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Seven New Year’s Resolutions that Benefit the Planet and Other People – and Your Wallet, Too

Though the start of 2022 is not like the beginning of other new years, this still marks a time of reflection for a lot of us. I’m not really a resolution maker myself, and maybe you aren’t either, but whether you call it a resolution or simply an attempt to do better, this is an ideal moment to reassess the choices you’ve been making and decide if some changes are in order.

Join me at a free, virtual book talk for Wallet Activism this week and next! I’m extra excited about these events and the folks who are joining me for them. Bring your questions!

And… there’s still time to get in on the drawing for one of ten virtual one-hour chats with me. Leave a review on a book purchasing site or on Goodreads and send a screenshot of that review to walletactivism [at] gmail dot com by the end of Friday, January 21, 2022, to be entered.

Because you’re reading this, I know that you’re someone who cares about the planet (and, perhaps, is freaking out about the climate crisis) and who cares about other people. This post speaks to those things directly, walking through some changes you can make this year that are better for the greater good, and better for your finances, too.

One of the myths I most want to bust is that using your financial power ethically is only for people with lots of money. We’ve bought into this lie that the only way to be intentional with our money is to buy this, not that, usually a luxury brand like Patagonia or Tesla. (One of those I don’t recommend whatsoever, and the other still has its own problems.) But that’s not logic talking, that’s capitalism. The drive is always for profits, and some companies have found ways to make money by convincing you that they are better (for the planet or for workers) than other companies. But that’s still just about buying stuff, not making real, impactful choices.

The truth is that most of what I recommend in Wallet Activism is accessible to almost everyone. And the very idea of wallet activism itself is rejecting capitalist thinking to determine what the best choices really are. Often the best choice is not to buy the eco status brand, it’s to buy nothing. So with that in mind, let’s dive in to some resolutions worth considering in this new year.

Buy less – One of the best choices you can make – for your own finances, for the planet/climate and for other people – is simply to buy less stuff. Money that you don’t spend on stuff is available to go toward other goals like paying off debt or saving for early retirement. And by not buying that stuff, you’re creating less demand for the Earth’s resources that go into the products we buy as well as less demand for the exploited labor that makes and transports nearly everything we purchase. Resolving to buy less is one of the most powerful choices you can make on every level.

Related post: The Nothing New Year Redux

Buy secondhand – While many of us could easily make do with the things we already own, for those instances when you truly need something, consider making this the year when you’ll put more effort into finding things secondhand. Buying secondhand is easier than ever before, with a virtually endless array of options for doing so online. By buying secondhand, you’re reducing the demand for newly manufactured goods produced with exploited labor, and you’re keeping something out of the landfill for a little while. The one trap to be mindful of, however, is that sometimes secondhand purchasing still plays a role in feeding into demand for new products. For example, by buying a relatively new used car, you’re almost certainly freeing someone else up to buy a brand new car. While that might be a financially smart choice (though not always – I’m not on team Buy Used Always), you’re still contributing to demand for new cars that way, and it’s worth considering if you could hold off on buying a car a bit longer or even forgo that car. If we all made a habit of keeping cars a few years longer, the demand for new cars would shrink tremendously.

Fight the decluttering urge – Counterintuitive, I know. But decluttering is highly problematic for a few reasons: 1.) The tremendous waste that happens when we donate a lot of stuff to thrift stores (you can read all about this in Wallet Activism – I’ll not dwell on it here), and 2.) Decluttering often provides “permission” to buy a bunch of new stuff. (And 3.) Decluttering encourages us to think of the things we own as disposable, which means we don’t take good care of them, and therefore we get much less use out of them than we could.) In our consumerist society in which shopping is presented as the answer to nearly everything, an empty closet or drawer or shelf is simply an invitation to fill it. And if decluttering triggers the urge to spend for you, then don’t do it, or at least do it sparingly so you’re not opening up any big swaths of space. (And if you do it, try hard to find secondhand homes for your items instead of donating them without knowing whether anyone even wants your cast-offs.)

Related post: The Use It Up Challenge

Reassess your financial institutions – Where you keep your money – both your regular bank and the investment companies you engage – matters a great deal. We talk a lot about responsible investing, but not enough about responsible banking. If you hate fossil fuels but bank with one of the big banks, the money sitting in your savings account is directly funding new fossil fuel projects. If you move to a credit union instead, you’ll often get a better rate on your savings anyway, as well as gain access to other benefits, while knowing that you’re not funding climate-destroying projects. (Much more on this in Wallet Activism along with tools to avoid keeping your money with bad guy institutions.)

Become an activist shareholder – One of the most exciting things happening in the corporate world is that shareholder activism is getting louder and bolder. Last year, activist shareholders forced both Chevron and ExxonMobil to make significant changes to curtail their focus on fossil fuels, which is – honestly, but sadly – more than any government action has so far succeeded in doing. It’s important to push policymakers to hold corporations accountable, but when it’s simply not happening because there’s no political will (ahem, Don’t Look Up), we have to take matters into our own hands. If you own stock, which you do if you’re pursuing early retirement or really any retirement, then you have a voice and can use it at shareholder meetings to demand action. Invested in the S&P 500 and don’t feel too great about? Use those investments for good and demand the companies do better.

Reduce your food waste – While shareholder activism seems lofty and difficult, here’s one that’s absolutely doable every day: reducing the amount of food waste that your household generates. If you add up all the greenhouse gas emissions associated with growing and raising the food that will become food waste, along with food processing, transportation, climate control and everything else, and then pretend that that set of emissions is a country, food waste would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. That’s huge! And a big portion of that waste happens in our own homes. So maybe this is the year when you’ll focus hard on reducing or eliminating your wasted food. I offer tips in the book for doing that, but a quick search online will give you a ton of ideas for cutting out waste. As a bonus, wasting less food saves you money, often big money. The average household wastes $1,866 worth of food every year, and that figure is pre-pandemic and pre-big inflation, so that figure is certainly higher now. Wouldn’t you rather save or invest that money instead?

Eat less meat – If you’re a meat eater, meat is usually the most expensive thing on your plate. And it’s not only costly to you, it’s also costly to the planet and to the workers who process it. If you feel inspired to cut out meat altogether, great, but I’m not pushing for that, because it’s not realistic that most people will want to change their diet that drastically. (Though billions of people around the world eat traditionally plant-based diets.) But a simple change you can make it to scale back how much meat you and your household consume. It can take whatever form feels best to you: eat meat-based meals less frequently, reduce the portion size each time you do eat meat or focus on dishes in which meat is a smaller percentage of the total meal (a pepperoni pizza vs. a steak, for example, though not a healthy one). If you’re unhappy with your weight, you might be tempted to try out one of the trendy diets right now like keto, but eating that way is both disastrous for the climate and bad for your finances.

There’s a lot you can change this year that can make a difference, so don’t feel limited by the ideas I’ve shared here. Most of all, I hope these examples have knocked loose any notion you might have had that doing the ethical thing with your money is worse for you financially. Most of the time, exactly the opposite is true.

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