Category Archives: Personal Finance

Remembering the Three Pound Coffee Can: The Story of Shrinking Food Packages

When I was young, my parents would buy three pounds of their favorite coffee packed in a sturdy, metal can.  These cans became the storage containers of choice once they were empty.  Mom stored party mix and holiday baked goods in them until needed. Slap some wrapping paper and a bow on one of these and you had the prototype for the modern popcorn tin.  I’ll bet there are tens of thousands of these cans still holding nails and screws in garages, workshops and barns across the nation.

3/365 -- A can of junk

3/365 — A can of junk (Photo credit: SomeHoosier

Why the sudden nostalgia for three pound coffee cans, you ask?  I travel to grocery stores around the state representing some of the largest food vendors.  One task I perform is checking if stores are changing the price and size shelf labels when our products have changes.  You might be surprised how often the product size gets smaller but the price stays the same.  You’re paying the same price for less food.


Food marketers know that consumers notice price increases more than shrinking sizes.  Companies and their marketing departments find creative ways to give you less for more money. The cereal box you bring home might be as tall and wide as the older one in your pantry, but it might be just a little thinner, or there is a bit more air in the bag.  That dimple in the bottom of your juice bottle could be wider and deeper than it used to be, robbing you of a couple of ounces.

If the marketing department can make you pay more for less, and make you think you are getting a bargain, that is a bonus.  A new, easy pour handle on a drink bottle is more convenient for consumers to use.  The bottle is also easier to pour because it contains a few less ounces of juice.  Environmentally  friendly new packaging is often another gimmick to shrink product size.  The new package may be better for the environment, but not so good on the wallet.  One company announced that their product now comes in a convenient six-serving size.  They forgot to mention the old size was eight servings.

Let’s not forget about our pets.  Many company’s  large bags of dry dog food were 40 pounds.  Most large bags now are 35-36 pounds.  Small 4 pound bags have shrunk to 3.2 pounds.  Some marketing executive probably got a bonus for this idea.  One company reduced their big bags from 40 pounds to 36 pounds without lowering the price.  A couple of months later they were selling 40 pound bags again, but this time they advertised that you were getting 4 pounds free.  You do the math.


While I’m working, I see many customers reading nutrition labels. These required labels make it possible to compare the nutritional value of different brands.  Most major grocery chains have price labels on the shelf which allow you to compare the cost of different brands.  This price label will show a unit price per ounce or pound for different sizes and brands of a product. Use the unit price information to chose between several brands which have the same or very similar nutritional composition.  When looking at the shelf labels, make certain the size listed on the label matches the size shown on the package.  Some stores do not keep up on price and size changes as well as they should.  If you find a discrepancy, please bring it to the attention of a store associate.  In most states, it is a legal requirement that this information be accurate.


All minimalists know to ignore the hype you hear in advertising.  Ads stating that the packages have a  “New design”, are  “Improved”, or Easier to use” are often code for “It will cost you more”.  As costs for commodities rise and transportation costs increase, we know that food prices are going to rise.  Avoid the hype, read the labels, and make your own informed buying decisions.

PS.  Please share your 3 pound coffee can stories in the comments section along with any observations you have about this article.




Breaking the Unhappiness Curve

It’s all downhill from high school. Recent  studies indicate that Americans in general show their level of happiness steadily decreases

Happiness level by age

from their late teens and bottoms out in their late 40s, early 50s.  The good news for those of us in our 50s is that the study also shows happiness levels increasing through the rest of life.

Not everyone’s life follows this curve.  No matter what age you are, you can break the curve!

It’s the American way of life.

In my last post I said that no one would hire me as a politician or a financial planner.  This post I will add that no one would hire me as sociologist either.  However, I did do some research for this post.  I don’t want to bore you with all the research, but I would like to share this excerpt from one of the articles I studied.

“In explanation of the non-linear age effect,  it is argued that aspired consumption (including marriage, etc.) grows faster in age than do one’s financial resources for its realization, finally resulting in what is often called “midlife crises”.  From the age of between 35 and 50 on, a re-evaluation of aspirations occurs that leads to their downward adjustment.”

In plain English this study says that our desire for things (great marriage, fantastic kids, nice home and car, successful career, etc.) occurs sooner than our ability to obtain them.  We want to own things right now, even though we don’t have the money for them, and we want success in our careers, marriages, and parenting before we have paid the price of experience.

