Saving On Groceries – Thrift Traps

Saving On Groceries – Thrift Traps

Now this is something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while, I just had a hard time finding the right impetus to motivate me to actually put it to keyboard. The blog has been a lot of sexy times lately, which mirrors the home front, and I figured what better way to break that up than with some good old fashioned grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping never seems to get easier does it? You add more mouths to feed, more tastes to cater to, your own changing diet and cravings, and then you have the food budget to consider. You coupon cut, you get a membership at the wholesale store and for some reason that food bill just never seems to go down. Well, I can help you with that, because you’re playing the wrong game. Saving money on groceries isn’t about math, it’s about mindset. Like many of us I spent some of my early working days in a grocery store. Unlike many of us, I stayed there long after I should have moved on; I paid attention and I learned some industry tricks. Here are some traps you may be falling into.

Ad-Chasing:

I’m going to use an absurd but true example from my own childhood to illustrate why this is wrong. Coupons do this in a directly targeted way that we’ll get into later.

One day my mother came home with 10 packages of 48 count creme cookies. We all stared at her like she was weird. We wondered how we were going to even eat all those. We hardly ever ate cookies at all and when we did they were baked in the home. They were generic too. Some sort of ultra sweet shortbread with cookie creme in the middle. Oreo’s are like crack, the originals. I don’t care much for the double stuffed or other versions where the proportions are thrown out of whack, personal taste I know. Point is, we wouldn’t have been wondering what to do if she came home with those. But these, we didn’t eat these, we couldn’t even remember the last time they were in the house. Dad got annoyed, and rightfully so, we weren’t doing well financially, we never were.

“How much did those cost?” He questioned.

Mom didn’t answer the question, she responded by indicating how much money she had saved. For her part, she genuinely thought that made it all better. She was too busy doing the math on only one side of the equation.

You do not save money by buying things you don’t normally buy just because they are on sale. It is a trap I have seen thousands of customers fall into. It’s a trap my wife falls into with some regularity. It’s an effective trick I helped pull on thousands of people. The deals are often not even that good. It’s not like when the store did a loss-leader on chicken breasts or something. That’s something most people already spend money on and we’re going to get to that in a minute. This is when we stick impulse buys in front of your face at like 10%-15% off and you happily oblige. People who never buy soda will buy that soda. People who haven’t had cheese-its in 2 years will buy those cheese-its. Oh yeah, it’s usually junk food too.

Anytime you see something like that and you are tempted I want you to stop and recite this to yourself.

“Milk never goes on sale”

You know why it never goes on sale? Because you need it, it expires quickly, and you use it. You never have to discount milk because people never stop buying it and they don’t need to be reminded of its existence. Ditto for eggs. In other words, it doesn’t go on sale because people never need to be tricked into buying it. You know what does go on sale? Cheese.

Ads are constructed around this principle. They’re designed to get you to buy things you normally don’t because they’re on sale. Does it matter if you got that steak for 2 bucks off per pound when it still costs 5 dollars per pound more than the chicken you normally get? You didn’t save money, you spent it. Always watch the money going out, because nothing is coming in when you hit the register.

Buying in Bulk:

This one is going to be short and easy because it’s a psychological thing and you can all relate to it. Buying in bulk only increases your consumption. You may save money per item but your consumption of those items will increase. Anyone who has ever frivolously spent a tax return—that’s you right?—acknowledges this effect. The more you have the more you use. It’s a well known and well understood psychological trick and grocery stores have been using it for decades. You’re paying membership fees on top of that, which creates a pressure for you to shop. There are people who actually benefit from these arrangements, they were the target audience when these stores actually first opened. Small business owners that already go through enough of the things they buy in bulk that their membership works in their favor.

YOU on the other hand are pressuring yourself to go to the bulk store more to get more ‘mileage’ out of your membership card and at the end of the day, you are spending more money. Watch where the money is going, and stop overvaluing where it isn’t.

One more example of this effect. When you make a giant pot of spaghetti, or make a large pork roast, do you eat less or more than you typically eat in one setting. When you hit the buffet do you eat less or more? This effect doesn’t just apply to bulk shopping membership stores, it applies to the decisions about the meals we cook. It even rears its head when you decide to make meatloaf instead of burger patties (can you guess which one goes farther?).

Membership Rewards Programs:

Don’t, just don’t. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this one, just avoid stores that do this. This is like the Ad-Chasing problem above except 10x more coercive because you categorically WON’T save any money on anything unless you participate in said Ad-Chasing. By the way, everything in the store is marked up to compensate.

Coupon cutting does the same exact thing. Membership rewards programs are just a newer form of it that also makes you a free data point for a gigantic database on buyers trends that the store keeps. You are not only not really saving any money, you are directly telling a giant database how best to exploit you. It was rare, but more frequent than it should be, that a customer would find out they were pregnant because their buying pattern matched pregnancy enough that they started getting baby coupons in the mail. Yikes!

Not Actually Having a Food Budget:

Last but certainly not least on the list. The food budget itself. Money is fungible, spent with plastic, and it’s easy to lose track of what we spent where. If you do not have a food budget, not actually sitting down and figuring out the difference between what you think you should be spending on food, what you should be spending on food, and what you are spending on food is costing you money, I guarantee it.

There’s a lot of busy, fancy apps that promise to help us with this, ignore them. I want you to pick a number for your food budget, take that money out of your bank or an ATM, physically take an envelope and write food on it with some sharpie, and I want you to put that money in the envelope. That is your food budget. When it runs out, it runs out. Your plastic isn’t allowed to save you. I guarantee your costs will come down. Oh, and takeout counts, that comes from the envelope too.

Okay Smarty Pants What do I do?

Here’s the number one knockout way to avoid falling prey to ad gimmicks and psychological tricks—the more insidious of which are outside the scope of this article, this is just an article about the ones you can do something about. It’s also the number one way to stay in your budget.

Okay, ready?

Make a meal plan, and stick to it.

I want you to take all the time you use ad-browsing and I want you to instead use that time to plan your meals, down to the portions. This is going to do two things that short circuit all of these gimmicks, and you may even find it easier to take some weight off as a pleasant side effect.

