I was tagged by Tired But Happy, so better late than never, here's five pretty random things you don't know about me:
1) I absolutely love to sing, but I have a terrible singing voice.
2) I think almost anything tastes better with cheese on it. Especially cheddar cheese.
3) I wrote a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in 30 days one November. (Okay, maybe some of you know that.)
4) I really can't stand the taste of cough drops. I've never been able to keep sucking on one for more than 15 seconds.
5) I was an intense Star Wars fan in my teen years. I even started tinkering around with mechanical objects because I wanted to be like Jaina Solo. (She's Han and Leia's daughter... there were all these books... oh, nevermind!)
Friday, December 29, 2006
I was tagged by Tired But Happy, so better late than never, here's five pretty random things you don't know about me:
Posted by Britt at 12/29/2006 02:04:00 AM
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Hope everyone's having a wonderful holiday season! I am quite happy with my gift-giving this year; instead of giving piles of "stuff," it was much more fitting to my values. These are some of the things I did:
- Buying fair trade. In previous years, I've tended to buy fairly-traded crafts (or coffee, chocolate, etc) only for recipients who I know would appreciate their origin. But this year, I decided to widen the scope dramatically, and everybody was fair game. It doesn't matter that my uncle couldn't care less what the person who made his present was paid; I care.
- Giving money or experiences rather than items. My sister is planning a trip with her friends this summer, so what she really wanted was money towards that. I can treat my boyfriend or other friends to a trip, a play, a concert together rather than a "thing."
- Giving to charity on people's behalf. There's only a limited number of friends and relatives who this can fly with, but for those people, I went with it.
- Making personal, frugal presents. From baking cookies to burning CD mixes, I substituted time and effort in place of shopping for some people.
I couldn't completely escape the commercialism of the holidays, but on the whole I'm pretty proud of how I did this time around. How about you?
Posted by Britt at 12/26/2006 11:23:00 PM
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Introducing The Carnival of Ethics, Values & Personal Finance!http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
How do your values affect your financial decisions? Whether it's what you buy, where you invest, or where you work, when and how do your beliefs and ethics play a role? And, most importantly, are you ready to blog about it?
The Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance is a space to come together and share thoughts and experience as we navigate the challenges of integrating our money decisions and our broader values. Whether it's based on religion, environmentalism, social justice, supporting your community, or an infinite variety of other values that might be meaningful to you, if you've blogged about it we want to read it!
The Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance will appear the first Thursday of every month. It will debut on Thursday, January 4, 2007 here at Money and Values. (Please comment or e-mail me if you'd like to sign up to host future editions.)
Click this link to submit to the Carnival. You'll have until 5pm on Wednesday to get your submissions in, but feel free to submit early!
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. If you'd like an example of how I personally have interpreted the concept in the past, see my posts tagged "money and values"-- but I encourage you to make the definition your own! (Earlier discussion here.)
Edition #1: Penny Nickel at Money and Values, 1/4/07
Edition #2: TBH at Tired but Happy, 2/1/07
Edition #3: English Major at An English Major's Money, 2/15/07
Edition #4: ISPF at Personal Finance for Students and Fresh Grads, 3/1/07
Edition #5: Yoski at Stingy Student, 3/15/07
Edition #6: Donna Jean at The Weight of Money, 3/29/07
Edition #7: Ben at Money Smart Life, 4/12/07
Edition #8: Larry at The Skilled Investor Blog, 4/26/07
Edition #9: TBH at Tired but Happy, 5/24/07
Posted by Britt at 12/21/2006 09:15:00 PM
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
You're all wondering when I'm going to come up with some good new content, right? "Oh, yeah, sure, you hosted 3 carnivals in 11 days with dozens of great links," you say. "But none of that was written by you, Penny! What do you have to say?" Oh, sure, ask me that right in the middle of the holiday season when I'm up to my ears in holiday cards and baking and shopping!
So why don't you try out this game, Third World Farmer? It falls into the "serious games" genre, but it's actually interesting and fun (when it's not depressing) and if you're lucky and good you can play for dozens and dozens of rounds. Living on the margins, never knowing what random event fate will throw at you this year, trying to figure out if you can afford to invest in infrastructure or need to stick to the basics... it's good stuff (and kind of addictive).
And then when you're done, why not read up on fair trade, since for some people it's not just a game?
Friday, December 15, 2006
Hi everyone, and welcome to the Festival of Under 30 Finances! I'm happy to be hosting, and I hope while you're here you'll poke around Money and Values a bit, and especially that you'll stop by this post about the brand new carnival starting the first week in January, the Carnival of Ethics and Values in Personal Finance (name is still subject to change!)The question I asked people for this edition was:
"In selecting a career path (or particular jobs), how have you balanced wanting work that's interesting and fulfilling, and wanting a job that pays well? Is one or the other more important to you, and why? Have you found ways to try to incorporate both?"Some people not only answered the question, but wrote full posts about it!
"I've been thinking about this question a lot lately. Ultimately, for me, I can't see any amount of money outweighing a feeling of strong engagement with my work and a sense that it challenges me in ways I need to be challenged. As I continue to plan my career, I hope I can plan it with a sense of personal purpose in mind, rather than my bank balances. I think that set of choices will bring me a sense of fulfillment that money simply can't add to a life. I'm not saying that between two equally fulfilling jobs, I wouldn't choose at least partially based on money, but in choosing for the long term between a fulfilling path and a lucrative one, I think that for my own peace of mind, I'll have to choose personal fulfillment."
"Choosing to go back to graduate school over the loss of income from a good paying job and during the time in graduate school.
One Frugal Girl's festival submission was Best Financial Decisions... I've Ever Made posted at One Frugal Girl. But she wrote a separate post on this topic recently, and she says: "As for the question of balancing life with work see my post: http://onefrugalgirl.blogspot.com/2006/12/salary-is-not-most-important-factor.html"
Three other people answered the question...
Molly's Brother wrote ‘Tis the Season: Some ideas for inexpensive outings posted at Molly's Brother On A Budget.
"When I first graduated college, I aimed for finding work that I was passionate about AND paid well. After toiling in the film industry--and being extremely well paid--I realized my heart wasn't in it anymore and decided that I needed to feel like my work was important. In time, I know that the money will definitely follow."
