Realigning our [Financial] Values

How do we fight the Man if we continue to buy his cheeseburgers?

Mark Sundeen, The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America

I’ve been devouring knowledge like good food here lately. We started daily Spanish lessons on a free app called DuoLingo, and today will be our 16th lesson. We’ve watched 3 documentaries, including The Minimalists: Less is Now. And, I’ve read 5 books already! From happiness to surviving narcissistic parents to life as an expat in Mexico, all of them have been good, but the book I just finished, The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America by Mark Sundeen, is by far the best, and it is the one that has got me thinking (again) about priorities, consumerism, and the pursuit (and use) of money.

The book tells the story of three different people in search of a more sustainable, ethical, and simple life. It’s not a how-to book chock full of ideas for the average Joe to pretend to live a simpler life. There’s no list of eco-friendly upgrades to buy to increase your sustainability. No, this is a boots-to-the-ground journalistic look into the lives of folks who said “screw the system, I have a better idea!” and it is downright inspiring. In fact, I feel more inspired than I have in a long time!

I have felt for a while that our financial life was out of alignment with our values. The holidays were one big testament to that fact. You see, every year, we say the next one is going to be our last to participate in the charade of gifting. I call it a charade because it has become (in our family) an almost meaningless exchange of stuff, all in the name of tradition, and inevitably someone doesn’t get what they want or doesn’t think the gifts were fair. There’s no love, no joy, and no gratitude attached to any of it. And yet, we go right along with it. Why? Because, after a few years of trying to buck the system, we realized we weren’t going to win and to keep the peace, we did it their way.

Not anymore! On January 1st, we wrote right atop our “not list” that we were not going to be guilted into buying stuff.

We’re only 6 weeks into the new year and we’ve already been tested on this twice. Just yesterday, while in the store grocery shopping with my mom, she asked what Angie and I were getting each other for Valentine’s Day. When I said “nothing”, she responded, “Well, don’t you think you should? How do you show your love if you don’t even get each other a card?” Without missing a beat, I said, “that’s exactly how we show our love, by NOT buying anything”. She shook her head and told me a story about how my dad used to get her flowers, candy, and a card every year. (My parents are divorced, mind you.)

So no, there will be no V-Day gift. No Easter basket. And no pile of gifts under the Christmas tree this year. Each person on our gift list will receive one gift from us and that is it. As to the type of gift, we are still debating that. Will this put us on the naughty list? Probably! But you know what? I don’t really care. I’m just so over buying stuff.

Which brings me to the whole consumerism thing…

We’ve never thought of ourselves as shoppers but COVID boredom leads even non-shoppers to do stupid things (like spending a half day online browsing for reading chairs while sitting in a reading chair). I mentioned in our 2021 Goals that we were not going to shop at Amazon anymore. That has a lot to do with not wanting to shop in general but it’s also because I find it harder and harder to support big businesses when I can no longer buy things (like a reading chair) right here in my town. Heck, we can’t even buy a cupcake here! The last remaining bakery closed over a year ago.

When I read an article that said Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, makes more in one second than I do in a month, it kind of hit me – this man doesn’t need my money any more than I need his stuff. So we stopped sending him our cash. And we stopped sending it to a lot of other retailers too – Kohl’s, Wayfair, Best Buy, and more. I would love to add Walmart, but sadly we live where there are few options for purchasing certain supplies (like the organic soy milk we use to make our yogurt and most everything my mom needs on a daily basis). Maybe one day there will be a better option, but for now, we simply try to limit what we purchase there.

Part of removing the temptation to buy stuff, is removing the ability to buy stuff. We have 3 major credit cards and 2 store credit cards. Though we almost never carry a balance, we have found ourselves using the cards to buy things we might not otherwise have bought (at least not that day anyway). So, this week, we closed out all of these accounts, except for the one we use for travel. No more Target Red Card (that I actually got paid to open, otherwise I would never have had it in the first place). No more Kohl’s card. And Capital One, with it’s annual fee, went bye-bye too.

Next up, I plan to tackle the daunting task of finding a more ethical way to invest our retirement funds. If we’re not going to spend our money at Amazon, we certainly don’t want to invest it in them either. I mean, that’s just a little hypocritical, don’t you think??

I have been reading about socially responsible investing but I still have a ways to go in understanding it all and picking the right path for us. For starters, I want to know that the companies or funds we invest in aren’t just green-washed versions of the companies and funds we are trying to get away from. Having worked in the non-profit world for a very long time, I know that not every good cause is actually managed in a way that benefits the supposed recipients. Similarly, I’m sure that not every company that labels itself eco-friendly, sustainable, responsible, or green, is actually any of those things. So this part of our alignment process could take a while.

Now, let’s circle back to that book I mentioned before. The Unsettlers speaks to that part of me that would love to live without money. It talks about alternative lifestyles, community living, growing your own food, moving away from working for others, and maximizing how we spend our most precious resource – time. What I gained from reading the stories of folks “doing it their way” was encouragement. This wasn’t a self-help book by any means but it does encourage folks like me (and you) to find those things in our lives that we are most passionate about and do them to the exclusion of everything else. Don’t waste time on the nonsense, simply eliminate it, and go on about your business. I like that. I like it a lot. Which, is why we got into minimalism in the first place.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder to set us back to the path we started on.

15 thoughts on “Realigning our [Financial] Values

  1. I also just finished The Unsettlers and LOVED it. So much in fact I immediately wanted to re-read it and take notes, there were so many ideas to digest. I loved that the author, and the subjects, were always portrayed as real people, unsure of themselves and just trying to figure it out. I really want to read more books like this, case studies of people who have found a way to at least partially “opt out” of the System. The only thing discouraging to me about reading this was that so much of it seemed to focus on growing your own food and I can barely keep a houseplant alive.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me too! I love books about people who are doing things on their own terms – regardless of whether it’s homesteading or vagabonding. I like Nomadland, which I see they’ve now made it into a documentary. Other good ones are Walden on Wheels, The Stranger in the Woods and The Moneyless Manifesto.

