The single most positive result of my renewed practice of blogging has been my ability to reconnect with my core values. The combination of regular, reflective writing and public transparency motivates me to figure out what really matters to my life and hold myself accountable for those priorities.
My biggest financial goal for 2019 is to align my spending with my core values. I want to only make purchases and use companies/products that support my values. This is not as easy as it first seems, especially since I am trying to get out of debt. I owe money to companies and banks I would not support if I were choosing companies based on ethical practices for the past purchase of goods and services that may not align with my values.
Additionally, our world and economic practices are globalized to the point that it is quite difficult to find ethically-sourced products. Let’s say I decide that Costco has positive labor practices and a service-oriented business model that I support enough to endorse with my spending, but what about the different brands of products they carry? I’m certain the smartphones carried by Costco and other companies are tainted by the cobalt child labor mining problem. I will need to purchase a replacement cell phone sometime in the next few years (months?); how will I approach this issue? Furthermore, ethical marketing is now a thing (as evidenced by “organic” packaged foods), making it even more difficult to distinguish real practice from marketing strategy.
Last year, I made a lot of progress toward living a life more aligned with my values. However, I do believe that taking more steps in the right direction will improve my mindful spending Here is what I’m doing this year to achieve this goal:
- Do more work on clarifying what my values are. I mean, sure, I know what my values are, but sometimes it’s hard to weigh competing values. For example, I want to be effective at my job because I am working to create empowering opportunities for students (a major core value of mine). This article in Forbes suggests that what I wear impacts my effectiveness as a leader (I already knew this from years in the classroom in front of teenagers–the most judgmental and honest group about appearance you will ever meet). While I appreciate flattering clothing and enjoy getting “dressed up” as any ex-theater-kid would, I’ve never been very interested in fashion or style. How much should I care about the quality of my wardrobe at work in service to my job effectiveness? (Same questions for make-up, hair, nails, etc.) This is not a trivial question.
- Give more to charitable organizations and people in need. I work for nonprofit organizations (education and mental health crisis). I volunteer my time to sponsor school groups and with projects I believe in. I help out friends and family with whatever I can. I’m a giving person. However, I’ve never given away much money. I’ve always fancied myself a “giving to charity” kind of rich person, but I excused myself from monetary giving because I thought of myself as not-rich. I recently read Love Your Life Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want by Rachel Cruze (yes, Dave Ramsey‘s daughter who works for him), which I appreciated a great deal. The final habit she talks about was “Give a Little Until You Can Give A Lot” which was about the importance of generosity as an intentional financial habit. So, I looked at my charitable giving last year, and it was unimpressive (although way more than I had given in the previous five years combined… so….). I set a goal to double my giving this year, and I am already reaping the benefits. It’s so exciting and fun to decide to make a monthly donation to our public library, send a bit of money to a family in need, and contribute to a clothing drive through my work. It is such a JOY to send this money out into the world when every other aspect of my spending is about tight control and minimizing. It is changing my whole perspective on giving and helping me become the person I really am. (For more thoughts that influenced my current approach to giving, check out this great post at She Picks Up Pennies.)
- Reconsider Walmart (and Amazon). Look, there is a year-old Walmart that is the closest grocery store to my house and often has the lowest prices for goods. However, within a five-mile radius there are plenty of other options in my town, some of which have competitive prices for food. I know there are many, many great reasons to take my money elsewhere, but I have allowed convenience and the attractiveness of their low prices to override my ethical considerations. I will avoid shopping there whenever possible. (Note, I have some similar thoughts about Amazon, but it is even more ubiquitous than Walmart and I know less about the business practices that concern me; I need to do more research that I’ve been intentionally avoiding.)
- Do better at sourcing my food. We are expanding our backyard garden this year and want to grow more of our own food. Min’s been experimenting with kitchen scrap gardening, but we also will look into where our seeds and cuttings come from when we plant. In Frederick, we are so lucky to live near small family-owned farms, yet I often purchase produce from far away. I’ve chosen to purchase a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) share from a farm about ten minutes from our house (Pleasant Hill Produce, if you wanted to know). We will continue to move more of our food purchases into local and sustainable sources.
- Reduce consumption (and waste). One way to reduce environmental impact and save money at the same time is to just stop buying things (kind of the idea behind environmental vegetarianism). I’m in the middle of a clothes, personal items, and technology shopping ban, but I am seeking to expand this idea into all purchases in my life. I am asking “do I really need this? will I use this? does it support my values?” for everything I buy–food, household goods, toys, etc. Then, I am attempting to use up all parts of what I purchase and bring into my home–from reusing the containers that hold my son’s deli meat for my homemade lunches to making broth from kitchen scraps to composting. When I do need something, I will obtain needed goods secondhand if possible. This might mean waiting a longer time for what I need and compromising on the exact models/brands, but I’m ok with that.
- Do the research. As I’ve mentioned, making ethical financial choices that are also frugal is difficult without becoming an off-the-grid hermit. Sometimes, I’ve not donated to charities because I can’t be bothered to figure out if it is a cause worth supporting. Other times, I’ve convinced myself that buying fast fashion really isn’t any worse than shopping at a thrift store. I am committing to reading at least one book each month that explores the complex ethical issues of consumer purchases in the U.S. because I’ve found that increasing my awareness of the harm in my daily actions strengthens my resolve to avoid harmful actions.
Spending-values alignment being a major financial goal for 2019, I will be including updates on my progress with my monthly Debt Elimination Updates. I will also be working on this project throughout the year, blogging about specific progress and intentional spending choices.
How do you ensure your money aligns with your values? I’d love to hear your advice as I embark on this journey!