Thing number one, you are going to control what you buy. You can make it by the month or by the week, I recommend by the week. If one of your meals happens to go on sale, sweet, you’ve actually saved money, congratulations. If the ad-break happens before that particular meals day you can swap days that week, have taco Thursday instead of taco Tuesday, but your ad-chasing days are over, that is also going to save you money, you’re welcome.

Thing number two, you are also going to control how much you buy. You are going to stop making giant pots of rice that you go through too quickly when you only needed 6 ounces of cooked rice. You’re going to do the same thing with potatoes, noodles, and anything else we can be tempted to throw into a giant pot that could feed us 4x over but will only feed us twice. You’re also going to stop buying too many boxes of mac and cheese and then eating too much of that because it’s so damn tasty, comforting, and easy. I know I know, guilty as charged. Your food bill will actually come down for once.

Here’s the last hurdle though, and this is less of a hurdle and more of a conscious choice you need to make, and it’s one of the reasons food bills never seem to come down. When we save money in the food budget we tend to re-appropriate it immediately to food reward. This is when we buy ourselves steaks or seafood or whatever your reward food is. The fancy cheese, the more expensive bottle of wine (that’s food right?), or even some takeout we normally don’t have. These rewards can be psychologically comforting and rewarding and you need to make the conscious decision on whether shrinking your food budget is worth going without them. If not, here’s another challenge, implement the changes above to have more reward steak. Now that’s a motivator if I’ve ever heard one.

Wakfu – The Best Children’s Show You’ve Probably Not Seen

Wakfu – The Best Children’s Show You’ve Probably Not Seen

A good children’s program is a more important part of household dynamic than you might think. Children can cause enough discord without you also hating the things they watch. Unfortunately children’s programming frequently ranks as the cheapest, ill thought out, cash-in garbage there is. It’s funny how we use our children as a precious resource to justify giving in to any demands made by teachers unions but accept as a matter of course that modern programming would do well to live up to the standards of Thomas and Friends, you know back before they were CGI animated. A children’s show that is not just tolerable, but that the parents enjoy watching with their children is rarer than it ought to be.

That takes us to an entertainment company in France called Ankama. They’re known for an MMORPG called Dofus and Wakfu is an animated program based on it. Typically, this is the last sort of situation you’d expect anything worth watching to come out of. So just how enjoyable is Wakfu anyway? Well, let’s put it this way, the show being quite old was shown to me by my at-the-time 24 yearold roommate because he enjoyed it thoroughly. You see he was a fan of Japanese anime and Wakfu managed to penetrate that fandom to a certain extent. Fan-made subtitles were done to translate it out of French, and in the last couple of years it’s received an official English translation on Netflix. It got there through a kickstarter fundraiser to fund the translation. Yeah, this show was good enough that a kickstarter campaign actually worked and a product came out of it.

I’ve watched Wakfu’s first season with my children at least six times now (I really recommend leaving it to the first season and we’ll get to that later). It’s that enjoyable. The main villian is convincing and genuinely dangerous. Encounters with him go badly, often in ways that last most of or the whole way through the ending of the first season, his motivations are relatable, and his goals are clear. Silver screen villains rarely get the formula as correct as this. Character flaws of the protagonists often result in permanent consequences for the group and they become such trouble that they have to overcome those flaws and grow to proceed. One of the main characters literally starts the show unable to control his demons, that remains a serious issue for most of the first season. The show can get very serious, but it doesn’t stay that way long enough to be detrimental, nor does it stick to the innocuous for too long. Wakfu gets extra points from me for being brave with consequences for bad decisions. This isn’t one of those shows where the reset button gets hit at the end of every episode. There are a lot of shows for adults that can’t seem to get over that trap. It takes most of the first season for the narrative arc to really find its footing, and prior to that the pacing can seem a bit off, but once it hits that stride mid season it just does not let up for a moment and the experience is immensely enjoyable.

The voice acting by the French cast is competent, energetic, and expressive. The English cast, not so much. Depending on the age of your kids you may have to bear with it, but I used it as a motivator to get them reading faster. That’s something you’ll have to feel out but use the original audio if at all possible. Though not as strong a recommendation, I also don’t recommend going past season one, not just because season one is the strongest season but because season two ruins one of the best endings in any children’s show ever. Season one, on it’s own, is simply a better story. I’d say, as a target, the optimal age group for this show is 9-14, most of the cast is dealing with the troubles of early adolescence. Between finding your nerve, liking who you see in the mirror, dropping your facade, learning how to take risks, and of course love, the show deals with many issues in that age group without using kid gloves, and I absolutely love the lack of coddling. I don’t know if this show represents French television well, but if it does they are worlds ahead of the United States in figuring out that treating your children like infants will cause them to stay that way.

If you can’t tell by now, or by the title, I really do adore this show, and you should do yourself a favor and stop suffering through dreadful children’s television and watch Wakfu instead. It’s just that good, you may end up enjoying it as much as they do.

Parental Bonds

I don’t always manage to stay on topic here. Most of the content is supposed to be about relationships, specifically marriages, from the point of engagement onward. I also would like to focus on things you’re not typically hearing or prepared for. Today I’m going to deviate from that just slightly, and on purpose. We’re going to talk about something you’re probably sick of hearing about, but you’re simply not prepared for, at least if it hasn’t happened yet.

Your first child.

I’m sure you’ve heard it from your parents. I’m sure, long before you decided to get married, you’ve played out the scene where one or both of your parents throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims some permutation of the following: “When you have kids you’ll understand.”

Well, they’re right, it’s one of the many things your parents were right about. We all go through those face-palm light bulb moments. My parents didn’t spend so many words on it, perhaps they thought an explanation would be wasted, or impossible. Impossible, probably, but not wasted. I’m going to attempt, I’m going to do the best I can to convey just how powerful that love can be. I’m sure, like many before me, I’ll fail to exhaust all the words necessary to convey the meaning. I’m sure the words sufficient to do so do not quite exist. I’m just going to do my best.

