This week’s COVID Catch-up: COVID has altered shopping and spending habits

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Curbside pick-up and home delivery are new normals for Carrie Steinweg

COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (June 9, 2021) – One of the many ways that the pandemic has affected our lives has been in our spending and shopping habits. The simple act of shopping for groceries has been a wild ride over the past year. Same goes for dining out. For those who have had COVID, an extra layer was added to those changes.

The early days

Although it seems like it happened 20 years ago (doesn’t it seem like this pandemic has been going on forever?), when we think back to March of 2020 we may have flashbacks of empty store shelves. I know that as 2020 started off, I honestly didn’t pay a lot of attention to news of the coronavirus (as it was called back then). It hadn’t officially hit our county yet and even with all the warnings that it was headed here, I kind of stayed in denial. I was concerned, but felt disconnected to it all at that point. Once it was reported that there were cases in the U.S., I paid more attention to those headlines and the info around it. It didn’t really hit home until someone I knew got it.

Even that week before the shutdown, my foggy memories are of running from store to store and buying canned and frozen foods and meat and bottled water and Clorox wipes and toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Although the virus was creeping closer to home, I was more worried about being stranded in my home without food and toilet tissue than I was about being hit with the virus. No one was wearing masks at that point, but I remember using hand sanitizer after touching anything in public and even wearing my winter gloves when inside stores and then washing them in hot water when I got home.

A shopping shift

As soon as everything went on shutdown around St. Patrick’s Day, those trips to the grocery store stopped. A few months earlier I had started relying on grocery pick-up at Walmart when I didn’t want to take time to shop and now it made much more sense to get groceries that way. I wouldn’t have to go inside a store. I could just pull up and pick them up. As more stores started offering curbside pick-up, I took advantage of that. I also started ordering on Instacart from Aldi and a few times from Strack and Van Til for curbside pick-up. I also ordered curbside pickup online from Gordon Food Service and phoned in orders to Produce Depot in St. John for curbside pickup.

I did end up making two trips into Trader Joe’s last year, only because they didn’t offer curbside pick-up. But since they were limiting the number shoppers in the store at one time and lines were often long, I made my list and showed up within 15 minutes of closing time then sped up and down the aisles racing the clock.

Once I got COVID at the start of November, I didn’t leave the house for a month except to go to the hospital. Luckily, I overbuy and stock up, and the family made it through that time with what we had on hand and meals that family and a friend had dropped off or sent over. At that time I couldn’t walk farther than across the room without being short of breath, so I couldn’t have made it inside a store even if I wanted to.

I resumed curbside grocery pick-ups again and would sometimes have someone else in the family pick them up for me. I did all my Christmas shopping online and either picked up curbside at the store or had it shipped. The exceptions were one visit inside Old Navy and a stop in the Dollar Store for wrapping paper and cards.

From there, I was still having shortness of breath when standing too long or walking too far, especially with a mask on. So, if I went anywhere after that, I was limiting it to about 10 minutes inside. That allowed me to run into the post office to mail a package, stop at Quik Scripts for a prescription, or into a restaurant to get a carry-out order.

When I look at my overall spending this past year, it probably pretty much balanced out in the end. When you order online for groceries, you don’t have access to the sales or clearance prices. Not everything in the store is offered online and products were often out of stock. Sometimes what I had to choose from was more expensive than the brand I would normally buy. And with Instacart, there can be mark-ups on the items so they are charging you more than it would cost to buy it in person. While Walmart’s pick-up is free, Instacart has a fee. Then there’s the tip you add in when they bring it out to your car.

So, it seemed like I was spending more. But, I realized that it was also preventing a lot of impulse purchases. I wasn’t buying more than I needed of something just because it was on sale at 2 for $6. There were no tempting aisles of chips or candy bars or bakery items as I was checking out. I’m notorious for going into a store to get three things and leaving with a full cart and $180 less in my bank account. I always figured while I was there, I’d stock up and save a trip later or I’d find something for a good price and stock up.

Easing back in

My first trip back in a grocery store was in April. And it was only because it was my son’s birthday and I couldn’t get an answer on the phone line at the bakery where I wanted to order a cake — and then would you believe that when I went to retrieve my grocery store cake, they couldn’t find my order? I ended up pulling an undecorated cake from the freezer cake rather that getting the one I ordered with my son’s name and age on it.

Last month I got back inside Aldi and found it entirely re-arranged. Unlike the last time I was there, people weren’t loading their carts up with only bottled water and toilet paper and there were no more purchasing limits of two items per person. It was actually nice to be back making purchases in person — picking out exactly what I want without a substitution or notification that it’s out of stock, getting the brand I want, picking up things on sale and getting to grab fresh flowers or seasonal items. I’m definitely not ready to completely give up the curbside pick-up, though. I’ll continue to use it not just for safety’s sake or because I am unable to walk down the aisles, but for the convenience and time saving.

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