Black Friday :( Green Friday :) Some Sustainable Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Growing up in my family, shopping may as well have been a basic need, along with food, water, coffee and vodka tonics. This is no exaggeration. As a child, I feel as though I spent more time in department stores that in my house or playing outside. The women in my family were literally always shopping. I remember car rides during the day where we would bounce back and forth between department stores and strip malls in search of the best deal.

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re a kid in a clothing store. Except hoping that you don’t have to try on any clothing while you’re there. But all in all the experiences of shopping when I was younger weren’t stellar. And that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy shopping now.

There is something about getting something new, something that you enjoy or know is going to fit that need you have for something just like it in you daily rituals. But when you’re buying things you don’t need or have never used, then maybe we need to reassess our shopping habits.

And with the gift giving holidays right around the corner, what better time to take a look at our patterns than in the next few weeks. Some questions we could be asking are; who are we buying for? How many people are on our list? Do we have a go to brand, type of gift or place we check out first? Are these gifting patterns sustainable? In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my gift giving experiences and what’s worked for me in the past, as well as what I’m looking into this season. Hopefully, we can find some sustainable and joy inspiring gifts while keeping the focus on what’s important. Not the new trend or “it” item, but the happiness of the person we’re getting the gift for.

Buy for the Personality, Not the Person

This may seem like a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning when we start to choose what we’re buying for whom. What type of person are you buying for? Are they extroverted or are they a homebody? What are their hobbies? Their guilty pleasures? How close are you to the person? These are all elements worth exploring while selecting the gift that would best match their personality.

And then there’s the type of gift we usually give. Are you the type of person who likes to get gift cards? Our do you love buying clothes for your giftees? Do you like buying kitchen gadgets for people? Maybe the newest tech is your thing. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options, but there are only so many of any one thing that someone can reasonably own and use.

The Foodie

I can say from experience that I have a kitchen full of tools and if I were to lose 70% of them, I’d still be in pretty good shape. If someone you’re buying for loves to cook, why not instead of gifting another gadget that may go unused, find something that they enjoy daily. Like a special blend of coffee beans that’s organic and shade grown. Or if they’re tea drinkers, I was recently gifted this organic jasmine green, ginger peach tea from Kilogram Tea. There are also subscriptions you can purchase that sends a variety of teas to the person’s door.

This option could be used for any type of consumable the foodie in your life loves. It’s essentially something they would buy for themselves anyway, and it cuts back on the amount of objects the person will own. Saving those items from later being tossed in a landfill. Win win.

The Nondescript Gift

Gift cards are another perfectly good option. But what is the gift card for? Instead of buying something that will eventually take up space, why not think about something that will last in the form of a memory? Instead of a gift card to their favorite store or hobbie shop, what about a certificate to a restaurant, or a live show.

If you’re a fan of NPR, there’s a show called The Moth, where people get up on stage and tell their story. The show is fantastic to listen to on air or as a podcast. But they usually tell their stories in front of live audiences. Which means you can buy tickets for events that are happening near you. They’re held nationwide, so all you need to do is keep an eye out for an event that is coming your way.

Restaurants are another way to share an experience with your friend. Giving them a gift card to a restaurant that just opened, or maybe somewhere they wouldn’t normally go, is a great way to give a new experience over an object. This is something that will at least have a story when they’ve gone and may be the future site of where you and your friends will gather for a meal and some stories. Maybe before going to a live Moth show : )

The Fashionista

Buying clothing is a popular route to take when gift giving. But most people’s wardrobes are already filled to the brim with many articles that go unworn. And there are people like me who go clothes shopping mostly at thrift stores. Hoping to give some pieces of clothing a second shot at life. So what do we do for the fashion forward person in our lives?

When I buy new clothing, I mostly try to buy from a company that has pieces made from 100% organic cotton. This way, I don’t have to worry about my clothing ending up in a landfill, because even if it does, it will most likely compost before too long. And also I don’t have to worry about the garment releasing microfibers into the oceans and water ways as it’s washed, as I wrote about in my piece, “Is it better to buy organic cotton or recycled polyester“?

One place I’ve been buying clothing from is a company called Pact. They sell mostly the basics. Socks and underwear, while also selling bedding and bath. They use 100% organic cotton in their materials, and their clothing is comfortable, and reasonably priced. However, if you’re looking for something other than the basics, this article from Earth.org has a list of 16 sustainable clothing companies for shopping in 2021.