When I decided to marry Emily we had the strongest romantic bond I had ever felt in my life. I had a separate bond with my parents and siblings that felt on par, but it sure wasn’t romantic and Emily came slightly ahead anyway. I didn’t think there was a situation that was likely to happen where I would choose say, my parents, over Emily, but I could imagine them if I tried hard enough. When Emily became pregnant with our first child, that immediately changed. Emily was now unequivocally first, above and beyond the bonds of siblings or parents, not even on the same playing field. If we were in some impossible SAW movie scenario and it was push my mom into a wood chipper or lose Emily it would be the wood chipper no problem. It would suck, as understated as using that word there is, but it wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Hell, mom would probably ask me to push her into the wood chipper, but she would have had the advantage of knowing the love of a child already. It’s a little graphic, and you might think I’m spending a little too much time on that already, but there’s a point to it. On other fronts, my aggression increased. My eyes were wide open and everyone was a potential threat. That hardly ever manifested itself anywhere but my heart rate, but even the act of Emily driving herself to work became nerve racking. I wanted, selfishly, to ensure that if anything happened to her that it was either unpreventable or my fault. I anticipated each day the grief that would befall me if something happened to Emily that I could have prevented had I been there.

Sound a bit obsessive? Good, because that’s what was going on. Her safety became an obsession of Don Quixote proportions that took an extraordinary amount of will power to prevent from manifesting into daily actions. Oddly enough this obsession started self-soothing as time went on and the baby bump was getting bigger. Not until the “any day now” phase did that feeling rear its head again.

Then it happened. I watched our first child come into the world. I’ll clarify this right now. I can only write this from a father’s perspective. I can’t under any circumstances imagine that Emily doesn’t experience these feelings on a more powerful level, it’s impossible to compare however, so I won’t. I swear with everything I have I could feel my brain chemistry changing on the spot. I was never the same again. I started noticing changes in my behavior and mood almost immediately.

I noticed that sad news stories involving children and particularly murders hit me like a ton of bricks rather than the just-another-bit-of-info that they were before. I thought parents whom’s children died of neglect were unbelievably incompetent before. I abjectly hated them now, I actively wished for their deaths. Prior to this, I’d go to the seedy underbelly of the internet on occasion and take some morbid satisfaction in some gore threads. I don’t enjoy those anymore—I can’t even stomach them. I don’t know if something was just fundamentally broken with my empathy back then, but it was fully armed and operational now.

I recall, not long after the event, Emily and I were up late watching a very old episode of Deadliest Catch. It was during the two or so weeks I had off after the birth—I’m lucky to work for a place that affords me such luxuries. An episode like this wouldn’t have bothered me before, despite being the eldest of four and the youngest indeed being a little sister, but one of the fishermen got news that his little sister had cancer, or had succumbed to it, I forget which, it doesn’t much matter, I bawled. It came from absolutely nowhere, I was just fine and then I wasn’t.

During the first several months I would wake up in the middle of the night, not because of crying or anything, but because I was afraid my child had stopped breathing and I felt the urge to check. That remained constant with each subsequent child. I was a tosser and turner prior to my first born. Emily decided she wanted to co-sleep. I instantly and immediately stopped tossing and turning in my sleep, I lay mostly still now. Did I mention the terror of SIDS and the need to make sure my child was still alive in the middle of the night, and didn’t die for literally no understood reason?

I know a mother whom’s child did die in the middle of the night, inexplicably. You hold your children tighter when you get that news. I think the absolute worst thing was when a friend of mine passed away suddenly as a result of a seizure. I have to impress this, I have to make this absolutely crystal. Losing my friend was not as painful as imagining, and witnessing, the grief of a father that’s outlived his son. I get emotional just typing that out. Losing an infant is immensely terrible, but I have to be honest, I think losing a young man or woman in their prime is that much worse. You know SIDS is a thing, you know that’s a possibility, a terrible and tragic possibility, you are hyper aware of their frailty in that stage of life, but losing someone in their mid-twenties to a seizure, it just doesn’t compute.

Realizing that the love of your life, isn’t. That was an eye opener. Here you have this beautiful, loving wife worthy of all your adoration and you think that nothing will ever top that. You’re wrong. My wife had become above my parents, now she was the second banana. Between her and any one of my children, Emily gets the wood chipper. She feels the same way about me, and neither of us feel a hint of guilt about it. If you’re married now, but don’t have children, I really want you to take a second and try to imagine loving someone else enough that condemning your spouse to death is even an option.

That aggression I mentioned before when Emily was pregnant? Multiply that a few times. I had never before seen Emily get short or aggressive with anyone. Beware parents with young children, they’re not to be messed with, you just don’t understand what that chemical cocktail can do until it happens to you. There’s a reason society frowns on messing with other parents kids. You’d be surprised just how much spine and rage you can find within yourself when you feel they’ve been mistreated, or even that they’re about to be. Maybe you’ve encountered some really meek parents before, granted. Don’t press your luck, you’re going to run into something entirely different someday if you do. I can’t express that enough. Playing that game is dangerous, physically dangerous. Socializing your kids isn’t just about them getting along with other children, the parents of the other children are threats too. Seeing your child overtly physically mistreated, especially by a significantly larger kid, is enough to make you forget that you aren’t supposed to come at children with the intention of seriously hurting them. Do not let your kid turn into that if you value their safety. Ignore that if you want, think that extreme if you want, it kinda is, but it’s also the truth, you don’t know rage like that until you do. Don’t let it surprise you.

How could it be any other way? Who else would you endure that many sleepless nights for? Not your spouse I can tell you that much. Your children are utterly dependent on you. They’re not just dependent on you for their nutrition or their physical safety, neither of which do they make easy, they’re dependent on you for emotional support too. Lack of love and touch can literally be fatal to an infant. So not only do you need to change every diaper, never miss a meal, deprive yourself of sleep, you’ve got to do it while totally in love with them. Willingly and lovingly exploited. That’s the bond with a child. I hope I even got a tenth as far with that as I needed to.

That Time My Brother Hated My Wife

So this is a thing I don’t often speak of, but it’s pretty darn relevant to this blog. What do you do when a family member dislikes your spouse? Depends on what kind of family you have, ultimately. I consider what happened between my brother and I to be about as good as that could have gone. I don’t think there’s a method or trick or rule that’s going to solve this problem for everyone that experiences it so I’m just going to share the story as is and my feelings about it and let you make up your own mind from there.

