Living away from home for the first time presents new and surprising challenges. One of those challenges became obvious pretty quickly. I’m a freshman in Burton Conner, so I don’t have a dining plan. While I don’t need to worry about the exorbitant costs of dining hall meals, I am, for the first time, responsible for feeding myself. Once dorms and frats stopped handing out free food, I had no other options — I needed to go grocery shopping.
Everyone remembers childhood trips to the grocery store — riding around in the cart, grabbing colorful packages off shelves, whining about how all the other kids could have whatever candy they wanted — every parent’s nightmare.
But going there alone is a different sort of nightmare. When I stepped off the escalator in Shaw’s, the aisles and aisles and foods and drinks were both exciting and intimidating. My mom wasn’t there pushing me around the store — I could choose what to buy myself! But I also had to choose what to buy myself — and, as it turns out, I was hopeless at it.
The first thing that caught my eye was a display of Milano cookies — they were on sale! Assuming “2 for $5” to be some amazing discount, I put a package into my cart. Even though I was buying junk, at least I wasn’t spending too much money on it.
But the impulse buys didn’t stop there. In the next aisle, I saw my go-to thirst-quencher from third grade: apple juice. I hadn’t bought apple juice in years, and this was a full gallon — I would have enough to last weeks! I decided that it was worth doubling the weight of my cart and picked up a bottle.
So, having covered “sugar,” I went over to the dairy section. “Milk is useful,” I thought. “I’ll buy half a gallon of milk.” Unaware that the expiration dates are listed right on the bottles, I picked one at random — it had a little under a week left. As I proceeded down the aisle, a yogurt with fruit on the bottom caught my eye — I considered that ingenious, and I simply had to try it.
I then walked into a random aisle and saw shelves full of cereal. “Perfect! I’ve already got milk,” I thought. Fighting the urge to buy Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch as I once would have, I instead picked up a box of not-so-flashy Honey Nut Cheerios.
I headed to the produce department next. Miraculously, my favorite fruit — grapes — was on sale for less than half its usual price! I put the biggest bag they had into my cart. I also grabbed the yellowest bananas they had (not knowing that the green ones are better, as they become ripe after you buy them) and left that section of the store.
At this point my cart was getting full and heavy, so I started going to the registers. Halfway there, though, I looked into my cart and realized — there are no actual meals in here. I had managed to fill a cart with food such that the only meal was cereal and milk. With little space left, I picked up some pasta, sauce, and raw chicken — my mom uses that stuff to make dinner all the time! Content, I finally checked out.
After I got home and unloaded my groceries, I didn’t see a problem at first. But over the next few days, the food started going bad. The chicken was first — I didn’t realize that meat could rot after just a few days in the refrigerator. Another morning, the milk I poured in my cereal smelled a bit off. Finally, the bananas I’d bought in their prime had become totally brown and unappealing. I was left to live off pasta, cookies, grapes, and apple juice — a dream come true as a kid, but pretty unsatisfying as an adult.
After this calamitous first try, I learned several lessons that will help me shop more successfully in the future. First, that planning ahead is key — if I had thought about it before entering the store, I would have ended up with more meals and fewer snacks. Second, that shopping for one person is very different from shopping for a family — my family at home would have finished that milk before it could go bad. And finally, most depressingly, that apple juice gets old after a while.