How does personal finance relate to doing good and being good? Inspired by an episode of Afford Anything by Paula Pant, Sharon shares her own experiences with saving money and using her financial independence to take a service-driven road trip. She also proposes a few practical ways to save money and do good for others or with others. Finally, Sharon shares how AmeriCorps service impacted her mindset when it comes to personal finance.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Afford Anything by Paula Pant – This is the podcast episode which inspired Sharon to make this episode.
- Service Driven Blog
- The Do Good, Be Good Facebook Page
- The Do Good, Be Good Website
For a full transcript of the episode, read on below:
00:12 Speaker 1: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
00:32 Speaker 2: This is your host, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. I’m back with a short bonus episode. This episode is really inspired by a lot of the personal finance podcasts that I’ve been listening to lately. On Do Good, Be Good, I like to talk about how people try to do good and help other people and the challenges they face in trying to do so. But another interest of mine, particularly lately, has been personal finance. As I mentioned on the strategic impact planning episode, I’ve always sort of wanted to grow up to be a responsible adult. It’s just something in my makeup, my personality. It definitely fits in with this general theme of the show about trying to help others. It’s something that’s been on my mind since a really early age. But another factor of that is also just trying to take care of things and be responsible and make sure that I’ve got my ducks in a row, so to speak, and that I am setting myself up for a good, stable future. I recently came across a podcast called “Afford Anything” by Paula Pant, and she’s got some really great practical advice. And she’s part of what they called the “FIRE movement,” which I hadn’t really heard of before.
01:51 S2: It stands for “financial independence, retire early.” So apparently there’s a movement going on of people who are really working to try to save enough early on in their lives, in their 20s and 30s, that they can retire really early, at least by 40, if not earlier. And this really took me back. Because for those of you who might not know my story, in 2011, right after graduating from graduate school, my boyfriend and I, Jay, we quit our jobs, we sold off almost everything that we owned, and we basically moved into our car and drove around the US and Canada, and lived mostly out of a tent for an entire year. We were gone for 365 days. We spent 137 nights in our tent and we basically had sort of a mini, mid-stage retirement in our late 20s. We were in our late 20s at the time. It was interesting when I was listening to the “Afford Anything” podcast because she had an interview with someone, and I will link to this in the show notes, about how when you think about retirement, you might think about how that’s your time to really save up, a chance to just sit back and enjoy life and do whatever you want to do and that it’ll be just blissful and amazing.
03:33 S2: And then, one of the people she talked to, who succeeded in retiring early, found that she actually was depressed. She didn’t have that sense of purpose and didn’t know what to do with herself now that she wasn’t working. A lot of people in the FIRE movement are really driven, sort of Type A people who have the determination to save that much money. So they do tend to be kind of people who are drawn to working a lot. I resonated with this, because when we went on our road trip, we… Well, I say “we,” but really it was me being the one leading us to make a lot of plans and travel really fast and do all the things. And even though we had already said that we would be gone for a year, the first two weeks of our road trip, we went all the way from Virginia to California. And that was crazy. [chuckle] We joked afterwards that on the best days of this trip, we were living the dream, but on the worst days, we were just homeless and unemployed. Now, we did take a different approach to our trip than many people who think about big travel adventures.
04:58 S2: I knew that I wanted to have some sense of purpose, especially because we were going for an entire year. I didn’t feel like I could step away entirely from the work that matters to me and the connection to community. So, on this year-long road trip, we actually kept a blog and we made a challenge to ourselves to try to volunteer every week in a different place. So, our blog was called “Service Driven,” and as we traveled throughout the country, we would find volunteer opportunities along the way. And this really gave us something to connect to the places that we traveled to, a way to meet people who actually live there and see things from a completely different perspective. I can go more into that in a future episode, but that’s not what today is about. Today is about personal finance and how that connects with doing good and being good. But I wanted to bring that up because a lot of people don’t think about the chance to take time. Even with this FIRE movement, a lot of people are thinking about, “How do I work really hard and be really intense now with saving and investing so that in the future I can retire early?”
06:22 S2: Where Jay and I switched that up was to think, “How do we wanna live our lives and is there a way that we can pause our work lives now to do something that is a great opportunity that we are healthy enough and we were financially stable enough to do?” And part of what allowed us to be financially stable enough was that we had worked good jobs and saved money while we lived in the Washington DC area, and then we also had inherited a little bit of money from my grandfather and were able to try to use that as strategically as possible. Like I said, we spent 137 nights in a tent and we weren’t generally even staying in camp grounds where you had to pay. So, we were basically free camping in public lands throughout the United States and, well, in a couple of places in Canada that we found free camping was a lot harder to come by in Canada. And we would cook with our camping stove. We’d make simple taco meals and eggs and things that are easy to bring with you.
07:36 S2: We also invested in things like buying a fridge that actually plugged into our car so that we didn’t need to buy ice and we didn’t have to worry about getting food destroyed by ice melt. So, sometimes it was making those choices to invest a little bit more upfront in something that was gonna save us money down the road. So I feel really lucky that Jay and I had that chance, and I know everyone has a different reason for where they can choose to put their time and money, but I was really grateful that we chose to do that when we did and got to experience life on the road in that way and got to bring in that element of volunteering along the way. I wanted to bring up a few other more practical things. Some of this is what was mentioned on that “Afford Anything” podcast that got me thinking about how making some simple choices in our day-to-day lives that are good for our wallet can actually also be good for our relationships and for our sense of community and our chance to give back to others.
