The Playroom: The prodigal mom

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

On the great big long list of things I’m really good at, just underneath donating money to solicitations with baby polar bears on the front, is overpaying for everything.

Just last week, I stood in front of vending machines on the Ohio turnpike buying my kids sodas with a credit card because nobody carries around 35 quarters, the amount the machine would have swallowed up to buy Cokes for five people. Yup, I spent $1.75 on a single can of soda. I’m absolutely brilliant at this.

Cashiers at the grocery store start conversations with innocuous comments such as, “Wow, how many kids do you have?” and end with exclamations such as, “I don’t think anyone has ever spent that much at my register before.” I don’t spend a lot of time on budgeting.

I tried, once. I read about this woman who could feed her family on about 32 cents a week by stockpiling hundreds of rolls paper towels in her garage and cutting coupons. So I bought a coupon caddy from the Lillian Vernon catalogue and sat down with my kid’s scissors, since I can never find mine, and cut coupons.

I filed them neatly and made out my grocery list. I went to the grocery store and shopped slowly, responsibly and conscientiously. I paid attention to prices and per ounce and tried to figure out if the store brand really was a better deal. And then someone stole my coupon caddy out of my cart. Right out of the place where my kid would have been if I weren’t paying a babysitter because it’s impossible to shop responsibly with a 3-year-old in your cart.

I know it was the old lady in the aisle with me, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask her if she had stolen my coupons. I just stood there with a jar of pickles in my hand and watched her shuffle away, smugly pushing her cart and pretending she didn’t need a walker, blaming myself because I should have had the good sense to realize a coupon caddy from the Lillian Vernon catalogue was just too much of a temptation for a senior citizen on a fixed income. I ended up spending more on my coupon caddy and on the babysitter than I was going to save.

I decided, for me, cutting coupons and trying to shop responsibly did not make much financial sense and trying to just get the shopping done as quickly as possible with my kids accompanying me was probably a better strategy, especially since another item on my list of “Things I’m really good at” is being a victim of crimes perpetrated by AARP members in the grocery store.

But then the economy tanked and my friends all started budgeting and talking about going to Target to get the best prices on paper towels. So I felt guilty, and I went to Target to buy the paper towels. It cost me a hundred bucks to get out of that store.

Sometimes overspending does make me mad enough to try and do a better job with budgets. Honestly, $1.75 for a single soda out of a vending machine? That’s outrageous. Next time I’m buying ice and sodas at Target before we hit the turnpike. I’ll feel smugly noble about our homemade sodas and our refillable water bottles, and they’ll only cost me 100 bucks.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is She can be reached at