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.




Choosing a 70-Hour Workweek

One of the stated advantages of adopting a minimalist lifestyle and running a minimalist business is that you can make enough money to live on while working a lot less than the average person.  Timothy Ferris’s book “The Four-Hour Work Week, shows you exactly how it can be done.  Working less each week frees up time for you to do the things you have passion for the rest of the week.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  We’d all like to knock work out in just a few hours and spend the rest of our time traveling the world or just lounging by the pool, wouldn’t we?  Or would we?

Last June I lost my retail management job.  Even though I may have been losing some of my passion for retail management, I really enjoyed this job.  If I was going to be in retail management, I couldn’t think of a place where I would rather have worked.  Within days of my termination, the mother of one of my co-workers called me with a job offer.

Diane, not her real name, and her husband owned a commercial cleaning business.  Most of their business consisted of cleaning schools, offices, and other businesses in the late evening or overnight hours when they were closed to the public. She offered me some cleaning jobs so I could have some money coming in while I was looking for other work.

Diane was the most “hyper” person I have ever met.  She talked fast, moved fast, and always had somewhere else where she was supposed to be. She often made a point of telling me how little sleep she was getting.  Diane showed me how my wife and I, working as a team, could make as much working for her as I made in my previous job.  I passed on the offer because I could not work at the pace that Diane did, but mostly, because I did not want to spend the next 15 years mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

It would be easy to put Diane down and ridicule her lifestyle.  A 70-hour workweek was probably about average for her.  I don’t know when she would ever be able to get away for a vacation. The pace of her life will probably catch up with her someday.  Before you write off Diane as just another society-created workaholic, let me tell some more things I know about her.

  • Even when it seemed she was very tired, she was always happy.  She never appeared to get down or discouraged.
  • She takes pride in her work.  She sets high standards for herself and those working for her and makes every attempt to satisfy her customer’s needs.
  • She is successful.  I don’t have access to her credit report, but she lived in a nice home and drove nice vehicles.  Her customers referred so much business to her that she had to turn down jobs.
  • She has a big heart.  She contributed to every fund raising activity that we had at my previous job.  She was very generous to us. We were purposely overpaid at times, and offered “bonus jobs” to give us some extra money.
  • She has a strong Christian faith which gives her a real heart for people. I always felt that she was genuinely concerned with how  we were doing.

A 70-hour workweek would not be my choice.  I would prefer to be closer to the 4-hour workweek.  We tend to project our own beliefs unto others and assume that they believe the same way we believe.  Just because I became disenchanted with my lifestyle doesn’t mean that everyone working long hours for someone else is unhappy.  We need to realize that there are many people who are happy working the 9-5, or the 3-11, or overnights.  It’s what they choose to do, and they are happy with their choice. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Which do you choose?

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If your choice is a minimalist lifestyle, or if you want more information about minimalism and minimalist businesses, you will find some great resources on my recommended reading page.  Commit to buy less, own less, and do less by signing the pledge “A Call for Change, Make 2011 the Year of Less”.

Adding Profanity to Your Blog…True to Yourself vs. True to Your Readers.

swearing in cartoon

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, some of the web’s most popular bloggers have announced that they are going to start using profanity in their blogs.  Since they use profanity in their everyday lives, they feel that to be true to themselves they must use profanity in their posts.

I’m no saint and I have been known to use some swear words when angered.  I think some silently and mutter one under my breath at times.  When I was in high school and college, I was a real potty mouth when I was among my friends.  Now, out of respect to others, you will never hear me curse in a public place.  Many of my current friends and family members could not tell you of a time when they have heard me swear. Am I being untrue to myself?

It was last August when I first stumbled upon a blog about minimalist living.  I was intrigued by the lifestyle and read as many blog posts on the subject as I could find.  Several months later, I decided that I would like to start a blog of my own detailing my experiences with minimalism and to encourage others to try the lifestyle.  Once again, I read many blog posts on how to have a successful blog and I purchased some e-books on the subject.

Although each author used their own way to express what it takes to have a successful blog, there seems to be a common theme:  write great content that has value for your readers.

I subscribe to the blogs I am talking about in this post for exactly those reasons.  They are excellent writers and have given me valuable information.  In reviewing some of their posts that were most helpful to me, I don’t see where using the f-word as an adjective would have either improved the content or made the article more valuable to me. Will “being true to themselves” by using profanity in the future improve the content in their posts and make them more valuable to their readers, or will it distract from their message?  Is being f-ing awesome a higher level than being awesome?

One author mentioned that they might lose some readers by using profanity.  I will continue to subscribe to his blog because I am confident that he will continue to produce great content that is helpful to me.  It is a shame that his decision to use profanity may cause people to unsubscribe from his blog or to decide not to subscribe because of the language.  Those people will miss out on the great things he has to say.  I wonder if anyone decides not to subscribe to a blog because they could find no profanity?

I encourage these authors to weigh this “being true to yourself” against the value and insight they offer to their readers.  I believe most of us do not think we are being untrue to ourselves when we choose not to use profanity in public places.  Their blogs are public places.  The decision is theirs, hopefully they will do what offers the best content and value to their readers.

As for me, I also aspire to be awesome.  If I have to use a word that begins with the letter f as an adjective, I’ll settle for being Fantastically Awesome!

Works for me.  Any Comments?


If this is your first visit to my blog, please review my posts on living a simpler, uncluttered life.  A good place to start is “A Call for Change, Make 2011 the Year of Less”.



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


Fighting the Emotional Attachment to Your Stuff

The things you own can control you in a number of ways.  Some things may control you financially if you bought them on credit and you are having to make monthly payments, or if they are expensive to maintain.  Other … 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.