Nice Won’t Pay the Bills

The strangest thing happened to me yesterday. I was grocery shopping with my niece when a middle-aged woman approached us in the aisle. She was dressed in a blue scrub-type uniform and white clogs, as if she’d just come from work in a hospital or maybe a cafeteria. She was neatly groomed and when she smiled, I noticed how pearly white her teeth were. In her basket she had a few packages of meat and a jug of apple cider vinegar.

“I hate to bother you,” she said.

Thinking she was about to ask me where something was located or to help her reach an item on a higher shelf, I said, “No problem. What can I do for you?”

“I just need a little help paying for my groceries,” she replied. Before I could say anything, she continued, “I’d give you the shirt of my back and the shoes off my feet if you’d just help me out.”

I looked in my purse and said, “I have a few dollars that I can give you.”

The woman mumbled something I couldn’t understand and turned her cart around, leaving Cassidy and I staring dumbfounded at each other. A few minutes later we got to the checkout. The woman was in line in front of us. Since Cass and I were talking, I wasn’t paying much attention to the interactions ahead of us in line…until…

The cashier gave the woman her total of $41. I looked up to see the woman quickly gathering her groceries as if she was in a hurry to leave. “Ma’am, you still need to pay for that,” said the cashier. “She’s paying for my groceries,” the woman said as she pointed to me.

I’m a little slow on the uptake in situations like this so it took me a minute to register what she said. When the cashier looked at me for payment, my brain finally processed what was happening. “I’m not paying for her groceries,” I told the cashier. To the woman I said (calmly), “I told you I could spare a few dollars, not pay for your groceries.”

The woman then started putting things back, including 2 $8.99 slabs of pepper bacon, to get her total down to $15. Again she gathered up the bags and this time moved more quickly toward the exit. The cashier called out to her and again she told her that I was paying. This time I wasn’t so calm. Okay, let’s just say I was extremely agitated and I yelled out, “I don’t even know this woman! I am not paying for her groceries! Get me a manager!”

The woman dropped the bags, ran out the door, and jumped into a white passenger van waiting by the curb. It sped away.

After I calmed down and was able to tell the cashier what had happened, she looked at me and said, “You look like you’re too nice of a person. You need to go home and practice your resting bitch face so that people will think twice before they approach you.”

The sad thing is – she’s absolutely right. Last year, in the same store, a complete stranger asked me to give her a ride to the neighboring town. A few months ago, a woman at a convenience store asked me to buy her gas. On vacation last year, a woman came up to us as we was getting out of the car and asked for bus fare. Another time in another parking lot, a woman asked me for money to buy lunch. And the list goes on.

To top it all off…I wasn’t even in the store yesterday shopping for myself. I was buying groceries for the kids (my niece and the baby) because she once again found herself with too much month at the end of the money; and being the nice person I am, I couldn’t bear the thought of a member of my own family going without food. I do the same thing for my mom. In fact, tomorrow I will pick her up some fruit and cereal at ALDI just because I know if I don’t, she will eat peanut butter for every meal.

I feel that taking care of my family is my responsibility. My mom raised us by herself and made sure we had everything we needed. She can’t do all the things she used to do for herself so I try to help where I can. When it comes to my niece, I think back to when I was her age and living on my own for the first time and how if it hadn’t been for my grandparents stopping by every Sunday to check on me, giving me a few dollars here and there, and making sure I was fed, I wouldn’t have made it very far.

Everybody needs a helping hand every now and then. But how much is too much when it comes to helping people out?

The incident with the strange woman brought some things home for me. I struggle with every buying decision I make, from a $2 book to the $90 box spring that took me a year to finally decide to purchase. I can say no to myself but I can’t say no to other people. The woman in the grocery store was a blatant and obvious con and I was able to avoid it but I gave $3 to the woman at the gas station, $2 to the one that wanted lunch money, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve handed over my change to someone I’m certain used it for cigarettes or alcohol. I’m supporting habits I don’t even have!! And it has to stop.

I have 38 working days left before I’m job-free. That’s 38 days to save up as much money as I can to make this transition to un-jobbing as smooth as possible…and 38 days to learn to say no.

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11 thoughts on “Nice Won’t Pay the Bills

  1. What an ordeal! We all like to be generous, but it is so easy to be taken advantage of. You may want to think of other strategies for you mom and niece, so they can better look after themselves if you can’t or don’t. I don’t know their circumstances and I’m not saying you are wrong for helping them, but relying on you is a risk for them.

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    1. I agree and it’s a discussion we’ve had many times. How much can you help someone without causing dependency? In the case of my niece, she’s is a teenage mother living on her own for the first time. We try to give her guidance (along with groceries) and have talked at length about saving, budgeting, and shopping frugally. I heard all these same lessons growing up but I think I was in my late 20s before any of them really clicked and I realized that normal didn’t have to mean broke, in debt, or living paycheck to paycheck. I’m hoping she gets there a little quicker than I did.

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  2. I was out on a date with my husband in a city near our house on a rare date and we were approached multiple times by people asking for money. One lady came up while we were eating ice cream and asked if we could give her something to eat. I always say no – I know the money (or food) I’ll give won’t really help them. The kind of help they need is best provided by experts in the town that can provide food, shelter, and other services. I’d rather my resources go to the experts who can provide the help they need.

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  3. Wow, what a crazy story! I never know what to do in those situations because I feel bad. However I have started saying no more and choosing to support nonprofits that I care about more. It helps that I used to work in the nonprofit sector so i know there is help out there for the ones that need it and aren’t trying to scam people.

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    1. Giving to worthy non-profits is always a great idea (says the non-profit grant writer LOL). I always feel guilty about saying no to someone who seems to be in need. I don’t want to be that cynical person who thinks that every street corner bum drives off in a hidden Mercedes at the end of a hard day of begging but I also don’t want to be taken advantage of either, so it’s a fine line. I’m practicing making mean faces when I go to the store now so hopefully I don’t find myself in another situation like this.

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      1. LOL! My cynical mode is fully engaged! But yes, I do get it. I could probably use a dose of compassion. You need to Instagram some of those mean faces! 🙂

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  4. that is a very weird thing to experience. your nerves must have ached; mine certainly did while reading the ordeal. we all want to help other less fortunate people, but this was not a case of this. others? maybe. helping one or two bucks is something alright every once a while I would say. but come to think about it; either where you are there are many people who think that asking for money is okay, or you really have an air of goodness/kindness stemming from you. in either cases, I wish you never experience such a ridiculous person in your life again. best

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