317 – The Budget

Never a social creature it was with some trepidation that I attended the T**** Young Leisure Group. The village where I grew up was small and ancient, having orbited Plymouth for centuries before the latter was finally deemed a city. If you solely took the lower half of it into account there simply weren’t enough young villagers to sustain a primary school the size of the one I attended, let alone a youth club. A century before–yet still late into the village’s existence; it’s one of the oldest villages in the area and home to Plymouth’s oldest pub–a couple handfuls of school children came from the surrounding farms to be taught in a small white house at the top of main village road, a house still standing to this day. Decades later the school body outgrew its humble roots and moved to a gothic-looking building replete with bell tower and wrought iron gates. By the time I was of school age it had moved again, this time to a modern building built from breezebock and concrete.

The set of steps leading from the infants playground led to the navy estate, and it was from here that children came in their dozens. Many of the kids I went to school with attended for only year, and sometimes not even for that. Their fathers worked for the royal navy, and went wherever duty sent them. It was commonplace for kids to come from or move to Portsmouth, their families moving from port to port along the south coast.

With a constant overturn of young families the youth club was a bewildering place with only a few mainstays there every week. I vividly remember my first week, when the church hall in which the club held its meetings was stuffed to the rafters with boisterous older children, playing with train sets that crackled and stank of ozone, or on a BBC Micro. raining bombs on skyscrapers as an unstoppable aeroplane dropped lower and lower in the dky.

I didn’t return for some weeks. My classmates started going; enticed by their stories I cajoled my parents into taking me. eventually they, too were sucked into the club, helping organise events, manning the tuck shopl and similar.

As part of their tuck shop responsibilities they were lent membership cards to Nurdin & Peacock by club owner Bill. Nurdin & Peacock was a cash and carry place, a wholesaler where the club went to buy crisps, sweets and whatnot for sale at pocket money prices.

I never went to Nurdin & Peacock but my parents did, and when they came back they brought a few things for us to feast upon as a welcome alternative to Blue Ribband wafers. I remember us living off Tube-a-Loops–a short-lived fusion of Tubes and Hula Hoop crisps-for ages, as well as having a tub of Lemon Sour Stix between us of a size more associated with boxes of washing powder or baking margarine.

Today I went to my first wholesaler, CostCo, and it was unlike any other shop I’ve visited.

The first thing I noticed about CostCo was its size. This particular branch was cavernous, a warehouse filled with–at first sight–people and consumer electronics. Once past the identity check (you need to be a member to enter) we saw rows of demonstration TVs and home cinema systems stacked upon piles of the boxed units. Across from them were a seemingly random selection of toys, with multiple instances of each Barbie doll or Star Wars Lightsaber in neat and regimented piles. Where there weren’t multiple instances of individual items there were multi-packs, crates and jumbo sized packets.

Everything was bigger inside CostCo. Even the trolleys are one-and-a-half times regular superstore models, with wide flat beds rendering them even more lumbering and unwieldy. This unwieldiness was compounded by the number of people walking about the store in oblivious trances as if dazed by the magnitude of the building through which we walked. The last time I’d felt so small was when I was three and visited a grand mock-up of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

We didn’t have a plan on what to buy, but we’re living on a budget and were hoping buying in bulk would alleviate our money worries.

We’re doing pretty well saving money so far. We haven’t been extravagant, we haven’t gone overboard. We’ve followed bargains and started collecting coupons–which are a big deal in the United States. You may have seen the TV show Extreme Couponing in which mid-western couples buy eighteen hundred boxes of Tic-Tacs and miraculously get $200 of shopping for $17.56. Out on the more sensible Eastern seaboard we can’t take advantage of couponing loopholes but we can still clip and collect and be cash conscious when it comes to what we buy.

It helps that we receive coupons simply by being loyal to a certain supermarket. We started using Stop & Shop–our supermarket of choice–because we could price items with a laser gun as we waked around the store rather than price them up at the checkout–there’s even a holster on the trolleys where we can stick the gun when not in use. Our loyalty has paid off: on Friday we were given free herbs when there was a discrepancy between the price listed on the shelf and the one rang up when we paid for it, and we were given a dozen free eggs one a coupon spat out at the register along with our receipt.

Though our first Sunday clipping coupons from newspapers was a little disappointing, touring CostCo revealed just how well we could do if we were willing to adjust our grocery-buying habits.

Coasting on the back of my mother-in-law’s CostCo membership we gawped at the cheap blenders and cookware, and the giant slabs of meat that would have needed to be divided up unless we were catering for a lavish wedding. Even lamb–a luxury out in cattle country–seemed reasonably priced, with a leg costing the same as the rack of ribs we’d bought last week. Peeling off to take a better look at the refrigerator section I overheard a couple of would-be chefs doing arithmetic, trying to work out which of the mammoth cuts was the best value for money, and how they should best cook it for maximum profit.

The one thing we’d hoped to see at CostCo were the chicken, mango and jalapeno sausages we’d gorged upon at my wife’s uncle and aunt’s house. Sadly they were out of stock; instead we bought four pounds of the same brand’s chicken and apple sausages, along with a job lot of ziploc storage bags and a load of tomato paste, which is always useful in a pinch. We immed and ahhed over other things we saw–my wife fancied the corn syrup free Mexican Coca-Cola while I lusted after a four pound bag of Jelly Belly beans, a steal at seventeen bucks–but with the rest of our lives ahead of us we decided to go easy, at least for the time being.

It’s interesting co-operating on a budget. With both of us having different tastes–as well as each not wanting the other to go without the luxuries to which he or she is accustomed–we’re cautious when it comes to buying anything. We pussyfoot around cash because we know how divisive it can be, how it’s the cause of many arguments for many couples. We compromise: she likes eating out, I like buying pop culture crap, but we’re both pulling in our horns so when the storm ahead hits–as it will–we’ll be in better shape to weather it.

You know, so long as there aren’t any more ridiculous candy bargains for me to pig out upon.

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