James and I always had a very different experience with women as we grew up. I’m not sure if it’s because of luck or because he’s more attractive or because we were aiming different. Perhaps I was more naive. I was under the strong belief that it wasn’t worth wasting my time on temporary pair bonds. I was in it to get married and have children from the word go. There were girls I found highly attractive in middle school, but I didn’t want to be with them, there’s no way that was going to last. I kept that opinion until my Jr. year or so of high school. I started looking for mates, not girlfriends. Turns out that was a little early to get started too, at least with that stated goal. Looking back that seems obvious to me. James on the other hand was quite successful with the temporary pair bonding and didn’t seem to want for a longer term arrangement and especially not children.

James rarely approved of my girlfriends. The first was a strict, “you can do better” and he was right. In fact, those words ended that relationship. Actually at this point I feel I should point out that I’m not just the older of the two of us, I’m the eldest sibling. My brother’s opinions carry lots of weight, always have. Emily got a much better approval rating, which is to say that James didn’t voice disapproval until after the marriage. Here’s where things get interesting, and perhaps instructive. This story could end up being more useful to the people doing the disliking than the recipients.

The timelines on this are really fuzzy, so I’m going to try and just stick to the narrative order of events here. For instance, I can no longer remember if James first voiced his opinions before or after his nephew was born (One of the reasons for starting this blog was to get those things out before they were completely forgotten). I do however remember being physically in his presence when he broached the subject. He had lived out of town for a while at this point and was visiting for some reason. He waited until he was with me physically and we were alone to break it to me. That wasn’t too difficult, one of our favorite past times is taking long lonely walks together.

James told me that he was sure Emily was a good wife and didn’t mean to disparage our relationship—waiting until after the marriage was pretty good evidence of that I thought—but that he just couldn’t stand being around her and that he hated her. Hate has been a diluted word for some time and I knew at the time and from his tone of voice that what he really meant was strong dislike. He couldn’t stand her attitude and being around her was an exercise in restraint, which he demonstrated admirably.

I kinda felt sorry for James, not quite pity but sorry for him. I wasn’t angry, but I wanted him to like my wife. Who doesn’t want their brother to like their wife? Heck, who doesn’t want their friends to like their wife? I knew however, that the way he was telling me and the timing with which he broke it to me indicated that there wasn’t any use in trying to change his mind. Both of us obviously thought it was in everyone’s best interest not to relay that opinion to my wife, but that I should be mindful of it when arranging get-togethers and that sort of thing. For his part, James didn’t seem angry or resentful either, just solemn, almost like relaying a sad story from a newspaper. I’m not sure he knew what to do with those feelings. I was just going to give it time. I assured him sincerely that it wouldn’t affect our relationship.

That’s the thing about being brothers, we’re stuck with each other for a while. At least, we are in my family. Who else is going to keep you honest? Family has to be able to tell you things you don’t want to hear, it’s the test on whether you really care about someone. If you can’t disapprove of really bad decisions when it really matters, the way James did with my first shot at a relationship, when can you disapprove of them? Is your capacity to care about someone limited to brow beating them about how many calories are in that snickers bar or other social niceties? Well then you probably aren’t really looking out for them as well as you should, at least that’s how I view it. Actually yeah, a side bar on our particular family dynamic may be instructive here.

I’m well aware that not all families work that way, and I’ve noticed that the more broken a family is the more the individual members tend to subscribe to the idea that friends can be family. Stable and strong families like mine tend to subscribe to the blood is thicker than water mantra. I can’t say I’ve done any sort of study on that or anything, that’s just been my life experience. We do however have research on how real mom can make stepmom’s life hell just by existing. Worth thinking about. Seems a pretty obvious explanation to me really, absent a genuine family bond there’s no reason to value that relationship over a good friendship. I can guarantee you though, that families that get it right are experiencing a more powerful and more useful bond than any friendship could. I have plenty of both. Perhaps your family isn’t so close, you can break that cycle. Emily’s family has some problems, they backbite, have petty squabbles over inheritance, some even steal from the elders outright—I mean actual petit theft. These things are unheard of on my side. I told Emily that her family’s behavior ends with our home and our generation; she likes that idea.

My family is the only group of people I can count on to always have my best interests at heart whether they are praising me or knocking me down a few pegs because we’re stuck with each other until we die. That attitude tends to keep needless fights at bay and motives on the right course. They’re not going to spite me out of jealousy, but they can also be counted on not to be sycophants. There sure were fights though, not to get too deep into that but don’t think I’m trying to paint some idealistic picture of a family here. I’m just commenting on the nature of the bond itself. We have fights, and when we do it’s intense and bitter and feelings are really hurt. Those fights tend not to be needless and those criticisms almost always have truth buried in them, perhaps that makes them hurt more. The strength of those bonds let James and I keep our cool.

James didn’t disapprove of my relationship with Emily, he just couldn’t like her, but he could have disapproved, and I would have listened. That doesn’t mean I’d have left her, I didn’t drop my first girlfriend just like that, I gave that plenty of thought, but I’d question the motives of any non-family member for telling me such things out of the gate. I can count on my family to come from a position of looking out for me as their sincere motive. That means my spouse can be a source of disagreement between my brother and I without turning into a source of conflict. That’s why adding Emily to my family came with a ceremony and vows. Words of adoration and good sentiment aren’t good enough.

Patience ended up winning out and eventually James came to like Emily without any persuasion or brow beating from me. Time and exposure. He came to like certain qualities about her. Indeed, when James switched gears and started dating with marriage in mind he suddenly noticed qualities about Emily that lent themselves to such a relationship and was suddenly very appreciative of them. James simply couldn’t see them before because his goals were different. Ultimately, family thing aside, that’s why I was able to take his initial criticisms of Emily in stride. His outlook on relationships and their purpose was obviously different, and that was okay. He also didn’t turn his personal feelings in a mission to change me or Emily. He said his piece and left it alone.

Disagreements like this don’t always go so smoothly, but they can. Hope that’s helpful, or that you enjoyed the read at the very least.

Rule 4 and Social Media

Rule 4 and Social Media

I recently finished 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote to Chaos and reviewed it. Typical of all of my other book reviews, I don’t judge the content so much inside of the review of the book. I might as well be telling you how to think. My main concerns in book reviews are to determine whether or not the book is digestible and useful especially in the context of self-help. When I want to take some of the content and talk about it, i’ll branch that off into another blog, and that’s what we’re doing today.

When I first read rule 4 , which is…

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, do not compare yourself to who someone else is today.”