08:51 S2: So, a simple example of that is something that I just started doing recently. We noticed that we were spending a lot of money on food, particularly at lunch time. My husband has a job where he has a really short lunch break, and he doesn’t really have time in the mornings to make a lunch, and he’s also doing a lot of work that sometimes is outside, and even though we live in Arizona, we live in the cold part of Arizona. So he wants a hot lunch. It’s just so much better to have a hot lunch when you’ve been working hard all day. So, one thing we just started doing, because although he is working in town, our town is not very big. So, often, his work sites are less than five miles away from where I am at lunchtime, and I work from home. So I’ve begun actually cooking us lunch, usually breakfast burritos ’cause that’s my specialty, and I will wrap it up in foil, and then I’ll come and meet him at his work site.
09:58 S2: This is a really fun way for us to strengthen our connection and not just get to see each other when we get off of work, but also, of course, saves us a little bit of money by being able to make that breakfast burrito. Trust me, breakfast burritos are not very expensive. If you get some frozen potatoes, some peppers, a little bit of eggs, we throw in some salsa, sometimes you might add some cheese, that’s probably the most expensive thing in the breakfast burrito, and they are tasty. So, that’s been a nice, simple way that we decided to cut down on our food budget. Another food budget item which we’ve done in the past a lot is to have some fun potlucks with friends. We live in a small town, like I said, or we think it’s a small town. It’s actually probably a small city, but it feels like a small town, and it makes it feel even more that way when you can invite people over and have everybody bring a dish in the classic old school potluck style.
11:04 S2: Potlucks have been an amazing way in the past when I’ve gotten to try to build those friendships as adults, which is honestly really hard to do. It’s also been a chance for me to network and help connect to people. I get to meet someone, maybe through my volunteer work at the theater, and then introduce that to someone who I’ve maybe met through my mountain biking. So, I often will put a little thought into whom I’m gonna invite to that potluck and try to help foster those connections, because through doing the work we do in the community, we just get to meet some of the greatest people. And having them over for dinner is a nice way to help to just continue to grow those relationships and have that multiplier effect of having the great people we know meet the other great people we know.
11:57 S2: Another thing that I mentioned a little bit in the strategic impact podcast episode was thinking about being energy efficient. And this is another thing that Paula Pant mentioned on “Afford Anything” podcast, it’s really often overlooked and you might think of it as being green or conscious of your sustainability and your carbon footprint, but really it’s also just a way to save money, especially if you live in a cold climate like we do, we took advantage of a program through our city where they would help give you some credits for getting a blower door test done and checking for the ceiling of your vents and your doors and things. So, we were able to have a contractor come in and help to improve the energy efficiency of our house by actually fixing some of those leaks and making sure that our heater doesn’t have to run as much because the air is actually staying in the house once it gets heated up.
13:03 S2: One more note that I wanted to make was that I think a lot of what has helped Jay and me to be more resilient when it comes to money and thinking about stepping back from money to make choices that might be best for our family is some of the choices we made early on in our career. Both of us chose to serve in AmeriCorps programs. If you haven’t heard of AmeriCorps, it’s a national service program where people sign up to serve their community or their country for a year, and they receive a small living stipend to do so. So, you’re really living at minimum wage or even below minimum wage level, and then, once you complete your AmeriCorps term, you receive an educational award, so basically sort of like a scholarship that you can use to pay off a student loan or put towards future education. But while you’re serving in AmeriCorps, you’re really not making much in terms of income, and you have to be super scrappy and live in a really small place or take on roommates and take advantage of good cheap deals, try to cook at home all the time, make a lot of those choices about how to stretch those very few dollars you’ve got.
14:25 S2: And I’ve met a lot of people here who have done AmeriCorps, and we sometimes joke when there’s money stress, when we might be thinking about having our jobs reduced or having increased costs of living, I’ve had those conversations with former AmeriCorps members, and we all can kind of just sigh at some point. It’d be like, “Well, we made it through AmeriCorps, so we can probably handle this.” It just helps you sort of recalibrate your mindset about what you really need to live on. Even when we were living out of our car for a year, we could live in the forest for 14 days straight for free and then you have to just move to a new campsite. [chuckle] I’m glad that I don’t live in the forest right now. I’m glad to have a house and to have a car and to have more of a normal life right now, but I always know that it is possible to live on less. That helps me. When I’m making choices, I don’t feel like I’m making them out of fear. I can choose to leave a job that I feel like is not ethical, or I can choose to even say no to a potential client who I might be able to work with who would help my revenue a lot, but maybe it’s not the kind of work I think is gonna make a difference.
15:56 S2: Having a better handle on where you are with your personal finances and feeling more confident in that, allows you to have that freedom to make more choices or feel more confident making choices where you know you’re making them out of what you think is best for you, for the community, for the kind of good work you wanna do, and not be operating out of a fear that you’re gonna run out of money or that you have to do it because of the money. So, I think there is actually a pretty strong tie between personal finance and the ability to focus on doing good and being good and not having the fear of running out of money interfere with your desire to help others. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. I’m in planning right now for Season Four, and we will have at least three seasons in 2019, and I’ll have episodes like this or other bonus content in between the seasons to just share what’s going on or to share some follow-up with past guests.
17:09 S2: Thank you so much for listening. To get every episode as it is released, subscribe to Do Good, Be Good in your podcast app of choice. You can also find our episodes on the website, dogoodbegoodshow.com, or follow us on Facebook, facebook.com/dogoodbegoodshow. Music in this episode is “Bathed in Fine Dust” by Andy G. Cohen, released under a Creative Commons International Attribution license and found at the free music archive. Until next time, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.