This difference between our aspirations and our ability to achieve them can lead to stress, debt, depression and finally result in mid-life crises.  When the crises point is reached, we re-evaluate our wants and begin to determine what we truly need to be happy. Maybe that 3000 sq. ft. house and the $50,000 car weren’t really that important.  And maybe we notice that the guy who got the job we wanted has the nice house and car, but is never there to enjoy them, his wife is divorcing him, and his kids are a wreck.

What can we learn from our senior citizens?

Ask yourself why happiness improves in people from their mid-50s until old age?  I think there are several reasons.

A big reason is that their financial situation has improved. Their salary has continued to climb with time and experience and they are at the peak of their earning potential.  The house is close to being paid off and the children have left the nest and are making their own way.

Another reason is that there is usually less demands on their time, freeing them to do things that they enjoy.  The soccer mom days are over. They may have grand kids in soccer now, but they don’t have to buy their equipment, take them to practices and help coach the team if they don’t want to do so.  Many older people stay active, but they have discarded the activities they did not enjoy and focus on doing the ones that make them happy.

A third reason is that they have already re-evaluated their lives and have determined what is really important to them.  They are no longer chasing the American Dream as portrayed on TV and are instead chasing their own dreams.

You can break the curve.

You don’t have to wait until your mid-life crises to change your life.  You can break the curve no matter what your age.  Taking what we have learned from the study about the causes of the unhappiness curve and from the example of senior citizens, we can deduce these curve-busting solutions.

  1. Determine what truly makes you happy.  Don’t base your decisions on what TV tells you will make you happy or on what your neighbors and co-workers are doing.  Make a list of everything you think would make you happy, and then review each item and question the reason why you included it on the list.  Focus your time and resources on the items remaining on the list.
  2. Control you spending and your debt.  The study shows that people desire things before they can afford them.  Unfortunately, many people turn to credit to fulfill those desires.  Everyone knows the stress debt can cause on families and health.  Base your purchases on the items you really need and the things on your happiness list.  Avoid making purchases based on false need created by advertisers or because it looked good on a neighbor.
  3. Clear the clutter from your life.  Clutter is the stuff we no longer need or want that is filling up our closets, garages and storage sheds.  Clutter is also the activities that take time away from doing the things that are needed and/or important to us.  Read “Clear Away Clutter – 4 Steps to get Started” to begin decluttering your life.

If you determine what is really important to you and focus your time and resources towards those things, you will break the unhappiness curve.  I know accomplishing the above three steps is not as easy as I make it sound.  In fact, it is hard to do, but well worth the effort.  Fortunately for us, there are books and resources we can draw on help. My Recommended Reading page has books to help you in all three of the steps above.

Please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions and concerns you may have.  If you have not read my post “A Call for Change, Make 2011 the Less of Less, I recommend you do so now.


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The World is Changing, Are You?

The only thing that is constant is change. The news is filled with stories of our changing world.  Each day brings us new information about political upheaval and financial disarray worldwide. I would fail miserably as a political analyst.  I don’t … Continue reading

If You Want to Win, You Have to Buy a Ticket

Recently my wife and I watched the movie Eat Pray Love.   In the movie the main character, played by Julia Roberts, tells the story of a man who went to church everyday and prayed in front of a statue of his favorite saint that he would win the lottery.  “Please, please, please let me win the lottery,” he prayed day after day after day.  Finally, the saint could take it no longer and made the statue come to life.  “Please, please, please,” said the saint, “buy a ticket.”

Mega Millions tickets

Image via Wikipedia

Like the man in the above story, many of us hope and pray for a better life but do not take the necessary steps to make it happen. We don’t buy the ticket!  Instead, we just wait for something to come along that will bring us the life we desire.  Most of the time we don’t even know what it is we are waiting for.

Where do I get the ticket?

Playing the lottery involves making a lot of decisions.  Do you want to buy your ticket at the convenience store, the local drug store or the big chain grocery store?  What kind of game do you want to play?  You can choose from buying a scratch ticket, playing a state level game like Pick 3, or go for one of the big prizes by playing Powerball or Mega Millions.   If you pick one of the big games, you have to choose the numbers you want to play.  Are you going to play your lucky numbers, or birth dates and anniversaries?  Of course, you can let the computer pick your numbers for you.  Unfortunately, I think most  people let others pick their lot in life for them.