      Growing our own food is one of our drawbacks too. We lack the space to do more than dabble at gardening but even if we had land, I know we’d never be able to grow enough to feed ourselves. We’re just not that good at it, nor do I think we want to devote all our time to it. Late last summer, we found an Amish/Mennonite community less than an hour from us so we’re planning to buy our produce from them (can and freeze enough for winter) and see how that goes. It’s not a full opt out, but it’s a step. Besides, you don’t know what works if you don’t try something.

      If you come across any other good books, let me know. Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read 12 by 12 (William Powers) years ago and really like that, am about to re-read. He wrote one more recently about trying to live the slow life in NYC while expecting his first child. His memoir about working in Liberia was also excellent.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a great book! I paid off my credit cards and cut them all up, way back in 2019. I was very proud of myself! As you should be!! Yeah, Christmas is VERY hard for me! Giving gifts is just as much my love language as Getting gifts! sigh But, I have STOpped buying expensive cards! I found an American, woman owned card company, named Fantus, that I love! 10 cards for 1.88!! Can’t order them straight tho, they only sell at Walmart, and Target. I’m trying to cut the Walmart cord too! I shop at Publix, because the company is founded, and based in the next town over.
    BUt last time hub needed sox, I stopped him from Walmart, and said please try Dollar General!! They had American sox!! I was so happy! I’ve closed my Amazon acct too. They have robbed SO many people from their livelihoods! I totally agree with you on that. Shop small and local is what I’m trying to do now. I did find a Tshirt co. that’s all American, that has my size. When I need unders, or jeans again, I dread the search!
    Good for y’all!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great! When we lived in FL, we loved Publix. We do have one here but it’s the more expensive choice. Dollar General is my mom’s go-to store, along with Food Lion. I think they are regional.

      Speaking of socks – we got duped on those during the holidays. I ordered a couple of pairs of hikers from a small eco-friendly company on Etsy. Turns out, the socks they sent me were made in China! I sent them back. As for undies, Angie’s mom turned on on to Duluth Trading Co. Their undies are pricey but they last forever! For other clothes, we shop the thrift stores and garage sales. There’s just no way we can afford sustainable brands like Patagonia (which aren’t always made in the US anyway) so we do the next best thing – give new life to other people’s discards.

      Keep us posted on any good companies that you find out there! Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, that book sounds so interesting.
    Here in Oz, I don’t ‘do’ Xmas; haven’t for years. Not a card nor a gift given, not even to my son! I will cook something super yummy to eat, but that will include food from my veg garden, so that’s good. If I really want to gift someone something, I will offer my time: a foot rub, a shoulder massage, a walk & talk, or my help with a project they have. Time is the most precious gift we have to offer, without doubt.

    I also only have one credit card, for emergencies, or overseas travel (sure not much of that happening!). I am very happy for you at cutting up your cards, & really getting your values aligned 👍🏿
    I am so lucky I get to sit here and look at the rainforest growing, working minimally & walking as lightly as I can on the earth… may we all be so blessed. 🙏🏼🌈🙏🏼 G

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That’s exactly how we want to spend our holidays again. Time is indeed the best gift I can think of.

      To walk as lightly as we can on this Earth – what a wonderful aspiration! I love it! And I completely agree, it is a true blessing to be able to do the things that fill our soul with joy every day. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Can’t understand why so many people don’t get this. If you want Amazon to be the only store in the world, keep shopping there! Bothered me to no end that people spent a ton of money at big retailers whose businesses boomed during lock-downs, while small local retail went out of business. On general principle I made sure to buy paint for my painting projects from a small local family-owned paint store. Might be a bit less convenient or cost a couple of dollars more but I’m fine with that. And shopping for recreation should be viewed as negatively as things like drinking to numb boredom and stress.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen to everything you just said! Many of our favorite stores went under as a result of the pandemic too. It was a wake up call. Even though we’ve tried to limit consumerism for years now, we realized we just weren’t doing enough. Shopping local and boycotting mega soul-sucking businesses is about the only real solution.

      Angie and I both come from a family of recreational shoppers, so we are of the same opinion. I hesitate to say this aloud, but my aunt is more than $30K in debt due to a shopping problem. And yet – she sent out gifts [from Amazon] to all her sisters this year. It’s sad! Thankfully we did not inherit those tendencies. We do more looking than buying, and are as slow as a sloth when it comes to actually making any major purchases 🙂

      Like

  5. This post is the second one you’ve written that hits home with me. (The other post was the one about the longest week ever) For years I’ve resisted the gift giving debacles whether it was work related or family related. Everyone chastises me for my view. In my opinion we all have too much stuff most of which never sees the light of day once the event is over. I’m over it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks you!! If folks actually cared about the gift as much as they care about the fact that they did or didn’t receive one, it might be different. But we’re with you – 90% of the gifts we’ve ever given, have never been seen again. In fact, I’d almost be willing to bet that some of the recipients don’t even know what they did with their Christmas gifts, and it’s just 2 months after the holiday.

      Like

  6. That sounds like a very good book! I will look for it at the library. Some of the details of how you live your life are too extreme for me (not a criticism though!), but overall, I very much agree with your sentiments. I am a fan of Clark Howard. He is a personal finance expert. He’s a great guy. Unbought and unbossed. I know he has spoken of socially responsible investing on his podcast. There may be info on his website (clark.com) about it. I look forward to reading your future posts as you travel this path. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day – in the way that speaks of love to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

Let us know what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.