savoring time vs. saving time (at the grocery store and beyond)

Lately, I've seen grocery shopping as something to be gotten through in the least possible amount of time. But what if I tried to savor that time, instead of just saving time?

When my oldest son was very small, I really enjoyed grocery shopping. I’d hit the store on double coupon day, challenging myself to stick to our meager grocery budget and performing elaborate cost calculations on everything from toilet paper to ground beef.

But over the years, as I’ve added more children and more daytime responsibilities, I’ve come to see shopping for food as something I “squeeze in” around other tasks. Generally I go in the evenings or on the weekends (to avoid involving the children, which slows the process way down) and try to keep the entire trip to about a half-hour. My grocery trips had begun to resemble a competitive sport, like that short-lived game show Shopping Spree.

Now that four of my five kids are in school, though, weekends and evenings are busier and seem more special – and it just makes more sense to fit shopping in during the day. So on the first Wednesday morning after school started, after Clara and I picked up our weekly CSA share, I started heading toward the main road.

Then I paused.

In our area, there are a handful of grocery-store choices. Most of the time I choose between two stores: Martin‘s and Meijer. Martin’s is a smaller, slightly upscale hometown grocery. Meijer is much bigger, with a lot more options, like their store-brand organics line and a large selection of toiletries, electronics and household goods.

Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to shopping at Martin’s more regularly than Meijer. I love Meijer’s prices and selection, but it just plain takes longer to shop there than the smaller stores. It’s further away, there are more aisles to sift through and more options to weigh. Martin’s is easier to weave through and, since I’ve got the store’s layout memorized, I can complete my trip in record time.

But…I like saving money, too. That Wednesday, I needed face wash and shampoo, which are more readily available at Meijer than Martin’s. And Meijer has a mechanical horse kids can ride on for a penny. Clara loves that horse.

The horse won. Clara and I headed toward Meijer.

By this time, it was almost 10 AM. Owen would need to be picked up from the bus stop around noon. I started doing the mental math, trying to figure out how quickly I could make my way through the store, and what tasks I might be able to add on top before Owen’s pick-up time.

As it turned out, though, shopping took longer than I’d planned. Because I wasn’t sure of the exact layout of Meijer’s produce department – and it’s huge – I ended up having to backtrack several times after I realized I’d passed the lemons on my way in…and then had to go back for fresh basil…and then again for garlic. I found myself contemplating price-per-ounce on the Meijer brand organic tomato sauce versus the name-brand on sale. By the time we got through the checkout, it was after 11:30, and since it would be a 15-minute drive home, I knew there would be no “squeezing” in another errand or task before picking Owen up from the bus stop.

So I dug some pennies out of the bottom of my purse and let Clara ride the horse twice.

The next Wednesday, after picking up our CSA fruits and veggies, I sat at the stoplight, once again weighing my options. Turn right, and I’d be heading back toward town and a quick push through Martin’s. Turn left, and I’d be looking at another morning spent at Meijer.

As a mom I feel almost socially conditioned to want to “save” time. Even when I don’t really need to shave 10 or 15 minutes off a task, it’s tempting to do it just to see if it’s possible. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. The way I see it, taking less time on tasks I don’t really love frees up more time for things that are important to me.

But, I thought, what if I looked at this weekly shopping trip a little differently? Instead of something to be rushed through and gotten over with, what if I looked at it as an opportunity to spend a leisurely morning, once a week, every week, with my toddler daughter? We don’t get much completely relaxed, un-fractured time together. A Wednesday morning spent grocery shopping could become our special, weekly ritual.

So I turned left.

Instead of trying to rush past the produce and then having to go back through against the grain for forgotten items, I took a much slower route, weaving my way past each stand so that I could see everything. I inspected some new brands instead of sticking to my mechanical (and repetitive) selection. I let Clara try samples in the deli. We chatted about pasta sauce. I let her help select cereal (4 boxes for $10, woo!). She helped me place the groceries on the conveyor belt. And this time, I managed to scrounge up four pennies for four horsey rides.

As a busy working mom, figuring out ways to save time is essential to keeping my life running smoothly. But I’m finding that savoring time is just as important as saving it.

My weekly grocery trip with Clara is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the week. Soon enough, she’ll in school all day, too, and maybe then I’ll decide that I’d rather spend Wednesday mornings working or having breakfast with a friend. But as for now, shopping has gotten a makeover in my life. It doesn’t have to be something to be “gotten through” in as little time as possible. With the right attitude – and, okay, the promise of a mechanical horse at the end – it can be special time for a little girl and her mom.

And that’s something to be savored.

This post is part of a themed series sponsored by Hallmark’s Life Is A Special Occasion campaign, but the ideas and words expressed are all mine. If you’d like to keep up with the rest of the bloggers participating in these posts and find out more about special promotions from Hallmark, sign up for the email list.

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