My son is starting daycare.
The kind run by
licensed professionals total strangers.
While most people mark the start of a new school year with back-to-school shopping based on supply lists and maybe even child requests (and peer pressure and clever advertisements), I’m shopping for a whole different reason.
I’m shopping because I’m sad.
Here’s what I tried to buy today.
What I Tried to Buy
I’m presenting this list without commentary first. Except you need to know that these were items that were actually in my cart. Carts. There were dozens of other things I looked at but passed over.
|Rubbermaid LunchBlox Kids Flat Lunch Kit||Target||$6.87 (originally $8.59)|
|Rubbermaid LunchBlox Side Container||Target||$1.91 (originally $2.39)|
|Happy Baby Happy Puffs Sweet Potato & Carrot||Target||$2.89|
|Plum Organics Super Puffs Blueberry with Purple Sweet Potato||Target||$2.79|
|Dogs by Matt Van Fleet||Amazon||$12.79 ($18.99 list)|
|Tails by Matt Van Fleet||Amazon||$12.70 ($14.99 list)|
|Van Fleet Animal Trio||Amazon||$38.26 ($51.99 list)|
|Mega Bloks Mega First Builders Fast Tracks Racing Rig||Kohls||$14.49 on clearance (originally $28.99)|
|The First Years Stack and Count Cups||Kohls||$6.00 (originally $8.00)|
|Jumping Beans Jumbo Shape Sorter||Kohls||$9.09 (originally $12.99)|
|Fisher-Price Rainforest Friends Activity Books||Kohls||$8.99 (originally $9.99)|
|Baby Boy Carter’s Dog Face Hooded Coverall||Kohls||$12.99 (originally $20)|
|Dog Hooded Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$5.99 (originally $20)|
|Striped Monster Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$5.99 (originally $20)|
|Halloween Skeleton Jumpsuit||Carter’s||$11 (originally $20)|
|Little Avocado Halloween Costume||Carter’s||$21 (originally $42)|
|Babys’* Halloween Boo Bodysuit – Just One You|
(*I did screenshot this for my classroom Wall of Whoops though)
|Target||$5.99 (also out of stock)|
|Toddler Boys’ Always Me: Smart, Kind & Brave Short Sleeve T-Shirt||Target||$4.50 (plus 20% savings)|
|Travelambo Aluminum Luggage Tags & Bag Tags||Amazon||$12.99 for 10 piece set|
|Child ID Backpack, Lunchbox and Diaper Bag Name Tags||Amazon||$6.99 for 3 tags|
Wants As Needs
My son needs labels on his backpack and lunchbox. He needs containers for his lunch. He also needs something to keep his food cool. He has real needs.
And they are loosely reflected in what ended up in my shopping cart.
But not really.
Most of what I was attempting to pass as a need would have just amounted to unnecessary excess, nevermind the cost. It’s true that I am unwilling to take a Sharpie to my son’s backpack and lunchbox, but two key tags from Home Depot solved my woes for under $1. And I didn’t end up with 10 extras like I would have with my initial Amazon attempted purchase.
Babies need books. There’s a cornucopia of research that says early literacy and early numeracy are two of the greatest indicators of a child’s success later in life. Luckily for HP, we are a stone’s throw from two libraries, and he has dozens upon dozens in our house already. He needs access to books. He does not need to be the proud owner of six touch-and-feel dog books. He will survive with three. (But I still might buy him one for Christmas.)
This is true for everything else on the list as well. He has an avalanche of hand-me-downs to wear, including Halloween gear. And we just purchased new food containers for the grandmas’ houses last weekend. His needs were met long ago.
Consumer Psychology of One
I know what calls to me when I shop. Even though I know free and cheap aren’t the deals we, as a society, think they are, I still can’t help but notice when something is a screaming deal.
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20% off when sales are so rare at Target.
A clearance savings that I could have maximized with $5 Kohl’s cash and a merchandise credit.
These are good deals.
Then, there’s my instinct to look at cost per unit. Buying 10 luggage tags makes them cheaper. But when you only need two in the first place, it might actually make it really wasteful. And just plain dumb.
I also have an insatiable instinct to comparison shop. Like the Carter’s brand dog jumpsuit at Carter’s that is identical to the one at Kohl’s for significantly less. What a victory. Savings on top of savings. Plus, it was a gateway to other clearance items. Plus Halloween outfits and costumes.
I am a retail marketer’s dream come true. Or I was. I’ve long understood the consumer psychology; I used to just muscle my way through anyway. I’d stand in line totally aware of the marketing gimmicks while my dad’s taunts echoed in my head. It’s always 100% off if you don’t buy it.
I used to buy it anyway because shopping was a habit. Now, though, I’ve broken that habit.
Today, I tried to shop away the pain.
Whose Want Is It Anyway?
Let’s be clear here. This isn’t an issue of mixing up wants and needs. My son doesn’t need these things. He also doesn’t want them.
What I actually want is to be able to spend time with him whenever I want, instead of just when I can. I adore my job, and I can’t imagine my life without teaching in it. But I would also be lying if I said that I’ve found a way to reconcile the fact that I spend more time with strangers’ kids than I do my own. It’s hard to be a full-time worker and a part-time parent.
I know these feelings will pass. They are not dissimilar from how I felt returning from my maternity leave. It took some time, but I embraced the new normal then, and I know I will do it again.
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In the long run, I know that working is the right choice for me and for my family. Contrary to what clickbait artists and jerks alike would have you believe, there’s actually nothing wrong with sending your kiddos to daycare. Quite a bit of research shows the exact opposite. Plus, there is no official ranking system for the best way to parent. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have.
Which is why we have to be kind to ourselves and each other. Even when we go a little bananas and try to buy all the things. For no real reason.
The Real Cost of What I Tried to Buy My Son in the Past 24 Hours
$204.22. Before tax. That’s what I would have spent had I clicked submit on any of these shopping carts. Sure, I have a few gift cards that I could have used, but that’s still money spent on things that no one actually needs or even really wants.
This is a problem. But it’s not the biggest one.
Here’s the thing about shopping. Even when it’s window shopping or the virtual equivalent, it’s not just about money. It’s about time.
For me, there are so many different tiers of time spent shopping the closer I get to actually buying something. The time it takes to brainstorm the fake need. Then, there’s scrolling through results, reading descriptions, scanning reviews, looking at related products, considering the price, scouring the Internet for promo codes. Then, there’s the fact that I then either have to go to the store or wait for it to be delivered.
While it is very easy to look at shopping as a matter of dollars and cents, it’s even more troubling when you begin to factor in the time. There is one thing in the world that I will never have enough of. One thing that money can’t buy. That’s time with my son.
And because of the pain I feel when I think about having less time with him, I am ready to trade what time I do have for a salve that doesn’t even have to land on my doorstep for me to know it won’t work.
It doesn’t make sense.
Which is why none of these packages are en route to our house. Instead, we took an extra trip to the park, splashed around in his water table, and ate our way through a pint of blueberries today. While he napped and again when he went down for the night, I moved some money into his college fund. I also hopped on my computer and did some freelancing. And yes, I let myself cry a little too.
Babies don’t keep. There’s nothing in the world that I can buy to change that. Next time, I won’t even waste my time trying. There’s too many other memories to make instead.
So Tell Me…Have you ever caught yourself shopping for no good reason?