I Have A Very Low Shopping IQ.

I’ve written before about how “shopping” was not something we did growing up. Dad was very practical about his spending. We were not poor, but you would think we were, living in a small house with one baseboard heater and no air-conditioning. Dad saved yogurt cups to use as drinking cups. I wore a shit-ton of hand-me-downs. We did’t head out to buy something unless there was a specific need and then we made ONE STOP for that thing and that’s it. 

I do okay with clothing now, although it took about a decade of spending too much money on stuff to discover how and when to shop for clothes. Mainly we depend a lot on the store Ross and a little (because my daughter loves her name brand athletic wear) on TJMaxx and we tend to fill in the blanks at Target (waiting for the sales with the Cartwheel app) and Wal-Mart. And we do sometimes just hit those places for “clothes shopping” with nothing but general seasonal clothing in mind. 

But I’m still often discovering how much of an idiot I am with a lot of other things. I have a long history of examples of spending TOO MUCH MONEY on something because I either A) didn’t know there were other options or B) was too embarrassed to change my mind once I found out the cost.

When we were staging our big house to sell the first time, I spent TOO MUCH MONEY at Target buying stupid staging stuff. The problem with me is I don’t have time to thrift in most situations. With the selling the house the first time? I needed things like baskets to hide stuff, and generic art and a few knickknacks. I didn’t want to spend days/weeks hitting thrift stores or yard sales. I had about 48 hours to set it all up. So, I went to Target. Bought nothing on sale and all of it BRAND NEW. And while I felt good about how it LOOKED, I felt TERRIBLE about how much we spent.

And of course the house didn’t sell. We did some renovations, reorganized furniture, got rid of a lot more stuff, and then needed MORE things for staging. This time a ton bedding and throw pillows. Luckily, I just HAPPENED to be with Nikki shopping for clothes at Ross and I thought, maybe I’ll pop over to housewares and see if they have bedding. 

OF COURSE THEY DID! Why did I not check there ever before? I was SO MAD at myself for wasting money the first time at Target. ALWAYS START WITH ROSS, is the key. I have learned that now. For everything from pots and pans to measuring cups and bath towels. When Eliah got his first job and his first real apartment? We went to Ross.  When I needed ways to hide stuff on shelves and counters from the dog? ROSS. When I needed new cutting boards? ROSS. 

But still! There is so much to learn! Like the time a few years ago when I wanted to get Donnie’s Ironman stuff framed and all I knew about framing was that Michael’s did it so I went there. Unfortunately, there was no pricing out or anything so I had no idea what to expect. And – as per typical Zoot – I also didn’t want to seem dumb by asking how much it cost. Well, long story short something I thought would cost less than $100 ended up costing almost $300 and I felt like I had no choice and I cried so hard about how much money I spent on this gift and every time I see it hanging on the wall now I am still embarrassed. Things I learned afterwards:

  1. Michael’s evidently has sales on framing at least once a month, wait and do your framing during sale time and it’s like 40% off.
  2. Evidently “archival framing” is stupid expensive and I could have done it a lot cheaper without that type of class/mat stuff.

I also learned after spending too much money at Michael’s on other things that you can ALWAYS use a 40% off coupon on your phone for ONE item. I can not tell you how much money that would have saved me over the years if I had known that. Evidently Hobby Lobby is the same way, although that store is not as convenient to me as Michael’s.

Nikki is having a “real” birthday party this weekend. We did small parties for the kids when they were little but we haven’t since they were old enough to remember because BIRTHDAY PARTIES STRESS ME OUT. I do not enjoy planning them and I think they cost stupid amounts of money that I’d rather spend on gifts for my kid. 

BUT! One of her besties’ birthday is the same week so they’re doing a joint skate party. The other Mom planned it, I’ll just give her half of the cost which should be no more than $100 and that’s only if EVERYONE they invited comes. Now, here’s where my dumb shopping self comes into play. I volunteered to get the Cookie Cake and the big “1” and “3” balloons. And of course, just like with framing at Michael’s, I only have ONE place in my head for cookie cakes: The place in the mall, and ONE place for balloons: Party City.

Now, why I don’t ask Facebook in moments like this is beyond me. I have made so many bad decisions thinking there’s only one “real” option over the years that you would think I would not buy ANYTHING, ANYWHERE, without polling the crowds. But nope. There I went, first to Party City where I almost threw up paying $11 for EACH BALLOON and then to the cookie cake place in the mall where two cookie cakes cost me SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS.

Yes. When she gave us that total Nikki and I looked at each other like, “Wait. Did she say that right?”

She did. I paid $75 for cookie cakes.

Was I an idiot for thinking cookie cakes would be cheaper than regular cake? Was I an idiot for not ASKING THE PRICE FIRST? Yes and Yes. But once she rang me up, I felt too embarrassed to cancel the order so now I’ve spent all of Nikki’s birthday budget on a skate party, two balloons, and cookie cake.

What have I since learned? For the cost of the balloons at Party City I could have bought a small tank of helium at Target and then bought the number balloons for about $3 each there. So, by spending about 6 more dollars I’d have the balloons AND ENOUGH HELIUM TO FILL UP A SHIT TON MORE. 

