides her cash budget into each envelope. THEN - she leaves her credit cards and check book at home. She knows that when she goes to the grocery story, she's got a certain amount of cash. Of course, she can steal from Peter to pay Paul, but if she needs more gas money it might be gone.
She thought this was a very effective way for her to budget. She actually saw the cash leave her hands and her envelopes empty.
This is not a woman who lives anywhere near poverty - She simply needed to be a smarter spender. Wow.

Caroline said...

ummm, that's me to a tea!

But now, after being married for over 5 years, and 4 kids later? Now we're going BACK to school so I get to do the whole starving student/single mom thing...

I have to make a budget and STICK to it and I'm scared...

trina said...

i totally do the same thing as iguana banana's friend. our envelopes are groc, gas, savings, misc and we put same amount every two weeks. stealing from peter to pay paul happens often but when i actually, physically see the money leave my hand i feel a little sick and wake up and pay attention to all the little spending on stupid stuff. so if u really need help i'm so there! just keep telling yourself "this too shall pass", works for me. and we will come over and play cards by candlelight if u have no electricity!

Nichole said...

T mentioned cards by candlelight. . . Folks, that REALLY happened when we didn't have electricity - so did other games, and stories from my mom's childhood. Oh, and we boiled water on a fire for baths. Oh, and put gobs of bug spray on the windows because we all slept in the livingroom on the floor with all the windows open because no A/C in AZ in the summer. . . not so great for sleeping in a bed.

Jen said...

i can so swap no electricity stories w/ you!! I have some good ones too! Poor Rocks! I like the cash in the envelope idea!

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