One of the biggest problems with furlough is that one never has enough money! From new fangled brooms to hair bobbles, the furloughing global worker is attacked with the “I can use this on the field” sense of need. There is an intoxicating smell that overwhelms one when entering a department store for the first time in four years! It is both wonderful and dangerous!

On our first furlough, my daughter Bethany displayed this frenzy when we visited the grocery store. Having never been to the States, much less in a grocery store, I found Bethany loading package after package of hot dogs into her little cart. All the while saying, “We need these, we need these!” I took this little episode with me in my mind on every shopping trip after that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as guilty as the next woman at this (I once spent $50 at a thrift store on items I couldn’t even wear!). But, maybe some of the things I’ve learned can help other women on their first trip into the land of too much!

  1. If at all possible, while on the field, put aside a portion of money each month in a bank in your home country. This little nest egg can help offset unexpected expenses. When we arrived home in the US, we were hit with the realization that all our worldly goods had been left in Kenya. We didn’t even own a dust pan here in the States! It took a lot of savings and two trips to Walmart before we were even up with the bare essentials.
  2. Take one or two trips to a mall, grocery store, etc. without buying anything. Just look on these trips.   Determine to tell yourself that it will still be there tomorrow. It took us two times of going to the mall before we even ventured into a store.
  3. When you do buy, don’t shop as if you were leaving for the field the next day. All that stuff will be there throughout the year and will come up on sale during that time.
  4. Keep a small box in your pantry for little items you may want to take back. Throughout your time in the US, you can add to it, little by little. For example, I had one for package mixes – I’d buy two every time I went shopping and would put one in my box.
  5. Start preparing yourself for all the commercialism you are going to face. Even before leaving the field, you can almost become giddy at the thought of browsing in a Walmart! But, make sure you imagine yourself doing just that – browsing – not always buying!
  6. If at all possible, don’t take the kids on your first time to a department store. Not only will every sentence begin “I want…” but you will get an overwhelming sense of guilt for having “deprived” your children of materialistic goods for so long. Then, you end up buying things you children never even play with! Case in point, our daughter absolutely HAD to have a Baby Burpy. It still has the original batteries in it because it never got past three belches before it was shelved in favor of a freebie stuffed animal.
  7. Stay away from fashion magazines for a couple of months. Not only will those pages make you feel like you are dressed like a refugee, but, you will feel compelled to buy every new soap, cosmetic and fragrance available.

These hints are not meant to take the joy out of our shopping time [hey – where else in the world do we have 47 different breakfast cereal choices!], but rather to help us deal with the consumerism so common to us in America. Happy Shopping!



This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.