<insert long dramatic embarrassing sigh here>

What have learned about cookie cakes? That they’re just stupid expensive. Evidently you can maybe save SOME money getting them at Costco but I don’t have a Costco membership. Cookie cakes are expensive because some people love them and will pay that much for them. If I had known that going in it would have been different but – like I have said – I have a low baseline of basic shopping understanding so I am sharing this knowledge with you now. COOKIE CAKES ARE STUPID EXPENSIVE. 

Other shopping miscellany I have learned over the years. Academy Sports is the best place in my town to buy sports gear if you don’t have time to shop sales or to dig at TJMaxx. (FWIW – They also did an amazing thing for a local store manager who died recently. They paid travel for out of town employees to come in and work shifts so that local employees could attend the funeral. So, even if their prices were terrible I’d still shop there.) Also? The dollar store – if you have time – is a great “first stop” for everything from batteries to spatulas. EVIDENTLY THEY ALSO HAVE MYLAR BALLOONS. UGGG. I don’t always take advantage of this because the Dollar Store I used to go to is no longer convenient to me at all, and I’m often up for spending a tad bit more for convenience. But, I do try to keep a running list of things they might have that I need (Right now? CHIP CLIPS!) so if I’m ever in the neighborhood I can pop in. 

It’s weird how often I think about small lessons in consumerism I missed out on simply because my Dad A) avoided spending money on anything that wasn’t in the “need” category and B) only had a few stores we ever used even for those things on the “need” list. I didn’t realized I was missing out on important lessons in spending efficiently at the time.  But here I am, a 43-year old who just spend STUPID amounts of money on birthday party stuff, still learning how much she just DOES NOT KNOW. 

12 Comments

  • Cheryl

    I get in trouble simply because I absolutely hate shopping of all kinds. My patience limit is low to begin with, and add in any kind of blip in the process and I am up a tree. But color me SHOCKED at how much a cookie cake costs. FWIW, I would have just called our local grocery store and ordered it up, not even asking how much and would have been in the same boat as you.

  • Linda

    Don’t beat yourself up. You learned. That’s important. Also – large binder clips are much better than chip clips. They last forever. You can get a box of 12 for under $4 lots of places.

    • shokufeh

      I was coming to say the same thing about our “chip clips.” We keep a bunch of binder clips of multiple sizes – large for chip bags, smaller for cereal bags and other stuff that goes stale quickly in our humid climate.

  • Hillary

    Wow, I also had no idea cookie cakes cost that much! And I have to admit that I have gotten birthday party balloons at Party City.

  • Samantha

    I have done this many times – too embarrassed to cancel the order when I find out how much it is and then gone home a cried over how much money I spent. There is a cheaper option for cookie cakes though. They were super popular when I was a kid but Selma didn’t have a place to buy them. We’d have had to drive to Montgomery to get one, and they were too expensive anyway. So! My mom made her own. She made a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe but instead of making individual cookies, spread the batter into a pizza pan. You can use regular cake icing to write on it after it cools and it turns out great! I’ve done it now for my daughter several times and everyone always loves it. There’s never a piece left over. I’ve never tried anything other than a round pizza pan, but I bet you could do a rectangular cookie sheet if you needed it to be larger.
    As for shopping, I think shopping online helps me because the act of googling whatever it is that I’m after automatically shows me options so I get more of an idea of what’s out there. I never knew about the bottles of helium for balloons until a friend of mine used one at her daughter’s party. I couldn’t believe I’d been spending a $1 a balloon at the dollar tree when here she filled a whole room full for the cost of the helium from Walmart.

  • Liz

    Oh man, I relate so hard. I spent $200 to have a dumb, cheapie poster framed at Michael’s because I didn’t ask the total and then was too embarrassed to back out once I found out. This was more than ten years ago, and it still bugs me.

  • Danielle Hoffmeister

    I hate when I spend stupid money and then figure out after I could have done it better/cheaper.
    For chip clips, I use clothes pins. They are usually cheaper than chip clips.

  • Jane Duncan

    Been there, my friend! I panic that what I get won’t be “right” so go to the ONLY place I know of without doing any research. Solidarity.

    Not to rub salt, but Publix also does cookie cakes. Learned that after a similarly expensive experience.

  • Kelcy B.

    Don’t feel dumb or silly for not knowing – I literally only just found out how expensive cookie cakes were thanks to you! AND now i’m only going to Ross FIRST. Geez, if someone hadn’t written it I would be in the same shoes as you – and my partner LOVES cookie cakes. I would rather make it myself for that price! (And I love homemade cookie cake more). Thanks for keeping it real 🙂

  • Elaine C. B.

    Thanks for sharing all of this, but especially the tip about the helium! I had no idea. My husband is coming home from a deployment in the next couple of months, and that will make it so easy for him to find me in the crowd, and then I can re-use the helium for other events! I have a couple dollar stores in my regular rotation – I just bought a new thing of iodized salt for 50 cents, and it was $1.80 at the grocery story. Win!

  • yasmara

    Another couple of Dollar Store tips – if your kids have to bring snack for something, they have single-serving sizes for WAY cheaper than the grocery store (juice boxes, chips, goldfish, etc.) and little kids don’t care at all if the single servings are small. We had to do snack for 60 orchestra kids once per session and the Dollar Store was my first stop.

    My other Dollar Store tip is that they have office/project supplies! We actually learned this from my kid’s teacher when my oldest was in 6th or 7th grade. He had to do a tri-panel stand-up poster project and I would have gone to Office Max first, but he told me his teacher told the class that the Dollar Store carries them – BINGO!