How I Escaped Barnes and Noble Without Spending Any Money

I love books. And I love to read. I also like calendars, CD’s, journals for writing, vinyl records (?), board games, and Starbucks — all of which is sold at Barnes and Noble. But I’m also into saving money. By not spending it. It’s tough. As a family, we have to eat, we have to be entertained, and we have to endure public three year-old temper tantrums when a certain someone doesn’t get what he wants…sometimes it’s just easier to spend the dough, to drop the credit card on the counter and not even look at the total.


But no! We will not spend money unnecessarily! We will save money for a new house! We will spend money on learning experiences! We will save money for a second dog! Ok, that last one’s not been agreed upon by anyone but me. 


Thus far, Nate’s spent his summer throwing dice, whacking Sam with his lacrosse stick, and dumping piles of sand onto his head. An educational intervention is needed. So, one recent morning, we headed to Barnes and Noble to browse the possibilities. And that place is particularly crafty with their marketing and their display shelves. I’m pretty disciplined and I have pretty good self-control, but at Barnes and Noble, I can justify these purchases: This makes a good gift! This is educational! This is on Oprah’s book list! This is a collector’s edition! This yoga DVD comes with a yoga mat! Their bargain priced books are especially irresistible. I mean who doesn’t need a picture book of the finest adobe houses in the American Southwest. Or the mysterious growth of the American dogwood tree. Or the controversial history of brake pads. Or the eight different versions of The Eagle’s Greatest Hits on CD. And on vinyl. Also, in page-a-day calendar form. I walked out of there recently with thirty dollars worth of puzzle books…for myself. The public library is a much safer alternative.


And being a teacher, I know there’s a lot of value in helping your kids recklessly accumulate books. Not just books, but toys too! Especially the traditional wooden ones. Something about wood just prepares kids for the world in a way that nothing else can. Then there are the battery powered toys that help kids learn to count and practice phonetic sounds! And Lego’s and puzzles — spatial awareness! And board games and card games — social cognition! I could justify any purchase in this maze of brilliance!


But I didn’t have to. I spent exactly zero dollars there. Zero. And this is how.


Step 1: I swore to myself in the parking lot, before even getting out the car, that I would not spend a single dime in there…unless we came across something really, really, really cool. I mean like, really cool — like a book of Tom Brokaw quotes about the art of writing eulogies. Or a coffee table book on vintage Radio Flyer Wagons. These are books we need


Step 2: I texted my husband for moral support. “At Barnes and Noble again…talk me out of spending any money.” That was the exact text I sent. His reply text told me to use my best judgement. Fair enough. He replied again a few minutes later and asked “What will make him a better man?” So, I naturally began to search for Jack Donaghy biographies. Or a pocket-sized edition of Ron Swanson quotes.


Step 3: I told Nate I didn’t have any money. This was weak, though, because he doesn’t even know what money is. He thinks it’s something we count and sort when we play board games. He only knows that I always carry a credit card. Beware though, Would-Be Robbers, Nate always carries a sword. Or sais. And sometimes nunchuks.


Step 4We caused the B & N employees to feel suspicious of us, making us feel extremely uncomfortable — especially on a Monday morning, the day after I spent a slow and painful hour being embarrassed by my kids at church. Suddenly, paranoia set in and I thought everyone was judging us. We were literally the only customers in the children’s section when two middle aged female employees suddenly had a whisper powwow on the other side of the “Classic Reads” display shelf. One of them gestured in our direction as the other glanced over, met my nervous eyes, and quickly looked away.


Perhaps it was the several minutes in the toy section when Nate and Sam pressed every single “try me!’ button they could find in three consecutive aisles, setting off the audio function on at least thirty different toys at one time, that perturbed the clerk. Perhaps it was our stench — more on that in a minute. Perhaps it was the temporary tattoos that dotted Nate and Sam’s arms that made them look distrustful. Perhaps they had heard of my proclivity for dangling participles. And perhaps it was just our sketchy appearance and a corporate commitment to preventing shoplifting and violence — keep in mind that Nate was dressed as Kai the Red Ninja, yet again. 


“Thanks for the warning,” the second clerk said to the first, as they parted ways again, stealing dubious eyes in our direction again. Uh-oh. I felt like an L.A. hooker being stalked by snooty saleswomen who work on commission while shopping in Beverly Hills — suddenly not in the mood to try on extravagant 80’s fashion in a place where I’m not wanted.


Step 5: But then I came across the Disney section and remembered that I don’t already have every single one of these books. And Nate and Sam need them! Ok, this was getting increasingly difficult. As each new display table popped up in front of me, I was so mindful of my marketplace defenses that I realized I needed to blog about this experience. The world needs to know about my will-power! I was already brainstorming potential titles: One Woman’s Struggle Against Big Box Commercialism, to be set against the backdrop of a long, hot and humid summer morning. But I couldn’t write this blog and then at the last minute, hastily purchase a shapes and colors workbook — even if it is only $9.98. Where’s my integrity? Who would ever trust my worldly advice again, knowing that I had lied. And on the internet no less! The internet never lies. That’s it, I was resolved: I will not spend any money. Now I had to focus on getting Nate and Sam out of there without too much of a scene.


Step 6: Bribery. “Nate, let’s go to the car and have a snack. And maybe we can stop at the playground on the way home.” There is nothing wrong with this.


Step 7: Saved by the poop! Sam pooped! And it was a stinky one, too, hard to miss. And of course I didn’t bring diapers or wipes with me — it’s my way of magically potty-training Sam. If I will it, he can achieve it! Anyway, the poop stench was getting pretty bad, and since the place was nearly empty, I knew it’d be tough to blame it on another family. And that’s our cue to leave. 


So, we left. Largely unscathed. I mean, there were still definitely tears, both mine and Nate’s — and the woman’s at the checkout register as we passed by, most likely from the funky fecal odor trailing behind us — but they were the silent, pouting type, not the publicly humiliating, wailing type. I stuffed them back into their carseats and we headed across the street to Walgreen’s for some diapers and wipes and M&M Chip’s Ahoy. Everybody wins! I felt good about not making frivolous purchases at a large retail center, and Nate and Sam felt good about a sugar high and a playground trip — though Nate later confessed to me that he’s allergic to M&M’s, a fact that, as his mother for over three years now, somehow escaped me. And we all felt better about no longer smelling like human feces. Thanks, Walgreen’s!