Gifting fashion can be a great way to get something special for a loved one. But remember that clothing is unique to each individual person’s style and personality. So make sure to have a chance to return whatever gift if it doesn’t quite match up to the person’s expectations.

The Techie

Buying sustainable technology is more difficult than I would have expected. I suppose this isn’t a huge surprise as they are coming out with new phones and technologies all the time. It can be difficult to find something that works with the person’s personal preference, phone carrier or other requirements they may have. Technology is becoming as personal as style.

But the sad truth is, there just isn’t a lot of options for buying sustainable technology based gifts. This article from UK blogger, The Sustainable Jungle, goes into detail about how the tech industry is behind the times in the sustainability department. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find some companies out there doing good work for the environment.

This article from the honest consumer, had a few recommendations for tech accessories, such as compostable phone cases and chargers made with recycled plastics. Again, pickings are slim but it’s a start.

I also came across a phone company making fair trade and sustainable phones. Fairphone. But unfortunately they are only offering their phones and other items to the European market. But a company like this is just what the sustainable market in the US needs. Hopefully, with a little time and some foresight, there will be a company state side that will offer something comparable. I’ll be keeping an eye out and let you know if anything changes on this front.

Wrapping Up

Here are only a few ideas to get you started on your gift buying journey this season. Also, Buy Me Once is another great source for inspiration in sustainable gift giving. So good luck with finding the right matches of gifts with people this season, and remember, don’t go overboard.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the spirit of gift giving. But if we’re just buying things because it’s a good deal or we already have something that’s thoughtful but something else caught your eye, it starts to mean less.

Be intentional with your gifts. Give yourself the time you need to make a decision based on your relationship to the giftee. We don’t need a whole bunch of stuff to remember how much we’re loved, just a few well thought out objects that hold meaning to us. Thanks for reading : ) peace

Image Credits: “Christmas Present Table after the gift giving” by Musicaloris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Paying your Bills: How Being Buried in Student Loans Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Financial Life

I’m in debt. I’ve talked about my debt before on this blog, but with the COVID-19 student loan forbearance ending at the end of this year, I’ve decided it was time to take the deeper dive into finding out what my best options are for repayment. And I was a little surprised with what I found out. I’ll be going over some of the specifics about my situation, but also what I’ve discovered along the way as I’m researching what my best options are. It seems like a lot, when you’re staring out the deep hole you’ve dug for yourself, but there’s hope. And it’s totally doable. You just need a plan, a positive attitude and a little help : )

What Did I Borrow?

If you’re like me, you borrowed a lot of money during the hight of the student loan lending frenzy. I ended up with close to 85k in student loan debt that I am in the middle of paying back. And I went to an in state school! I was completely clueless when it came to getting my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, or what I was even good at. I stopped going to highschool at age 16, but thought I was supposed to go to college to get a degree so I could get a job. So that’s what I did.

I started in community college when I was 19. This was a poor choice given the circumstances I was in. I was past the age of being a dependent on my caregivers and one of them told me to go to school, so that’s what I did. I failed by way of not going to classes, and subsequently was given the boot from my childhood home. I was 19, and as good as homeless. Years later, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out with no guidance and with such callous disregard, they responded with, “it’s what happened to me”.

So, with that in my rearview, I drifted around for the next five years in a haze of alcohol, seedy apartments and questionable life events (but some good stories, like the time “one” of the Allman Brothers was at my apartment telling stores), until a friend of mine got me a job at a residential program for at risk adolescent boys. This is when I decided to go back to school, only this time for social work. I wanted to help people who were in similar situations to my own. But I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to navigating the educational system. This is when I started taking out loans.

I would later switch my career focus two more times. First to architecture, but stopped that pursuit in it’s tracks when they said I would be working 80 hour plus weeks for the rest of my life. And second to journalism. This is where I received most of my education and also where I racked up most of my student loan debt.

And I did so with enthusiasm. I didn’t look for grants or scholarships, but this wasn’t surprising as I had no guidance, nor was I seeking any or knew how to ask. I was again adrift, in a financial world where I would soon be in way over my head.

It took me close to nine years to finish my degree. And when I was done, I had close to 85k in student loans and 20k in credit card debt. This was a tough pill to swallow. I fumbled my way into just over 100k in debt, with little to show for it and no idea how I was going to dig myself out of the hole I had worked so hard to get into.

Okay I Give, How do I Get Out Of This Mess?

This, in conjunction with a few other realizations, left me in one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. This was where I decided to make some needed changes in my habits and the ways I was living my life.

