Chapter 2 – Scratch and Dent


Day #4 of no unnecessary shopping, and there’s both good and bad news.

Let’s start with the bad.

Lacking firm guidelines (blame it on procrastination — I still need to define this experiment), I have already pushed the envelope. The thrill of the hunt — and the adrenaline rush of the bargain — led to purchases that, well, aren’t ordinary. I went grocery shopping and came home with two borderline items.

(Trigger alert: Vegan friends, stop reading.)


The first was 8 pounds of sirloin tip — ONE GIANT wrapped-in-plastic mother-of-all packages of beef. Bigger than a bowling ball and bloodier than a crime scene. C’mon, don’t judge — it was just $3.99 a pound! I now have enough to host a roast beef fundraising supper at every church within a ten-mile radius. Since the temperature’s not expected to go above two degrees tomorrow, I’m roasting that mother in my oven for hours, heating up the house and cooking dinner at the same time. I’d call that thrifty, wouldn’t you?

The second was $72 worth of makeup I don’t need, but again, FOMO (fear of missing out). I bought a tube of Eau Thermale Avène High Protection Complexion SPF 50+ Correcting Shield (which sells on Amazon for $36) for $2.50. Okay, I bought two. I thought it was tinted moisturizer. Wrong. But it was such a bargain! Just $5 for seventy-two dollars’ worth of product.

See a problem here? I do.


The place I went shopping today was a scratch-and-dent market, the grocery store closest to my writing studio downtown, which is where I’d left my wallet over the New Year’s holiday. Not having access to credit cards made my first three no-shopping days relatively painless; if there’s no available fix, there’s no use fretting over it.

I’ve gotten some incredible buys at this particular market: luxury canned tuna (ventresca, from the belly of the fish, known as toro when it’s raw at a sushi bar) that sells for $20 a can, again for $2.50 each; Stonewall Kitchen jams and jellies at $1.50 a jar; macrobiotic packaged foods, again for a fraction of what they’d cost at the local natural foods market.

When I shop there, half the time I have my phone out, googling brands I’ve never heard of but look high-end based on packaging. They tend to sit there for a while since it’s a place that caters to immigrants buying flats of vegetables (it’s right by the regional farmer’s market) and customers with EBT cards. No surprise that these folks aren’t buying IZZE Organic Flavored Sparkling Water or David’s Cookies Strawberry Cheesecake ($45 at the David’s Cookies website but $7 at this store).

Yup. Nutty, right? This is the level of my shopping addiction. And see how I digress?


The beef falls under the heading of “something that spoils,” which is technically allowed under my no-shopping plan. The moisturizer, not so much, since it’ll join the random 20+ containers of moisturizer in my bathroom. When I told a friend about the purchase, she said, “Of course you had to buy it!” (Love her, but in this case she’s an enabler.)

I knew I did wrong, and I felt guilty the moment I did it. It wasn’t exactly cheating but I didn’t honor my vow. This is why I NEED to draw up that contract with myself about what I can and cannot buy. I’ll get to it.. I’ll get to it.

Now for the good news.


I’ve begun unsubscribing from the dozens of promotional emails that crowd my inbox. I no longer feel stressed or excited or pressured by the ‘don’t miss it!’ pitches of these subject lines. Not browsing, not looking, not dreaming of my next purchase has freed up so much time in my day.

And the things that do come to me serendipitously bring real heartfelt pleasure and abundant joy, gifted to me by people whom I love and treasure. When you can buy your own stuff, you say, “You shouldn’t have” — and mean it. When you stop doing that, what you receive you appreciate so much more.

A friend stopped by my studio with gifts from the Spot at Target — the $1/$3/$5 section at the front of the store, and I felt like it was Christmas all over again. She knows I love sticky notes and note pads and file folders, and instead of saving them like guest soaps, I immediately put them to use.


At a gift exchange party last night — in which participants came with items representing things they needed to let go of — I ended up with a glittery bracelet set with clear crystals and pale blue stones. Absolutely gorgeous. It felt so indulgent and expensive that I googled it, worried that perhaps it was too generous to accept. There it was on the Macy’s website for $68. Yet while the bracelet had enormous value to me, it had negative value to the person releasing it. It was associated with a failed relationship and was filled with bad karma. For her, but not for me. I lit up when I put it on and am still wearing it.

And today, another friend gifted me with a wall hanging she’d won as a door prize at an event we’d both attended. It didn’t work in her home, and she knew I’d like it. In fact, I’m friends with the artist who’d made it, and I’d coveted it for over a year, admiring it on her website but unable to rationalize spending $72 for one. Now I’m looking forward to rearranging a personal altar I have in my home so I can incorporate this meaningful gift.


I know — I keep putting numbers to these things, and maybe I shouldn’t. But it helps me to be mindful because the valuation of any given thing isn’t truly fixed. There’s the retail cost, the price it sells or should sell at; the personal cost of what we have to do, spend or sacrifice to possess it; and the emotional cost, the meaning it holds for us.

When we value something, we jokingly say it’s priceless, but really, what is? The sun, the moon, the stars, the wind in the trees, the snow quietly falling, the roar of ocean waves, the smell of lilacs in spring, the dawn, the sunset. These are priceless things. They cost us nothing, and we don’t value them as we should. Maybe because we can’t slap a number on them.

Yet numbers are revealing. If I reflect on the moisturizer and the gifts, in just two days over $200 worth of goods have passed through my hands. Nobody blinked at this transfer of wealth, yet that would be the take-home pay of a minimum wage worker in upstate New York working 20 hours.

I can regard this as the incredible generosity of good friends while also noting that this is evidence of the abundance — and possibly excess — that surrounds me. Just by not pulling out a credit card and buying things automatically, I’ve paused long enough to be mindfully present and observe this in my life. What’s the cost? Me feeling confused, grateful, and guilty — all at the same time.

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash

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