HC presented How I Gave Myself a Learner's Permit for My Credit Cards posted at One Big Mortar Board.
"I've been very fortunate in that I found a field in which salary ranges are slightly higher than the average. I chose a position that doesn't quite maximize my income relative to other people in the field. It does offer good benefits and a reasonable amount of work-life balance, and still pays well enough that I can move forward on most of my goals. So I think it's as Goldilocks as it can be."
"I think the financial aspects of a job are important, but it's also important that you enjoy and excel at what you do. There are tradeoffs, you just have to find ones that you're comfortable with. If you want to be an actor or a dancer, you have to acknowledge the fact that you might never make it big. If you give up your dream of becoming a dancer to be an accountant, that's something you have to deal with as well. I think the most important thing is to recognize what you're giving up and what you're gaining in return."
Here are the other posts, in the order they were submitted...
Jennifer Lynn presents Financial Savviness 101: Making Your Money Work For You posted at Broke-Ass Student.
Laura Young presents The Trouble with Happiness: Understanding the Difference between Joy and Pleasure posted at Dragon Slayer.
Jimmy Atkinson presents Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps for Money, Finance, and Investment posted at Ask the Advisor.
Laura Young presents Top 10 Things I Had to Learn on the Road to Full-Time Self-Employment posted at Dragon Slayer.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Welcome to the 52nd Festival of Frugality, the one-year anniversary edition! I thought I'd give you a blast from the past by re-posting some of the submissions from the first ever FoF on December 13, 2005, along with what those bloggers are writing about today. (Some of the posts were submitted to the festival, and others didn't submit but did write a post about frugality this week.)
Also, the new Carnival of Socially Conscious Personal Finances is coming the first week of January, and you can read about and discuss it at this post (if you think it should have a different name or you've got anything else to suggest, by all means put in your two cents!).
One year of the FoF and still going strong:
- Free Money Finance, FoF#1: Energy Savings Tips from Energy Star, FoF#52: 8 Ways to Keep Overall Pet Costs Low
- Frugal for Life, FoF#1: "The Many Uses For…” series, FoF#52: Reducing Utility Costs
- Young and Broke, FoF#1: Even Millionaires are Frugal, FoF#52: Frugal Friday Fun Tips
- Boston Gal's Open Wallet, FoF#1: Frugal uses for candle stubs, FoF#52: Keeping Holiday Spending in Check
- Mighty Bargain Hunter, FoF#1: Frugal party for some, FoF#52: 118 Ways to Save Money in College
- My Open Wallet, FoF#1: FSA deadline... and gross money saving tip!, FoF#52: DIY and Decor Spending
- My Money Blog, FoF#1: Sunrocket VoIP Phone Service, FoF#52: Weekend Project: List One Thing On eBay
- J.D. Roth presents The Amazing Frugal Christmas Savings Spectacular! posted at Get Rich Slowly.
- Paula presents Is Wal-Mart Good or Bad for You? posted at Queercents.
- Trent presents The Well-Stocked Kitchen: Staple Foods You Should Always Have On HandThe Simple Dollar.
- Tricia presents Ways I Save Money: Be Resourceful posted at Blogging Away Debt.
- Stingy Student presents Stingy Students: Free clothes through Freecycle posted at Stingy Students.
- deputyheadmistress presents Frugal Gift- Also Classy and EASY! posted at The Common Room.
- Linda Freedman presents Holiday Post # 1- Bananas and Video Games posted at Everyone needs therapy? Lessons from a family therapist... a rambling but interesting take on consumerism and values during the holidays.
- Steve Faber presents Get Your Discounts - Cash and Otherwise posted at Debt Free.
- Amy Allen Clark presents Frugal Momma's Test Kitchen: Homemade Microwave Popcorn & Caramel Corn posted at Amy Allen Clark.
- Kathy Maister presents Why Start Cooking? posted at Kathy Maister's startcooking.com.
- Erich Jaeckel presents Automate Your Way to Wealth posted at LifeTraining - Online.
- Sarah Winfrey presents Frugal is More than a Way to Spend Money, Part 1 posted at Wisebread.
- Barry Mahfood presents How to Stay on Top of your Finances posted at The Price of Rice.
- Silicon Valley Blogger presents The Pressures of Holiday Spending posted at The Digerati Life.
- Jack Yoest presents The Frugal Mechanic Fixes A Flat posted at Reasoned Audacity.
- Ben presents How to Save Money on Your Christmas Tree posted at Money Smart Life.
- Scott On Money presents Getting a Better Car Insurance Quote posted at Scott On Money.
- Jeffrey Strain presents Paint On Energy Savings posted at Personal Finance Advice.
- dad presents Roll Your Own Discount on Disney Tickets posted at fivecentnickel.com.
- Free the Drones Blog presents Homemade Flea Traps posted at Free the Drones.
- Frugal Guy presents Winter Season Frugality Tips posted at Frugal Living.
- David B. presents How to Save Money when Shopping Online posted at How Do People Get Rich?.
- Yan presents Where did all the newspapers go? (Poll) posted at ProBargainHunter.com.
- Erik presents Living Paycheck to Paycheck Will Leave You Powerless posted at Money Crashers.
- Joe Caterisano presents 13 ways to save on gasoline posted at How to save money.
- Frugal Babe presents Recycling isn't just about cans posted at Frugal Babe.
I had to leave out many posts this week, unfortunately, because for the life of me I couldn't figure out how they were related to frugality. Sorry, folks!
Friday, December 08, 2006
This month, I rejected a LinkWorth ad for the first time. Actually, I rejected two, and for the same reason: they were for "credit repair" services. These services are at worst a scam to get access to your personal information, and at best a waste of time and money for vulnerable people. Anything they can do, people can do on their own to improve their credit. But if I run their links, that'll help them show up higher on the internet searches of people struggling with bad credit, instead of the resources people need to understand how to improve their credit. So instead of sending people in the wrong direction, I'll put in my piece to help connect people to the right information.