This is around the time I found Dave Ramsey. Here was finally where I found the guidances I needed to take hold of my financial house. This was also a difficult place to be, because growing up my caregivers were consumed with everything finance. Though they never imparted any wisdom to me about how to handle this aspect of my life. I had to stumbled upon Dave Ramsey in my mid thirties by chance before I really began to take charge of my finances.

This was demoralizing. Mostly because I didn’t feel as though I could ask anybody in my life for help or advice. Money was such a sore spot for my entire family growing up, that I felt as though it was off limits to talk about. I spent so much time not thinking about money due to the unspoken lessons I was taught, about how money was something to be feared, that I completely neglected my financial future. This was a difficult and terrifying realization to come to as well. I wrote about this some in my blog post about what to do when you’re starting to retire at forty.

But this is also where I learned that I needed to take the reigns for myself. Because I was the only one in control of my future. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask for help when necessary. Which is and was the case considering how little I knew/know about how to handle finances. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I had to do something about my future, regardless of how I had been neglected by my caregivers.

As I said above, I started when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, but it took discipline and patience to follow through with the plan. I had been so used to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that when it came time to exercise self control, I was at a complete loss. But there were a few things that helped to fortify my self-restraint.

How Being Vegan, Running, Meditation and Yoga Helped Me Pay My Debt Faster

Of all the changes I made in my life and my habits, going vegan was probably the most effective. I needed to learn how to cook using different ingredients while also making substitutions for staples I was in the habit of using when I ate animal products.

I also had to batch cook for the weeks ahead due to my busy schedule. This taught me how to put a shopping list together by choosing recipes and making a list by shopping from my pantry first. This was just another way to budget, only using food instead of money. But also if I didn’t cook, I had to eat pasta with Earth balance for dinner. I didn’t always want to cook, but I needed to eat, so I did.

Running was another great way to cultivate a sense of discipline. Throwing shoes on and pounding out the miles week after week helped me to build a resilience while also helping me to find a rhythm.

For me, when running mid level milage, the first few miles of a run are the most difficult. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning. You’re a little tired, it takes some time to get your muscles warmed up and head around what your body’s doing. But once you’ve settled into the motion and movements of your body, the miles start to drop away with an ease that’s hard to describe.

It’s similar to when you’re paying off debt. The first few months take some adjusting to. But once you find your rhythm, and recognize that the discomfort of your sacrifices to your new budget won’t last forever, you find that same rhythm.

Meditation and Yoga help in sort of the same ways but from different perspectives or directions. With yoga, learning to be still when you are in the midst of a difficult pose and sensation. And meditation when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, being still and present with what’s difficult builds resilience.

This is the same sort of resilience you need when you’re paying down a sizeable debt. For me it was important to sit with the discomfort of just how much money I owed. About 85k total in student loans alone. If that doesn’t put a seed of fear in your belly you’re either wealthy or in shock. Learning to sit and stay with what’s difficult, while coming up with and exciting a plan is what is most important when faced with a challenge of this size. Now let’s focus on some of the specifics of my loans and what I’ve found to be most useful.

Logistics of Paying Off Bigger Numbers

I have federal loans but when I first took out my loans I had both federal and private. About 9k in private and 76k in federal. I don’t remember exactly what the beginnings of my loan repayments looked like. I was in and out of school for 9 years, so my actual repayment date didn’t start until my mid-thirties. And probably for the best, I wasn’t in the habit of paying my bills regularly or at all before then.

Most of my bills I defaulted on with most likely the intention of never repaying them at all. But I had to start somewhere, and where I started was in my mid-thirties, under a pile of debt. I used the snowball method to start. This basically means paying the minimums on all your debt, but using all other available income to pay off your smallest debt first. For me this was all my credit cards that totaled 2-5k small debts. All together around 14k. Then it was on to my private student loans of about 9k total.

Some systems suggest you pay the highest interest rate percent first. Luckily my credit cards were all high interest and my loans much lower. So when I got to my private student loan, with about a 7% interest rate and my federal at a 6%, I put all available funds towards the private. My federal loans were in deferment, so I didn’t have to start paying them back until later. And with my private loans in the past, I could finally focus on the big one. My federal loans.

When I started paying off these loans, they were in deferment. This means that you don’t have to make any payments on your loan for a specific amount of time for different circumstances. I believe the time available for deferment is 3 years, but check with your lender to make certain yours aren’t different. But what I hadn’t realized was that when my bill came due, I would be making close to 1k payments monthly. I was not making much at the time and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford these payments. So I defaulted to my default. I planned on defaulting on my loans because it just seemed like too much.

