Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kicking-- or Curing-- the Costco Habit….

Quick: What do these two things have in common?

A couple of years ago I made my husband crazy talking about Costco. I had just read a very good—and rather unexpected—article in Good Housekeeping or something about Costco, whose author made very astute remarks about the risks and rewards of Costco shopping. According to Barry Schwartz, Costco and Trader Joe’s are two of the places where shoppers report the highest satisfaction. But not me. I come back from Costco with very mixed feelings—elated by my purchase of huge, 5-dollar rotisserie chickens, but unsure about the two pairs of $12 Hanna Andersson jammies and downright irritated at myself for buying the 3 pounds of raisins. That article, plus another piece in Real Simple about Christmas shopping, helped me recognize a couple of clever tricks Costco employs—and curb my frustration somewhat. So I know have 2 lessons I’ve gained from others, plus one of my own, that help me shop there more happily and productively:
1)      Costco has no marked aisles or clearly labeled areas, which creates “comparison confusion”—your sense of scale is thrown off; when you see expensive things next to cheap things you’re more likely to buy more stuff.
2)      Retailers have discovered that if you buy something expensive first, you’re more likely to blow your budget in other areas as well. Once you’ve spent $500 for a camera, chances are you’re not going to balk at an extra $5 for 3 lbs. of premade quacamole. (This is a trick used A LOT at Christmas time). Costco cleverly puts all the big, high end stuff (as well as seasonal goodies) up front…pretty sneaky, sis!
3)      My own (and others’!) observation: not everything is cheap at Costco. Some high end things and staples are priced great—prosciutto, garbage bags, eggs…But some aren’t any better than a decent sale at your local supermarket (be it Giant or Shoprite). So if I don’t use a lot of it, it’s often better not to buy it in bulk.
The last two times I went there to mixed success. One time I caved—I saw all the cute, cheap-ish clothes and got distracted. But another time I kept focused, headed for the food straight away, and came away with my most successful shopping expedition there EVER. Now my reading of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is making me search out the “pleasure hit” that I associate with Costco….though I suspect it’s that damn chicken.
(If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend the excellent NY Times article which first got me thinking about the habit thing:—it’s long though, so you’ll need to be sitting down. If you want to get to cut the habit section, it’s actually the third and final part…) 

Friday, March 23, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: March 23, 2012

1.     So….I helped coordinate a lecture with one of my ‘fascinating people’--Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore. Both his talk and the dinner afterward brought up lots of great topics, which I’m sure I’ll be commenting on ad nauseam in days to come. But in the meantime, I’ll just say that he used and commented on this New Yorker cartoon. His first instinct was to think “Wow, how myopic this goldfish mother is to think her kid can be anything—they're in a fishbowl!!” But now he thinks being in a fishbowl has something to recommend it in terms of personal happiness since we're in a world with an overwhelming number of choices….
2.     Breakthrough with my oldest daughter!  C has a great work ethic and enthusiasm, but she was having real problems with her piano playing because she was racing through her songs as she practiced them and making the same mistakes over and over again. She has a hard time with criticism, too, so when she’d have her lesson she’d get upset with her teacher, too. Sigh. So I offered her a challenge. I told her to play her piece through—it took her 5 minutes. I offered her money (OK, bribed her…) to play it in 6 minutes…then in 7 etc. until she got all the way to 15 or so. It has really changed her attitude! And after the beginning she stopped caring about the bribe. It’s really shown me, again, how turning a stressful situation into a game or challenge is immensely powerful --and game-changing! I started this 3 weeks ago and I am still seeing the positive effects in regards to attitude and performance (and no money has been involved since that first week).
3.     On a similar note, I recently read a book I heartily recommend. (It’s so good that after taking it out of the library and finishing it, I am going to buy my own—Big Spender that I am).  It’s the Whole Brain Child. Basically, it helps you understand your child’s brain development better and gives you parenting strategies that both help you recognize what’s happening in your kid’s head AND help him break out of behavior that isn’t working for him and you. One of the things it encourages you to do is to talk about difficult situations that happen to your child, and to “reflect and redirect”—to share or reflect your child’s emotional state and THEN try to redirect them to more constructive behavior. I have to report some success. My unreasonable two-year old seemed quite fascinated—and somewhat soothed—when I talked to him (post facto) about how upset he was that we were leaving his friend Thomas’s house and how I understood how mad he was and how I, too,  wished we didn’t have to go….
4.     One step forward, one step back. Oldest daughter C is also a voracious reader (a good thing), but it’s really hard to keep on top of what she’s reading…and I don’t have the time to vet everything myself. So I/we are constantly on the hunt for age-appropriate series that are either a) wholesome/good or at least b) not offensive or creepy. Amazing how much garbage is out there….
5.     My generous mother recently gave me two beautiful oilcloth tablecloths which I really love (we are both suckers for a lovely oilcloth). Two days later, a spaghetti stain was plaguing one of them. Desperate to find a way of getting it out, I went on line….to see a whole hoard of others with the same complaint (who knew?!). The only thing that seemed to work for people was hanging the oilcloth in the sun since the sun bleaches out stains. Who knew?! As a city girl, I had NO IDEA about these fringe benefits of the sun.It’s really made me rethink the line-drying option. If the sun can bleach out stains that are beyond the power of oxyclean, I need to explore this!
6.     Some of you may have seen the WSJ article a month ago—or the backlash—on why French parents are better. (If not, here goes: Too much to talk about, as usual, but one central feature was  that French parents (apparently) direct their children with greater authority. I think any parent recognizes the difference between telling your kid to do something and telling your kid to do something with that look and with follow-up. I think it’s true that too often we Americans (myself sometimes included) don’t take our own authority seriously enough. Recently I was at a meeting when a mother left when her son acted up. She and the rest of her family left the gathering.  That kind of commitment is challenging at first but it really pays off. And usually you don’t have to follow through so many times before your kid starts to really get it.
7.     On a random front, I was doing pretty well in avoiding colds this winter- cum- spring until two weeks ago when I got zapped with a really nasty head cold. I’ll spare you the TMI details, but it’s been ugly. A friend suggested a Netipot and I got one yesterday. Amazing! The difference is really astonishing. I am not prone to testimonials, but I feel sorely tempted in this case.