Tag Archives: Money

The Only Effective Protest

I’m not a big believer in protests, particularly not in the United States. They rarely accomplish anything, and what they do accomplish is often just some small appeasement to make everyone shut up. Protesters are basically like flies on a cow. They swarm around the massive government and corporations and get lazily and easily swatted down.  I am, however, a big advocate of movements. And what moves people in this country? Money.

I thought that the whole “leave your bank” movement within Occupy had promise. If you’re pissed off about something, the best way to protest now is by not financially supporting it, if you can help it at all. I think that it should have extended beyond banks to all kinds of corporations. Had there been a more organized effort, wouldn’t it have made more sense to just say “hey, a-holes, we don’t like what’s going on. And we are not going to give any more money to corporations that have shipped most of the jobs overseas, or are making greed-based layoffs,” or whatever your grievance may be.

The economy, as far as I can understand, is still supposed to be pretty circular. Businesses can’t bring money in if they’re not putting money out (in the form of wages). Well, our current economy shows that they CAN do that, at the cost of private citizens.  They can do it because they can get cheap labor elsewhere, and people will still pay the same amount for the final product. This is how our country got so top-heavy: people (individuals – don’t even get me started on corporate personhood!) getting richer and richer without actually contributing anything to society. So, if you feel truly passionate about putting this country back together, stop putting money in to businesses that aren’t functioning like good citizens. You can yell all you want, but nothing talks as loud as money. If you cut the money off, they’ll get the picture eventually.

So, this is where we get back to the generations analysis. People in American society really like their “stuff.” For various reasons, we have a really difficult time with the idea of not having a lot of stuff, or using stuff until it wears out, or putting any real thought into what kind of stuff we buy. The last generation in this country that really had to pull together, or really knows what it’s like to live without a lot of stuff, is still around, but is slowly passing on. My grandmother (of the Greatest Generation) knows how to make almost everything she needs to survive, and she knows how to fully use the things that she does purchase. She only purchases items that have real value to life, and ideally they are high-quality items that will last forever. My dad (baby-boomer) retained some of her values, in terms of quality of items, but is mainly interested in convenience, and bigger-better-faster-more. The boomers really created the culture of stuff, and began molding that mentality into self-worth: “you are nothing without your stuff.”

Gen Xers I think are a little less interested in convenience than the boomers (they’ll go the extra mile to recycle, or whatever), but still have enough of the boomer values in them to crave “stability” – a certain level of comfort that is directly related to owning a home and the correct furniture, car, techie gadgets, etc. We still have a bit of the bigger-better-faster-more mentality, and a lot of it is wrapped up in image. We’ve continued to press the agenda of stuff.  Now, of course, generation Y is completely obsessed with image. They have grown up entirely indoctrinated into dependence on corporations. How can they create an image if they don’t have stuff? Who would they be? How would they make themselves special and unique?

I guess I went into all the stuff with the different generations as a way to better understand why the hell people don’t just act on their anger. People prefer to bitch, not act, because acting is too hard (and I am not excusing myself from this behavior!). It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. It is scary because we might have to actually face ourselves and each other has human beings, rather than image projections. It is scary because we don’t know what to do with ourselves without our stuff. It is scary because we have never lived without. But the totally irrational piece is that there are still people living, like my grandmother, for whom none of the above was ever a problem! It is demonstrably true that we won’t die from the act of financial dissent! Furthermore, unlike my grandma’s time, there are now lots of businesses that make totally cool, totally ethical STUFF! You wouldn’t even have to totally give it up! All you have to do is think before you buy. If you can’t afford the ethical stuff, than just don’t buy the stuff.

This is what I mean by “financial freedom.” It’s not just getting out of debt, getting out from under the thumb that holds you down; it is also the ability to have a say as a citizen (because if you think that our political process works, you have on glasses so rosy you can barely see). I am still hoping that I will see a time where the members of each of the currently-living generations get over their disparate and selfish reasons for not acting, and actually decide to do some serious rebuilding of the country from the ground (individual) on up. You know – old-school American style.

The Value of Values

On Sunday,what seemed impossible for so long actually happened. Dave and I sat down and tackled a big chunk of this financial planning book that was given to us for our wedding (ya know – almost 3 years ago). It is called Smart Couples Finish Rich, by David Bach, and it comes highly recommended by a friend of mine who likes, and is good at, all this financial planning stuff (that I hate). But, actually, I didn’t hate this part. It was kind of fun and enlightening.

I actually tackled one of the first tasks in the book right after our wedding. I set up a filing system for all our important financial documents. That assignment was not fun. We had papers stuffed in boxes and all over the place. Mail that was years old that hadn’t been opened. That kind of thing. We were pretty deeply entrenched in avoiding our financial situation. Since that time we have become much better about facing up to the facts of our situation (ie., the decision to live with my parents while Dave was in school, instead of taking out more student loans; we actually have a cash flow sheet; etc.). However, we have still struggled to get the two of us on the same page in terms of our spending or our money goals. Therefore we have had totally divergent spending habits and understandings of where we’re trying to go, and have not been making a lot of headway for the future. I think that on Sunday, we might of taken care of that problem once and for all.

