Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Why I'm Like This

Not to blame everything on my mother, but she's not here to defend herself, so why not? My mother was the Queen of Recreational Shopping. I vaguely remember a time when she also bowled and played bridge, but mostly, she shopped. Our options every weekend were either the shopping center 10 miles north or the mall 10 miles south. It was a rare Saturday that we didn't go shopping. Not in search of anything (usually), but just as something to do. Often, we'd leave the stores with something, but occasionally she wouldn't find anything and would drive back home with the dejected look of a wild game hunter with an empty truck bed.

After she died, my sisters found piles and piles of clothes with the price tags still on them. Did I mention she was a hoarder too? I used to think it was normal to only be able to use the front 2 inches of any shelf in the house because you didn't know what was beyond that 2 inches back there on that shelf, but whatever it was stayed there forever and ever.

It was also common practice in our house, when putting away laundry, to open the linen closet, shove the towels and/or sheets in wherever and close the door really quickly so nothing fell out.

Anyway, as a young adult, I lived in a town where I knew no one, my co-workers were unfriendly and my boyfriend was an hour away and, I was beginning to realize, a jerk. Desperate for human interaction, I'd go to the mall and easily drop $100 just to make myself feel better (this was 20 years ago - $100 went further then). Retail therapy - everyone does it, right? The problem is that the good feeling from having new, cute stuff fades very quickly, and the only way to get the good feeling back is to go buy more. It was probably another 10 years before I started to see a problem with this cycle.

Then I went to grad school where many of us joked about living off our credit cards. Again, everyone does it. "I'll pay it back when I graduate and get a job. This is an investment in my future, darn it." Oh, and by the way, I waitressed almost all through grad school until I could get a job in my field that paid as much as waiting tables. So I did work, but my spending was still out of control. I was never super-extravagant, I was just unconscious and careless with my money. I was also confusing "want" and "need." Needing something because it reinforces the picture you want to have of yourself = not a good financial strategy. I also had a car that I loved but that cost $5G at a time to service and fix. It never occurred to me, "I can't afford this car," because I could always put it on credit.

If, during this time, I ever got up the guts to look at my financial situation, my anxiety would get so great I'd ask my sister if I could stay with her if I became homeless, then just hide everything away again and go back into denial.

So anyway, I'm fascinated by people who just give it all up - the Compact, Church of Stop Shopping, etc. for environmental, personal, spiritual, and political reasons. I think it's awesome. I'm not ready to take on that kind of commitment, but I am ready for a really careful month. My rules for this month are:

1. Account for every penny. I am starting off with $165 in cash (thanks to a client paying a month's worth of co-pays in cash - I don't usually carry that much) and $202.11 in my checking account.

2. Get what I can get at Costco (assuming it's cheaper than store sales, which it sometimes isn't) - get what I can't get at Costco at Food Source or Grocery Outlet - get what I can't get at any of those places at Safeway or at the Farmer's Market if possible. Our grocery bill tends to be high because we buy organic produce and much of our dry goods are also organic.

3. Plan meals each week, and plan shopping lists from meals. Take a list to Costco and ONLY buy what’s on the list (I did this on my last two trips to Costco, and my total purchases ended up being less than $100 which is pretty low for me

4. Avoid Target. If I do go to Target, see above.

5. Use what we have. Take an inventory of our freezer and pantry and use it up rather than buying more.

6. Pack my food for work days.

7. No non-essential purchases. What’s non-essential? I’ll have to figure that out as I go along. In the strictest terms, anything beyond minimal shelter, food and clothing are non-essential. I say that TP and medicine is essential. I also say that coffee is essential, but it doesn’t have to be Peet’s and it doesn’t have to be made somewhere other than home.

A’s birthday is in the beginning of September. Stuff for goody bags and b-day presents are pretty non-essential in the grand scheme of things. But I imagine I’m going to buy them anyway.

As an aside, I suggested to A. that we ask people not to bring b-day presents to his party and instead he could pick a charity for them to donate to, since he already has so much stuff and really doesn’t need more. His eyes filled with tears and his “Noooooo!” echoed through the aisles. Probably shouldn’t have brought it up to him in the toy section of Target.


Anonymous said...

Hey, as a substitute for goodie bags, how about you give each kid a plant in a little pot? Ooh ooh wait, I wonder if you could get hold of some Venus Fly Trap seeds! That would be a cool activity for the kids - planting their little seeds of fly-death, an inexpensive party gift, and environmentally sound since it's a plant!

Vee said...

you just totally described me. plus, my mom was a catalogue woman. right before she died, she had about $1300 in returns from jcp. she and i both have a penchant for retail therapy, plus confusing want and need. god, its hard!

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