I'm not an expert on credit reports, credit scores, and/or credit repair, but here are some quick points:
- Everyone has the right to dispute the accuracy of any entry on their credit report-- and if the creditor can't prove it's accurate, it has to be removed. You only have to send it to one credit bureau, and if it's unable to be verified, it'll come off all three. Credit repair services offer to write the letters, or charge you for templates, but really the letter doesn't have to be anything special and you can find examples all over the internet just by Googling "sample dispute letters," etc.
- If a collection agency is trying to collect on your debts, you have the right to ask them for "validation"-- proof that the debt is yours. This time you'll want to look for "sample validation letters."
- If you have unpaid accounts, you should feel free to try to negotiate them with the creditor/collection agency. You can offer to pay less than the full amount, and/or you can haggle over how they report it on your credit report (at the very least, they should call it "paid in full" even if you agreed to pay less than the total due... but you can also try to get them to take it off your report entirely after you pay). Make sure you get things in writing!
What do you think? Either on the topic of credit repair specifically, and/or on whether you turn down some ads and why (or don't run any at all)? And do you have any good resources or tips to share on the topic of credit repair?
Monday, December 04, 2006
Why Do We Save Our Money? at Binary Dollar!
Think Money Wouldn't Change You? Think Again at Dragon Slayer's Guide to Life
Would Steve Jobs Have Kick-Started Your Quest for Financial Freedom? at The Time & Money Group
Modest Needs - Assisting Working Families with Small Financial Crises at Blogging Away Debt
Is Financial Happiness Relative? at My Financial Awareness
EXTREME jobs - why you should get one at Well-heeled: climbing the networth ladder in heels
Nice surprise in this month's electric bill at Blunt Money
How You Can Extend Your Life and Fatten Your Wallet by Planning Ahead at Money Smart Life
Charity Spotlight 1: Child Abuse Prevention at No Credit Needed
How to Keep From Over Spending this Holiday Season at Beacon Financial Tips & Tools
The Young Tightwad’s Guide to Holiday Tipping at Money Under 30
Christmas Shopping without Putting a Dent in your Wallet at Finance-4-Kids
Other informative posts I especially liked:
Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) Is A Fantastic Deal at The Finance Buff
Financial Savviness 101: Making Your Money Work For You at Broke-Ass Student
10 Tips To Slash Your Tech Bills By $1033.40 at Mr. Cheap Stuff Coupons
Estimating Asset Values and Asset Depreciation at Consumerism Commentary
How Do You Balance Your Checkbook? at The Simple Dollar
A First Look At Asset Allocation at The Digerati Life
Outsmart Credit Card Companies at Their Own Game at HomeBusinessWiz
101 Financial Tips you Never Learned in High School (but should have) at Bankruptcy Reader
How to print digital photos cheap at ProBargainHunter.com
IT'S DECEMBER - ONE MONTH TO CORRECT THEM ALL at Roth & Company Tax Update
And many, many more:
How To Save Money On Credit Cards at MattHutter.com
Small Cap Value Pick - Basic Energy Services (BAS) at "D"igital Breakfast - Creating Wealth Everyday
3 Critical Personal Finance Mistakes I have made at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog
How to Stay on Top of your Finances at The Price of Rice
Ode To Prosperity at Mad Kane's Humor Blog
How Mortgage Originators Lie to Borrowers at The Most Opinionated Mortgage Broker
Frugal Living Wins Over More Income – Anecdotal Evidence at My Wealth Builder
Are We Better off Now? A Look at How Tax Cut Made Rich Richer and Poor Poorer at The Sun's Financial Diary
How to Get Rich Without Going Crazy at Market Poetry
Study Shows HECM Lifetime Tenure Payment Option is Best Choice at Reverse Mortgage Information
Using a 529 for non-educational retirement savings?? at Retiring Early
More Education Equals More Pay at Free Money Finance
The Basics III: Opportunity Cost and Risk/Reward at A Financial Revolution
Got my last free credit report for the year, did you get yours? at My Two Dollars
Surprising 6 figure jobs at exchange-ingredients
Necessary Evil - Student Loans? at Living Almost Large
Covered Calls - Too Risky? at The Dividend Guy blog
Where we keep our money at Frugal Babe
1% Solution for your Financial Life at Hill's Personal Finance
Debt Elimination Scams to Avoid - You’ll Just Pay Twice at Debt Free
Stay Home with the Kid or Work…Or Do Both? at Canadian Dream: Free at 45
Deal in Cash at Queercents
Ebay on the Razor's Edge at Lazy Man and Money
COBRA Health Coverage for Graduating Students at Understand COBRA
Using Credit Cards Against Overdrafts at War on Credit Cards
Kiplinger's Best Site for Homeowners Insurance Help at Home Insurance Guide
Paying Your Mortgage Biweekly at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity
Lemon Award Finalists Named on CreditCard.org's Website at Becoming and Staying Debt Free
myFICO® Falling Down at Scott on Money
Why You Should Never Tell Your Salary to Your Friends at Binary Dollar
How Much Does A Chiropractor Make? Not Enough at Free the Drones blog
Saturday, December 02, 2006
The golden rule of frugal gift-giving is to be thoughtful and personal. If your recipient knows that you put time and effort into your gift for them, and were thinking about them and what they'd like, your gift is likely to be appreicated.
One of my favorite ways to do this at the holiday season is by giving homemade cookies, candy, or other sweets-- and specifically by baking gingerbread cookies. Tasty treats are usually well-received to begin with. But alongside the cookies shaped like snowmen and trees, wrapped presents and wreaths, I also make special personalized cookies for each recipient. Whether it's making cookies that look like their cats, attempting cookies shaped and decorated like cameras to recognize their favorite hobby, apple cookies for a teacher, human-shaped cookies that look like the person in question, or anything else that will tickle their fancy, it's a fun challenge to let your creativity run wild deciding what cookies fit the person and then figuring out how to make them come alive out of dough and icing.
You don't have to be a brilliant artist or a practiced cookie-decorator to make this work; it's easier than it sounds. (Although you'll probably want to plan on making more than you need to give, so you can save the mistakes to be eaten in your own household-- they still taste just as good!) You can use cookie cutters if you've got the appropriate ones, but you can also carve out shapes with a knife just as well-- and the recipe I use even holds up well to being shaped and sculpted by hand. You don't need special equipment for the icing, either; plastic bags with holes cut in the tip work just fine. (I like to use meringue/egg white powder in my icing, but you can make a serviceable icing with just powdered sugar and water.)