But after I had done all the difficult work of paying off my other loans, I realized I didn’t want to head down the same road I had been traveling for so long. I needed to take control of my financses for my future. So I began looking into what my options were for paying down my student loans.

I Have a Plan… Sort of. Now What?

My plan was to just throw money at my debt until it started to dwindle. But was that really my best option? As it turned out, yes. As we all know, COVID hit about a year and a half ago and since then there have been a lot of layoffs. As a way to ease some of the financial burden of student loan borrowers, the government put all loans on deferment without accrued interest. This has been a Godsend for those laid-off, but for folks like me, making payments interest free has been game changing. With all of my payments going towards principle, my debt is shrinking faster than expected. I’ve paid off close to 25k in principle since the COVID-19 forbearance began.

But I was still concerned with the amount of interest I was being charged. 6% seemed like a high number for such a large loan. So I started looking at private loans to see if I could get a better rate. Turns out, I can. My rate would drop from 6% on my federal loans to almost 3% in a private one. Seems like a good deal. But when I ran the numbers, this only decreased my overall amount owed in interest by 1k over the life of the loan. Not even half a months payment. So I decided to stay in the loan with the higher interest rate.

I should also mention that I plan on paying my loan off in two years, so the interest doesn’t make that much of an impact. But if I choose a more traditional route, of say paying over ten years, I would be accruing up to 17k in interest alone. Then I would look into a loan with a lower rate. But another aspect to consider when thinking about switching lenders is, the benefits of federal loans far out weighs those of their private counterparts.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, federal loans went into a period of deferment. Something that private loans did not do. Also, if you fail to pay a federal loan on time, you have considerably more time before your loans go into default. I’ve read up to 240 days, and you still have time to pay and be in good standing with your loan. With private lenders, it’s only 30 days and that’s it, default. You also have the option, with federal loans, to pay in an income driven repayment plan. This adjusts your payment to a percentage of you discretionary income. This is not an option with private loans.

Also, you are able to consolidate your loans with a federal lender. This takes all the small loans you’ve taken out each semester and consolidated them into one loan with one payment.

With so many benefits attached to holding loans with the fed., it just didn’t make sense to switch to a private lender. I may be paying 1k more over the life of the loan than if I was with a lower interest, private loan, but peace of mind with the terms of my loan is worth more to me that a little under half a months loan payment. And when I’m doubt, ask.

If you have questions about your loan, contact you bank. Hey, even ask if they’ll lower your interest rate. Through my lender, if you’re enrolled in auto payments, they reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent.

And if you’re like me, you like to go hard. For me it’s do as much as humanly possible to pay off my loan in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t forget to practice a little self-care along the way. For me it’s a foot soak once and a while and a ten-pack at my local yoga studio for 175$. It’s good and healthy to take tests along the way. The road can be hard and long, don’t forget to take care of yourself. So incase no one told you, it’s okay to take a break every now and again : )

I hope this has helped in some way. Student loans can be daunting to take in, especially all at once. But don’t be deterred! Talk to your lender often and whenever you have a question, regardless of how silly it seems. They want you to be successful. So, if you have a ton of student loan debt, come up with a plan and have patients. You’ll get out of it, it just takes a little resilience. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “The Big IOU” by brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, but the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with, and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles I read and will be listing them at the end of this piece.

Trees and Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress levels. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists, but the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also brings with it a healthier physical being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees scrubbing our air works by way of the leaves and needles, and the thousands of tiny pores on each leaf and needle. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in the body of their leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery. A catch 22 for sure.

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood, where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to the carbon dioxide problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by BUR, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why pressurving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved: How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees are providing for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing to us? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time, or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help preserve them. I’ll be listing a few of the organizations below, so hopefully you can find something that matches your lifestyle and personal taste.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only the environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed from drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks, to be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering carbon dioxide and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of these species ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to the burning of the rainforest to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed, or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or prefered method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs our help. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits Are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately so I thought this one would be a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit, something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while, so I thought I’d check them out and let you guys know what I came up with.

The first thing I realized is, there is not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. The first search yielded results mostly from Canada, and a company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing there aren’t more people out there doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and places to get this type of work done.

Though this just isn’t the case. The sites I had looked at mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means that any system that is working in your house, the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems, like HVAC, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in this post I’ll be looking at some ways and habits we can keep to make our lives a little greener.