My first thought when I read that was about social media, which not only tricks people into breaking the rule but adds special little nasty tricks of its own. Our phones and other devices absorb us into a kabuki version of reality, where you only see the bright white mask that others want you to see. Everything else is blacked out and can’t be seen in the dim lighting of the theater. People chase likes, re-blogs, up-votes; our most popular social platforms are engineered to get the participants to seek validation from others.

Now I’m not saying these can’t be useful metrics for content creators. Sure, I take a look at where my likes and my follows sit, but I follow rule 4, I only compare those numbers to where they were when the blog started, or where they were a month ago. That was actually a foundational principle of managing this blog. I wouldn’t compare myself to people that already had 40,000 followers, I was concerned about just getting to 5. You’re not going to do yourself any services comparing yourself to pewdiepie the day your YouTube channel starts, but for many of us the comparisons run deeper and more insidious than just numbers of likes, follows, and shares. You compare your real life to the carefully curated profiles of family and friends or even strangers on social media. This is the real life only you know about, not just the darker moments but the darker thoughts. You’re not just violating rule four, you’re comparing yourself against people that don’t actually exist.

Social media profiles are the photoshopped versions of someones life—many times literally. Many highlight only the good and hide the bad. The ones that include the bad nevertheless hide the shameful. There’s a difference between announcing a breakup and announcing that it was your fault too. Generally, when people share bad moments on social media it’s for the same reason they share the good, for affirmation, and it comes with the same filters. Comparing yourself to these people, even people you trust, is like comparing yourself physically to some photoshopped super model on the cover of Sports Illustrated or Vogue or, well, pick your poison.

I can hear some of you now, “but people do compare themselves to supermodels”, I know, that’s the point, it’s ridiculous. If you need to work on your thighs work on your thighs but don’t do it to look like the digitally altered version of someone else. Do it because you want better thighs. That goes for non-physical qualities too. These people don’t have the same life you have. You know what’s important to you, to uniquely you, don’t suppress those priorities to be more like someone else, you’ll just end up not accomplishing the things that are important to you. That doesn’t mean you don’t stop improving, that doesn’t mean you don’t aim high, it means that you should be aiming at your own targets, and not someone else’s.

Maybe you decided not to go to college because starting a family was just that important to you. Maybe you have several wonderful children as a result, and maybe you’re a little jealous of that graduation cap toss picture your friend just posted. Maybe you aren’t seeing the pile of student loan debt behind that cap, maybe you aren’t seeing the adderall abuse that led there that has to be dealt with, maybe they’re absolutely fine and successful cleanly and didn’t fall into those traps, but they may just be looking at your children when they’re 35 and involved in their career and asking themselves where the time went and wondering why they don’t have theirs yet. Maybe they don’t want a family at all. Would that be the life you try to emulate after deciding you wanted several children? Maybe you come to feel sorry for them that they don’t even want a family, maybe that’s pitiable to you. Life is a series of choices. Make sure your choices reflect your goals, make sure the improvements you make to your life are about getting you to where you want to go.

You have things to work on. We all have things to work on. I could exercise more, but I’m better than I was yesterday. I’m 60 pounds better than I was many yesterdays ago, and I did that by comparing myself to what my scale said yesterday and not to someone else’s scale. I did that by ignoring my Fitbit’s explicit pleas to let it compare me to other people—Talk about kneecapping the usefulness of your own product. I celebrate the fact that i’m 60 pounds better off than I used to be, I still look forward to further improvements to my weight, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can look back and go, yeah, I’m on the way there. I’m not looking at Lou Ferrigno pictures and going, why bother I’ll never be that guy. Well I really will never be that guy, and there are parts of Lou’s life that weren’t so great. I can be happy knowing that my life is getting better on my own terms, I can be happy that Emily finds me more physically desirable than she used to and that it’s the result of my work. Who doesn’t want to be more physically attractive to their spouse? Mission fucking accomplished man, and I get to make it even better in the future? Awesome.

That’s another reason for the rule. You will never exhaust all the avenues available to you to improve. You’re going to have to cherry pick, eventually you’re going to run out of time, everyone does. You can’t be everything to everyone, you can’t even be everything to yourself. Social media can tempt us with the idea that it’s possible. We have this flood of information about all the wonderful things other people are doing. Are you amalgamating all those things into an unreasonable ideal? Pick the things that matter in your life and orient your life and behavior around those, because you don’t get the option of everything, and if you see someone that looks like they’ve got everything I can guarantee you’re looking at a facade. You’re looking at their kabuki representation to the world. Rule 4 will help you stave off the resentment and jealousy that can trap you in the way that you currently are. You can use those emotions to freeze your life, sit still, and then blame others for the lack of improvement. No one is immune to that, I left Facebook entirely for that reason. My only twitter account is the one I use to promote this blog, I don’t use Insta, I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, and I don’t know anything about bad Tinder experiences. I also don’t seem to have problems with unstable relationships or keeping friends around for the long term. Are those related? Heck if I know but I certainly think they are.

Now, I think social media definitely makes these issues more prominent in our lives but this is by no means a new problem. The comic strip “Keeping up with the Joneses” debuted in 1913, over a century ago. The grass was greener on the other side of the fence long before we could use Google Earth to look at thousands of fences. Women were comparing themselves to cover girls since magazine covers were a thing. It’s a really old trap, maybe as old as humanity itself, maybe as old as lobsters, who knows. The Bible is thousands of years old and warns us not to covet all manners of things, especially other people’s wives. That has everything to do with wanting what others have, or at least fooling ourselves into thinking that we do. Problem is we have easy access to pictures of other people’s wives, we have easy access to depictions of all the greatest parts of other people’s lives, it’s everywhere, and they have complete control over whether or not we see the other side of that, and the vast majority of us chose not to. Don’t think of someone’s social media life as anything other than a fiction, a photoshop filter at best. Remember rule 4.

Modern Education – A Few Major Gripes

Modern Education – A Few Major Gripes

I’ve been involved in the education industry for a fair portion of my life, and no, I don’t mean as a student. I think about the only thing I haven’t done in the field of education is educate, ironically enough. My mother was an educator for the entirety of my K-12 experience, and due to living out of county and the transportation issues that entails I ended up putting a lot of volunteer work in her classroom. I got into the field of IT primarily because I was de facto tech support for the classroom computer, which as a concept was newfangled on its own at the time. But I also dealt with a lot of the drudgery. Lemme tell ya if you wanna piss off an educator make them move classrooms every. single. year. Moving into our second home involved less packing.