And of course, if you have kids, this is a great project to include them in! They may not be able to pull off finely detailed cookies, but they'll have a blast cutting out fun shapes and then bringing them alive with color.
What kinds of hand-made gifts do you give? Are there any special ways you add personal touches?
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Since there are lots of great bloggers who I think might be interested but probably don't read Money and Values, I'll be reaching out to them individually. But for those of you who are here reading, please leave a comment! I'd love your thoughts and suggestions in general, as well as some specific questions I have:
- Do you think this is a good idea?
- Would you participate?
- Would you host?
- Do you have suggestions of how to get the word out to potentially interested bloggers (either individual people you think we should contact, or strategies to reach segments of the blogosphere)?
- And, of course, what the heck should we call it? I am half-tempted by the simple "Carnival of Money and Values," although that's a little weird because of the name of my blog. Or maybe "Carnival of Socially Conscious Personal Finances"? Any other ideas?
Posted by Britt at 11/28/2006 11:41:00 AM
That's right, get your submissions in for the Carnival of Personal Finance for next week! I'll be hosting the December 4th edition. You can use this form. And if your post has something to do with the connection between money and values it will get extra special treatment here... you know what I like!
Posted by Britt at 11/28/2006 09:08:00 AM
That's right, get your submissions in for the Carnival of Personal Finance for next week! I'll be hosting the December 4th edition. You can use this form. And if your submission has something to do with the connection between money and your values (point it out in the comments if you think I might miss it) it will get extra special treatment here... you know what I like!
Posted by Britt at 11/28/2006 08:42:00 AM
Thursday, November 23, 2006
While updating my post Socially Conscious Finances: Spotlight on GLBT today, I noticed a comment which I'd meant to respond to but hadn't gotten around to. The commenter suggested that companies are financially better off avoiding gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues because they'll have people upset with them either way. My main reason for supporting GLBT-friendly companies (and avoiding those that are anti-GLBT) is because I believe it's the right thing to do. But I also think the commenter is wrong, and that it's smart financially for businesses to do right by GLBT people-- and consequently for investors to pick companies that do so.
Isn't this kind of a double edged sword? One group of people will love these companies yet another group (Social Conservatives) will hate them. Wouldn't it be in a companies best interest to just try and avoid the whole issue as much as possible?
Well, first off, there's no such thing as "avoiding the whole issue"-- if you stick with your status quo, and that status quo is a hostile/unfriendly one for GLBT employees, then that's not being neutral/"fair"/whatever, it's anti-GLBT. (This perception comes up a lot-- that avoiding change is a neutral choice, when it's actually supporting the status quo.) I suppose the closest a company could get to "avoiding the whole issue" would be to adopt policies somewhere in the middle of the pack, after many other companies have done so but before they're clearly lagging, either, so they don't draw much attention.
Secondly, I'm not convinced the two sides cancel each other out from a consumer standpoint. One recent poll found that heterosexual respondents favor workplace non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation 62% to 14% (the rest neither supported nor opposed)-- and even more revealingly, 44% strongly support non-discrimination policies and only 8% strongly oppose. People feel similarly about equal benefits such as health insurance for domestic partners: 68% support them (55% strongly) and only 17% oppose (10% strongly). Those who support discrimination may be vocal, but I think their buying power is more than drowned out by those of us who believe everyone should be treated fairly and want to incorporate that into our purchases.
But thirdly, even if good GLBT policies don't help companies attract consumers, I think they're still a total no-brainer. Companies succeed by recruiting and keeping good employees-- and that's what these policies are all about. While I suppose there might be some people who'd refuse on principle to work in a place that treats GLBT employees fairly, it's hard to imagine that would come close to the impact that those policies have on attracting and retaining gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender employees.
And not only do these policies make it easier for companies to hire and keep the best employees-- regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression-- but they also help those employees to be happier and more productive. If you're worrying about how to cover medical bills for your partner and/or kids who don't have health insurance (and can't get access to yours); if you're transgender and trying to go through gender transition but you can't afford hormones and/or surgery because your company's health insurance excludes it and/or you can't get leave for surgery; if you're harassed and discriminated against and denied promotions because of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, and there's no anti-discrimination policy or diversity training at your workplace to help... these things are obviously going to interfere with your ability to do your job well. Companies which understand that supporting employees is in their best interest are more likely to succeed.
So as far as I'm concerned, it's an easy choice for companies to institute these policies. Not only are they the right thing to do for employers who want to treat employees fairly, but they're going to pay off in the bottom line, too. So for those of us looking for places to invest our money, it makes for an easy choice, too-- we can do right by our principles and our pocketbooks.
What do you think?
[Note the edit on the Spotlight on GLBT post to acknowledge the differences between the HRC rankings and The Advocate's list, courtesy of Dana at Mombian.]
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I've tried and failed for months now to write a post addressing criticism of SRI/socially conscious personal finance strategies. Gradually it's occured to me that my problem is the diversity of reasons (or perceived reasons) for pursuing such approaches; if you misunderstand why people are doing something, your critique and their defense are going to go right past eachother.
So I thought I'd start by laying out some of the reasons I can think of for socially responsible financial decisions (I'm defining that as including not only investing and banking but also shopping/consuming):
- "I want to have a direct, positive social impact."
- This is certainly an admirable goal, and one that many of us do indeed have. But it seems like detractors get the impression that this is our only motivation, and try to tear down socially conscious investing by debunking it. And in some cases they can do a good job of that. While there are certainly some socially conscious financial practices that I think are solidly, directly positive-- community development banking, for one-- it's also true that it's harder to find a clear link between, say, investing in a socially responsible mutual fund and seeing a direct positive impact in the world. If that's your only motivation, you're likely to be disappointed.
- "I want to have an indirect effect and influence other people."