How much do I spend?

Scratch tickets can be purchased in amounts from $1 to $20+ with top prizes ranging from $500 to new cars and trucks.  Powerball type game tickets generally sell for $1 each, but the more tickets you buy, the better your odds are of winning.  Top prizes in the national lottery games can reach 100s of millions of dollars.  Like most things in life, the more you risk, the greater the rewards.

You already have a ticket!

Like deciding which lottery game you want to play, you have to decide what it is you want in life.  Do you want to get out of debt, find a job you enjoy, spend more time with your family, or travel around the world?  Spend some time reflecting on what you want to change in your life.  Like the lottery, once you have decided what you first want to work on, you have to choose how much you want to risk.  Small risks can safely make small positive changes in your life. Bigger risks can lead to even bigger rewards.  Unlike the lottery though, you don’t have to go somewhere else to get your ticket to change.  If you look for it, you will see that you have always had a ticket to change your life,  and you always will.

What do I win?

If you want more time with your family, your ticket might be finding a committee you are on or another commitment you can eliminate to free an extra evening at home.  You may choose to risk more and find expenses you can cut and unused items to sell which allows you to quit that second job and have much more time with the family and to work on your hobbies.  If you are unhappy with your work situation,  you could might risk a pay cut to go to work for another company.  You could start online classes to get training in a different field in preparation to starting a new career. Or you could go “all-in” and quit if your work is making you that unhappy and dive right in to trying to make a living doing work you love.  There are as many choices as there are combinations of numbers on a lottery ticket.  It’s time that you are the one making the choices.

My ticket.

I knew that I wasn’t happy with my life several years ago.  I’d grown tired of working in retail management, my home life had gotten stale, I had too much debt, too much stress and little hope that the future was going to be any better.  Last August my wife found Tammy Strobel’s Rowdy Kittens blog and we realized that our life didn’t have to continue in the depressing path it had been going.  Together, we decided to go “all-in” and change our lives forever.  I quit my retail management job and do independent contractor merchandising jobs (which I usually enjoy) to support us until I can make it as a writer.  We have sold most of our possessions and cut most of our expenses and have reduced over $13,000 of debt.  Relatives are giving us a place to live until we decide where we want to settle.  We have taken a huge risk and our lives have been changing for the better.  I’m not sure exactly where we will end up, but I do know that I’ve bought my ticket, and soon I will win my prize.


In 2011 I have committed to Own Less, Buy Less and Do Less.  Please join me in this commitment.  Read my post A Call For Change…Make 2011 The Year Of Less and sign the proclamation at the top of the right-hand column.

I Didn’t Want to Change the World, I Just Wanted to Change My Life

“You write in order to change the world…

the world changes according to the way people see it,

and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people

look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

I didn’t set out to reduce carbon emissions.  Digging water wells in Ethiopia was not in my plans.  I’ve always done a little bit through my church and other charities to feed the poor, but it was never a mission in my life.  No one ever accused me of being a tree-hugger and I never really did a good job of recycling.  Like many people, I was more concerned with meeting my daily obligations:  got to pay the mortgage, make sure the kids have school clothes, keep two cars operating and have 100’s of channels to watch on our HDTV.

Over the last few years, I had lost enthusiasm for the field of work I had been involved in for over 25 years.  Credit card debt had piled up to the point that I was barely able to make the minimum payments each month.   A recent law forces card companies to inform you on your monthly statement how long it would take to pay your balance to zero making only minimum payments.  One card in which we carried a $5000 balance informed us that we would be customers of theirs for 22 years if we continued to make the minimum payment.  Can you imagine still paying for 2009’s Christmas presents in 2131?   It made me physically sick to face up to that prospect.

Something had to change or I would be working into my late 70’s just to get out of debt.  Those of you who have read my blog before know that my life changed the first time I visited Tammy Strobel’s blog, RowdyKittens.   She showed me that there were people in the world who were cleaning the clutter from their homes and lives.  People were reducing their expenses and paying off debt.  Pioneers were walking away from their day jobs and making a living with their laptops.  Nomads were traveling the country and the world without owning a car. Tammy’s work led me to the works of Leo Babauta, Everett Bogue, Eric LaForest, and Karol Gajda among others, and my life was forever changed.

