My Inflation Preoccupation
I haven’t gone on a scavenger hunt in a long time.
Not since I was in sleepaway camp, and our counselors made the mistake of unleashing us in Walmart with a list of absurd items to find. (A purple scarf! A bathroom supply that has the letter x in its name! An item that existed in the time of the Beis Hamikdash!)
But my life of late has felt like one long scavenger hunt, even though this time, I can’t win a pizza party for my bunk just by having achdus or by making a kiddush Hashem (as if that was likely while running around Walmart and squealing about finding Kleenex. Yes, it has an x in its name!). This time, I’m on a scavenger hunt with traffic and kids in car seats and a credit card that is begging me to go easy on it. This time, I’m the one promising a pizza party to my kids if they pledge not to kvetch or to ask for any of the sticky taffies on display next to the cashier.
Because with the prices of everything going up and up and up, my friends and I have been drawn into an insane game of hide and seek, and what it is we’re seeking as we duck and weave and honk are the very best prices in town.
We’re all experiencing Yom Tov-induced sticker shock, when we stand at the bus stop or sit around Shabbos afternoon, we moan about inflation, about how much everything costs these days, about how we’ll need a second mortgage just to keep buying our kids snacks (“They were 33 cents a bag last year, and now they’re 69 cents a bag!”)
Whenever I hang up the phone with a friend, my husband likes to kid, “Finished solving all of the world’s problems yet?” but like every joke, there’s a little bit of truth to his teasing. Because that is what we women do so well: we feel each other’s pain, and then we try to find solutions for each other’s problems. That’s why all this inflation talk feels a little bit like a dare to me and to my friends: Hey world; you’re going to try to raise prices on all of us Yiddishe Mamas? We’re going to put our heads together and find ways to save each other money anyway!
We are the ikeres habayis, the nashim tzidkaniyos, the ones blessed with bina yiseira and a unique ability to clip coupons. We don’t need degrees in economics or a keen understanding of how the Federal Reserve operates to manage our finances. We just need to lean on each other and give each other tips, which you are sure to glean if you listen in on our conversations these days: Where is the cheapest place to buy chicken? Do the peppers at the discount grocery taste fresh? What’s really worth it in Costco or Trader Joe’s?
Because, as a team, we can meet the challenge of inflation head on!
Except, if I’m being honest, I think the challenge has messed with my head. Of late, I’ve been on an ill-fated mission to get the best price on every item, even if it means comparing store circulars and then zigzagging around town and waiting on yet another line to do so. Even if it means wasting too much time browsing websites for discounts to do so. Even if it means spending precious energy just so I’ll be able to tell my neighbor tomorrow morning at the bus stop, “You must go to that store for a family pack of chicken cutlets. You’re not going to believe what I paid.”
But don’t worry; she is ready for me too. We go back and forth with each other like ping pong partners:
“Set up Subscribe and Save on Amazon for coffee. You’ll save five cents a K-Cup!”
“Did you see the paper goods on Kollelbudget? I ordered three cases.”
“I hope you used the discount code! I got an extra ten percent off!”
I knew all the inflation talk was starting to be a drain on me, but I realized this Erev Shabbos that I had completely lost my marbles. It finally dawned on me when I spent a full two minutes standing in front of the refrigerated section at the grocery store, trying to decide what to do.
Here was the big dilemma:
At that grocery store where I already had a full wagon, the iced tea my children like to drink was $2.18 a bottle. Not terrible. But I knew with absolute certainty that a different grocery store – the one very close to my house – sells the same iced tea for only $1.89. But it was Erev Shabbos, and I still had a lot to do, so making another stop was going to set me back on my heels.
And I, a person who likes to consider herself to be a logical, level-headed person (please don’t ask my husband if he agrees!), stood there like a fool, questioning whether I should make an additional stop on my way home on what had already been a very busy day– just to save 30 cents on a bottle of iced tea.
(Wait! I’m not so crazy. If I bought three bottles, I would be saving 90 cents!)
I’m totally crazy.
And it must stop.
It’s only been a few weeks since Rosh Hashanah.
It was already decreed how much money my family will earn this year. Every time I daven the words, “Poseach es Yadecha,” I believe wholly and fully that my family’s parnassah is entirely in Hashem’s hands. So why haven’t I realized that the same Hakadosh Baruch Hu Who enabled my family to pay our bills – pre-inflation – will enable my family to pay our bills this year – post inflation – if that is what He decreed?
My obsession with saving money (literally pennies and nickels and dimes) has become an avodah zarah of sorts, an unhealthy and unhelpful delusion that I control my finances, that I can outsmart Hashem’s plan for me if I buy the brand of cauliflower that’s discounted at a store ten miles away or if I scour the web to find shoes from last season and buy them at half price.
So, I’m done. I’m giving up my scavenger hunt, my maniacal game of hide and seek (at least I’ll be saving money on gas!).
With my newfound spare time, I hope I can show Hashem my gratitude for his blessings by using the money He has given me wisely, by using the money He has given me responsibly, by not turning saving money into an unhealthy obsession.
Let President Biden worry about inflation. I’ll save my energy for more important things and leave my finances to He Who holds the purse strings.