Anyway, fast forward a few dead end jobs and my early steps into the IT field and I ended up in a support role for classroom technology at a major public university. Man, I miss that job. It simply didn’t pay enough or provide the necessary upward mobility to stay. We didn’t just fix computers there, we actively worked on improving pedagogical experiences for the instructors and through that the experience for the students. I’m still proud of some of the systems I implemented in my time there and if the pay were right I’d go back tomorrow. I’ve saved individual classes, made entire semesters better, and made things possible for instructors that they hadn’t been able to do before, and those are their words. I got to chat with a lot of really top notch folks about what was and what wasn’t working in their classrooms, and one of my colleagues had an advanced degree in instructional design and I loved picking his brain too. Now I’m tech support for our distance learning unit and there’s definitely some nice, and scary, things going on there as well.

So when my son started K-12 there were some things I knew going in. One, that putting a projector in every classroom was superfluous tickbox checking for the people selling the school, whether that’s county administrators or whoever is vested in things appearing better than they are. You know what else that does? It blows the AAP recommendations for screen time out of the water, which we’ve touched on before in this blog. Would you be mad if you learned your kid was getting 4x his recommended daily sodium intake just from his school lunch (they might be you should check)? Well that’s what the tech classrooms do with screen time, roughly. They also let instructors abdicate their responsibilities as teachers. I find it’s rare to give an educator the ability to splatter YouTube on the screen and have them not take it. More importantly, the pedagogical efficacy of such implementations is weakly supported at best. If you were told that your student was spending most his days watching YouTube you might insist that you just do that at home, but this is what’s happening in K-12 schools all across the country, hell it’s being promoted!

We’re also lowering physical activity requirements, even eliminating them. This goes for both structured and unstructured play and exercise. This is harmful to all children but is particularly harmful to young boys. Obesity is a major, maybe the, health epidemic of our time. We’re quick to shame anti-vaxxers and to turn our schools into glorified prisons to stave the threat of school shootings but it seems hardly anyone bats an eye at the road to obesity our public schools are putting our children on. It’s even worse for the boys, and girls of certain temperament. They get fidgety from being pent up so we put them on amphetamines to calm them down.

After we’re done zapping our childrens brains with too much screen time, enforcing a sedentary lifestyle on them, and pumping them up with amphetamines to hide the short term side effects of our school day we also tell them that vocational jobs are for the poor underclass and that it’s college or bust in a world of climbing unforgivable student loans, diploma mills full of trap degrees that will never pay for themselves, and a tradesmen shortage where electricians, plumbers, and welders, just to name a few, can climb to six figure jobs.

Our choices as parents to deal with these phenomenon are limited, but many are choosing to homeschool as they are met with administrators and school boards that are seemingly immune to reason. However, I do encourage you to try that route if you can, talking to administrators I mean. Get involved with instructors, support staff, school administrators, and county officials. Your kid is going to be in that system for at least 13 years, let administrators know in no uncertain terms they can look forward to a peaceful, or tumultuous decade of their lives with you on these matters, and that’s if you only have one child. If you have more remind them that they may be seeing you around for oh, 20 years, and they might wanna do something to make that relationship a peaceful one. If you decide to homeshcool instead, remember that the time commitment is no joke. The curriculum isn’t actually the hard part of homeschooling, the logistics are. Do your research, make a plan, weigh your options.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Book Review – 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos

Book Review – 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos

I’ve been looking forward to picking up 12 Rules For Life for a while now. I’ve enjoyed Jordan Peterson’s online lecture series off and on for a few years in distracted moments that needed a bit more productivity than gazing at the outdated popcorn ceiling or watching things explode on YouTube. After I started this blog 12 Rules moved up in importance on my reading list but stayed behind books that seemed to be more about addressing direct problems to relationships and marriages that were in trouble and needed immediate fixing. Those books just seemed to fit the mission of the blog better though I had a feeling 12 Rules could potentially be just as efficant in the long term. 12 Rules surprised me in some ways, conformed to my expectations in others, and disappointed me in ways I should have predicted. So let’s dive in.

One axis I use when recommending a book in the self-help space is the opportunity cost for reading it. There are other books you can read, they might apply to your situation more directly, or you may be able to grab 2 helpful books for the price of a different singular one. This is where books that are more comprehensive, like say Marriage, A History run afoul a hesitation to recommend simply based on the fact that you could get two points of view from potentially two different but related subjects for the price of the one deep dive in both time and cost. Being too short and lacking comprehensive qualities is bad, but being too long and failing to get to the point is equally as bad—I’m giving you an example of this right now. 12 Rules seems to ride the line here for me. It’s inexpensive, no issues there, you can currently pick up the hard cover—my preference—on Amazon for like 17 bucks (or is that buckos). The length however is a bit of a double edged sword. It’s not that 12 Rules is entirely too long, the meat of the book is approximately 350 pages and I was able to clear that in a day. Much like Marriage, A History my reading speed was slowed by the fact that many of the sentences weren’t exactly skip-able, skimming is a bad idea with 12 Rules. But I felt like each rule took too long to get to the point, and let me explain that a little bit, because that’s really worth a breakdown.

One, there’s a bias alert here. If you watch the bulk of Peterson’s online lectures like I have a ton of the material in this book is remedial. Secondly, I think Peterson made the right choice in the persuasion tactic. Sure, you could arrive at the points a lot more quickly with a few short facts, but then why have the book at all? 12 Rules could be a Buzzfeed style list article if you weren’t going to take the task of expressing the very real-life, highly emotional and devastating consequences of breaking the rules. The intent here doesn’t seem to be giving you a list of guidelines, it’s a list of rules and that takes a little extra convincing. Rightly so! if you just willy nilly accepted the rules because they were in a book you’d be just the kind of non-existent doormat of a person Peterson is warning you against being in the first place! There’s also the point that I was reading the book front cover to back cover with no priority to the order of consumption. I did not skip rules I was already following and I didn’t skip ahead to rules I found more intriguing. That’s probably actually how this book is supposed to be used, but for the sake of the review I read it cover to cover and that may have not been the best way to enjoy it.