- This is probably the biggest one for me. I know that I alone have a very small impact. But I believe very strongly in the principle of considering the social impact of financial decisions-- and I want as many people as possible to a) be exposed to that viewpoint and b) start doing the same. So for me, a lot of why I do it is to help make it more visible. I do it so there'll be news stories talking about how much it's grown. I do it so I can tell you guys about it on my blog! That sounds kind of silly, but I think it's important.
- "I do it because of how it makes me feel."
- I think there are two sides to this. One is to do it because it makes you feel good about yourself. I'm not saying that's completely a bad thing (it helps provide the psychological support to keep you going, for one), but I do think it can be problematic when it makes folks complacent. You have to be realistic about what your choices actually accomplish, and not let other opportunities slip past you because you're wrapped up in the smug feeling of being a do-gooder.
- But on the other hand, I think it's really valid to want your financial decisions to be consistent with your values. It's a decision about living your life more fully in tune with what you believe, and feeling better, more comfortable, more authentic as a result. This is important to me-- something seems to click into place when I'm making a values-based choice, so that I feel more at peace with myself. The challenge here, of course, is that it is virtually impossible to totally avoid financial choices that have problematic implications, so when you become more conscious of the context of your decisions, you also end up feeling like more of a hypocrite, complicit in things you oppose. I think the key here is just to be realistic about what options you actually have, and instead of kicking yourself when good choices are difficult or unavailable, get involved in increasing the options for everyone.
Guide to Socially Responsible Investing: Part 1 (what is SRI?) and Part 2 (some SRI options)
Community Development Banking
Socially Conscious Finances: Spotlight on GLBT
All about fair trade and where to find it
Locally-owned businesses vs. corporate chains
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Hi all, I'm back! Expect a real post from me tomorrow, and then I'll be more or less back on schedule. In the meantime, I'd love it if you could tell me what I've missed-- I haven't been paying any attention to pfblogs for weeks. What have the best posts been? (And there's no shame in plugging your own!) Has there been big news, debate, or controversy over certain issues? Are there any community blogging projects in the hopper that I might not have heard about? And of course, any good discussions around money and values?
[Edited to add: okay, fine, so it wasn't "tomorrow"...]
Posted by Britt at 11/15/2006 07:56:00 PM
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Sorry for being MIA... there have been some unexpected personal issues that have come up. I expect to be back posting within a week or so, maybe sooner. In the meantime, enjoy all the other great blogs you can find linked in my sidebar or at pfblogs.org.
Posted by Britt at 11/09/2006 04:12:00 PM
Monday, October 30, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
Are you interested in buying organic produce-- for health and/or environmental reasons-- but are put off by how darn expensive it is? That's how I am, and so I end up basically ignoring organic food altogether. It feels like an all-or-nothing thing, and I can't bear to spend the money for the "all" so it ends up being "nothing."
But it turns out that not all organic produce is created equal-- or really, that not all non-organic produce is created equal. There are actually huge disparities in the amount of pesticides on fruits and vegetables. For example, more than 90% of non-organic apples, peaches, nectarines and celery have pesticide residue on them after normal washing/preparation; less than 10% of onions, asparagus, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, and avocados do.
That data's from the Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce, by the Environmental Working Group. They used data from the FDA and Department of Agriculture, and rated the 43 most commonly purchased fruits and vegetables based on a number of criteria, including likelihood of pesticide residue, number of different pesticides present, amount of pesticides present, and more. If you visit foodnews.org, you can download a pocket guide with the top 12 worst and best fruits and vegetables, as well as see the whole list of 43 and read more about the methodology.
There are a variety of ways to put this information to good use. You can choose to pick a handful of the worst offenders and go organic for those fruits and veggies; you can go organic for all except the best cases; if you're already shopping organic and the prices are killing you, you could go back to standard onions, asparagus, and other low-pesticide produce. Another option, rather than the pricey organics, would be to cut back on or eliminate your purchases of particularly contaminated produce. If you like but don't love peaches, and you enjoy pineapples or mangoes almost as much, maybe it makes sense to change your habits.
Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the "good" fruits and vegetables are a perfect solution. Even in the best cases, you've got a 1 in 10 chance of ingesting some pesticides. If you want to be on the safest, healthiest side, and promote chemical-free organic farming, you'll want to buy organic across the board. But honestly, reading this information has opened my eyes. I keep a lot of criteria in mind when I'm shopping for food, but I've always said that I "don't do" organics, and it's all been because of the price tag. But now I've got a plan to be a selective, partially organic shopper in the most beneficial way, and I'm excited about the implications.
Do you buy organic produce (or other food)? If so, do you do it across the board or selectively? If you only do it sometimes, is it just kind of haphazard, or do you choose what organic stuff to buy based on the price differential, or based on data like this, or other reasons? If you have kids, has that affected your thinking and practices regarding organic food?
(I got tipped off to this info via Green LA Girl , a new favorite read of mine who I'll surely jabber more about on a future day. Be especially sure to check her blog out if you're interested in fair trade coffee!)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
How to write a novel, run a marathon, become debt-free, save a million, or achieve any other audacious goal!
I apologize in advance for being a little distracted in late October and all of November. You see, I am about to embark on a great adventure, take on a massive challenge, and (hopefully) end up with an impressive achievement. I aim to write a novel in a single month.
It's a big goal, but I'm hopeful I'll achieve it, because of some of the wonderful aspects of NaNoWriMo. And after watching my boyfriend run his first marathon this week, I think the same factors will help anyone who's aiming for an ambitious goal, financial or otherwise. Whether it's writing a novel, running a marathon, paying off your debt, saving a certain amount of money, buying a house, or anything else, you can help yourself out in a variety of ways...
- Picking the right goal. You need a goal that's challenging but achievable. Naturally you want a challenging goal, one that stretches you, pushes you to your limits. One that gives you a feeling of pride and accomplishment at the end. But at the same time, if your goal's too high, you're just going to get discouraged. You'll feel yourself slipping farther and farther behind, and it'll be hard not to give up. NaNoWriMo's challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel because it's hard but doable if you have the self-discipline to write for a couple of hours every day. A marathon is 26.2 miles, which is an incredible feat, but is also something that most healthy adults can do if they train long and hard enough. As far as I'm concerned, that's what goal-setting is all about: finding the sweet spot to aim for that keeps you driven but not discouraged, that's a stretch but not impossible.