In the book, Bach has an exercise to help couples figure out what their top five values are in life, as a framework for what we should actually be using money for. After doing the exercise, Dave and I wound up with exactly the same values (I wonder how common that is? I’m grateful that it’s true for us – I think it will make things a lot easier!). Our values are:

  1. Freedom: not be chained from following our bliss due to financial obligations.
  2. Family: not have money worries place strain on our marriage, plan for our future children.
  3. Home: have a suitable place to live.
  4. Health: self-explanatory
  5. Work/Purpose: note that we don’t say “career” here. Neither of us is interested in climbing any ladders. Dave is interested in being a healer; I’m interested in being a writer. Therefore: work.

I think that these values, and having a visual reminder of them (we made them into drawings called “value circles,” per the book’s instructions), should help guide our spending. I hope so, anyhow!

After the values were set, we went on to make 5 goals each, related to our values, that we are going to focus on this year. I’m not going to share all of them here, but 2 of our goals ended up being the same, too. We both want to pay off our credit debt (currently sitting at $9,000 between the 2 of us – which, from what I hear, isn’t terrible. But it’s definitely not fantastic either) and build a decent savings account. To do that, we are going to have to figure out how to cut our expenses and try to increase our income this year. It’s an adventure!

Overall, I am feeling a lot better about all the financial stuff than I was before. Now that we’ve started really talking about the roots of our finances, I think that we’ll be able to stick to a plan better. Also, it was kind of fun and dreamy to talk about how we want our life to go, and why. Neither of us cares about being rich, or having a lot of stuff. We just want to be happy; and this exercise brought that back home.

The next step:  carry around a notebook and write down everything we spend for the next 7 days, and on what. That should be interesting (I’m a little scared)!

The Old American Dream

Related to last Thursday’s post, I am aware of the source of some of the anxiety that I’ve been having about this move. It is rooted in choosing to live in a way that is different from the way that I was raised to live. I was raised in the suburbs. I have one brother. My parents worked opposite shifts so we never had to go to daycare. We certainly didn’t have a lot of money as a family unit, but I always had my own bedroom, even when we lived in a trailer. We went to Catholic grade school. We went on annual vacations (even if it was just camping most of the time!). We had plenty of toys. Plenty of stuff. We had very little awareness of what a struggle it was for our parents to provide all of this to us. In our minds we weren’t spoiled. We were just “normal.” Now I look back at what my parents sacrificed for us (They never had new clothes. They always drove crappy cars. They never got to get away alone together. Etc.), with a mixture of awe, gratitude, and horror.

At the time, mom and dad were just doing what they felt they were supposed to do. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. Accumulate stuff; mainly for the benefit of their children. They were raised under the idea that their role as parents was to provide a better life for their children than the one they had themselves (even if it meant going into debt to do it). The American Dream. I still think that this ideal rings true; I think that most young parents still want to create the best life possible for their children. I hope so, anyhow! I just think that “a better life” is in the process of being redefined. The idea of “the good life” in American culture is very stuff-centric. There are prescribed steps that, when followed, are supposed to lead to success. Success is a nicely decorated house on a big lot, with lots of fancy appliances and electronics, new cars every couple of years, vacations, etc. In my parents’ generation, and for a couple generations before and after theirs, everyone strove for an approximation of this image of success.

My generation may have been the last where the majority of us were raised in some approximation of the American Dream. The middle class. We were raised to believe that the culture of stuff is normal, and even necessary. Now the middle class is disappearing. There are the rich (we’re talking Oprah and the like, here), the wealthy (aka, anyone that can afford to live the way that my generation was raised to live), the poor (what used to be blue-collar middle class), and the very poor (those that can barely afford, or can’t afford, basic needs like food, shelter, etc.). My friends and I represent the new middle class. Educated, but without any of the money or stuff that has historically been associated with being educated. We simply can’t afford it – our incomes are not commensurate with our education, or with the amount of educational debt we carry.

Roughly 90% of people I know in my age group (I’m thinking of a group of about 100 friends and acquaintances) went to college. A good chunk have advanced degrees as well. The majority of us are married or permanently coupled. At age 30-35, only around 5% own their own homes. Almost everyone I know still rents. We all buy our clothes at discount stores. Some of us have some fancy electronics, etc., but they are in apartments or very modest homes. Many of us are thinking about starting families, but are worried that we can’t afford it, particularly when we are so mired down with student loans, and aren’t yet making enough money to comfortably pay on them, live life, and support children. For us, the old American Dream just simply isn’t really available.

