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Skinny jeans, a samurai sword and a monkey

Dave McElhinny
| Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, 3:36 p.m.

We can't always get what we want — and more often than not — that's a good thing.

We all need to have somebody who protects us from ourselves. In my home, that duty goes to my wife, the only one who truly sees the big picture.

Prior to Christmas last year, she asked my two sons and myself, what is the No. 1 thing on our Christmas lists. So we all wrote down our answers and handed them to her.

“Skinny jeans, a samurai sword and a monkey,” she exclaimed. “Really?”

The conversation unraveled from there. Ultimately, we collectively settled for an age-appropriate pair of khakis, a samurai video game, and a stuffed ape.

Throughout my life, I have needed people to reel me in from time-to-time. When we bought our first house, I was insistent that we put in a Bat Pole so we could slide from the upstairs to the downstairs. Instead, we used the money to refinish and repair the old staircase, but she got me a miniature Bat Signal that shines on the wall. So it's a compromise.

What my wife often uses in our home is something called soft paternalism.

If you're not familiar with this, it's a term to describe helping people make the best decisions for themselves in the long run without being too heavy handed.

Here's an example. Some companies have begun a form of this with retirement plans.

Even though it's a smart move and can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars by retirement age, many refuse to enroll in company retirement programs. Instead, they want those few extra bucks in their paycheck. In one such instance, a large company started making participation in the company-matched retirement program part of the regular payroll cycle — enrolling everyone unless the employee said they didn't want to be part of the program.

So, you see, instead of asking them to opt into the plan, now the employees must ask to opt out, which they are welcome to do. It's brilliant in its simplicity and helps anybody on the fence or who is just too lazy to sign up. As it turns out, many just don't want to be bothered with the “hassle” of signing up, so the company made it easy.

The results?

Before this plan, only 44 percent of this company's employees took part. Now, that number has swollen to 85 percent. The company is helping the employees set up a more secure financial future simply by altering how it is presented.

Soft paternalism exists all around us, we just don't always realize it. It's a way to steer people into making better choices. After all, giving my boys a sword and a live monkey would have been a terrible parental decision.

As for the jeans?

Even though my wife insists that nobody wants to see a 250-pound guy in his mid-40s wearing skinny jeans — I have not given up on the dream to one-day squeeze into a pair. What my wife doesn't know is that I have a fistful of Kohls cash burning a hole in my pocket and a willingness to attempt to push that denim to the very limit.

Stay tuned!

Dave McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at or via Twitter @DaveMcTrib.

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