Doing Money Math

I’ve been to Costco twice. The second time was with my cohabitant Saturday morning to be added to his account and get my own Costco card. This is the first time I’ve lived close enough to a Costco to be a regular customer. Weather, calamity and pestilence are crushing the global food system, and food prices have been so high that I’m looking for alternatives to my local supermarket. So, with my partner as tour guide, we looped through every aisle and marveled at our superhighway, just-in-time, big box, supply chain economy. Costco felt like a math theme park with so many cheerful people flowing around such a cavernous room, pushing carts like we were all on the same carnival ride, adding, subtracting and dividing our money to be sure we’re getting the best deal.

Billie Best writes about doing math.

Of course, the secret to Costco’s success is that you have to spend money to save money. But where do people put all that stuff? Could Costco exist without suburbia? My cohabitant and I live in a very small house, about 800 square feet, and we have no storage space. No pantry, no big freezer, no linen closet, no utility room, no laundry room, no walk-in closets, no guest room, no basement. We’re at Costco to buy a week of groceries, not a year of toilet paper or a two-pound jar of peanut butter. 

I’m not an impulse shopper. I always have a shopping list on my phone, and I can’t buy anything without reading the label first, so I’m slow and annoying. Low prices make me suspicious. Carcinogens are cheap. Ingredients that disrupt gut bacteria are cheap. I feel like I’m voting for a certain kind of world when I spend my money and I’m not in favor of sweat shops or deforestation, so I try to avoid brands that are unaccountable for their workforce or their environmental impact. Yes, this is me preaching in just a couple sentences. Imagine what it’s like to go to Costco with me. 

My cohabitant had to take a break and escape while I spent ten minutes reading all the labels on the two-pound bags of coffee beans to be sure I was buying fair trade, organic, shade grown, dark roast at the best possible price. We’ve been together three years, and the blush is off the rose. When we caught up with each other again, he threw a package of flashlights into the cart and said he just needed to buy something I couldn’t argue with. Out of respect for him, I didn’t even glance at the packaging. Then to reciprocate his generosity in following me through the house plant section, I followed him through the flat screen TV section. It’s nice to dream.  

Now that I have the card in my wallet and I’ve done the math, I’ll be returning to Costco. It was a large scale experience like going to the airport, but humanity was in fine form, and I saved five dollars on bread. Costco employees were chipper. Maybe they’re micro-dosing, but I appreciated their pleasantries. There was no hint of the social tension that tints my newsfeed, and that’s reassuring. With so many people in motion, the atmosphere could have soured at any moment, but it didn’t. And to complete a really nice excursion, I came home with three very fine flashlights, batteries included. 

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One thought on “Doing Money Math

  1. I’m w yr dude. I hurtle thru the market. Wham bam thank you maam. This is a book of incredible short stories by a friend of mine, Lesley Bannatyne ‘Unaccustomed to Grace’ – really fine work.

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