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That Will Be Seventy-One Dollars

I am in a very committed, long-term, monogamous relationship with my local fruit and veg shop. We have been going steady for almost three years and measure our love by the kilogram. We respect each other’s space and schedule a weekly hangout every Saturday morning. We even take language classes together and can now pronounce exotic words including feijoa, rambutan and mangosteen with ease. All things considered, this might just be my most healthy relationship to date.

Last Saturday was like most Saturdays. I entered the fruit shop with the casual nonchalance of a comfortable lover who no longer plans their date outfits ahead of time. In this relationship, we save our superficial prejudices strictly for fresh produce. Looks are everything. A good-looking Roma tomato really does put the ‘roma’ in romance.

After walking down the fruit shop aisles with the same giddiness as a bride seeing her groom for the first time while filling my basket, it was time to pay for my vitamin-filled-antioxidant-laden-dowry. The basket was heaving and as the cashier unpacked then repacked everything strategically based on the avoid-potential-bruising-at-all-costs system, I noticed something about myself for the very first time. I shopped like a yuppie.

The shopping basket was filled with gourmet vegetables with three-syllable names, imported Asian fruits that looked like Christmas tree ornaments, and beetroot leaves, not even the actual beetroot, just the leaves for sautéing. As each item left the basket and flashed against the scanner, the running-total price jumped and jumped and jumped for everyone waiting behind me in line to see and judge. This modest fruit and veg shop is the type of place where you can buy a week’s worth of groceries for under twenty dollars. I was already on forty-three dollars and the basket was still half full.

The fresh produce had been packed and now what I considered necessary pantry staples were being scanned and paraded around for public examination. Slivered almonds, pomegranate molasses, pink Himalayan salt, dried figs, and both cumin seeds and ground cumin because I forgot what type I needed for an Ottolenghi recipe.

Freekeh came out of the basket next and after the barcode was zapped I am certain the letters ‘F-R-E-A-K’ appeared on the register monitor.

The cashier kept pulling more and more out of the basket with a magician’s sensibility. Just as I was expecting her to saw the basket in half with my credit card, sew it back together, then pull a gold coin from behind my ear, she asked me for my actual credit card to pay.

‘That will be seventy-one dollars.’

Peering in my wallet I had two twenty-dollar bills, three bobby pins and many scrunched up receipts that made me look like I either had a serious hoarding problem or that I am really diligent about keeping receipts for tax time. However, one thing was certain, I did not have seventy-one dollars in cash. Instead, I got out my debit card and was ready to tap.

Only recently I had become a tapper when buying goods. I avoided it for so long because when I buy something I want my money to be mercilessly taken away from me. I do not like my money floating in purgatory in my bank account, killing time, before an Uber drives it to its next location. Tapping gives you a false sense of security that you have more money than you actually do.

Over Christmas it was a different story. I needed convenience. I was buying gifts, food, drinks, and seriously decadent gold-foil wrapping paper because ‘it’s Christmas!’ and living life to the financial fullest. I whipped my bank card out faster than Rudolf hitting the sleigh for the first time in eleven months and started tapping it all over the place.

I thought things might slow down in January but everyone was in holiday mode. Rosé for everyone and Prosecco for everyone else. I bought sensible things too, for instance, SPF 50+ sunscreen when I was at the beach. Then there was fish and chips at the beach, and a quick-look-turned-shop at the five different op shops on the drive home from the beach.

Now here I was, in my favourite fruit and veg shop, about to do my favourite tap dance in February. I counted myself in, 5,6,7,8, and shimmied my wrist with my card over the EFTPOS machine.

DECLINED.

I tried again. DECLINED.

The cashier threw me a look that clearly said ‘You just ranked up a bill three times the average amount’ which I chose to interpret as ‘Of course you look like the type of person who can pay for groceries. I am definitely not judging you right now. Maybe you should insert your card instead.’ And that’s what I did. I inserted my card.

Waiting for that brief moment when the EFTPOS machine reads your card is enough time to reconsider your life choices. Did I need that wooden Scandinavian miniature Christmas tree for festive cheer in my apartment? Are my parents happier knowing they have a pasta-making class voucher? Were two types of cumin necessary today? The answers presented themselves without hesitation: Yes, yes and probably.

DECLINED.

Once the EFTPOS machine rejected my yuppie advances for the third time, I quickly reassessed my answers: No, probably not, and definitely not.

I had to act fast. I had forty dollars cash in my wallet and surely another fifty on my card, which made me at least twenty dollars richer than I was one minute ago.

In the end it had to be a part cash, part card, zero dignity transaction. Walking back to my car, juggling way-too-may shopping bags, I decided the festive season was finally over and the budget season had just began. That’s when I remembered my last twenty on my card and decided I definitely needed a bottle of plonk to go with my dinner – at twenty dollars it was practically a bargain. And bargain is just another word for budget.