“As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” — Dwight Eisenhower
I don’t hide the fact that I’m economically progressive. I’m fine paying my fair share of taxes. I’m grateful to live in a country with universal healthcare (Canada). And I’ll sleep just fine if major corporations suddenly have to pay higher taxes.
While I’d like to consider myself a principled person, I’ll admit that I often neglect to think about how spending and managing my money could be in more in line with my values. For the longest time, I parked my money in a major bank, bought cheap clothes at places like H&M and Forever 21, and made financial decisions that saved me the most money. But, as you know, what’s convenient or lucrative doesn’t always coincide with your principles, and betraying your principles for the sake of money is hardly a way to live.
And so, I started doing some research. Dug a little deeper into the changes that I could afford to make. It turns out that they weren’t as much of a burden or as big of a deal as I thought, and I can sleep well knowing that I’m not talking out of two sides of my mouth. Here’s what I learned.
1. Purchase Strategically.
Recently, I made a conscious decision to get rid of most of my stuff: clothes, shoes, books, jackets, and “just in case” items. Everything was either donated to local organizations or traded through Bunz in exchange for perishable items like bags of coffee.
In preparation for the summer, I bought four t-shirts (two in white, navy with white stripes, and white with black stripes) and three short-sleeve button-ups (white, blue, and olive green), in addition to the existing three tank tops (all black) and three shorts (formal navy, blue denim, and black denim) that I own. Most of my shirts are from Uniqlo. As part and parcel of saying goodbye to frivolous purchases, I don’t plan on buying any clothes for the next couple of years.
The second decision I made was to allow myself to purchase books guilt-free. Since downsizing my stuff, I’m mindful about what I put on my bookshelf. I only want the “greatest hits.” My favorite authors are Joan Didion, Jonathan Lethem, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I will never deprive myself from purchasing hard copies of their works. My goal is to be able to go to my bookshelf whenever I’m happy, sad, lonely, angry, or unsure, and be able to find an answer or, at the very least, an empathetic friend.
2. Support Local Businesses.
I live a seven-minute walk away from a major grocery store. About a block away from there is a local produce shop, owned and run by a Chinese family, who are always in good spirits. Out of laziness, I used to buy all my groceries at the box grocery store. I didn’t want to make two stops, one for fruits and vegetables, and another for everything else, even though the prices are much cheaper at the local shop. Thankfully, my girlfriend talked some sense into me, and now I buy all my produce at the local mart. Yes, it’s slightly inconvenient. Yes, I have to wait in two check-out lines instead of one. Yes, I have to either have cash in hand or spend enough money to use my debit card at the family-owned store. But I get to walk away with cheaper produce knowing that I’m directly investing in my local community. I can see where my money is going and who I am supporting. And that’s good enough for me.
3. Get Rid Of All The Shit In Your Wallet.
I don’t know how, but we slowly accumulate a bunch of loyalty reward cards (“collect 10 stars and get your next coffee free!”), gift cards with less than $5 balances, and other stuff that we barely use. Instead of just letting all of this paper and plastic sit there, create a plan: use them within the next month, or get rid of them. If you’ve managed to keep them around for months without using them, are you really going to miss them when they’re gone? I doubt it. These coupons, loyalty reward cards, and gift cards with minuscule amounts on them just incentivize us to become repeat customers. They’re not giving you a deal. It’s marketing.
I also reduced the number of credit cards I own and the bank accounts that I had open. There’s something freeing in using just one credit card, one debit card, and whatever cash on hand. You don’t have to do some extra calculation about whether it makes sense to charge it on this rewards card or that rewards card. Instead: debit, credit, or cash.
4. Donate Money To Causes You Support.
I don’t share what causes I support because it’s unhelpful. But I’ve made it a point to donate small amounts of cash to various organizations that I believe in and want to succeed. I used to think that I didn’t have enough money to donate, although that didn’t stop me from buying copious amounts of takeout and $6 coffees. The reality is that we can afford to donate a bit of our money, even if it’s just $5, to further changes that we want to see in the world. Don’t let this be just an annual thing. Donate regularly and consistently.
5. Switch to a Non-Profit Financial Institution.
This has been a game-changer. I moved my money from a bank to a credit union, and my one regret is that I wish I did this sooner. Banking with a credit union is unbelievable. You’re not only a consumer of their financial products, you’re a shareholder in the actual co-op. My credit union also invests 4% of their pre-tax profits into donations and sponsorships of local organizations, including community women’s shelters. During my research into this credit union, I learned that the manager of operations is on the Board of Directors of a local women’s center and has helped provide financial coaching for the center’s microlending/entrepreneur program.
When I went into the branch and sat down with one of their financial advisors, I immediately noticed a few things:
- She didn’t push to sell me any of their financial products.
- She encouraged me to attend Board meetings and vote.
- She explained in detail how the credit union has utilized their profits over the past few years
This woman had been working there since she was 18 years old, and it was obvious that she believed in the benefits of banking at a non-profit. She was more knowledgeable than any financial advisor I have ever encountered at a regular bank. She was also a shareholder of the co-operative, and she could be frank about what she thought would be best for the credit union (and consequently best for her). The better the credit union does, the more competitive the financial products they can offer to their members. And, to be honest, their rates are equally, if not more, competitive than banks. Less overhead. Better rates.
In Toronto, credit unions aren’t particularly popular. In fact, I don’t know anyone else who banks at them. But if you’re like me, deeply disheartened by the banking industry, it’s a worthy alternative. Of course, there are fewer brick-and-mortar branches, and finding an ATM won’t be nearly as convenient, but if you mostly use debit or credit when buying things, these are minor annoyances in comparison to the benefits.
Sometimes what’s easy isn’t always right. But it’s about leading by your actions instead of your words to remain principled, regardless of the inconveniences or impediments that it may bring.
Jennifer Chan is a lawyer and blogger. You can find her at jennifertchan.net where she focuses on connecting the dots between work, money, and happiness. She resides in Toronto, Canada with her girlfriend, full-figured rabbit, and a deaf & blind cockapoo.
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