99 Days at the 99¢ Store, WEEK TWO: Cory Booker Is Biting My Style

No matter how many days I restrict my spending, I won’t be able to fathom how the depths of real poverty must feel.
Publish date:
December 12, 2012
money, dollar stores

I’m pretty sure Cory Booker is trying to steal my thunder. Obviously he got bored during a Newark city council meeting, so he started messin’ around with his iPhone, ran across one of my "99 Days" posts while perusing xoJane, like he does, made a few minor tweaks, dubbed it the Food Stamp Challenge, and now he’s getting national press all willy-nilly. That’s some bullshit, Mr. Booker! Shoot, at least be givin’ credit where credit’s due.

Nah, I’m not really mad at Cory Booker. In fact, I think he’s doing an exceptional job of bringing attention to a much-needed program that helps sustain 46.4 million Americans nationwide (as of March 2012), and unfortunately his inspiration didn’t come from my 99¢ Store experiment, but from a Twitter squabble with a North Carolinian woman who stated, “nutrition is not a responsibility of the government.”

Now everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, but I’ve been surprised by the kickback to Mr. Booker’s quest, many criticizing it as a condescending tack. And while I appreciate and agree with the point that living in "poverty" for a set period of time to gain an understanding for and bring attention to the circumstance is nowhere near living that reality on a day-to-day permanent basis, I disagree that it somehow invalidates the intent.

Booker is an advocate of the program; his goal isn’t to make it a joke. He is accepting nutrition as at least a partial responsibility of the government, and the publicity he’s generating strives to help others, especially more fortunate others, comprehend how critical these benefits can be.

Not having money (or food) sucks -– more than we can ever know, if we have even a little bit of a support system that can get us out of a bind. But it’s still valid to bring attention to a plight you’ll never completely understand; a lot of times the most afflicted are too tired to be the most effective champion of their cause.

As I said last week, no matter how many days I restrict my spending, I won’t be able to fathom how the depths of real poverty must feel. Yes, I’m poor in my own right; my job ended in September and it’s not coming back. However, worst-case scenario, I have access to credit, which I can be confident of my ability to repay in due time. But regardless the gravity of my money woes, this project aims to tighten the reins on my finances and I think that’s a worthy pursuit.

The double-edged critique of Booker’s challenge hasn’t been lost on me, though. Inevitably, I’ve found myself checking out behind those with unmet needs much more apparent than mine: a mother with her kid(s), or an elderly man, whose brow furrows deeper as each item is scanned.

This week, one mom questioned the checker whether the Stax her daughter was clutching were supposed to be less than 99¢.They weren’t. She sighed and reluctantly handed over the extra buck -– her daughter’s doe eyes won the round.

For this reason, I have long since stopped being the patronizing fool who proudly photographs her purchases in line. There are less offensive ways to collect fodder for a Tumblr –- for instance wearing mismatched flip-flops, a different size on each foot.

This week, I mourned the loss of my right flip-flop. She lived a good, long life, but towards the end there was a great hole in her sole. To avoid purchasing a replacement pair –- I can’t find any at the 99¢ Store, and I’m too stubborn to give in yet -– I foraged through my closet and came up with a single right thong, only one sized removed. Nothing wrong with some extra flop on one side!

I do have to ask, though: where’s a good place to get cheap flip-flops at this time of year? I’d love your tips -– even in SoCal, it can be a bit of a feat. Eventually I’m going to need a little right-left congruity; I can’t have anything stealing the limelight from my defective toe.

Though lacking in footwear, I have found the Silverlake 99¢ Store to be very well stocked. So far my observations have been that the best stock goes to stores on opposing ends of economic spectrum: those in the most depressed and most chic neighborhoods -– one because of the ample out-of-necessity business and the other because of their finicky tastes.

I hit up the Silverlake location twice this week for food. Having never been much of a grocery store person, this experiment is breaking bad habits. I’m no longer running harried into a 7-Eleven on my way to a class or a meeting. There’s no more wrapper to mouth, beans on shirt drive-thru Taco Bell. I’m doing a lot less eating in my car.

To be honest, this has been quite a revelation. After a lifetime of obsessing over my weight, the very thing I thought was a potent source of anxiety -– stocking my shelves -– is my newfound nirvana. There’s something soothing about being grounded at home.

I have discovered, though, that you can’t trust a dollar store nutrition label. Misprinted labels are among the reasons items wind up there in the first place –- calorie and serving size errors are no exception. I almost bought a bag of banana chips thinking I could eat the whole bag (I know, what’s wrong with me?!) for 480 calories, when really it would have been more than twice that. It’s just a facet of the 99¢ Store that requires you to keep your eyes peeled.

One thing that makes this more difficult is that my friends have been extremely generous with their weed donations. The problem is since my day-to-day is now stone-cold sober, I get REALLY high, like high-school high, when they smoke me out. For some reason, that happened before a recent trip to the 99¢ Store and I got stuck in the candy aisle –- just gazing admiringly -– for an inordinate amount of time. By some act of god, I kept my shit together enough to get out of there for under $15, though a lot of bad purchases were looking particularly good.

This week I spent a total of $28.75 at the 99¢ Store -– 89% on food and the remaining 11% on dryer sheets, tide over dog food, and cough drops for my sick boyfriend. As predicted, that’s well under half of the $71.74 I spent last week. My only non-99¢ discretionary expense was filling my tank up with gas. I did my due diligence and went to the cheapest station in my neighborhood, but still it set me back $47.60.

On the docket for next week are Christmas presents and my 99¢ dinner party –- unless of course I’m on a press tour with Cory Booker. Then everyone will have to understand that my national TV presence is the best gift of all.