Today I spent almost $4.00 more on groceries than I would have spent if I went to Wal-Mart. Did I inherit money or win the Lotto? No, I would have spent $800 more, got all pre-cooked lobster and had it delivered if I did. No, I just decided the tension and vague malaise that comes over me when I head out to go shop at Wal-Mart just wasn’t worth it today. Yes, Wal-Mart depresses me.
Okay, I’m not the jolliest of people by nature and it is 400 degrees with 80 percent humidity here in Arizona, but there are just some things and some days that test one’s character. And today I failed. I need to watch every dime. It wasn’t always this way but with the kind of world we live in now where entire professions and job descriptions are eliminated; I became acquainted with coupons, buying in bulk and “Manager’s Special” meat that immediately gets slammed in the freezer. And all roads that favor best price lead to Wal-Mart.
Okay, everyone shops at Wal-Mart. Oh sure, you might buy only organic produce at a Farmer’s Market and giant freezer-paks of marbled steaks get Fed-Exed to you regularly, but where’s that store brand sinus medication coming from? And do they deliver trash bags and laundry detergent? Sure you could claim you went skiing and they lost your luggage. With no Target in sight, did that check from the airlines really get you all you needed without your rental car heading for the nearest giant “W” and “M”?
Growing up in California the only place we had equivalent at first was K-Mart and K-Mart instantly made you uncool. Any clothing item from there was a statement your family was poor and the only jeans you could afford were shiny, dark and very, very stiff. But then Target and Wal-Mart appeared around the same time. Almost instantly Target became kinda cool, prices were low and you could find incredibly cute things, even clothing, that made you seem frugal and smart, not trashy. But Wal-Mart?
Still, once you went in there was no turning back. How could you spend an extra two bucks on kitty litter and pass up those gigantic boxes of cereal? Then Costco came around and added $40 right off the bat to even get in. Sure, the savings were big but I don’t know anyone who didn’t leave with a printer they never meant to buy. Or a Bar-B-Que when they had no backyard. Costco was for the well-off to stock up their gigantic pantries and extra freezers. I even saw Candy Spelling regularly in the Costco nearest to me. Dripping with diamonds, her cart was filled to the brim.
But in the last five years or so, Wal-Mart became the place to shop to get the lowest prices and the biggest selection. Then came Wal-Mart Superstores where they added meat, cheese, dairy products and everything else a grocery store offered, plus you could still get the kitty litter and the Equate brand Sinus medicine. But like sex secrets and salaries, get a group of women together with a little wine and the stories come out. Depression. Anger. Denial and avoidance. No, not a bad test result from the doctor’s but the idea of actually going to Wal-Mart. Making the list for Wal-Mart is like planning a trip for work. You try to cover all the bases and get yourself oriented to the layout of the area, but you always find yourself seemingly miles away in produce when you remember that you wanted shampoo. Now you’ve got frozen foods and meat just waiting to melt or spoil and you know you’ve got the check-out process to deal with, so the idea of trekking all the way back to Personal Care seems more like a quest than anything dealable, so you let it go. And when the shampoo runs out – you grit your teeth and hate Wal-Mart.
Now the news has been filled with horror stories about Wal-Mart’s policies toward their employees and it would take someone much better educated than myself in economics and sociology to get to the bottom of that barrel. All I know is that as I get in the car and drive over to Wal-Mart, my list securely in my purse with footnotes reminding me not to forget Q-tips or I’ll risk the 30-pack of ice pops melting, and I suddenly feel overwhelmed. I try to think of a few (maybe a hundred) things I’d rather be doing then going to Wal-Mart. Or even things I need to do. I actually avoided Wal-Mart by cleaning my oven one day and felt like I had splurged and gotten a manicure. No, my nails still looked like crap, worse even from oven cleaning, but I avoided those smiley faces and the 20 miles of aisles.
And then there are the “Greeters”. We all love our grandparents and the elderly can be just as interesting as the questions you think to ask them – but do I want a couple of lovely grey-haired folks welcoming me and getting me a basket? No. Why? Am I a curmudgeon who also dislikes children and puppies? Hardly. I just don’t want to walk in and see two folks having a conversation that they hastily break up to welcome me and push a cart towards me hoping I’ll simply go away. I want to get my own cart, my list out of my purse and yes, my glasses to read the prices, all in the relative peace and privacy of my own time. And no, I can’t have a good day because I’m in Wal-Mart and I can already hear a little kid screaming and I see my first mess of the visit – someone has left a diaper just peaking out of the trash can. And it smells. Soon, I’ll be deep in those aisles and aisles where employees with smocks that have lettering you can read from space saying, “May I help You?” block my progress as they scurry to restock shelves and seem terrified if I ask them a question.
Which leads me to the one major reason I get depressed in Wal-Mart – other people. Hordes and hordes of them. All seeming as depressed as I am and all yelling at their kids or fighting with their elderly parents. No one is smiling or intrigued by the interesting new – thing – they just saw. Nope, it’s all about the list and stocking the fridge. Big decisions have to be made when you’re buying laundry detergent that will last the year and everyone seems burdened by the choice. And unlike Target, there are no cute clothes that cost almost nothing or little decorating accessories. I mean, sure they’re sold there, but you can’t kid yourself, you’re here for the necessities and the bulk and frankly the clothes and little something extras Wal-Mart offers seem just like the modern day version of those stiff, icky jeans from K-Mart.
And no fun deli with interesting meats and cheeses like at other groceries. No, I don’t buy them but looking is half the fun of shopping. And then there’s a little something, I don’t know, some bakery cookies or a seasoned roast on sale and the price is just as good or better than Wal-Mart.
Yes, the tomato sauce that costs me fifty cents cost me sixty-seven cents today at Fry’s (where I’ll have you know I have a V.I.P. card, like everyone else), but I also found some chocolate chip/pumpkin cookies. And they were on sale. And they were delicious.
Sure I spent almost $4.00 more than I would have. But I have my sanity and I didn’t have to come home and watch Soap Operas just to get out of my terrible mood. And when my boyfriend comes home tonight, we’ll still have everything we need but I won’t have that face that says, “I hate my life and all that I have to do to keep us clean and fed.” No, I’ll smile and give him a chocolate chip/pumpkin cookie and a kiss. Maybe he’ll take me out to dinner. Which is truly a big savings for me and making that almost four bucks I “overpaid” seem like money very well spent.