How Green Was My Checkbook
Saving my family money at the Big Food-A-Plenty warehouse store.
I love my four kids, but I must admit they are essentially financial
leeches. They suck money out of us like a force field in a science fiction
thriller. After tallying up my grocery bills for one month, I realized
that for the same money, I could have made a down payment on a car and had
my teeth bleached. Wondering how to invigorate both my sagging assets and
my smile at the same time, I looked for money-saving ideas.
I was in luck. One of those members-only warehouse grocery stores had just
opened up near me, so I ran right over and plunked down $45.00 for the
privilege of pushing a shopping cart the size of a big rig around the
place. Once inside Big Food-A-Plenty, I didn't know where to begin. The
place was a behemoth, several times larger than the Houston Astrodome, and
there was nothing it didn't sell: pasta by the pound, socks by the scores,
pickles in profusion. Whatever you wanted to buy at Big Food-A-Plenty, you
had better like it, because it only came in multiples. Enthused with my
plan to save my family money, I filled my cart with impunity.
Once in the mile-long line to pay, I realized with horror that the store
only took cash, checks and an obscure credit card I had never heard of. My
kids see to it that I never have more than twenty dollars in cash at any
given time, and my checking account had about enough to cover only my
twin-pack of gallon-sized ketchup. Exasperated, I asked a clerk to hold my
cart while I went to the bank to get enough cash to save my family money.
I wasn't sure if anyone would like the new off-brand of cereal I found, but I hoped so, since it only came in an eight-pound box.
I found, however, that this kind of economy has its own costs. For one
thing, I managed to ring up more than $375.00 while trying to conserve our
financial resources. For another, I wasn't sure if anyone would like the
new off-brand of cereal I found, but I hoped so, since it only came in an
When I got home, I shouted "Groceries! Come and help, everyone!" a plea
that, like so many others, fell on hearing-impaired ears. I dragged them,
one by one, to the van, pointed to my haul, and said, "Get a move on. I'll
break my back lifting that 25-pound bag of brown rice. Here, each of you
take one side, and carry it like a couch, with one of you backing into the
house with it. That way it will fit in the doorway."
"But Mom, we don't like brown rice!" cried one.
"Look, I'm saving money here, and this whole bag was only six bucks.
Besides, brown rice has many more nutrients than white rice."
"Hey, look at this! Mom got a box of 44 Kit-Kat bars and a box with a 120
waffles! Thanks, Mom!"
"Stop tearing into that box," I said. "No one gets a Kit-Kat until
everything is brought into the house and you eat at least four pounds of
rice. Then we'll talk Kit-Kats."
"Why do we need twelve blue towels?" another asked, carrying in both the
towels and a twin-pack of gallon-sized mystery brand hair conditioner,
imported from the Czech Republic.
"They only sold them by the dozens. They'll keep," I said, perhaps too
"Someone help me with this," my daughter said, pulling ineffectually on
the plastic handle of a 20-pound tub of laundry detergent. "I can't lift
"Of course not. It weighs almost as much as you do. Boys, take that from
"Mom, just where do you think we're going to keep all this stuff? The
pantry's kind of full, isn't it?"
"You don't know the meaning of the word," I said, hefting a crate of
toilet paper into the house and, looking around, deciding it would have to
reside in the corner of the living room for now.
"Who's going to eat all this salad? Are we having company for dinner?"
another son asked as he hauled a five-pound bag of pre-washed salad
greens, a flat of tomatoes and a jar of mayonnaise that was larger than my
Crock-Pot into the kitchen.
Looking around the kitchen, I realized my son's idea had potential. If I
kept shopping at Big Food-A-Plenty, I would need to spend at least another
$400.00 to buy a second refrigerator. Otherwise, I'd have to revert to the
wasteful habit of buying eggs by the dozen, when they were so much cheaper
to buy them 60 at a time. But until then, I just had one fridge. And even
with my credentials as a Gold Medal finalist in the "shove more food into
the fridge" decathlon, I couldn't see how we would keep today's purchases
from spoiling. Besides, I had also snapped up five incredibly cheap smoked
fish, 600 paper plates and almost as many napkins, Styrofoam cups and
plastic cutlery. If I cooked a few pounds of the brown rice or pasta, we
could share our bounty with the whole block.
When my husband came home, he was more than a little surprised to see us
all eating at the picnic table on the front lawn, with a sign hanging from
it that said "Free Food!" My kids and I had set up a buffet of an
all-you-can-eat salad bar, smoked fish, the infamous brown rice (which
brought the macrobiotic neighbors out in droves) and waffles for dessert.
"What's going on here?" he asked. He noticed that our buffet was rapidly
being depleted, and in a survival-of-the-fittest mode, immediately started
filling his own plate.
"Mom went shopping at the Big Food-A-Plenty today," explained our
daughter, "and we didn't have room to keep it all. But she saved us a LOT
Excerpted from "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle
© 2000 Judy Gruen