Written in February of 2007 (the edited version):
It was a Thursday afternoon. The house was empty of most our common essentials: milk, eggs, bread, fruit and juice, and I wanted some extras. I went to the grocery store. I had $29 in the joint checking account and $59 in my checking account. This being my “reality” I wondered if I should have gone to the other grocery store where the prices are cheaper and the products mediocre. I stayed. I would divvy up the cart, putting all the items I would buy with our joint account on one side, and the items I would buy with my account on the other side.
This particular store has a gift section that sells candles, cards, and various decorative items for the home. I needed ribbon for my daughter’s Valentines Day cards we were making that night. I saw some pink ribbon for $2 I thought that was okay. I looked at other ribbon that was prettier with more variety and color. These ribbons were $5. I stayed with the pink.
At the produce section, an organic pineapple caught my attention. My mom just brought us 6 from Maui and I wanted more. It was on special for $4.99. I passed it by, but I really wanted it. Instead, I did my usual blueberries for $2.99, and then grapes for $2.99 per pound. I passed on the Clementine’s for $7.99 and the organic bananas because I just wasn’t in the mood. Then I went back to the pineapple, and put in on my side of the cart.
At the dairy aisle, I got the store brand cheese that was .20 less than the name brand, but it’s a fancy store, so obviously not generic. I picked up the orange juice, the milk, and wondered if we needed butter. I was glad we didn’t, and grabbed the store brand eggs.
At the aisles of packaged goods, I got the snack crackers the girls like for lunches, the bread my husband likes, which is large, cheap, and saturated with high fructose corn syrup (that went on our joint account side). On my side went the whole grain bread without the high fructose corn syrup.
Now, the deli section freaked me out. I like Boar’s Head, which had begun to feel like a luxury. I decided to get some turkey and havarti cheese anyway putting it on my side since I had the most money to spare. I breathed a sigh, hoping I would get to the check out and have enough money.
All lines were full. I went to the aisle with the nice middle aged man thinking he would be the less likely to judge me if I had to give up the Boar’s Head. You see, this was a new experience for me at the grocery store. The only other time I came close to this kind of apprehension was when on welfare as a single mom and used food stamps at a grocery store in a prestigious suburb of Minneapolis.
I told the man there would be separate transactions. The first transaction came to $21 so I handed him the orange juice, which left our joint account with $4. The next transaction came to $49, leaving my account with $10 to spare. I left the store knowing we would be okay.
There was a time I had money, an inheritance I received when I was 25. I used the money to live on while I raised my kids. That money ran its course. I have come from the belief that money is freedom. When I had money I would go into the grocery store and throw whatever I wanted in the cart, never looking at price. The mediocre store I thought about retreating to would have never crossed my mind. I always went to the “fancy store with carpet” as my husband calls it. Making these kinds of choices was freedom to me.
I had so many choices and could choose it all if I wanted to. I could get what I wanted and maybe not even eat it. I could experiment with new items not knowing if I would like them. I could get a couple of options of lunch meat. But, did any of this make me more free?
My freedom then was an illusion under the guise of having money. As I walked through the store consciously choosing what I would buy, what it would cost, and what side of the cart I would be putting it on was a new form of freedom. Inner freedom. I did not grieve for the life I once had where I bought what I wanted and did what I wanted, because the truth is I didn’t know what I was made of, what I could handle or how I would handle it.
Back then a similar woman in my situation I may have frowned upon, not realizing that she is more free than myself- the one with money. Not having a lot of money makes me pay attention to every choice, in ways I never did when I had it. Why pay attention when you think you have more than enough? The freedom I found in the grocery store, was actually one of my richer moments.
Accepting our situations allows strategies and solutions to what otherwise would make us feel imprisoned by them. Accepting and allowing IS freedom.