What I think, what I hope, is happening, is that many people, particularly in my generation, are readjusting their ideals for “the good life” to look a little less like their parents’ ideals, and a little more like their grandparents,’ or great-grandparents’ ideals. To be happy, we don’t need a lot of stuff. We can’t require a lot of stuff for happiness, or happiness would literally be impossible. We can still have families. We can still experience life. We just can’t do those things AND own a lot of crap. For many of us, it has to be a choice. I think that for those of us that are on the cusp of this change in ideals, the transition can be emotionally difficult. It has been for me, anyhow. It is difficult to be raised in one value system and to then adjust to another value system. Pieces of the old value system still come back to haunt you, as unreasonable as they may be. My old value system comes back and whispers in my ear that, even though I make a relatively decent living and don’t hate my job, I’m not as successful as I should be.

The reality is that I simply can’t afford to live the same way that my parents did, and neither can most of my peers, despite the fact that I took full advantage of all of the opportunities that they gave me; I took all the right steps. That reality feels a little bit backwards, and my emotions rebel against it (as do those of my parents). But the truth is that I know that the way that my parents ‘ generation, and the generations around theirs, lived has caused massive destruction on this planet, and in the health and well-being of billions of humans. I don’t really even want to live that way. The simple truth is: of course I can live in a small space and still raise a child well. Of course I can be happy and experience life in that same small space. Of course I can get by with fewer outfits. Of course I don’t need every updated gadget that appears on the market. Of course I don’t need to buy my children gobs of toys. Of course I don’t need to eat out all the time. And so on, and so on, and so on. My grandmother did it. Her mother did it. Everyone turned out just fine. Everyone turning out fine and happy is the true mark of success. Not stuff. My family and I will be just fine, too.

The Connection

gala

Abby, Shannon, and me at the Gala, 11/2009

Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about how connected all of my big goals are with each other. Good health, strong spirituality, wealth, and a satisfying career are nodes on the same loop.

Good health is biggie. We’ve all heard the phrase “you haven’t got anything if you haven’t got your health.” This is true on so many levels. The first level is obvious: if you are sick in any way, you are not able to function to your highest potential. If you are tired, can’t breathe, are in pain, can’t move properly, etc., it is going to make it all the harder to reach any goal you set out for yourself. Obviously, people overcome all kinds of physical obstacles to achieve their dreams; but at this point in time I feel like if I have any control over the obstacles, it’s best to just remove them. I have enough “issues” to get over without adding physical problems to the pile! The more energy I have, the more I can devote to spirituality, career development, and wealth.

The second level is that physical issues feed into the psychological issues. If you don’t feel good, it affects your brain chemistry and how you perceive the world; which then affects your behaviors, which affect how others perceive you. The perception of others can affect a lot of things – from your personal relationships to your career. It’s all a self-fulfilling loop. Feeling bad begets feeling bad.

The next level is that your health affects your appearance, which also affects the perception of others. Let’s face it, as much as we all want to say appearance doesn’t matter, it absolutely does. Despite our advanced self-awareness and cognitive ability, it’s my opinion (based on some stuff that I have read that I am too lazy to go find for reference!) that humans still have some holdovers from “survival of the fittest.” Above and beyond obvious conscious biases (ie., if you look like a supermodel or an olympic athlete, chances are that people might be “drawn” to you!), if you’re not healthy, there are a million little subconscious ways that other people are going to know it and be subconsciously biased towards you. I think that is some of the basis for “gut feelings” about people. If you have the opportunity to remove biases that others might have towards you, it is only going to be helpful in developing the relationships that a person needs for a successful career, etc. In other words, I think that health touches every part of our lives.

The next part of the “loop” is money. I don’t think that a lot of money is necessary for good health. But I do see where the more money a person has, the more they can afford to spend on maintaining their health, and they will definitely be less stressed out without debt nagging at them. Furthermore, there’s the old adage, “it takes money to make money,” you need to spend money on education and/or on other resources and supplies in order to gain a successful career that will earn more money. More money can also mean more free time- which can lead to more time for spiritual practice.

Next we have career development. Having a fulfilling career leads to a better sense of confidence and well-being, which contributes to good health in all kinds of ways – higher levels of endorphins, lower levels of stress, etc. People tend to be more successful at things they are passionate about. Success leads to wealth. I also believe that having a vocation, or doing what you are “supposed” to do for a living, can be part of a spiritual path.

Finally, there is spirituality. Like health, I feel that spirituality touches every single part of our lives. Part of it is that I believe that we are each active participants in creating our own realities. Every thought that we have has the potential to be a “prayer”- we are constantly asking the universe, or God, or whatever your preferred title, for what we want via our thoughts and intentions. If you think negatively about your health, money, or career, your experience is going to be negative. If you think positively your experience will be positive. I believe in this both psychologically and physically (I put weight on the whole theory that thoughts have physical bearing). The more energy I can devote to training myself to live with intention, and gratitude for the life that I have at any given moment, the better off I feel that I will be.

So really, the main point that I am trying to make is that having a lot of goals doesn’t need to be overwhelming, because if you are working hard on one of them, it is also going to make a gain in the others. Everything is a big web, and when you make positive changes in one area of life, all areas will be positively affected. Personally, I feel really good about focusing most of my energy on good health right now. It seems like a strong cornerstone. But it’s been a nice side-effect of that focus to begin noticing other, seemingly unrelated changes!