Vote With Your Dollar

This topic can very easily feel preachy so here is my confession up front: I TRY to be a conscious consumer, but sometimes sales are too good, my budget is too tight, I don’t have the time or I just plain want something that isn’t in line with some of my consumer values.

The point is, I am aware of the fact that how I spend my money has an impact on the local economy, the nation’s economy and the global economy. (Wow! I am so influential!)

Everyone, as a consumer, has the ability to vote with their dollars. I LOVE this local bookstore near my house. Every time I walk in I feel like they somehow knew exactly what I wanted to read and they put it right out front for me to see. When I need to buy a book, I try to support them. Last month I ordered a book from Amazon because I was having Christmas timing/shipping/getting my act together problems- that’s ok too. But I don’t order all of my books from Amazon- I buy some from my favorite bookstore.

I try to buy used goods because I am rescuing that item from ending up in a landfill. Used goods are less expensive and usually just as good as brand new items, and I feel better about reducing my consumption stream. (Especially furniture. I can’t believe what people pay for new furniture when there is gorgeous used furniture aplenty!)

I secretly want to be an artist (ah, what a life). When I see an artist selling work at a market or a festival that I like, I buy it! That could be me selling paintings on the street, and I want to support people who take a risk in a notoriously difficult career path. Because of that, I never buy mass-produced art and I think my house is more interesting because of it. (I also buy frames at Goodwill and I feel very savvy when I find a nice one!)

Lots of people have problems with Walmart, but I freaking love them! (and not just because Walmart was the closest thing I had to entertainment when I lived in my double wide in Alabama). I have a background in fisheries and Walmart has an awesome and admirable seafood supply business model. I think their model should be copied by every store in the US, so I am happy to buy fish at Walmart because I support their business model.

Ditto organic yogurt- the environmental impact that Walmart has by carrying just one brand of organic yogurt is bigger than all of the organic yogurts at all of the farmers markets in America. When I am picking products at Walmart, I try to buy organic (which I admittedly don’t usually do) because I know that Walmart is analyzing its consumer data and they will supply items that their consumers are buying. Their scale of business is so big that a tiny change in their products will have a huge impact, and I feel like my dollar is being used to influence change on a large scale. But I am aware that when I buy yogurt at Walmart instead of at a farmer’s market, I am spending money on big business instead of local dairy farmers who could probably use the money more. There isn’t a perfect answer, so it depends on what you value.

I have a friend who will only buy either items that are made in America, or items that are pre-used. She wants to support the American economy, so she doesn’t spend her money directly on items that were manufactured elsewhere. She votes with her dollar. (Although she told me that she has a really hard time finding certain products (used bath mats? Ick. But try finding a bath mat that wasn’t made in China!))

I went on vacation last month and instead of booking a generic hotel we rented out a whole apartment through Airbnb. Not only was it cheaper and more comfortable than a normal hotel (and it had a stocked kitchen so we could cook for ourselves), but we got to meet the couple who was renting out the apartment. They were a lovely young professional couple who were welcoming and kind and who loved meeting people from other places. I was very happy that my money was going to this lovely couple rather than to a hotel chain.

When I was finishing grad school, I had a friend who was frustrated that the program we had finished did not put enough emphasis on her specialization. She was going to write an angry letter explaining how she wasn’t provided the resources/education she had signed up for. Instead, she decided to donate money to the program that was specifically earmarked to fund resources needed for her specialization. Do you think the administration cares more about an angry outgoing student’s opinion, or a longterm donor’s opinion? Putting some cash behind your complaints may feel counterintuitive, but it can affect the change that you want to see.

The bottom line: when you spend your money, there is some influence that goes along with that dollar. Maybe you don’t have a lot of money- but if you have any at all, you still have some monetary influence. So be aware of what you are spending on and try to make purchases that support the things that are important to you.

