FREE NEWSLETTER

Basket Case

Richard Quinn  |  June 28, 2019

UPON RETIREMENT, I picked up additional duties at home. One was cooking and the other was grocery shopping, both of which I enjoy. The shopping part furthers my ability to observe people, a favorite pastime.

I have concluded that you can tell a great deal about people’s spending and lifestyle habits simply by what’s in their shopping cart. And you can tell quite a bit about individual responsibility and personal behavior by what people do with their empty shopping cart. I have no scientific evidence to support my observations. But I’m confident I’m on to something.

“Healthy, wealthy and wise,” exhorted Poor Richard. (No relation.) That’s a good way to assess the contents of shopping carts.

But before we get to that, consider the disposal of the shopping cart. Is it too much to ask people to return the cart to the corral or to where they got it? It would appear so. Rather, the frequent routine is to leave it where it was emptied—in a parking space, between two cars or simply pushing it aside, freeing the cart to dent someone else’s car.

I once saw a cart pushed across a parking lot. It took off down the hill, slamming broadside into a car just pulling into the lot. The perpetrator simply walked away, seemingly oblivious to his actions. What does all this say about our sense of responsibility, our level of laziness and our indifference to others?

In addition to the parking lot slobs, there are the wanderers. These are people who believe the store’s cart is their personal conveyance, no matter where they roam. Look around a strip mall. You’ll find the pharmacy cart near the supermarket, the fashion store’s cart by the pharmacy, and a cluster of them six blocks away. What are people thinking? Not very wise, in my view.

Now, about what’s in those carts. I marvel at the incredible amount of junk food, soda and such. Between sugary drinks and snacks, supermarkets have three or more aisles devoted to them. Americans spend over $1 billion a year on pretzels and Twinkies combined, and $65 billion on soda alone. Sadly, my observations show this buying is common among young people accompanied by children, who can’t wait until checkout before diving into the goodies. So much for our hopes to be healthy—and perhaps wealthy, too.

At the other end of the spectrum are the health-conscious shoppers. Everything they buy is organic and costly. You would think using less chemicals would make food cheaper, but the prices say otherwise. It sounds logical that we shouldn’t put chemicals in our bodies. But there’s no clear evidence of better health outcomes from going organic. It is clear, however, that doing so may impact our goal of being wealthy.

Next, we have carts filled with convenience food. These are the folks who have “no time” or inclination to cook, so they buy prepared. I had one shopper tell me she was beyond peeling and cooking a potato, so she bought prepared mashed potatoes marketed by a large restaurant chain. I tried some. They were quite tasty—and expensive—and why not? A half-cup portion contained 25% of the recommended daily intake of sodium. This one puts a dent in healthy, wealthy and wise, I’d say.

Finally, we have the granddaddy of all shopping carts, the oversized ones at the big box stores. They allow you to buy stuff you don’t need, and probably shouldn’t be buying in huge quantities, on the theory you’re saving money. Per teaspoon, I guess buying mayo by the gallon could conceivably save money. Ditto for junk food. I’m putting this one in the “neither wealthy nor wise” category. Heck, it’s often not healthy, either.

Now, if only I could link my shopping cart theorem to the “living paycheck to paycheck, can’t afford to save and don’t have $400 for a financial emergency” dilemma, I might solve all manner of societal problems. Can’t afford to save? Let me at your shopping cart and I’ll find at least $10 for your IRA. What about health care costs? The U.S. is the only developed country on the top 20 list of most obese countries. Can that be traced to the contents of the lowly shopping cart? Maybe not entirely. We also need to consider the $117 billion we spend each year on fast food. That isn’t healthy, wealthy or wise. But that’s another story.

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Bad to WorseMissing the Point and An Old Man’s Gripes. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our weekly newsletter? Sign up now.

Subscribe
Notify of
7 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mik Barbasol
Mik Barbasol
1 year ago

Let’s all celebrate a growing federal deficit of 22 trillion by borrowing money to purchase twinkies and soda.

Neil Macneale III
Neil Macneale III
1 year ago

Richard Quinn reminds me a lot of Andy Rooney – grumpy but very accurate in his observation of human foibles.

Michael1
Michael1
1 year ago

I enjoy Humble Dollar immensely but this may be the first time it’s made me laugh out loud. Nice compliment too; Andy is high company.

Richard thanks for the article. The shopping cart thing also drives me nuts.

james mcglynn
james mcglynn
1 year ago

I would “guess” that those who don’t return the shopping carts to the “corral” are too “busy” to save as well.

CJ
CJ
1 year ago

“I have concluded that you can tell a great deal about people’s spending and lifestyle habits simply by what’s in their shopping cart. And you can tell quite a bit about individual responsibility and personal behavior by what people do with their empty shopping cart.”

Amen. You’ve uncovered my dirty little secret – I turn into an unashamedly judgmental person every time I visit the supermarket – I’m not proud of it, but I can’t seem to help it.

Here are a couple more – people so obsessed with their phone in checkout lines, they treat cashiers and baggers like inhuman machines: they go right on talking or texting…ignoring a cashier’s or bagger’s greeting and not once making eye contact. That one always amazes me.

Aaaand there’s the guy or gal with 25 items in a 10 & under express line. Or the folks who leave refrigerated or frozen items to spoil on shelves because they can’t be bothered to put them back.

It’s a good thing my husband does most of the shopping. lol

Sbigboy
Sbigboy
1 year ago

I don’t remember how or where I stumbled onto to your writings RIchard but I knew we thought a lot alike on many items. Amen to the shopping cart slobs. The attitude is “it’s my world and you are welcome to be apart of it but I don’t DO shopping carts. These are probably the same people that don’t DO dog poop pickup and always find some place to park out of bounds because they don’t DO “walking”. Common courtesy is rare today.

Peter Blanchette
Peter Blanchette
1 year ago

After reading this article I now realize that this is 2 minutes of my life I will never get back. Are you OK? I’d love to know what prescriptions you’re on. I wish I could have some of your revelations while I was spending time at the grocery store. It would make life so much more enjoyable. Don’t forget that many of us only have $400 to spend on life’s pleasures. By the way I can recommend an excellent barber for less than $10 for a haircut.

Free Newsletter

SHARE