As I hinted in my last post, “Investing Anguish,” there is more to investing than money. That is, there are ways to invest for a secure future, that don’t involve putting money in an IRA or even a bank account. It involves investing in yourself!
Investing in Yourself: Health
I believe the most important investment we can make is investing in our health. Health insurance is expensive. Drugs are expensive. Being sick is expensive—and not very fun. I was so glad to hear Martin O’Malley talk about wellness during the town hall this week, not just about treatment and medication. (Love you Bernie, but please, talk about prevention!)
We have a health care crisis in our country—this is nothing new. Our national health expenditure (NHE) was 3 trillion in 2014. That’s $9,523 per person, or 17.5% of GDP. Part of this has to do with high health insurance premiums and expensive drugs—going to a single payer model will help.
But… We also need to invest in our health! There’s no reason why we should be so sick. We’ve conquered all of the illnesses that killed us in the past. Our modern chronic illnesses are caused by our automated, drive-through, stressed-out, quick fix lifestyle.
Sure, some of the things that make us sick are out of our control, but we control a lot of it—what we put in our bodies, how much we move, how much time we spend in nature, the quality of our sleep…
It’s time to invest in health. Yes, we need to make health care available to all people, but as part of that plan, we need to focus on prevention—and health optimization! We need to make it cheap to eat real food and expensive to eat junk food. We need to build walking and biking trails to encourage natural movement (walking to work most days is helping me manage my weight fairly effortlessly). We need to create opportunities for people to experience nature. (Sweden has a great model: http://www.friluftsframjandet.se/) We need to teach kids how to soothe themselves so they can fall asleep at night. (I use the 4-7-8 breath, and it works like a charm.)
This will require policy change and a paradigm shift. But it must happen. NHE is only growing. In fact, it is projected to grow 1.1 percent faster than GDP over the next decade. Yikes!
The good news? You can start investing in your own health today!
Investing in Yourself: Home Ownership
One of our strategies for a secure future is minimizing our costs. Paying a mortgage or rent is a big expense. Our goal is to pay off our house within the decade—ideally before I turn 50.
This may be easier said than done, but it is really a matter of priority. We could choose to drive expensive cars and go on luxurious vacations and eat out every night. But we choose to live fairly frugally so that we can have a more secure future—and tread more lightly on the planet.
It’s worth looking at a mortgage payoff calculator to see how much quicker you can pay off your mortgage (and how much you can save!) if you increase your monthly payments. It’s quite inspiring.
Investing in Yourself: Resilient Community
While buying a few acres and becoming completely self-sufficient on a permaculture homestead sounds magical, it’s not practical for many of us. We have houses and jobs and don’t necessarily have time to raise our own food.
However, in order to have a secure future, it does make sense to invest time and energy into building a resilient community—a community that is prepared for the turmoil that inevitably lies ahead.
Community resilience is a measure of the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations. (RAND)
Here are some of the characteristics I envision in a resilient community:
- Robust local food network of farmers, food processors, farmers markets, food cooperatives, and locavores. Also, utilizing common areas for food forests and community gardens.
- Locally-owned utilities (including water, electricity, Internet).
- New construction with local building materials—and incorporating green building best practices.
- Lots of opportunity for creative expression through art studios, opera houses, street theatre, and community singing and dances.
- Myriad small businesses create products for use in the community and for export to other communities in the region and beyond.
- Fostering worker cooperatives and social entrepreneurship.
- A focus on green spaces, blue waters, and clear skies.
Consider these resources to get started:
- Transition Streets
- Slow Money
- BALLE: Be a Localist
- YES! Magazine
- Resilience (Post Carbon Institute)
- Center for a New American Dream
Investing in yourself—and your community—is the best thing you can do for a secure future.