Over the last few months, my life has changed dramatically.  I no longer have a full time job.  Over $12,000 in credit card debt has been paid and I am hoping to be totally debt free soon.  By the end of January, we plan to be clutter free.  By reducing our debt and expenses, I plan to be able to totally support myself and my wife by working online.  But what about changing the world?

Picture from Chris Guillebeau's Charity: Water in Ethiopia

The high unemployment rate is all over the news, but books like Passionate Living and You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts show us how we can make a living on the internet doing things we love.  These books show us it is possible to escape the traditional 9-5 and find security by turning your passion into your job.  This new way of working is changing the world.  Recently, a group of writers combined forces to offer over 1000 dollars of books for $97, with a portion of the proceeds going to Charity:Water, an organization supported by Chris Guillebeau and his Art of Non-Conformity book.  My purchase of these books will help build 5 new water wells in Ethiopia.

Although at this time I may not be a crusader for world change, I realize that everything I do can make some kind of change.  For now, I’m going to continue to work on changing my life.  I know that the things I do may supply clean water for a child, or something I write may change the life of one of my readers.  Every act and every word can change the world.

What are you doing to change the world?  Share your story with my readers below.

I’ll Retire When I Die

“I’m going to work until the day I die.  That’s my retirement plan.”

I was doing an audit at a major pharmacy store when I heard the long-time manager of the store give the above response to a customer who had asked him if he was ever going to retire.  I laughed when I heard that and told the manager that was my retirement plan also.  By the time I shared this with my wife that evening, I could no longer find any humor in this encounter.

At this point in my life, I really felt like I would be working at a job I no longer enjoyed until I died or I just wasn’t able to work anymore.  I was manager of a small bookstore making a moderate salary with little upside. Days off from the bookstore were spent doing audits and merchandising jobs at other retailers.  On top of our normal living expenses, we had credit card debt and medical bills.  Even making minimum payments left no money for savings.  If I didn’t make some changes, it would be years before I had my debt reduced enough to start saving for retirement.  It wasn’t a pretty picture for my future.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

There are lots of resources available if you are looking to reduce debt.  One of my favorites is Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness A common theme among most resources is to live a frugal life – cut your expenses and only make necessary new purchases.  You then apply every dollar available to building an emergency fund and to paying off your debt.  My wife and I moved to an apartment where our rent was about $400 less, we went to one cell phone instead of three, and instead of having 100s of TV channels, we now have only basic cable.  The day may come when we just throw the TV out completely.  All of these things helped us pay down some of our debt.

Just recently, we discovered another set of resources that have really put us on the fast track to, not only getting out of debt, but also to living an independent lifestyle.  Our lives really started to change when my wife discovered Tammy Strobel’s website called Rowdy Kittens.  This site was my introduction to what it means to live a minimalist lifestyle. The first time I visited, I spent hours reviewing the archived posts and following her links to the sites of others writing about minimalist living.  In addition to reducing expenses and spending, Tammy’s site showed us the importance of reducing the clutter in our home and life.  We really took a hard look at all the stuff we owned and asked ourselves how important it was to us and had it even been used in the last 6 months, or 6 years.

What we discovered is that we had 100s of things that we never used anymore.  We moved a lot when I was  in retail management and it is amazing how much stuff we had that never got unpacked from place to place.  It was time for us to downsize!  We begin to look at each item we owned and to make decisions whether the item should be kept, donated, given to family/friends, sold, or trashed.  The book, The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta, was very helpful in suggesting a process for dealing with our clutter.

We still have a long way to go in our journey to remove the clutter from our home and lives, but I am confident that we will be successful. I am also confident that I can show you how to take this journey.  Will you join us?



I need to tell you about a great sale that is running just through Wed. Dec. 1st.  Some of the best writers on the subjects of blogging, working for yourself and making money on the internet have put together an awesome packages of books and training courses for a 72-hour sale.  Over $1000 dollars worth of resources are being offered for just $97!!  I have purchased this myself and cannot believe the value in this special.  Clink the link above and check it out.  You owe it to yourself and your future.