Living a “Baker’s Dozen” Life

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When did “crisis mode” become the new normal? And how can we break the cycle? In my previous post, “Confronting Consumerism from the Inside Out”, I described the thought process that gets us stressed out and behind the proverbial eight ball. This time I want to outline a path of escape.

Stress is Born Here

If you know anyone who is always rushing, or always late, you probably know they’re stressed out. If you know anyone living from paycheck to paycheck, you know they’re worried whether they can make it through another month without an utter financial breakdown. And if you know anyone who drags themselves from home to work and back again without a single extra erg of energy left over, that person would also be stressed. Or they would, that is, if they had the energy to do so.

This lifestyle is as toxic as it is common. So what’s the antidote to being chronically short of cash, time, and energy? Obviously, it’s to have enough, or rather, I would argue, enough plus a little. I call this lifestyle the “Baker’s Dozen” life.

The Baker’s Dozen

A baker’s dozen is 13, rather than the 12 of an ordinary dozen. Why would bakers intentionally bake more than necessary? The most likely explanation comes from ancient Egypt. In an early example of honesty in advertising, Egypt set standards for the weight and price of a loaf of bread. In order to dissuade crooked bakers from cheating, selling sub-standard loaves came with serious penalties, up to and including having one’s hand cut off. Even honest bakers were in danger, since it was hard to portion dough precisely into regulation loaves.

The solution wasn’t to fix the loaves themselves, but rather the numbers of loaves sold. Giving 13 for the price of 12 built in a margin of safety that kept the bakers’ hands safely attached to their wrists.

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The baker’s dozen lifestyle responds to the same two factors: the high cost of running short — of anything — money, time or energy; and the fact that we can’t precisely predict the demand we will face. Just like the bakers, our best move is to plan to have just a little more than we need, so we don’t get caught short. We trust in our 13th loaf to keep us safe and get us through.

Living a baker’s dozen life means needing 30 minutes to get to work, but leaving 35 minutes before your shift starts. It means keeping a little cash on your person for a circumstance you can’t imagine and don’t expect. A baker’s dozen life includes a network of friends that not only satisfy your social needs, but also represent a pool of favors you can call in when you need to.

A baker’s dozen life doesn’t specify whether one is rich or poor, but only requires the balance of resources and demands. Minimum-wage workers may be able to live the baker’s dozen lifestyle if they are able to winnow down their needs to less than their earnings, while high-fliers may go broke, not for lack of income, but out-of-control spending.

Getting There

If one isn’t already living a baker’s dozen life, then how to get there? Too many people believe the only way that they’ll ever have enough is to win the lottery, inherit a fortune or, perhaps slightly more realistically, land some ridiculously high-paying job. But a cursory study of lottery winners demonstrates that simply increasing resources doesn’t solve the problem because, lacking specific attitudes and skills, spending paces and then outstrips income — even when income reaches absurd levels. The baker’s dozen lifestyle requires, at its core, an attitude plus a skillset. I’ll try to outline the components needed to make the switch from stressed-out to more-than-enough in the remainder of this piece.

The first attitudinal requirement is either an aversion to coming up short, or an enjoyment of plenty. Either one will do, but an appreciation for bounty seems the more pleasant road. A second attitude is respect for risk and uncertainty. Without this gut-level sense that we may not know what’s coming next, there’s no apprehension about driving without a spare tire or draining a savings account.

The next attitude adjustment is a specific kind of humility. As Clint Eastwood is famous for saying “A man’s got to know his limitations.” It can be hard to admit to ourselves or our peers that we can’t afford all the lifestyle we may be enjoying. Similarly, if we overestimate how much we can earn or underestimate the personal toll a demanding job will take on us, we’ll surely be running on empty. If pride and false image take priority over plenty down the line, then the baker’s dozen life will always be just a fantasy.

Now for the skillset. It’s one thing to have the humility to admit we have limitations, but it takes the skill of estimation to realistically define those limits. One of the factors that makes procrastinators procrastinate is the persistent underestimation of how long a task will take. Years of working in software taught me how hard it is to make a good estimate, and how far off most estimates are. In the end, the only method that really works is to record how long you actually take to accomplish something, then build in a “fudge factor” — the 13th loaf — just to be sure.

A baker’s dozen life requires not just the willingness, but the ability to sacrifice, to turn down, and cut out what we know is beyond our capacity. If we can’t refuse punishing overtime, get out of a bad mortgage, or prune an overstuffed social calendar, we’ll never balance resources and demands. It is always tempting to think that we might someday earn our way out of the hole we’ve dug ourselves, but experience teaches that this fantasy rarely, if ever, materializes.

Living a baker’s dozen lifestyle requires a sense of time and an ability to plan. In the moment, spending, committing and expending energy often seem to make sense. The costs hide out in the distant future, and will stay hidden, unless we plan ahead and project our estimates forward. However, once a balance is struck and the baker’s dozen attitudes and skills are working smoothly, looking to the future becomes not a dreadful task, but a pleasing expectation of future bounty.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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