Sams Club

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Hurricane IreneHurricane Irene is heading up the East Coast and is expected to make landfall 50 miles East of us in Ocean City sometime late tonight. It has been interesting to see how differently people respond to the prospect of a hurricane. Some panic and stockpile food and water as though the end of days were coming, while others get a cold six pack of beer and sit back to await the fun.

Here in our house my husband John and I fall in different camps. I’m a big believer that it doesn’t cost much to be prepared, but the price you pay for doing nothing can be enormous if the worst occurs. John thinks the press and forecasters have blown the storm out of proportion and we’ll be fine. I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t caused the teensiest bit of tension in our house the last few days.

I started getting ready on Thursday by reviewing NOAA’s hurricane preparedness guides and buying groceries and bottled water at Sam’s Club. Yesterday, I filled up the gas tank of my car and took about $200 cash out of the ATM. Last night, I mowed the lawn (that has nothing to do with the hurricane – I just can’t stand when the lawn looks bad and with all the rain we have coming, if it doesn’t get done now, it’ll be at least a week before we cut it) and turned the refrigerator temperature to its coldest setting. After work, I asked him to help me secure our outdoor furniture and put away some random objects in our yard (lanterns, buckets, patio furniture cushions) that might blow around if we get high winds. He did, but we wound up having a little argument over whether he had done enough. In the end, everything got done and we’ll be prepared (at least to my standards), but it did reveal a real difference in how the two of us approach these situations.

Here’s the deal. Neither one of us is right or wrong. If the storm turns out to be a non-event, I’ll admit that I’ll feel a little silly for having spent so much time getting us ready. If it’s a big deal, I’m pretty sure he’ll thank me for taking care of everything.

I have a theory about why we react so differently. I think my reaction has to do with my natural instinct, as a mother, to nurture and protect. If big, bad Irene comes knocking on our door, I want my family to be warm, dry, well fed, and safe here in our house. I want to wake up the next day and see that there has been no damage to our belongings. Most of all, I want to be sure that my husband and kids come through unscathed.

It’s not that I don’t think my husband cares about all of this. Instead, I think he knows deep down that I’ve got all that covered and that we’ll be relying on him to jump in if and when things get ugly. He’s the guy that will have to go outside in the pouring rain and high winds and climb a ladder to clean our gutters if there is a problem. He’ll also be the one to figure out how to hook our submergible pump up to a marine battery so we can pump water out of our basement if the power goes out. In short, he gets the dirty jobs and he knows that I’m his “advance team.”

I realize that our division of responsibilities puts us squarely within our gender stereotypes, and I’m okay with that. I really don’t want to do the stuff he does, and he doesn’t want to do what I do, so it all works out in the end.

That explains the differing reactions in our house, but I wonder about everyone else. Why do some people go into emergency mode at the threat of a storm while others look at it as a reason to party? How do YOU react?

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Back in my twenties, when I was single and pulling in a great salary, I had a financial planner who told me, “you are at once the most promising client I have and the most frightening.” He went on to explain that I was promising because I was earning a great income from my consulting work, but frightening because I was blowing most of it on clothes and shoes. I confess … I was a shopaholic!

During my shopping heyday, I was known to spend up to $600 a month on a couple pairs of pants and a great pair of heels. Why not? After all, I had no husband and no children on whom to spend my hard earned money, and saving just seemed so, well, practical!

The irony is that these days, I’m still spending $600 a month shopping – only now, I’m spending it at Sam’s Club. It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m getting far less satisfaction from my current purchases than I did from the ones I made in my twenties. Don’t get me wrong – I love Sam’s. The prices are great, the product selection fantastic, and the quantities are actually perfect for my family of six. What I don’t love are the inevitable $400+ price tag and the way a trip to Sam’s (driving there, doing the shopping, packing up the car, unpacking the car, and putting all that stuff away) can eat into my day.

Let’s take today as an example. It was a Wednesday, so I would normally be working, but my kids are starting school again so I went to Sams to load up on school snacks, brown bag lunch staples, and easy weeknight dinners. I was a good girl and made a list before I left the house, but somehow my short list turned into a frenzy of bulk purchasing.

I’m not sure about you, but when I shop at Sams Club, I have a strategy. On a typical visit, I skip the electronics and jewelry (don’t need either and WAY too easy to get sucked into impractical impulse buying) and typically head straight back to the laundry detergent and paper towels. Then, I make my way up and down the shorter aisles that form the perimeter of the store, avoiding the dangerous middle section which is home to books, toys, clothing, seasonal items, household good, and “big ticket” stuff.

That’s a typical day. Today was not typical. The problems began when I went down the clothing aisle. I do this every year around the time the kids go back to school. Usually, I’m able to score great bargains on a few pairs of jeans or khakis for my 15 year old stepson, socks for everyone, and tank tops for my 13 year old stepdaughter. Today, I got all of these things along with a bonus – a pair of men’s Avia running shoes for $24 (perfect for the 15 year old and much less expensive than the $140 pair he wanted!).

After loading up on my bargain clothing finds, I then went back to my usual route around the store feeling very happy with myself for “saving” so much on the clothes I had never intended to buy in the first place. I did manage to get most of the things on my list, but I also went a bit crazy on novelty items such as “sugar pears” (not sure what they are, but they’re darn cute!) and maraschino cherries (we’ll be swimming in Shirley Temples for the next 20 years with the giant sized bottle I got). It didn’t look so bad when I pushed my load up to the checkout counter. I had filled up one cart (a regular cart, not a flatbed – flatbeds are for the real pros!) and it was far from overflowing. I’m great at packing things into those carts. As a coworker of mine said, its like a game of Tetris – each piece must fit perfectly as part of the whole or the entire system fails.

All was well until the friendly checkout lady totalled my bill and it came to almost $500! I swallowed the lump in my throat, swiped my debit card, and resolved to stick to the list next time. I then pushed my purchases to my car and spent about a half an hour packing the contents of my cart into 10 reusable grocery totes and the backseat of my car.

Back at home, the saga continued. It took five trips between house and car to get everything inside and another hour to put it all away. Some stuff went into my kitchen and some went into my basement, where I store the non-perishables and extra frozen items in a second refridgerator we keep down there. As part of this process, I had to clean out the snack cabinet to make room for all the new stuff, and I broke down all the boxes that my bulk purchases came in and brought them out to our recycling container.

Four hours and $400+ dollars later I was done – and by done, I mean exhausted! I can’t believe how much money and time I spent, and the truly scary thing is that my pack of hungry teenagers will probably devour most of the food in a week. This happens every time I go to Sams Club, and yet I keep going back. Go figure – this was the same problem I had in my twenties, when a quick visit to a boutique would find me $600 poorer, but the proud owner of some very trendy pieces that would be out of style in the blink of an eye. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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