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Love and Money

Firstly, I want the world to know that when I was googling “How do couples manage their finances” to do a little background research, one of the suggested searches was “How do couples hold hands”. That is sad. Let’s stop googling it, people, and just give it a whirl. The worst that can happen is a little clamminess.

In my life, I hope to have a happy, functional relationship with clear communication and expectations. I am sure you all hope for the same. However, a major reason for divorce is trouble with money….and no wonder! Money is complicated, it comes with a lot of feelings attached, and people have differing values and strategies and goals for dealing with money. Dealing with finances as individuals is tricky enough, let alone letting someone else into the mix.

Here is an example from just yesterday when my boyfriend and I were in the car and had this conversation:

BF: My free subscription to XM radio should have ended yesterday [but the car still is playing XM]

Me: Make sure you aren’t being autobilled for it. How much is it?

BF: About $6 a month.

Me: That is $72 a year! Are you going to cancel it?

BF: No.

Me: Seriously? You would pay $72 a year for XM radio? We don’t even like any of the stations.

[Silence]

Me: Ok, I don’t like any of the stations.

BF: Plus, there are no commercials. I think that is worth $72 a year.

(Later in the day the XM radio actually did get cancelled and we learned that XM also provides live traffic updates to the navigation system. In our traffic-jam-filled city, that is well worth $72 a year to me, too!)

See what happened there? We have different values and opinions when it comes to money and music and radio commercials. This was a tiny conversation, but every time we buy something out of the ordinary we are going to have to have a similar conversation (provided, of course, we are consulting our partners on our purchases). That is a lot of navigation to do! $72 a year really isn’t a big deal, but one day bigger purchases will come into the picture.

Since I started writing this blog, I have been asking many of the couples I know how they manage their finances. The answers I have been getting back have varied quite a bit- as have the structures of their relationships. As I am only in one relationship, I can’t address how other relationships deal with finances. After my initial worrisome google search, I discovered that the internet also thinks this is a complicated topic (I read quite a few depressing stories, which is why I am even more convinced that writing about this is important!) I am interested to hear (as are my readers, hopefully!) how some of you deal with your finances as couples. Do you think your system works? Are there any tips or pitfalls? Would you be interested in writing a guest post (or just telling me the deets and I’ll write it up for you)? Comment below or email me at twentiesinyourpocket(at)gmail.com if you want to share.

Here are some of the things that can add complexity to financial planning as a couple (mind boggling, really):

  • One or both of you have kids. Maybe you have kids separately, maybe you have kids together. Maybe one of you has a kid from a former marriage. Who pays for what? Does your new spouse pay for the stepkids? Even if it’s the simplest situation (you each made half of each kid) it’s still complicated.
  • You might be committed but not married. How do you deal with buying property when you don’t have the legal protection of marriage?
  • One of you might make significantly more than the other.
  • One of you might feel like it is your role to “provide,” while the other partner may or may not agree.
  • One of you might have huge amounts of debt. Is your partner expected to pay for the debt left over from your shoe splurge? Is that what partners do for each other when they love each other? Or is that your responsibility?
  • One of you might stay home with the kids instead of working.
  • You might think your partner buys stupid crap.
  • One of you might come from money (please send me information on how you got that trust fund).
  • One of you might want to go to school instead of continuing to work. Along those lines, one of you might want to switch careers to a more fulfilling but lower paying job.
  • You might be a saver, your squeeze might be a spender.
  • One of you might be much closer to retirement than the other (this could be particularly contentious in May-December romances).

You get the idea. Lots of pitfalls. But my general philosophy regarding finances is “Make a plan and try to stick to it.” The only thing that makes couples finances different is that it should be “Agree to a plan and try to stick to it and then communicate with each other.”

My boyfriend and I are moving in together next month and we began the conversation about how we want to handle joint expenses. We are dealing with a few of the complications I listed above (sadly, no trust funds) and we are going to have to work out a system that works for us. As soon as we come up with a system we feel awesome about, I will let you know! Until then, I look forward to hearing from you about how you deal with love and money.

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