- Knowing you're not alone. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is the fact that you're taking on this crazy challenge alongside tens of thousands of other people in your area and around the world, and that many of them will succeed and have succeeded in the past. Marathon runners often train together, and on marathon day they're part of a sea of people. And as you probably know, writing and/or reading personal finance blogs can be incredibly helpful as you try to stay on pace to pay off your debt, cut your expenses, boost your savings or your net worth. Sure, some people draw motivation from feeling like they're way ahead of the pack, but most of us will be trying things that have already been done by other ambitious souls, so having the moral support of fellow-sufferers and fellow-victors can be tremendous.
- Keeping yourself accountable. If you tell other people what you're working towards, it's harder to let yourself wriggle out of it. This can tie into the previous point, because who better to keep you accountable than other people who're trying-- and succeeding at-- the same thing? The internet is a great source of support and a kick in the pants, as anyone who's familiar with the pfblogosphere knows; on the NaNoWriMo forums, you can display your word count on your profile, and if you go to write-ins, you'll have to fess up to other writers about your progress. And there's nothing like having friends and family members in person, too, so you can see the excitement in their eyes when you're doing well or picture their expression of well-intentioned disappointment if you're thinking about giving up.
- Muzzling your inner critic and pushing past your doubts. One of the keys to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to shut down the little voice in your head-- the one that says "That's awful, you're doing a terrible job, you're no good at this," the one that demands perfection in your first sentence before you ever move on to the second one. There's no way you can write 50,000 words in a month if you're always worrying about having a perfect final product. You need to just write. This means that a lot of the writing does indeed end up being terrible. But amazingly, it also means that you end up with a lot of really great creative stuff, things that you might not have written if you were constantly self-editing and afraid of bad writing, the seeds of wonderful possibilities. I think the general principle is a broader one, though. Don't feel like you have to be perfect-- if you're cutting expenses, for example, small splurges are okay sometimes!-- and keep questioning yourself when you think "I can't." "I can't stop bringing lunches to work": maybe if you push yourself you'll come up with some fantastic ideas that are easy, healthy, delicious, and cheap. "I can't go without cable TV": maybe you'll find out giving it up was the best choice you've ever made. "I can't live on $X a month": maybe you can if you try.
- Getting started now! Despite all of the other factors, NaNoWriMo wouldn't be nearly so helpful for perenially procrastinating aspiring novelists like me if it wasn't so straightfoward on the timing. If you could just write 50,000 words in a month, any month, many of us would keep pushing it off to next month. But with NaNo, when November rolls along you know you've got to do it now or wait a whole year. So even if your November looks hectic, even if it's not a good month for you, even if you have good excuses not to participate (as you always, always will) you plunge right in. You've got to do the same thing with any goal! If it's personal finance related, the dates will probably be more arbitrary, and you'll need to give yourself the extra kick in the pants to get going. But don't let your goal fall victim to the never-ending "I'll start soon"...
Posted by Britt at 10/25/2006 06:45:00 PM
Friday, October 20, 2006
It's almost October 24th, which is Take Back Your Time Day. It's set on October 24th because that's 9 weeks before the end of the year, and the average American works almost 9 weeks (350 hours) more each year than the average citizen of Western Europe. 350 hours!
Part of that is because of less vacation time (and other time off, like holidays, sick leave, parental leave, etc); as I wrote last month , we take less than half the vacation days that our European counterparts do.
Another big issue is overtime. In America, mandatory overtime is at near-record levels, and the average American works more hours a year than ever before. You wouldn't think it would be this way. Back in 1965, a Senate committee predicted we'd have an average 22 hour work week in 1985 and a 14 hour work week by 2000! Why? Because of automation and increased productivity. Well, the technology and the productivity have come along pretty much on schedule (and other countries have taken advantage by working less). But in America, instead of harnessing that to give us a shorter work-week and more leisure time, we are working more than ever before and spending more than ever before. Per-capita consumption has nearly doubled in real dollars, from $11,171 to $22,152, in the last 30 years or so. Instead of cutting our work time in half, we've just doubled our spending.
Overwork has serious consequences. It damages our health, interferes with our relationships with family and friends, and cuts down the quality of the free time we do have (when we're too tired to do more than "veg out"). Our communities suffer when we're too busy and tired to volunteer, participate politically/civically, or be creative. Overwork hurts the environment (studies show that the more hours we work, the more processed and over-packaged products we buy, and the less we recycle). And our productivity per hour is actually less than in other countries where people work less. [Check out a terrific New York Times Op-Ed piece on these issues and more, reprinted here.]
Take Back Your Time Day is a day to spread the word about this situation, to encourage others to stop and think about how much we're all working and whether it needs to be that way. And recognizing that the problem and our hopes for improving it come from both an individual and societal level, Take Back Your Time has both small-scale and big picture suggestions to address the problems.
Some of the many individual/small-scale suggestions they make:
- Keep track of your expenses on such "time savers" as fast food, convenience items, etc. and calculate how much work-time it takes you to buy them
- Cut TV viewing to one hour a day or eliminate the TV for a week
- Take a long walk
- Learn to meditate
- Start a discussion about work-sharing in your work place
- Have a meeting in which everyone brings one item they bought but never used, and talk about spending habits
- Put up posters and signs about Take Back Your Time
- Read some of these thought-provoking books about Take Back Your Time issues, and share and discuss them with friends and neighbors
- Take back four "windows of time" between Take Back Your Time Day and December 31st for slow, quiet, life-renewing activities ( see here for more)
- Guaranteeing paid parental leave
- Guaranteeing at least one week paid sick leave
- Guaranteeing at least three weeks paid vacation leave
- Putting limits on employers' ability to impose mandatory overtime
- Making Election Day a holiday
- Making it easier for employees to choose part-time work
So, what do you think? Is there a problem? Do you agree that Americans are working too much in general, or not? How about yourself personally-- do you work more than you'd prefer? If so, do you feel like you're doing it willingly in order to be better off now and/or in the future, or do you feel pressured to? Where does that pressure come from-- from your financial needs? From your financial wants? From the culture and expectations at your job? And what do you think about Take Back Your Time's policy suggestions? If you think there's a problem but you don't agree with the policies suggested, do you have other ideas?
