REALITY CHECK: My addiction’s costing me, one dollar at a time

Reality Check | Mike Taylor

I think I’m becoming an addict. I’m not sure how it happened and it’s embarrassing to make this confession, but maybe it’s for the best. Maybe there’s a support group somewhere I could join. Maybe if I go public with my problem, some kind reader will offer me the help I so desperately need.

I need somebody to keep me away from the dollar store.

It’s as simple as that. If I get near the place, I’m going to spend money; not just “dollar” money, but REAL money and lots of it. Were it not for the cash I’ve dropped at the dollar store in the last month alone, I could be driving a new Lexus with a Blaupunkt sound system. I could be living in a beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I could be eating something besides Ramen noodles.

But nope. Instead, I have six new pieces of “lawn art” that would look at home only in the front yard of an abandoned trailer in backwoods Kentucky. I have four solar-powered, plastic flowers that dance back and forth whenever the sun shines. I have several cans of tuna (at least I think it’s tuna) with no English writing on them.

It started innocently enough, as these things usually do.

Until four years ago, I’d never entered a dollar store. My last wife loved to shop, but only at stores where things were ridiculously overpriced. Since I was married to her, I never had to shop for myself. She picked out my clothes, the groceries, even the paint for the living room when we redecorated. All I had to do was give her money — she also made plenty of her own — and then sit back with a beer and wait for her return from the store.

It was a great system. Then we split up and I was, for the first time in over 15 years, forced to shop for myself.

The first thing I discovered: during the years I was married to my professional shopping service, the prices of things had gone WAY up! I could no longer get a steak for two bucks. A loaf of bread costs well over a dollar. I nearly fainted when I found out what they charge for a four-pack of toilet paper.

To make matters worse, though my household expenses were the same as ever, I was now living on what I laughably called “my income.”

The first couple months were tough. I continued to shop at the same stores at which the ex had always shopped. I bought my expensive, foo-foo cheese, my mid-list wine, my micro-brew beer. My luxury toilet paper that the teddy bear on television recommended.

And I was broke.

That’s when a friend recommended the dollar store.

“They have toilet paper for a buck,” she said. “Dish soap, shampoo, tuna fish … all for a buck.”

It sounded too good to be true, but it wasn’t. They really DID have all that stuff for a buck! All the basics one needs to run a household, and more.

It’s that “and more” part that has proved to be my undoing. The dish soap and shampoo, I soon came to understand, are “gateway products.” Oh, sure, at first I was satisfied with these items.

Then I realized … these things cost only a buck! I have money left! I may as well buy a couple of those plastic, solar flowers that dance in the sunlight. And maybe one more lawn ornament. And a box of those Mexican jumping beans. And…

What that?

Oh, I can quit anytime.

I can.

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