So I’m wondering: have you ever stuffed your car so full of groceries that on the drive home your kids had to lie prostrate atop a thirty-six-roll MegaPak of Bounty Big Rolls?
I just finished up one of my irregularly scheduled trips to the wholesale club I belong to. The trips are scheduled irregularly because the club is actually quite a distance from my house. Apparently, big box stores are not welcome in Stereotypical Liberal Utopia, land of tasteful tearooms, organic markets, art house movie theaters, pottery studios, and twee boutiques.
Twee boutiques, I have discovered, sell neither the 30 lb. box of Arm & Hammer Super Scoop cat litter, nor the 500-count Tampax Variety Pack. (It’s for the children.) And I don’t fault Stereotypical Liberal Utopia in the slightest; I agree that it would be far less stereotypically liberal and utopian if it did welcome every Tom, Dick, and Wal-Mart that tried to break ground. But God help me, I need my wholesale club, and I’ll drive miles of bad Jersey road to get there.
And no, it’s not just because it’s a club that will have me as a member; socially pathetic though I am, I can point to my church vestry, urban-suburb PTA, and local chapter of Drinking Liberally as organizations that tolerate my ongoing presence. So I don’t necessarily need to fulfill my infrequent impulses toward human contact through like-minded north Jersey bargain shoppers. I actually have a completely irrational relationship with the wholesale club.
I hate it; and yet I force myself to go, because I’m just cheap enough that the idea of paying full price for Tide keeps me up more at night than does the dread of wrestling huge bundles of household products off of shelves, through check-out, and into a mid-sized SUV (a hybrid, of course, to appease my life-sized poster of Al Gore in a bathing suit). The vertical and horizontal vastness of the store elicits both shock and awe every time I enter. I am not a tall woman, so I am dwarved not only by the shelving that seemingly climbs into the middle of Ursa Minor—which I often have to scale as if my life were some sort of half-assed Spider Man sequel—but by some of the products themselves. For example, I am actually smaller than the aforementioned MegaPak of Bounty Big Rolls. Throw in a similar count bundle of Charmin Ultra Soft, that box of Tide I mentioned (which, when on the ground, comes up to my hip), and enough juice boxes to get us through to middle school, and my cart becomes impossible not only to steer but to see over. I’ve plowed down more than a few slow-moving bystanders through the years. (Sorry, Ma. How’s the knee?)
Almost as bad as the ginormous products are the small ones. Why? Because the wholesale club doesn’t give out bags at check-out! (Life-sized poster of Al Gore in a bathing suit nods approvingly.) So of course when I’m there I’m going to buy the three-pack of Crest toothpaste for $7.99, because the knowledge that three tubes of Crest are available, somewhere, for $7.99 would absolutely preclude me from buying Crest toothpaste at a regular store, for its regular price. And so, if I didn’t buy it at the wholesale club, we’d eventually run out of toothpaste, and our teeth would fall out, and we’d stink, and my mother would smugly say, “When you were little, I never let your teeth fall out. But you keep doing things your own way. I’m sure you know best.” And then she’d light a cigarette. But I digress.
So, yes, when I’m at the wholesale club, I buy toothpaste, and Mach 3 razor blades (easily half price), and Q-Tips, and essentially everything else that keeps us relatively hygienic. But since there are no bags available, these smaller items get randomly tossed into my car, and they free-float around in the back, occasionally getting lost for months before popping up again seemingly out of nowhere, so that as I’m driving, I hear a pipsqueak voice from the back seat remark, “Look, Mommy! Toothpaste in the car!” And then I suddenly realize that we haven’t brushed our collective teeth since November.
The thing is, I’m more sensibly frugal than outright cheap. I feel irresponsible if I don’t save money however I can, but in a way that also allows us to, well, do stuff. As I mentioned, I want to keep my work schedule to two days, so I am not taking in as much money as I theoretically could. So I’ve gotten excessively disciplined about saving. We have special accounts for the big things, and we auto-deposit into all of them: retirement funds; college funds; a big-chunks-of-craptacular, 100-year-old house falling off fund; and a vacation fund. So with the nine dollars of every paycheck that we actually see, I have to figure out a way to keep the family fed, the home clean, and the cats loyal, as well as maybe catch a movie or order in Chinese every now and then. Even when I go to a normal grocery store, I bring a scrapbook’s worth of clipped coupons. I’ve been known to hyperventilate and shame people who chuck out the coupon inserts that come with the Sunday paper; I’ve actually said, “Would you throw ten bucks in the garbage? Would you? No? Well … you just did!” Note: the frugal can also be self-righteous.
So anyway, last week marked my first visit since December; we were almost out of everything. Since I was there anyway, I went to the food section. I don’t normally buy my perishables there, but I was making my fabulous Buffalo Chicken Dip* appetizer for the luncheon after my niece Ryley’s christening that weekend. I bought one of those Perdue pre-cooked roasters, and I did think it was odd that it was the same price as it is in my regular A&P. But I thought maybe the wholesale club didn’t discount prepared foods or some such explanation. I was wrong. I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of preparing the dip that the bird was twice the size of the ones I buy at the A&P. They actually breed super-chickens for the wholesale club. It was prehistoric in its dimensions.There was dip left over after a luncheon attended by thirty people. All for $5.99.
Knowing what I know now, I should just go all in and buy our food at the wholesale club while I’m there. But the only place left in the car for the chicken to sit would have be the passenger seat. And in Jersey you can’t sit in the front seat of the car until you’re twelve. So I’d get a ticket. That I’m too cheap to pay.
By Angela Pandolfo Roy