Who’s Responsible?

Richard Quinn  |  Apr 7, 2023

CAN WE REALLY EXPECT Americans to be financially literate and act prudently with their money—when they can’t even return a shopping cart to where it belongs, or stop dropping litter wherever they stand?

I was in the grocery store recently and came out to find a shopping cart pushed into the side of my car. I was parked eight feet from the cart corral. Meanwhile, on my last trip to an ATM, the ground was littered with receipts. It looked like a blizzard, which isn’t what you expect in Florida. I couldn’t resist picking them up and looking at them. “Transaction denied” and “insufficient funds,” they read. I guess folks were annoyed at those messages and unaware they had no money in the bank. Surprise?

Then there’s the pseudo-planner. Think of the driver who, upon seeing the sign saying “left lane closed ahead merge right,” waits until the last possible point, thereby causing an even greater traffic jam. Folks show the same skill at anticipating their financial needs. “I’m 59 and I’ve saved $100,000. Can I retire at 60?”

Speaking of drivers, think about the guy who cuts you off while passing on the right. Do you think he plans ahead for retirement and other expenses? How about the drivers who switch from lane to lane in traffic? Do they do the same with their investments?

The fashion aisle at a pet supermarket in Deerfield, Florida

We need to take a holistic approach to our finances, viewing the various parts as interconnected. For instance, if a family lives paycheck to paycheck, should they be shopping in the fashion aisle of the pet store? Or, for that matter, acquiring a new pet, no matter how cute?

Are irresponsible actions at the grocery store or on the road indicative of poor financial decisions? Can folks be fully responsible in one area of their life, but not others? It seems not. An irresponsible person is generally always irresponsible, including when it comes to money.

I read a blog about a couple in their 30s who were spending thousand of dollars more each year than their $40,000 income. But at the same time, they were contributing $300 a month to their church. Generous perhaps, but are they acting responsibly? I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but I vote “no.” We all have a financial starting point and an end point spanning 80 years or so. A holistic approach to financial decision-making considers all those years, all the time.

This article originally appeared on HumbleDollar.com


  1. From my earliest memory, Dad always sent me to return the cart to the store, (not the cart corral.) Seventy years later, I have very seldom failed. Exception: on very hot days I use the closest corral if my wife is in the car. It has nothing to do with financial responsibility. Several times people have asked me why, and I say my Dad is watching.
    Unfortunately, I used to be guilty of littering, until a friend shamed me.* I believe it was because litter was more common back then. If the sidewalk is already trashed, what’s one more gum wrapper? Trash, as including cigarette butts! They were ubiquitous. In the gutters, on sidewalks, crushed out on the floor in a grocery store, in the worst and the best neighborhoods. I rarely see that now. Maybe there is hope.
    I can’t see that as tied to financial responsibility, though. I read once that the biggest determinant of entrepreneurship was family example. If your father was self employed, the children would be more likely to take over his business, or start their own. If your family worked for a salary, so will you, usually.
    Retirement planning probably works the same way, we tend to follow our family’s example. Your Dad may be watching you, too.

    *Luckily, he caught me young.


    1. Stephen Douglas, I tend to agree with you on all points. I was never much for littering but I heard the complaints at home about so much litter that I just never did it.


  2. I have thought those same things. You have now gotten me curious about those tossed ATM receipts – I will look at them now before putting them in the trash.


  3. You are absolutely correct on all of the points mentioned, ignorant adults are ignorant and oblivious their whole lives and unfortunately they impose their self inflicted lifestyle on us.


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