I take my graphing calculator to the grocery store.

Actually, I should say I used to.  The batteries died, and all the batteries in the junk drawer were dead too, even the ones that were still in the original packaging.  So now I have to take my non-graphing calculator to the grocery store.

I dislike the non-graphing calculator because the buttons aren’t sensitive enough, and there’s a slight delay.  Also, you can keep the running total just fine, but if you want to stop and calculate the unit price of a particular item, you have to remember what your total was.  The graphing calculator will show me where I left off.  (Maybe you’re all a lot more capable than I am, but the grocery store overwhelms me, and if I also went for a run earlier in the day, I am apt to be especially weary and confused.)  Also, the 83-Plus is just so satisfyingly heavy.  I tell myself that I’m not really a weirdo until I begin using Reverse Polish Notation.

But even my sister, the one who introduced me to the CVS game, the one who calls to tell me about the meat she found on mark down, even she thinks I ought to learn to use the calculator on my cell phone, so the other shoppers will think I’m just texting.  I know — the monstrous calculator makes it look like I’m too proud of my high school math class and can’t let go, but it’s really not like that.

Why is it necessary to take a calculator to the grocery store?

1.  It allows you to calculate the unit price of items.  This information isn’t posted for all products.  I have gotten much better at calculating this in my head, but sometimes I don’t want to stand in the frozen foods mumbling arithmetic to myself.

2.  If you keep a running total, you will know what the total should be at the checkout, and you can catch errors more easily.

3. More important, if you keep a running total, you will know when you’ve exceeded your budget.  If you pay with cash, this is critical information.  You must put something back.  If you pay with a credit or debit card, you need a lot more discipline.  You have to obey the calculator.  You have to actually stop putting stuff in your cart once you hit your target total.  You cannot simply keep shopping and say, “Okay, now I’m four dollars over budget, now five…”  If you want to stay under budget, you have to stop when the calculator tells you to.  This is easier to do when you have a calculator with you.

Yes, you say, but why is it necessary to take such a large calculator?

It isn’t, really.

Even though I have grown accustomed to our budget and can usually stay under without trying, and even though my arithmetic has improved, I still take my graphing calculator to the store, or would if it had batteries.  Here are three reasons.

1. Practically speaking, mine really is a nice calculator.  That you can keep your running total right there but still pause to figure out if the “Buy One, Get One Half Off” promotion is worthwhile or ridiculous, is such a luxury.  And I’m quite serious when I say that my brain doesn’t work if I’ve gone running that day.  Maybe this means I should cut back.

2. Just having it there reminds me that I’m on a budget, that I cannot grab whatever looks good.  I know that after of few calculator-free shopping trips, I wouldn’t be as self-controlled.  This is just a self-imposed check. The size is supposed to humble me.  Of course, once I begin talking about my super impressive strategy for humbling myself, I’m getting into trouble a bit.  But we must do something, mustn’t we?

3.  Other people see it too, of course (a calculator that big — how could they not?), and so much the better, I say.  Look — that scale by the produce?  You can weigh your produce!  You can buy only as much as you can afford!  And, yes, I am on a budget.  May I suggest that we all should be on a budget?  Wouldn’t it help you stick with it if you brought a little calculator?  And if you did, just think — you wouldn’t even be the craziest-looking lady in the store!

I am not suggesting that the people who don’t carry calculators are greedy, careless, or lazy.  If I had young children in my cart, I don’t know if I’d bring the calculator.  If I didn’t have so much free time, and had to run to the store on the way home from work, I don’t know if I’d bring the calculator.  If I always bought exactly the same thing and knew exactly what the prices would be, or had excellent self-control, you know…

But I am on a budget, I don’t have small children, I’m not that busy, and I buy a variety of things.  So I take the calculator, and I figure, I need to, I’m not ashamed of needing to, and if I were, I would have something more important to work on indeed.

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