- Personal Finance
Confessions of a Wal-Mart Shopper
Saving Money on groceries and everything
I returned to my home town several years ago to discover it was missing. The family-owned drugstore that had been in business for three generations had a FOR SALE sign in the window. The small department store, where you could order just about anything, was FOR RENT. Many other buildings were empty or had scraggly, barely-surviving antique or resale shops in them. The beautiful little park in the town square was empty and full of litter and graffiti.
This made me very sad, angry and frustrated. What happened? Wal-Mart happened. I vowed (again) never to shop there and to support any town that tried to keep them out. I was such an anti-Wal-Mart person that my friends and family started to find it amusing, well maybe alarming is a better term.
I live in the country and the nearest town is about eight miles away. Actually, there are three towns in an eight mile radius, one north, one west and one east of my home. For years I shopped at the grocery store in the town where my children went to school. There was one clothing store and a hardware store (where they could find virtually anything you asked for in their attic). A Ben Franklins was the major source for anything else we needed. Because of the very low choice of fresh' produce items, high prices (especially the clothing store) and the abysmal produce (and again high prices) I normally ended up driving to the city, about thirty miles away, to do any major shopping. The towns to the north and east were as bad or worse when it came to choice and quality.
Then a new Wal-Mart Superstore opened in the town to the north a few years ago. I resisted, still angry from the memory of what had happened to my home town. But one day, I needed a pair of shoes and I didn't have the time or the gas to drive thirty miles to buy them. I had a funeral to go to and I don't think my tennis would be appropriate.
My first impression of the new' Wal-Mart wasn't all that great. They use a lot of natural light sky lights during the day and it was a very dark winter afternoon. It's a great energy saver, but made the store very dim. The entry area was swirling with paper trash. Not a good start.
I felt like I should have been wearing nose-glasses and a hat as a disguise. What would my neighbor's think if they saw me? Of course the third person I noticed sniffing tomatoes a librarian from the town where I usually shopped. I quickly cut down a side isle and walked what seemed like three blocks to the back of the store where I found the shoes. Did the store never end?
I looked at the selection - row after row of choices! I looked at the prices - that can't be right, I thought. Twelve dollars for a pair of black leather pumps?! Did they have them in my size? In our local store, they ordered maybe two of each size, so you usually were out of luck if you didn't shop on delivery day. I think ninety-percent of the women in Michigan wear a size 7. And, they rarely got deliveries. It took me about five minutes to find exactly the shoes I needed, in my size and I paid about a third of what I'd expected to pay.
So, I decided to look around a little more. After all, I was there. I'd committed the Mortal Sin of anti-Wal-Mart shoppers already. I needed some cottage cheese. Again, they had the only brand I like (but could rarely get) and it was half the price I'd been paying. Also, I didn't have to worry that it was hours away from the sell-by' date, or beyond. Next I went to the produce department. I swear I hear a choir of angels sing when I saw plump, firm, beautiful green, yellow, orange and red peppers - again much less expensive and not the geriatric little green balls I was used to buying. Their vine-ripened tomatoes were amazing to look at (and look is what I usually did as at nearly $4 who could actually buy them?) These tomatoes were, again, half the price I'd not been able to pay. Yogurt cups were fifty-cents instead of eighty-nine cents, and fresh! Freshly baked French Bread (I bought it warm from the tray as they were being put on the shelves) for a dollar!
I came home with my car nearly exploding with fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products, pillows, towels, underwear, and yes, the pair of shoes. As my husband helped me unload my cache he looked very worried indeed. We have a fairly strict budget for food and non-essentials.
After we put everything away, I presented him with the cash register tape. After he got over the shock of seeing Wal-Mart at the top of it, he looked at the total of the very, very long piece of paper and said, "Cripes, are you serious?! This is about half of what I expected it to be" .
So, there you have it. It still makes me sad and frustrated that my little home town is a shell of it's former glory. But I realize that I don't have the income level that allows me to pay double for grocery items of poor quality. I'd done this for many years because I had only one store to shop in. There was no competition, so I got
what they offered and paid what they demanded. I can't afford to drive thirty-miles to buy a pair of shoes and it's certainly not ecologically friendly to do so. I once burst into tears when my daughter was sick and the corner drugstore' wanted $70 or the antibiotic she needed. The 'kindly' town pharmacist told me that I had no other option. My grocery budget for the week then was $80 - you do the math.
The main reason Sam Walton started his stores was to help people like me, although I didn't know it at the time. He was appalled at the high prices and the low quality that local stores forced on their patrons. He felt people in rural areas deserved the same opportunities as those in the suburbs and cities. Yes, granted, local independent stores had no choice as their overhead was high, or they can buy in the huge quantities Wal-Mart can. However, these stores belonged to the IGA.
Another think that always amazes me about my local Wal-Mart (I can't speak for all of them) is the fact that I can always find someone to help me, and no matter what department I'm in, they not only tell me where to find what I want, but escort me there just to make sure I don't get lost. Hey, it could happen, it's so big. I recently wanted black dish cloths (please don't ask) and they were out of them. The department manager apologized and told me when the next shipment would be in - two days.
I no longer feel like I should wear sunglasses and a hoodie like the Unabomber to shop there. If anyone asks me why I do, I whip out one of my receipts and let them judge for themselves.