I think about money quite a bit. I would prefer not to. In fact, I would prefer a money-free society. However, until we get there, I acknowledge that money is an integral part of modern living.
In our culture, money equates to success and power. The more money you have, the more successful you are—and they more power you have to make things happen. However, we know that after a certain point, more money does not equal better health or a higher level of contentment (I prefer “contentment” over “happiness”). In fact, the strife for more money can adversely impact health.
When I think about money, I’m mostly concerned with three things:
- Am I using it in the best way possible to achieve financial independence sooner rather than later?
- While using it, am I being true to my values, to my heart?
- And, am I using my (minimal) money power to enact positive social change?
So the good news is that I don’t worry about having enough as long as my husband and I both work—and thanks to my years in Corporate America, we have a good start on our retirement savings. For this I am grateful.
What I worry about is how I spend and invest my money. One of the conclusions I reached in Her Lost Year is that out-of-control capitalism (Big Money) is responsible for much mental distress and general unhealth in our country and beyond. At the forefront of this disaster are owners, leaders, and lawyers of large multinational corporations and financial institutions with their lobbying, tax evasion, derivative speculation, and profit-at-all-cost business model (I could go on, but I’ll spare you).
In order to walk the talk, I feel I must make a more concerted effort not to support the owners of these organizations (Big Business) with our family’s money. And this is nature of The Great Money Experiment, which I have been planning and dreaming about for almost a year.
The Main Idea
Starting TODAY, I will take an upgraded approach to spending and investing money. It goes something like this (in ideal terms):
- Buy only what’s really needed or brings enormous pleasure.
- Borrow, fix, or buy used when possible.
- Walk/bike whenever possible (i.e. unless it’s too far or too cold to do so).
- Buy from local/regional stores. No more big-box retailers (bye Amazon)!
- Review brands to avoid buying from consolidated conglomerates such as Unilever, General Mills, Gap, L’Oréal, and Proctor & Gamble.
- Bank locally and invest existing retirement funds socially and responsibly.
- Investigate local/regional investment options.
- Eat at local restaurants vs. chain restaurants.
- Minimize spend on Big Media (wow, hard!)
- Investigate local energy & Internet options.
Yes, yes, I know. Some of these companies may be perfectly fine. They may not pollute, treat people badly, or exploit anyone. In order to make sure I’m not unnecessarily punishing a company (not that they would notice—it’s not like we spend a lot as it is, but I like to be fair), companies that are certified B Corporations or Fair Trade certified are automatically in. I may consider other ratings and certifications as I learn of them.
If you know of other ratings or certifications I should take into consideration, please let me know!
Since this experiment is going to require a lot of research and I have limited time, I’ve decided to focus on one budget category each month. While I’ll make the obvious changes right off the bat, I’ll make more in-depth changes in each category when that month rolls around.
Here are the twelve budget categories in no particular order:
- Food & Beverage (grocery, restaurant, alcohol)
- Energy/Utilities (electricity, gas, water)
- Communication/Technology (e.g. phone, computers, social media, software)
- Entertainment (Netflix, Hollywood, music, books)
- Fashion (clothes, shoes, jewelry, purses)
- Publishing (books, magazines, newspapers, Internet news)
- Broadcasting (TV, radio, YouTube)
- Health and Wellness (doctors, massage, medicine, running shoes)
- Finance/Banking (checking, savings, credit card, investing)
- Personal Care (makeup, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, hair color)
- Home Supplies (laundry detergent, light bulbs, cleaning supplies)
- Transportation (car, air travel, bikes)
Because finance/banking is the category that bothers me the most (we’re invested in Phillip Morris, gah!), I’m going to start there. Stay tuned.
What About Google?
Good question. I rely on Google for a lot of things in my life such as email, contact management, document management, movie rentals, and searching the Internet. I’m not prepared to move away from Google to open source products at this moment, primarily because Google is considered a great place to work. For example, Google employees (regardless of gender) now get “up to twelve weeks of fully paid baby bonding time.” (Fortune)
Okay, it’s also because thinking of moving to a different platform hurts my head. And I don’t give much money to Google, because I never click on ads.
Fun Fact: Google is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alphabet, which shows up in a number of socially responsible investing funds.
It’s obviously possible to escape most of capitalism and Big Business by becoming a homesteader, building ones own house, growing ones own food, generating ones own electricity, and staying put (you’d have to anyway, because animals…).
However, that’s not what I’m aiming for here. What I’m hoping is to find ways to feel content in my relationship with money and how I use that money while maintaining my current lifestyle (which is already quite simplified). It’s living in the system, but also trying to change the system little by little.
I’d love to be able to retire early and focus 100% on social change (and reading, and knitting, and singing, and walking around in the woods). However, this requires wise investing and frugal living. On the flip side, shopping locally and small isn’t always the cheapest option. So one of my goals is to find a happy balance between smart saving and local economy-friendly spending.
I’m so excited this is finally happening! I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.
Here’s to a 2016 full of contentment, health, and good cheer!