Here’s what I did enjoy. A lot of these rules have immediate application. If there are any parents here I highly recommend picking up this entire book just for Rules 5 and 11. If you argue a lot with your spouse or friends a lot you’re gonna wan’t to read 8, 9, and 10 first. I don’t think there are many people around who don’t need to read rule 3 every now and again.

The prose is easy to read, and while Jordan Peterson takes himself seriously he doesn’t take himself too seriously, though his writing voice isn’t nearly as fun as his lecture voice. They’re similar but it’s just not the same when you can’t get the inflections. Peterson’s skills at oration are just flat out superior. Peterson also makes sure to assure the reader he isn’t speaking from some high-horse position either and I found that quite nice. As he says in one of his lectures…

“I’m full of snakes and so are you…”

So what’s the conclusion here. Ultimately when I sit down and I review one of these the central question I ask myself before all others is “Can this book help you”? As with most good self-help books, the answer is, if you let it. Peterson’s book however deserves a special call out here. It’s tough love, love, but tough love. If you want help from this book you will get it, but you have to want to let it help you, I’d say more than other books I’ve reviewed here. Given that prior, I think it’s as close a thing as you’ll get to a “Classic” in the self-help genre and you can’t beat the price right now. Get 12 Rules, and get it in hard cover, have your children read it when they’re old enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

One of the pleasures of reading John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last was how it gave articulation and voice to an idea I had been holding onto for a while about trust, and that idea was when it comes to getting into an argument with your significant other or really anyone else is that the amount that the facts of the situation matter is entirely dependent on how much trust there is between the two of you and the severity of the situation.

Of course this idea has functional limits. If your wife walks in on you ankle deep in another woman all the trust in the world isn’t going to undo the facts of what she saw. But trust has a lot to do with other less extreme situations, like not being where you said you were going to be. However, I find that the extreme situations are where it’s easiest to illustrate this whole trust as reality idea. Suppose you’re just sitting there minding your own business in your bedroom with your spouse. Some wrong number text comes your way telling you what an awesome time someone had sleeping with you last night. Now suppose your wife was quick enough to read the push notification. Has your behavior with other women in the past been virtuous enough that she’ll believe it was a wrong number? And further more has she had enough trust in you to begin with to establish that pattern of behavior?

That last idea is kind of critical and I want to expand on that one a bit more because part of the exercise of being in a relationship is that you have to trust the other person in it enough that they’re in a position to hurt you and let them prove themselves or fail you, either way. Let’s say your wife in the example above never even lets you be around other women as a rule. Well how in that situation are you even supposed to build the trust in the first place that you can use it to soothe her into the reality that it really was a wrong number? Well you can’t because she hasn’t let you, and so in this example the reality doesn’t even matter. Low trust begets low trust because it turns innocent pieces of reality into guilty verdicts. It’s a negative spiral that you can subject yourself to accidentally by allowing your low initial trust to prevent the behaviors that are necessary to build it up in the first place.

The digital era can really highlight this phenomenon in some really nasty ways that I think a lot of us have experienced. If you’ve ever had someone take something in your text history out of context to beat you over the head with it in a way that makes no sense you’ve been there. If you’ve tried to prove your innocence with exculpatory evidence from the same and have found it lacking the efficacy it ought to have had you’ve experienced this too. You may have even done this to someone in the past and not realized what you had done until it was too late.

I can’t really tell you how to avoid having this done to you by someone else, you can’t control other people so much. The only thing I can really tell you about what to do with other people is to exhibit behavior that builds trust and to demand the freedom required to establish those behaviors. When it comes to doing this to other people though I think I have a little bit more useful advice. Don’t get attached to what you think the facts are when you feel you’re owed an apology or recompense. Fundamentally it’s not the facts you are interested in anyway, it’s the recompense, you’re just using what you believe are the facts to extract that because you think the situation is a bit more rational than it actually is. The problem is when you tie these two things together and someone gives you evidence that you’ve been mistaken then you would also have to admit that you aren’t owed the apology, but you feel that you are! So what you’ll do is perform these fantastic denials of reality and really distrustful and manipulative things to maintain this narrative in order to get this apology or change in behavior you want. You’ll move goal posts and gish gallop and all sorts of abusive behaviors to keep this false narrative going because you’ve linked it so tightly with your need for your feelings to be acknowledged.

Now I’m not talking about ignoring things like I talked about in the beginning. Don’t allow someone balls deep in another woman to gaslight their way out of it, that’s dumb. But for other things what you should do is ask yourself if you trust this person, and if you think they care about you, and if that answer is yes all you have to do is let them explain their actions and deal with the reality of them, and it’s okay to still want an apology even if they’ve done something reasonable. Sometimes reasonable things hurt, like when people put their own well being before yours. Don’t get it all mixed up in some accusatory fantasy you created to extract a guilty plea. No one has to be guilty of a moral wrong to hurt your feelings. Furthermore making someone apologize for something they didn’t feel they did is abusive and if they’re willing to be insincere because of your badgering you’ve damaged the relationship to begin with. On the other side of that coin if you really care for somebody and their feelings were hurt by a reasonable thing you did acknowledge their feelings and you’ll find you can both move on a lot more quickly. Don’t let someone extract an apology out of you for something you didn’t do either, for the reasons mentioned above, that’s abuse, and if you find that you’ve done that to someone and you care about them you’ve got a lot of repair work to do.

Anyway, I hope that’s given you some insight in why you shouldn’t get too caught up in the ‘truth’ of a situation when dealing with it in an argument, whether your the accuser or the accused.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Sleep Training

You’ll find all sorts of resources out there on how to sleep train your baby. Everyone seems to have some sort of method but a few seem to rise to the top. We chose the cry it out method. I’m going to tell you now why we think this was the best choice for us and what you might expect.

I think this is by far the hardest method to do initially. It’s always hard to hear your baby cry. We spend most our waking moments as parents trying to avoid the crying. Hearing your child cry just penetrates on levels that I don’t think non-parents can truly ever understand.

But understand too that you are also suffering. Without sleep training your baby robs you of the rest you need to take care of the baby itself, and of your spouse and any other children you have, robs you of the sleep you need to maintain your career. In order to truly take care of your baby, and yourself, you need to get them sleep trained. Your baby needs to be in bed at regular hours, up out of bed at regular hours, without needing soothing from you so that you can do the same.

