Number of Items Returned at Cash Register Because of Not Enough Money

From here, Richard Daughty unveils a new inflation indicator.

- Alert reader Jared F. has developed a new economic indicator that he calls "Number of Items Returned at Cash Register Because of Not Enough Money (NIRCRBNEM)." He says that while in the grocery store, "I have been noticing this former check-out girl putting items back on the shelf from nearly full baskets. I asked her if there were more of these items being returned and she said most definitely, that before it was a part time job to put the items back, but now they have someone doing it full time, with some additional part time help when it gets busy. I asked if this was a seasonal thing and she said that it had never happened before, as near as the managers can recollect, and it had them worried."

His analysis? Inflation! He went to two other stores, and it was the same thing, as "People buy what they are used to buying, but when it comes time to pay, they are surprised at how much more money it is, and have to put some back."

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But if inflation's been

But if inflation's been chugging away at a fairly steady pace, why are we only seeing this behavior now? If inflation is going nuts recently, wouldn't we see this in the prices themselves before we saw it in customer behavior?

All this really ends up measuring is whether we've recently passed a psychological threshold.

The insufficient funds come

The insufficient funds come about in a few ways:

1) not enough cash on hand, which devolves to...
2) not enough balance on the credit/debit card, if present

I'd bet less savings and higher credit balances to be a larger driver than inflation.

(on a side note, there should be a special place in hell for check writers)

With stagflation you can

With stagflation you can have the joy of people going bankrupt AND inflation.

I might be living off of a

I might be living off of a polar ice cap, but who buys groceries with cash? The minimum I pay per visit is ~$30 and the max ~$130. What a pain it would be to get cash every time for each transaction.

Unless there is a serious increase of shoppers who do not know prices, I think the only answer is inflation. Anyone who visits the grocery store on a regular basis will know what they buy and how much it costs. They also know what similar goods will cost at other stores. Typically in terms of price, Gelson's/Tony's/Trader Vic's > Whole Foods/Wild Oats > King Soopers/Safeway/Ralph's/Kroger's > Any ethnic store.

Or maybe shoppers are moving up the "quality" scale and experiencing sticker shock.

I might be living off of a

I might be living off of a polar ice cap, but who buys groceries with cash?

I do, because I have a discount card with bogus information. It's not at all inconvenient because there's an ATM in the store.

You don't have to pay with

You don't have to pay with cash to experience sticker shock.

Brian, it's not at all

Brian, it's not at all necessary to pay with cash just because you have a discount card with bogus information. I have about ten bogus information "loyalty" cards and I pay with a big name debit card at every single one of those places, including the liquor store. The cashiers don't care, until they try to pronounce one of my bogus last names as they hand me my receipt. :twisted: Even then, they don't remember or care what the name was on the card I paid with.

I'm not so worried about my debit card being cross-referenced with the name on the card. You could argue I should be, but for the time being my occupation as a tech support specialist for a large corporate database does not make me afraid of the users of any large database system knowing how to retrieve anything but the record currently showing on their screen. :roll:

Try this handy trick for the next time you want a discount card with absolutely NO information: "I want a card, but I'm rushed for time right now; can I use one of the ones you have in the drawer, and I'll take an application with me and bring it back in later?" Half of my bogus cards have no information at all on them because I never actually bring back the app.