When I hear about these things, I usually think I’m way past this point of my life. That I’ve grown, matured and become a person who is mindful when it comes to shopping for food (or anything else, really).
For a while now, I’ve been in charge of our family budget and shopping for groceries. Sometimes, though, things appear on my shopping list that have nothing to do with food. Those are usually the deals I find in our local supermarket which I jokingly describe as the place that thinks instead of me when it comes to figuring out what our household needs. Because that’s what they are; a never-ending cycle that tricks you into thinking that you need to have what they’re offering, even if those are the craziest things you wouldn’t normally buy. A bathroom scale? Just what I needed. Additional Christmas tree decorations? Need to have them! And what was the item that caught my eye today? Silicone bibs that collect food with a matching silicone plate for Viktor’s high chair that conveniently sticks to the surface and can’t be thrown around. Overall, a great thing to have these days, don’t you think?
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am usually pretty good at deciding whether something is just what we need or not. There is an insane amount of products that I would never even consider purchasing on our remotely modest budget. However, these were the things that I saw and immediately knew what their purpose would be in our household. For me, that is good enough of a reason to make the purchase.
With these things in mind, I carefully took a proper amount of money needed for today’s trip to the supermarket. I knew that, regardless of the additional items that were not on our basic food checklist, I had a certain amount of money for today’s errands and I wasn’t willing to spend more than that. Some may find this cheap and irrational; I call it house budgeting that’s been keeping us alive so far.
While I was shopping, I got caught in a trap that I told myself I would avoid at all costs (pun intended!). Today, I almost failed to do that, which is why I’ll share my day’s highlight with you.
Before I go into detail on what you already know from the title – that I somehow ran out of my planned money – there is something I’d like to reflect on. It’s the sole purpose of “deals” you come across while grocery shopping. Yes, it’s a 30% off on an XXL package of cottage cheese – but do I really need that? Is this something my family of three (well, two, when it comes down to who’s going to eat it) will actually use without throwing any of it away? Probably not.
Regardless, I got caught up in an “I need this!” behavior, frantically putting items into my cart that we probably won’t even open until next week, and guess what? Those things will still. Be. Here. The mentioned deals work in a way that they put you into a competitive mindset, thinking that suddenly everyone’s going to want to buy that same thing, and believing you absolutely need to have it. The truth is, you usually don’t. This is a lesson that I learned the hard way today. What makes it even harder is the fact that I’ve always been aware of the marketing scheme, and I can’t help but wonder how many other times I’ve gotten tricked by it unknowingly.
While I was waiting in line at the cash register, I got into a friendly chat with the cashier. People can’t help themselves when they see an infant in a stroller; they suddenly want to know everything – how old he is, if he’s got teeth, why he’s in a *fill the blank* mood…
I didn’t particularly mind, though. I started unloading my cart, and that’s when I realized I probably have too much stuff.
“I’ll pay 3500 in cash, when I reach the limit, I’ll stop the bill. I’d love it if you could put the rest of the stuff on a separate bill so I can use my debit card.”
“No problem”, the lady said, and she did exactly what I asked her to. But the moment I mentioned the card, I knew I was doing something wrong, since I knew exactly how much I had to spend. I instantly regretted even mentioning the card, but there was no other way. It was too late now. I had to pay for all my stuff.
While the cashier was doing her job (and it was quite efficient, since she was done even before I started packing up – the infant tantrum had risen to the top priority list right at that moment), I tried to put all my stuff in the bags. People were patiently waiting in line, but I could see the frustration levels rising. No one wanted to be that guy who will tell a young mother with a very young baby to hurry up. Now I wish they had said something.
The cashier finished with my second bill after I paid for the first one and packed the bags. As I was putting the remaining items into the bags, I entered the PIN code. PEEP. Incorrect. “Oh well”, I said to myself, it happens. I entered it again. PEEP. Incorrect. People started glaring at me suspiciously. They either thought I was mentally challenged or a common thief. I, personally felt mentally challenged. The PEEP happened a few more times and I knew there was a snowball’s chance in Heaven that I’ll remember my PIN code.
I could not remember it to save my life. I started panicking and hyperventilating. My stuff, which wasn’t even mine since I couldn’t pay for them, was all over the counter. The baby was enraged. The people behind me in line were also raging. The cashier was, too. I felt bad, like I let her down after the lovely chat we had. She started apologizing to the people in line and tried to explain to them that I’m a sleep deprived mother and that these things happen. I wasn’t tired. I just could not remember what the code was. I didn’t want my child to take the blame.
“Just… forget about it. Can I, please, return these items?”
I finally said it, once I realized I cannot leave the store with a bag full of stuff that wasn’t mine. The lady released a deep sigh and went on to cancel my bill. The people behind me were getting quite, quite angry now – for the bill to be canceled, the store manager had to come in and approve it. So she did. After I moved the stroller out of the way so she could reach the counter, which took another couple of minutes. I’ve never felt so stupid and embarrassed. It was all my fault.
As I was returning the items I couldn’t afford though, something strange occurred to me.
Pineapple? What do I really need a pineapple for? Oh yeah, it was 20% off.
An XXL bottle of olive oil? I just opened that same kind of bottle this morning. But it was 25% off.
An extra-large bucket of Greek yogurt? I had four unopened 0.5L ones in the fridge already, regardless of this one being discounted!
XXL cottage cheese bucket that was 27% off? We probably wouldn’t even get to it by next week.
Before the thought completely had sunk in, I said to myself, “no worries, I’ll just come back later”.
As I was leaving the store though, trying not to look behind me and face those glares poking my back, I realized something. I won’t come back later. I don’t need any of the stuff that I returned! And how many things that I actually bought I had no need for? I’ll probably never find out, since they will be used regardless, but you get the point.
If you’re trying to be a good coin master of your household, you need to make sure you’re resisting the urge to purchase discounted items just because they’re there. They will continue to be there for you, because that’s what keeps the whole industry going. Keep asking yourself whether your discounted purchases are actually needed – are they saving you money, or making you spend even more?
For me, this was a hard lesson to learn today, simply because I thought I already knew this. How many other things do I think I know, but act in a completely opposite way? And what kind of example am I setting for our child? These are all good questions to try to answer in the upcoming year. For now, I think I’ve mastered this lesson. All there is for me to do is keep resisting the temptation… and find that PIN code.