Your home life will improve. Your health will Improve. Your sex life will improve. You will take your life back in ways you weren’t even aware it was missing. But there will be some pain first, about a whole week of it on average.

Your baby is going to cry, especially on the first night. They’re going to flood with negative emotions and holler and scream-cry. You know the one I’m talking about, the crying that hurts extra. You may have to check them periodically (no sooner than every 30 minutes or so) for their diaper, as often they’ll angry poop, which makes them more uncomfortable and makes them cry harder. In time you’ll learn how much crying you should let them do before checking in on them, but start with a hard clock. Do not waiver on this clock. Easier said than done, I think that’s the most difficult and agonizing part of this entire process.

You will soon be rewarded however. By night 3 or 4 you should notice drastic increases in your baby’s ability to self soothe and you’ll start to feel control return to your life. After a week, you should start feeling in control of bed time again. Yes, this means even you co-sleepers, we were co-sleeping before we crib trained. Don’t feel bad if you have auditory hallucinations of crying every once in a while, that’s normal. You’ll start noticing, especially if you’re a stay at home mother, more time to actually work on chores, sleep, and even have sex, and your baby will even have a better mood and disposition when they’re awake because before your sleep train their rest isn’t so good either!

You should wait for between months 4-6 at the earliest to start sleep training, you will also have a more difficult time if you wait as long as we did (over a year), but trust us, it’s worth it. Take your life back, take your marriage back, get control back in your house, sleep train your baby.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Our Last Child – How We Knew

How many children is enough children? Now that’s a question that can cause a disagreement or two. When Emily and I met I wanted a very large family, she wanted just two children. Life has a funny way of flipping the script. After her second delivery—a painful ordeal that seemed so much worse than the first—I decided I didn’t want her to go through with that again. Emily decided she was hungry for another, go figure. I was happy to oblige of course, it was her body after all and who better than Emily to say what she could and couldn’t do again. So along came number three. Delivery was actually pretty easy as far as deliveries go and we were both feeling pretty good about that. It went so well in fact I recall Emily joking about how she could do a few more.

It didn’t take long however for the differences in raising our third child to assert themselves. Given our target audience, I feel the need to go into this next bit in some detail, a little “Explain it like I’m five”. If you deliver vaginally and everything goes great and perfect your doctor is going to put you on six weeks of no penetration. It only goes up from there. We were blessed with all three deliveries and we never got more than six weeks probation, but the third six weeks was by far the longest one for both of us. What seemed simple the first two times around required new rituals and assuring words the third time. We wanted each other terribly, it was agonizing. The first two weeks weren’t so bad, Emily didn’t even want to think about sex at that point, but even though she was hardly healed and was still having to wear pads for everyday bleeding, week three had started a marathon of unfulfilled longing. We worked on ways to express ourselves physically knowing that no release would come, and we still use those techniques today when we just can’t catch a moment. The days nevertheless drug on. This was just the earliest and first difference in a string of moments and realizations that would have us saying “Yes, this is enough”.

We hadn’t picked up on that first sign at this point in our story. In fact, Emily was already talking about having a fourth, this time seriously instead of hospital bed joking, and I was all about it too. We were still in the period where number three was sleeping most the time and feeding for the rest. As we talked through the requirements for number four though, I started to realize the numbers weren’t adding up. We’d need at least one vehicle upgraded to a larger size, and depending on the sex of the child we’d have to re-arrange the entire house and convert some living area into another bedroom or upgrade the house as well. We didn’t have the financial bandwidth for that. Emily still very wanted and fourth, but I was starting to think it wasn’t such a great idea, still, I was committed to providing her what she wanted.

The next phase is what rang both our alarm bells hard enough to change our minds. Number 3 started going through sleep regression, which happens at about the 4-6 month period, and our daughter, three at the time, started regressing in her potty training over the attention the new baby was getting. By the time our new infant was one year old I was saying things like “I want our bed back, I want my wife back”. For contrast, our firstborn had nursed and co-slept for eighteen months, and everyone was comfortable with it. We started openly discussing being done with children, and how we had our lives on pause for too long. Emily wanted to rejoin the work force, I wanted time to dedicate to progressing in my career. We’d taken so long getting to #3 that I was already violating one of the rules we’d agreed to about the number of children we’d have, or more importantly, when we’d have them. I didn’t want to be over 50 by the time all our children graduated high school, number three already put me over that age, albeit just, but that line had been crossed.

Now you may be thinking something along the lines of “Wow you guys were really ignoring the signs that you needed to be done”. You’d be correct. That’s why I’m writing this. We had indeed been ignoring not only the signs that we weren’t ready for another yet, but that we weren’t ready for another at all and I’m hoping, maybe naively, that we can spare another couple that experience. We actually continued a bit further stubbornly holding onto the idea that we could deal with another plus one, but after we’d started weening and sleep training earlier than we had any of the other children, we realized how dedicated we were to this being over, we realized how deeply we missed simple things like drinking together, or cuddling each other to sleep. The sleep training part of that ordeal is probably worth its own post. Actually, yeah, expect that later this week. The short of it is, we were able to reclaim our bed, and it felt amazing. That simple change brought us a significant amount of emotional energy that we’d been lacking. The crib is still in our bedroom, the baby still sleeps there, but just having that space to ourselves to hold each other, to cuddle, and not being kicked in the face or having to watch where my arms are going has been liberating in ways neither of us needed for the prior two children.

This phase of our lives just feels over, much the same way it began. All of our carefully thought out plans for starting our family blew by the wayside to the emotional feeling of simply being ready, and all our plans for having more were cancelled by emotional needs too. So if you’re looking to start a family, or you’re simply curious about what that phase of marriage looks like and how those decisions get made I hope sharing a little snippet of our story helps, even if that just means you know a few more questions to ask and some things to watch out for. Really, just trust your instincts, even if they change suddenly. There’s a reason there aren’t many guides out about this topic. Sure, you may know what to expect when you’re expecting, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of manual to make the decision to start trying to expect or to stop, there’s just too many variables. So keep your ear to the ground, feel it out, and remember no one has done this in the exact same way that you have.

If you’ve already been through these decisions, or have more specific questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. Until next time.