I'm so interested to hear what everyone has to say about this!
Thursday, October 19, 2006
When I was a kid, my favorite food-shopping trip was to what my sister and I called the "snack-cake store." We'd walk inside, and all of the tasty treats-- always off limits at the regular grocery store as "too expensive"-- filled shelf after shelf. My mom would eye a sign reading "5 for $4" or something like that, and set us loose: "Okay, girls, pick out 5!" Great big boxes of Ring-Dings, Ho-Hos, Yodels and Funny Bones were ours for the taking!
Eventually I learned that the reason we could get them so cheaply was that they were near or past their "sell-by" date (or sometimes were holiday versions past their holiday-- orange-colored Halloween frosting in early November or some such). They always tasted perfectly fine; they were rarely too far past their prime, and a sell-by date is really just a guideline anyway, allowing for plenty of time for the product to sit in your pantry at home. And when I look at the prices for snack cakes at grocery stores now, I realize just how much they were marked down!
While my sister and I were searching through the sugary treats with glee, my mom was searching through the many other products the store had for sale. To be perfectly honest, I never paid enough attention to remember what they were! I think there were crackers and chips, cereal and bread, but I know there was much more than that. I'm pretty sure they didn't just sell products near or past-date, but also goods in damaged packaging, like dented soup cans. But all those details fade into a fuzzy sugar-induced haze...
I haven't been to one of those places in years, but my research tells me they're sometimes called grocery outlet stores, grocery thrift stores, bakery thrift stores, salvage grocery stores, discount grocery stores, discount marts, or a variety of other names.
So, my questions to you: Are there stores like this near you? What do you think of them? If you use them, have you been able to save on your grocery bills? Do you have any tips on what to buy there and what to stay away from? I don't suppose you know of one in Chicago, do you? (Writing this post has made me really hungry for a good ol' Ring-Ding or Yodel...) And, of course, what's your all-time favorite snack cake?
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Because Sprint/Nextel have raised their text messaging charges from 10 cents to 15 cents, customers have the right to get out of their contracts without an early termination fee-- or can threaten to leave and get some goodies to urge them to stay. But you've only got until October 31st, maybe sooner!
My understanding is that if you don't have a text message package and you have sent or received at least one text message in the last couple months, this is a "material change" that gives you the right to get out of your contract for free. (Or if you use the internet and don't have an unlimited internet plan, since that fee changed too.) The change was effective October 1st, so if you have already paid a bill that covers part of the month of October, it's effectively agreeing to the new terms so you're out of luck. (The CSRs may tell you that if you have sent or received text messages since Oct 1st you have also effectively agreed to the terms; you can fight it with that rep, or call back and try to find another one, since other people have gotten past that objection.)
I learned about this from Free the Drones , who has some good thoughts about the benefits of canceling your service. If you've been wanting to cancel for a while, this is a great opportunity; even if you haven't, it's still a chance to sign up for a new contract with all the associated bells and whistles (and sell your old phone for profit, too!).
But if you don't want to cancel, you can still come out ahead here, as long as you're willing and able to bluff. From what I can tell (threads at FatWallet, SlickDeals, Digg, Consumerist, etc), the CSRs are offering 500 free text messages a month to most people to get them to stay. And some people are getting even more goodies-- service credits, 10% or 20% discounts, free phones, extended free calling hours, free internet service. A lot of it will depend on who you happen to get on the phone, how persistent and convincing you are, if you can get to the Retention department vs regular CSRs, and how many times you're willing to call back! But if you're up for it, you might be in luck. I'll let you know how it goes for me!
Here's the language:
If we change a material term of the Agreement and that change has a material adverse effect on you, you may terminate the Agreement without an Early Termination Fee by calling 1-888-567-5528 within 30 days after the changes go into effect.
Here are some other phone numbers, courtesy of Consumerist, who says they checked 'em:
1-407-475-6982 Judy Rathcliffe, Retention Department Supervisor
And if you're not with Sprint or Nextel-- just keep your eyes open, wait for a "material change" in your contract, and you can do the same thing...
Posted by Britt at 10/17/2006 03:59:00 PM
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Here are two blogs I've been enjoying lately and want to share with all of you.
- Millionaire Artist is a pretty new blog, but she already has a ton of great posts on socially conscious investing and banking options, and on giving, as well as other thoughts on personal finance, art, and life. (Plus, she introduced me to Ideal Bite-- awesome daily e-mail with environmentally/socially friendly tips.) Go visit and enjoy!
- Triple Pundit is an awesome blog written by a bunch of MBAs at a school with a focus on social and environmental sustainability. It is chock-full of great information on the connections between money and environmental/social values, so naturally I love it. I feel so much smarter and more well-informed after I read it... check it out for yourself!
Posted by Britt at 10/15/2006 02:05:00 PM
Friday, October 13, 2006
I love finding new ways to save energy, because it's one of those great areas where money and values work in tandem. This week I learned something I totally new to me (thanks to Ideal Bite)-- many household appliances are draining energy even when they're turned off!
According to the government's ENERGY STAR program, 40% of the electricity that home electronics use is consumed while the products are turned off. The impact of this on your energy bill will depend on your particular situation-- one Berkeley study suggests the savings would be 6 to 26% off your total bill.
The "phantom load," as it's sometimes called, is a result of many different household items (sometimes called "vampire devices," leading to perhaps the best-named law ever, California's Vampire Slayer Act of 2006). Some of the most problematic energy-drainers while "off":
- Cable boxes or satellite dish boxes
- Sound systems
- VCRs and DVD players
- Computer printers
- Cable modems/DSL
There are also the smaller items; for example, did you know that your cell phone charger is using energy even when your phone isn't attached? It's only a couple of watts, but it's a good idea to get into the habit of unplugging your charger from the wall when you unplug your phone from the charger. Kitchen appliances like microwaves, rice cookers, breadmakers, and coffee pots also typically use less than 5 watts-- but there's no reason to leave them plugged in when you don't have to. The little things add up.
