Mindful Spending

14 May

I’m not really such a big shopper, first because I believe there’s always some other, better way I should be spending my time, and second because I hate the particular cocktail mix of emotions that accompanies me on any shopping trip, which I would characterize as a splash of breathless desire (“Ooh!  I want that!  And that! And those!”), a dose of Puritanical guilt (“You don’t need any of those things.  Don’t you have an ounce self-control?”), and a dash of mild depression (“I can’t afford that and that and those anyway, so I might as well go home and feel sorry for myself.”)

Plus, it always seems like everyone else at the mall is less conflicted than I am.  They’re not only carrying bags from three different stores, but seeming to be having a good time doing it, which sends me into paroxysms of worry about the future of Western Civilization.  “We’re all a bunch of Marie Antoinettes,” I start thinking, “gorging ourselves on Kate Spade bags and purposely mismatched socks and iPads, while people in China are living like conscripted monks in dorms and working hundred-hour weeks to make this crap.”

This sort of thinking tends to make shopping not so fun.  Which is why I’m not really such a big shopper.

What I am is a mindless spender.  I see a Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-through, and the next thing I know, I’m ordering a cup of coffee from a disembodied voice coming out of the giant menu board.  I read an interesting book review in the Times, and, without hesitation, click on the Amazon link and order the book.  Great writer’s group meeting?  I take myself out to lunch ‘cause I’m feeling good.  Long morning at school?  I take myself out to lunch ‘cause I’m feeling stressed. Standing in the check-out line at Target? Add a cold Diet Coke to my cart just ’cause.

So, for much of the first week of “Reduce and Make-Do,” I’ve felt more than a little like a dog wearing a shock collar.  I drive by Dunkin’ Donuts, and start to smile at the thought of a nice, hot cup of Joe when –

Bzzt!  Not a necessity.

As I leave school, I think, “wouldn’t it be nice to treat myself to a nice sushi lun—“

 Bzzt!  There’s leftover grilled chicken in the fridge that will do just fine.

“I really need  a pedicure—“

 Bzzt!  Need?  Oh puhleeze.

“I’ll just grab a diet Coke from the vending mach—“


“I really don’t feel like cooking. Maybe we’ll just go out for—“


Nevertheless, I made it an entire week without purchasing anything other than groceries, and the involuntary twitch in my eyelid is almost entirely gone.

I went to the grocery store on Sunday – Day Six – and bought only the groceries that were on my list.  No impulse purchase of a package of freeze-dried Goji berries – ooh!  19 amino acids, plus cancer-fighting trace minerals! – or Patchouli scented soy candles or another pair of reading glasses because they’re just so cute, and who can’t use another pair of cute reading glasses?

I can’t say that my avoidance of mindless spending freed up copious amounts of time or money, or made me feel any different at all.  Although I was pleased to discover that I still remembered how to cut my own toenails – just like riding a bike, except with bending over and toenail clippers.

I can say that by the second Thursday of the month – Day Ten – my kitchen cupboard looked like Old Mrs. Hubbard’s, and my children were moaning, “There’s NOTHING to eat in this house,” and it was actually almost true.

But so far, no one has actually starved to death.

My kitchen cupboard. Entire contents: one tub of whey powder and a half a bag of pita chips.


11 Responses to “Mindful Spending”

  1. Sally Prangley May 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    What do (or did) you use why powder for??? Please give us the next installment soon so that I don’t worry more than I already am about your nearly empty cupboards and starving family.

    • Cathleen Barnhart May 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

      Peter puts the whey powder in smoothies, which he has for breakfast every morning. I promise that my family is not starving and hope to post again soon!

  2. Louis Greenzweig May 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    #1 – The middle class in china has exceeded the middle class in the US (over 200 million people). They drive Buick Lacrosses and have IPADS.
    #2 – Diet soda has phenylkenotonics (probably spelled wrong)… why would you ever drink anything that included that item in it’s ingredients!
    #3 – Your cupboard is unAmerican.. Get some real food!

    • Cathleen Barnhart May 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      #1 – I believe that there’s a limited amount of resources in the world, and at some point we’re going to bump up against a consumption ceiling. If the Chinese middle class is consuming at American rates, we’re just gonna hit that ceiling sooner.
      #2 – Everybody has a vice. Diet Coke is mine.
      #3 – My kids agree!

      Thanks for reading, Louis!

  3. Clara Barnhart May 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I have so been there on the frozen Goji berries. Ha! I think for about a week I put them in our oatmeal, but then I forgot about them.

    • Cathleen Barnhart May 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

      My problem is that I buy things like that and then NO ONE eats it. It just moulders slowly in the cabinet. I would be all for regularly purchasing Goji berries if anyone would actually consume them.

      Miss you guys loads.

  4. Jennifer Phillips Davids May 21, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Loved it! Every so often, I try to go a week just using up what is in my pantry and freezer. Lot’s of interesting food combinations including Mac and Cheese with veggie sausage and frozen corn. No one seems to complain!

    • Cathleen Barnhart May 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      We’ve gotten through almost 3 whole weeks now without making emergency runs to the supermarket, just making do with what is in the fridge and pantry. I will admit that a few meals have not been quite as well balanced as I would like, but we have managed. There’s been dinner on the table every night, and fewer wilted, unused vegetables and mouldering containers of leftovers at the end of the week.

  5. bronxboy55 May 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Every time we come home with a load of groceries, I say, “Well, we shouldn’t have to shop again for at least a week. Two days later, we’re back at the store. At least we stopped going to the flea market to buy old stuff other people don’t want anymore. That’s something, right?

    Great post, Cathleen, especially that first paragraph.

    • Cathleen Barnhart May 29, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Having just read your post on neuroses, I can see why you appreciated my first paragraph!
      Thanks for reading Charles!


  1. Into the Seventh Circle of Hell with the Other Lemmings « Forward From Fifty - May 24, 2012

    […] As I have previously mentioned, I hate the mall.  But now, twelve days into my month of doing with less, the mall had become, in my mind, more than a place I hated; it was my nemesis.  It was the consumerist beast I had dedicated my month to battling.  And I would have to descend into that very beast’s belly. From Alanna Andes’s blog iheartlaughing.blogspot.com […]

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