Jerry Nelson: Mom economics
There has been much talk lately about our nation’s flagging economy. To hear some say it, the economy is like a man crawling across a vast desert under a burning sun, mumbling through parched lips, “Water! Water! But first, can you tell me whether or not this store has been restocked with toilet paper?”
It’s been said that the world’s most powerful economic engine is a mom who has young children. I can attest from painful personal experience that this is true.
When our two sons were toddlers, money flew out the door at speeds normally associated with the Concorde. And it wasn’t as if we had money to spare. My wife handles our family finances, so I’m not sure how she funded all those purchases. For all I know, it involved credit default swaps.
My wife is an extremely motivated shopper. I think that shopping is her favorite part of the acquisition process. The actual purchase is sort of a letdown, like catching a glimpse of a guy putting on a costume and suddenly realizing that the Easter Bunny isn’t real.
In a heroic effort to stretch our family’s feeble finances, my wife often attended rummage sales. To this day, whenever we pass a handmade sign festooned with balloons and the address of a yard sale, she will impulsively turn her head and exclaim, “Ooh, look! A rummage sale!”
Rummage sailing, as my wife called it, made a lot of sense when our two sons were young. It’s a proven fact that boys can outgrow their clothes overnight. And you don’t feel bad about a pair of jeans that are permanently stained 30 seconds after they were worn for the first time when you only paid 50 cents for them.
One Saturday my wife was checking out the offerings at a yard sale when a luxury sedan screeched to a halt in the middle of the street. The car’s driver, a well-to-do elderly lady whom we knew, leaped out of the vehicle. Leaving her car door wide open, the lady trotted over to the rummage sale and swiftly perused the rows of tables.
Not seeing anything she needed among the piles of toddler clothing and pre-slobbered toys, the elderly lady sprinted back to her car which sat idling in the middle of the street. She tore off amidst the roar of a powerful V-8 engine and the chirp of tires.
I could empathize with that elderly lady. I can’t tell you how many times when my dearest wish was that this shopping expedition was simply over.
It’s not like we guys never spend money. Quite the contrary. It’s just that our expenditures often follow a much different pattern.
We guys will complain when the electric bill goes up two bucks and will drive clear across town to save a few cents on a gallon of gas. Saving a nickel here or a dime there helps us guys rationalize it when we pull the trigger on a majorly huge expenditure.
The most difficult part of a guy’s buying pattern is justifying our purchases to our wives.
“You don’t understand!” we will plead to our skeptical spouse, “I had to buy that (choose one) bigger boat motor/ new pickup truck/ small European country! I saved us a ton of money!”
“Explain something to me,” replies the unconvinced wife, “How do you save money by spending it? Does it involve voodoo economics? Will the checking account magically refill itself?”
Stymied by this line of questioning, the guy will sputter, “What about all the money you go through? Would you like to discuss your rummage sailing habit?”
“Big whoop!” the wife will reply. “I’ll spend maybe twenty bucks on a Saturday morning! And that includes buying Happy Meals for the kids!”
“I don’t care what you say,” the guy will declare with false bravado. “I’m keeping (choose one) the gold-plated fly-fishing rod/ the new camper that’s almost as large as the nation of Liechtenstein/ the nation of Liechtenstein!”
But when we compare our shopping fervor with that of a mom who has young kids, most guys are like an out-of-shape middle-aged man attempting to outrun a ravenous velociraptor. This was illustrated by something our eldest son said when he was a preschooler.
“We’re lucky to have so many grandmas,” chirped the lad. “We have Grandma Anna (my mother) and Grandma Hazel (our landlady). And then we have the Shopping Grandmas!”
The Shopping Grandmas were my wife’s mother and grandmother.
In that moment, I realized that it’s futile to try to curb my wife’s shopping habits. Because the instinct to shop for new jeans is in her genes.