One day, I was closing up shop at work. I checked Facebook before shutting off my computer. That’s when I saw a call to enter an essay contest to be a part of a supermarket sweep at Sprouts Farmer’s Market for their grand opening in my town.
I figured what the heck and entered the 50-word essay contest about why I was Sprouts’ biggest fan. Because I’ve shopped at the Sprouts near my parents’ house in Dallas, I really am Sprouts’ biggest fan. So I wrote a funny little essay in five minutes about how thankful I was that Sprouts finally got my ESP messages to come to my town and how I was going to gorge myself on New Zealand lamb and giant bell peppers. Hey, I figured, that master’s degree in professional writing has to be worth something, right?
Then I pushed send and forgot all about it.
Until a few weeks later when I got an email that I’d won.
That was not expected.
I was one of two finalists picked to have two minutes in a store by myself to pick out groceries. That’s a lot of pressure.
I strategized for days, coming up with items that could fill our pantry. I was excited, thrilled. Winning came the month our finances went cray-cray with thousands…yes, THOUSANDS…of dollars in unexpected taxes, doctor’s bills and repairs on The Professor’s ancient SUV. And at that time, we were still blissfully unaware my tires would need to be replaced and this ball joint thingy holding my wheel to my car was about to break off. Oh, and that our house was being eaten by termites.
A supermarket sweep was a huge blessing, and I had my game face on.
On the day of the sweep, I went to Sprouts at the appointed time and found out I was completely. utterly. wrong.
This was not me running through the store to get my supplies. This was a supermarket sweep like that game show I used to watch as a kid where people throw frozen turkeys into their carts.
This was me running through the store at the same time as a competitor, grabbing the most expensive items possible in two minutes with the goal of having the most expensive bill.
I wasn’t a winner. I was a semi-finalist. There would be a winner. And a loser.
I hate competition. As a kid on my soccer team (go Orange Crush!), I’d never play because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In high school on the club swim team, I begged to not have to actually compete. All I wanted to do was go to practice and enjoy swimming. And don’t even get me started on kindergarten gymnastics.
The world was spinning and I was losing all ability to think. What would I do? How? And now that I looked, Sprouts’ prices were really low.
My spiral of self-doubt was interrupted by a familiar voice calling my name from across the store. I looked up and saw four of my good friends who came to cheer me on.
I was saved!
One of these friends is my sister-in-law, Amber. Unlike my lackluster athletic career, Amber was an NCAA athlete. The stories of her competitiveness are the stuff of legend. Amber, Amy, Rebekah and Janet walked the store with me and helped me strategize. The vitamins and meat were off limits, so we settled on an expensive dog food and infant formula plan. All to soon, I was at the go position with my competitor and we were off!
Two minutes flew by. I loaded up on dog food, never thinking about putting bags at the bottom tray of the cart. Then I went to infant formula where my competitor had already been. I grabbed some other expensive infant items and then loaded up on pricey organic almond butter. They were $18 each, and two fell onto the ground into a giant glassy mess. I kept going and got to the checkout station early. I didn’t think to grab any pricey cashier items in my remaining seconds because I hated every second of this and wanted it to be over.
I look happy there, but on the inside I’m screaming, “Someone get me out of here! I just want to practice swimming, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and don’t even try to make me do the splits!”
In the end, my competitor and I both managed to put more than $800 of merchandise into our carts in two minutes. But I lost by about $15, or one jar of organic almond butter.
I was bummed and sad that I’d taken off work and had nothing to show for it. Thankfully the nice people at Sprouts had other plans. We both won substantial giftcards. Substantial as in more than a month’s worth of groceries. She just got $100 more than me.
Afterwords, I found out that her essay was about how she was a single mom struggling to afford groceries, and I was glad that she won. Also, she was new to the area and there at the store all alone.
Looking back on that day and my cheering squad, I feel so blessed. To be sure, the giant gift card was a huge blessing that helped with groceries during the months when we didn’t know if we’d have enough to cover all our expenses (which we always miraculously did).
No, as I think about the blessings of that day, I think about my cheering squad, my community, the people who have helped make this red-dirt land home.
Stay tuned on Thursday for part two where I explain how I tried to use my gift card to be the biggest help in our grocery budget.