Martin and I spent a lot of time in 2016 talking about money. We prioritized our traveling around visiting friends and family. We took advantage of food discounts through my employer. We cut a long of extraneous spending, took up some new low-cost hobbies (backpacking — after purchasing equipment and board games), bought a more fuel-efficient vehicle and found a cheaper apartment.
But I also lost my job in June. I made the decision to go back to work as quickly as possible and I’m so thankful for my new opportunity, but it was still an eye-opening experience that made me so thankful for all of the hard work that I put in financially. 2016 was a rough year in many regards but was a huge step in the right direction for long-term financial planning.
Then December rolls around and while we have talked our families into reduced material gift-giving this time year, there is another unavoidable buzzing in the ear around the holidays.
“Donate to every worthwhile cause ever!”
Though I risk sounding miserly, ever since getting involved with progressive activism while in college, I have noticed that year after year, the organizations I follow and support from the sidelines always ask for donations around the holidays. Having worked for such organizations, that ask is built into the financial plans for the whole year. That is all well and good except when your inbox gets flooded with every single one of them asking for money at the exact same time and for someone who is also trying to be fiscally responsible, it makes a pretty easy out to throw up my hands and say, “I can’t possibly donate to all of these so I won’t donate to a single one!”
I’ll be the first to admit that is the absolute wrong answer in that scenario. And I have given to several organizations so which ones do I choose? This led to a long late-night discussion over a couple of beers regarding the nonprofit industrial complex and the inefficiency of many well-meaning NGOs.
It turns out that one of my biggest values when it comes to change-making work is transparency. I like transparency from higher-ups in the decision-making process, I like to be able to speak transparently about my cause, and I want to see transparently where my efforts are going, whether that be through volunteerism or my money. I donate close to home; for example, to a cause where I know roughly 80% of my donation is actually going to pay the salary of the Executive Director who is doing work I believe in and holding a space for change that would otherwise not exist.
But in most NGOs, that level of transparency just doesn’t exist. There are too many levels of bureaucracy and so many employees that to know exactly who your dollar amount is benefitting, is nearly impossible. I think this subconscious realization is great justification for crowd-funding campaigns and their poignant, specific stories and fundraising efforts. I’m much more likely to donate directly to even a 3rd-degree connected acquaintance battling with a medical condition that to donate to a massive, inefficient NGO that gobbles up money and provides no guarantee that their support of “research” is actually working.
So I formed my philosophy on “extra giving” which helps align with my general philosophy on spending less overall. But what it got Martin and I thinking, was if we cut back on “extra giving,” is there somewhere else we can add value in everyday life?
I’ve had the conversation with many friends about where your “food dollar” is going. Because I have learned so much about the horrors of our modern-day food system, how, where and what I buy to sustain myself is a very thoughtful act. I try to eat a nutritionally balanced diet while also doing as little harm to the planet and to workers along the supply chain as possible. Its a tall order, but with a little research becomes part of every day life and I could never go back having engrained these values.
This philosophy can certainly extend beyond food. This year, Martin and I decided that we would start aligning our necessary, daily purchases to all be towards these ethical values that we hold in lieu of mass giving. We will report out on our practices and what we discover and hope that others with the means to might consider doing the same.
- It’s easy to resort to buying almost every, miscellaneous item on Amazon.com, but rather than do that, seek out local, specialty stores that are a pillar of the community and treat their employees well for purchases such as lightbulbs at our local hardware store.
- Clothing is frankly really difficult to buy ethically sourced in the United States without having some other detriment to its name like in the case of American Apparel . How to get around this? Consume less, do a LOT of research and buy second-hand when possible.
- Makeup is another tough one that involves me personally grappling with how much I think I “need” to be confident and work in a professional setting and at the very least I can research cruelty-free and environmentally sustainable options.
We figure that at the end of each month, we will compare the price differences between a well-thought out and “responsible” purchase against the top, generic similar item on Amazon.com and the difference will add up to positive contributions that while we might not be able to directly trace, we would have purchased anyway and at least will be doing some good with our money.
I hope you follow along with our journey and if you’re interested in joining, we would love to have a discussion with you and support your efforts.
Thanks for reading and happy new year!