Monday, August 6, 2012

The State of the Economy as Analyzed by Aldi's Parking Lot

About three years ago, my hubby and I took serious stock of our financials.   He has a really great job and gets paid quite well for it, but for some reason, it didn't feel that way at home.  Any analysis requires the use of spreadsheets, especially if you're married to a geek.   Columns were set up, formulas entered, data entered and duly crunched and the result was perturbing ....  We were to blame.  If we chose to use an analogy for our bank account, it would be an incredibly holy bucket.  No, I don't mean the sacred, sanctified kind either.  I mean the kind with holes in it, that leaks everything out at a rapid pace.  Dear Liza would be at a loss as to what to prescribe for this Dear Henry's bucket!  We weren't much better than Dear Liza.  We looked at the numbers and then ran them again.  After the third or fifth time of doing so, there was nothing to do but accept the truth:  we were wasting and squandering our money.  No, there was no warm fuzzy feeling that came with that.  Quietly, I berated Suze Ormand for suggesting a truthful evaluation of financials with partners on the latest Oprah show.  Maybe the folks who believed Oprah had some nefarious agenda were right:  She's coming for my bliss!  Nothing to do but face the seriously, off-key, out of step crazy noise that was our music at the time.  Way to depressed to come up with anything positive right then, we did what every mature person does in that kind of situation.  We ordered take out and watched a movie.

Not too long after, we girded ourselves with courage (which I have to admit, felt like an ill fitting garment being held up by rope) and started talking about how we could improve our situation and mend "Dear Henry's" bucket.  One of the first things we decided was to start shopping at Aldi.  If I only learnt one thing worth learning in Germany (which, by the way, I learnt way, way more than that) it was that Aldi and Lidl are the best, most cost effective little places to shop.  Period.  Why?  Well, for starters, they only stock necessities for the most part.  They also don't have oodles of brands.  Most of the time you have one brand to choose from.  However, they do strive to get you the very best quality at the very best price. So the single brand isn't too bad (on most things). The entire time we lived in Germany, that's where we shopped.   When I first started going to my old stomping grounds, the parking lot was hardly full at any given time.  Most of the cars in the parking lot were really old, some of them looked as though they barely made it to the store at all.

In the beginning, I would supplement my Aldi cart with some Big Chain Store shopping too.  Why?  Well, and I do beg your pardon Aldi, their dishwasher liquid just didn't clean the way I liked.  So I would trek off to Big Chain Store Inc. to get dishwasher liquid.  In the beginning, Aldi didn't have a great choice in meat cuts, so I would get that from Big Chain Store Inc too.  Sometimes, I do confess, to getting other cleaning products from Big Chain Store Inc.  This went on for a while, until even I couldn't ignore a very disturbing trend.  My Big Chain Store Inc bill was inching up every month.  For what I would pay for a cart choc full of groceries at Aldi, I was having to pay for just a few items at Big Chain Store Inc.  I started trying more and more of Aldi's products to see how many I could get away with using.  During this same time, I started noticing that the parking lot at Aldi was filling up.  On some days, you couldn't get anywhere near the door.  Heavens to Betsy!  You actually had to walk!  At first the cars were still kind of old, beat up jalopies.  You know, the ones that are held together, quite literally in some cases, by duct tape and string.  A few months after that, I was having to wait for a space to open up and the car I was waiting on was one of those huge Infinity SUV's.  For those of you who don't live in the States, this is what it looks like.  Those baby's are usually only driven by the well to-do's.  It was at that moment that I scanned the parking lot.  Oh my stars!  The parking lot still had it's "usual" customer jalopies, but these were interspersed with Lexuses, Lincoln's, Acura's, new model Honda's, brand new Nissan Quest's.  It hit me like a ton of bricks:  everyone is feeling the pinch.  That neighbor living down the road in that really big house, with all those fancy cars out front, yes, even they are feeling the pinch.  I can remember being so shocked by what I saw in that parking lot that day, I called my husband and told him about my observations.  We both wondered why there hadn't been a story on the economy at that point.  Or why there was no talk about inflation or what our inflation numbers were.  Having originated from a country where, more than a huge chunk of our adult lives, had inflation in the double digits, we could recognize the signs of "upwardly mobile" inflation.  All that could be heard on the main news outlets was deafening silence or lots of busy noise.

My local little Aldi is still doing brisk business.  It's parking lot looking very similar to the lot at one of Nashville's premier shopping malls.  It's clientele has changed from being elderly and poor to being a snap shot of every walk of American life.  Students, young professionals, lots of housewives from every conceivable income bracket, the elderly and poor.  We're all there, trying to squeeze one more tear out of Mr Lincoln's eye.

So for now, I will use my Aldi parking lot as an economic barometer.  When I have to engage in less aggressive parking procurement from the Lexuses, Acuras, Infinities and Lincolns, I will know that our economy has finally, truly, turned a corner.

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