Piece of Mind: Shopping with oversight

Having a husband who cringes each time it becomes apparent that we need to restock the refrigerator ("How much do you have to spend?" he asks, with a hint of a whine in his voice), I have become a reluctant penny-pincher. But it's not always easy to embrace tight circumstances when you've previously had a little more available cash than we do these days.

I've read all the stories of the fabulous coupon-clippers who manage to walk out of the grocery store with a receipt showing they paid something like $15 for $250 worth of goods, but I'm just not in their league.

I love the idea of uploading coupons electronically onto my favorite grocery store's rewards card rather than cutting them out of a circular, but all too often, the items offered are in too large a quantity for the needs of our two-person, one-cat household. I don't know the size of your pantry, but we find that it's not always easy to store 36-packs of paper towels next to all the other items we try to stock up on when they're cheap.

While I've always been in the habit of looking at prices before dropping something into a shopping cart, the tab at the end of one of our trips to Ralphs or Vons is still unbelievably high.

Notice I used the word "our" in that last sentence. Bottom line, Gil doesn't seem to trust me to venture alone into the marketplace anymore. He shadows my every move. If I reach for a box of fresh berries he sighs. Loudly. When it's apparent I'm about to add a carton of eggs to our basket, he asks if we really need them.

Trust me, I don't even think about buying pretty cut flowers for the house anymore. My sweet husband would read my mind and the thought would send him completely around the bend.

The last time we were in Ralphs together I asked Gil to go to the rear of the store to pick up some margarine. He paused long enough to get out the words "But I think we have some at home," before the look on my face convinced him he should turn on his heels and head to the dairy case. That gave me a couple of minutes to shop alone — and it was heavenly. He didn't make any comment when he returned to my side, but I think he was relieved to see that I hadn't made any impulsive buys in those 120 seconds of freedom.

What amuses me about this situation is that Gil sees no problem with the fact that he does some grocery shopping alone nearly every week. Along with his nutritious choices (he truly does make an effort to have enough healthy foods packed into his car each day for his 140-mile round-trip commute) he also buys stuff we don't need, like ice cream and chips, occasional six-packs of beer. Just like a normal person.

I think I'll make a break for it one night soon when Gil's working late. That'll be me you'll see shopping in the market alone, putting exotic produce into bags and giving serious consideration to coughing up the cash for fresh swordfish. A girl has to live a little once in awhile, right?

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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