And how much do they add up to? Around 50 to 100 watts in the average house, which is 30 to 60 kilowatt-hours a month (based on 20 standby hours a day). At prices of 5 to 15 cents per kWH in July 2006, that's somewhere between $1.50-$9 a month.
Okay, so doing this isn't going to make you rich (although most frugalites like to trim where we can!). So how about finding another motivation? Every kilowatt-hour is equivalent to 1.55 pounds of CO2 emissions (U.S. average). That means if you use 30-60 less kWh a month, 550-1,100 pounds less of CO2 go into the air every year. (For context, a gallon of gas puts about 20 pounds of CO2 in the air, so this is the pollution equivalent of using 25 to 50 gallons less gas!)
Now that I know about this, I've started right away to change my habits. One easy way to make sure you're not wasting energy is to plug many appliances into one power strip; then you can turn it on and off, which is a little easier than unplugging and replugging everything individually. Maybe half of my relevant appliances are already on power strips, which I've started turning off this week; this weekend, I'm going to think about the logistics to make sure all my vampire devices are either on power strips or are plugged in outlets in convenient locations (the TV's plugged in behind the bookcase at the moment, for example). For curiousity's sake, I'll try to see if there's an effect on my electric bill-- although since my heat is electric, it's going to be hard to be very scientific about it as heating costs go up.
I would absolutely love to hear from all of you guys on this. Do you have any more information on the watt usage of particular devices while they're turned off? Do you unplug things already? If so, have you seen the effect on your electric bills? Or do you think this is small stuff, not enough to be worth your effort?
(This post was inspired by an Ideal Bite tip; I found Ideal Bite via Millionaire Artist.)
Come one, come all, and get this week's links and highlights from the Festival of Frugality, Carnival of the Green, , and Carnival of Personal Finance...
- The Festival of Frugality at My Open Wallet is anagrammed! How cool!
- The Carnival of the Green is at Enviropundit
Posted by Britt at 10/13/2006 10:14:00 AM
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
October is National Fair Trade Month. If you're not familiar with the term, "Fair Trade" means that when buying products (like coffee, chocolate, tea, and fruit), instead of following the market's ups and downs and paying as little as possible, you pay a fair amount that producers can count on. The fair trade process also cuts out exploitative middlemen, and ensures other standards of decency and good management.
Fair trade coffee is one of the most well-known and widespread fair trade products, partially because coffee is the second-most traded commodity worldwide, after petroleum. But while we pay $6, $8, $10 a pound or more for coffee, the market prices right now are around 85 cents a pound (up from a low of 41 cents in 2001!), and small farmers get more like 20-40 cents a pound from the middlemen who export their coffee. In contrast, the fair trade price is at least $1.26 a pound ($1.41/pound if it's certified organic)-- if the market goes above that, the producers get the market price plus 5 cents. Fair trade coffee comes from small producers, not big farms which depend on and exploit hired labor; however, small farmers are encouraged to form democratically-run cooperatives to increase their efficiency. It's relatively easy to find whole bean fair trade coffee for sale; try this list, this one, or this if you're having trouble.* Also, Dunkin' Donuts now uses fair trade coffee in all its espresso drinks, although not its regular coffee. Starbucks likes to brag about fair trade coffee, but it will only sell it brewed if you specifically ask (they do have fair trade beans on sale).
Fair trade chocolate is also a major fair trade product. One important reason to support fair trade chocolate is that much mainstream chocolate is actually made with child labor (and even child slave labor). Most cocoa comes from Africa, and 43% of it comes from the Ivory Coast. On average, for every $1 spent on chocolate, producers get 5 cents. The small farmers live in poverty; the large plantations squeeze out a profit by working their employees for long, brutal hours at very low pay. But fair trade cocoa not only sets a floor price, but also requires that no child labor or forced labor be used, and that workers' rights to organize are not violated. Global Exchange is a leader in the campaign for fair trade chocolate, including the effort to get big companies like Nestle and M&M/Mars to use fair trade chocolate. Learn more here. And click here for places to buy fairly traded chocolate and cocoa. (Or here's a listing of places selling chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.)
There are other fair trade products, too. Fair trade tea is often sold by the same vendors as fair trade coffee and cocoa, or you can try some of Honest Tea's bottled iced tea varieties; learn more here. Fair trade fruit is new to the U.S. market, but fair trade bananas, mangoes, pineapples, and grapes can be found at these locations-- and fair trade bananas are available at Wild Oats Markets across the country. There may also soon be fair trade vanilla, rice, and sugar available in the U.S. And fairly traded crafts and gifts were where the fair trade movement began; there are many, many places to get them, including the 160+ Ten Thousand Villages stores nationwide.
A lot of these links are for online shopping; here's a good general fair trade search engine to find places to shop near you. And FYI: In honor of Fair Trade Month, orders over $20 at the Global Exchange online store are 10% off (use Coupon Code ftm2006). Other fair trade retailers may also have specials.
Some people object to fair trade in principle, believing that when low prices cause small farmers and their families to live in poverty, it's a natural process to drive them off their inefficient farms, which Fair Trade efforts shouldn't interfere with. Or that when workers on plantations work grueling hours for little pay, there's no reason to be concerned, because if workers are willing to sell their labor at that price, it's a natural function of the market. As you may have guessed, I disagree; I think that a) there are more important things than maximum economic efficiency; and b) it's healthier and more efficient anyway, in the broader sense, to help struggling people in poverty earn enough from their work to support their families.
What do you think? How do you feel about the concept of fair trade in general? Do you buy fair trade products? Why or why not? How often?
As for me, researching this post has reminded me that I don't buy Fair Trade nearly as often as I'd like. It's hard for me to pay a little more-- I have that little voice of frugality telling me to buy the cheapest stuff-- but this is something I feel strongly about, and I shouldn't give in to the little voice as often as I do. For me personally, I think this crosses the line from me being frugal to being cheap, since it affects other people (the producers/workers), and I hereby resolve to make a much stronger effort on this front. (Hold me accountable, folks!) Now if I could only find fair trade mocha mix...
*Apologies for the U.S.-centrism of this post; if you're from another country and would like suggestions of where you can buy fair trade products, e-mail or leave a comment and I'll be glad to share what I know.