Some Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener, there are a few areas we can focus on. Anything from systems in the home to personal perspectives we hold that we can shift. These are among a few things we can all be doing to help keep things running a little more environmentally friendly. I’ll go through some ideas and habits I’ve been keeping in this post, and maybe help r inspire you to keep your home as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and in the food cycle. Even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without land. Let me go over the ways to compost, and how you can get involved.

One way to compost, if you have the space and a garden to use it is, a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. In these systems, there needs to be air circulation, water and an absence of light to let the bacteria grow and convert food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway to promote quicker growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost, to be used in your garden.

If you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies out there picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They pick up your food waste in a small container they give to you, much like a tiny garbage can, for a small fee. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with.

Where’s the Meat?

Go vegan! Or maybe eat less meat? This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced by them. Eating less meat is one way to make a dent in your personal carbon footprint.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, maybe think about eating less meat during the course of your week. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps, and if you are looking for some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to The Minimalist Baker’s website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, The Good Trade explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man, and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

The idea is, at its most basic level, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine, and therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among them being dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of The Good Trade.

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a product of the 80’s, My young mind was molded to the shape of, real men take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons that were handed down to me. And it wasn’t my caregivers fault, they were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society at large.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, I will say that they could have come to terms with how they felt about the type of violence they were perpetuating. Forming their own ideas and opinions of what was happening around them, based on the information they were receiving. But instead they chose to take the path more traveled and pigeon hole people into certain categories, creating a great deal of suffering along the way.

This takes a whole lot of willpower, to break the binds of what we’ve been taught that may be harmful to ourselves, others and the environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope and always question whether what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may have been shaped by those around you growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from The World Counts suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact in the article says that, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This was a shock to learn for sure. But all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, it’s great for your health in so many ways), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

There are also chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking, from disposable plastic bottles, that can be hazardous to your health. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for a longer time than conventional bottles. They’re also made of metal, steele. So you’re bypassing most plastic when you’re filling up your bottle.

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one should be a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going? What are the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be?

For me this is an easy one. I work at a place that is a nine minute walk from where I live. It’s also on a public transportation route. So if I needed to, I could take the bus instead. Where are your destinations? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower the creation of the greenhouse gasses that come with burning fossil fuels.

These commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating, as I did on my way into work when I worked in the city. Also, this isn’t a call to get rid of your car, only to utilize it with more care.

For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home at the end of your shopping trip. You’ll need to rely on your car for certain things, just not for everything.

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. But what I’m suggesting is, to think of different ways to get your needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places that are left pristine for our enjoyment the way things are headed now. What to do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to that are in line with your interests.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite place. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time first cleaning the beach. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get intouch with those who are incharge of the maintenance of the place you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction. Then you could invite people and go instead of organizing something new.

And if you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy doing. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from The Good Trade has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community. Maybe on social media, or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening already, locally that you can get involved with, taking some of the pressure off of you to organize.

Get Involved

As an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”, and as another co-worker used to say,”that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people, not to make light of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s good to remember those who have helped us along the way. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through to the next project or path when we feel depleted. But there’s still work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start, at least it’s a start. You’ll feel better about being part of the solution, but also connect with like minded people along the way, maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand. You’ll be glad you did. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’m 40, In Debt, and Haven’t Saved for Retirement: What to do When It Feels too Late

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been paying down some debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties in the form of credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards, and have been going pretty hard on my student loans. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay down my debt, and have been really excited with the results. Also, as a side note, these are only my experiences in researching what I need to do to retire. I am in no way a specialist in the financial field so this should only be taken as a rough guide to start asking questions. Speaking with a qualified financial advisor is the best way to get sound financial advise. So don’t take this article as the final word on investing.

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget, while also learning how to care for my financial needs. I have some money in savings for the first time in my life and am making some serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited making so much progress on paying down my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement a little bit later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like for sure. So I started doing some research on the subject, but I first had to look at what got me here in the first place.

Planning for the Future by Looking at the Past

When I first got into debt, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances. Much in the same ways I knew not how to care and tend to my nutritional needs, finance was another area in which I was illiterate. I was living paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life, and as soon as I was able to borrow money, I jumped at the chance. Looking back now, I’m not sure what the draw was. I was constantly in debt, all my credit cards were maxed out and I was missing payments and paying hefty fees for it.

But there was something about it that had me hooked. I was buying things I didn’t need, and using somebody else’s money to do it. And when it came time to pay for college, I treated student loans much in the same way I was treating my credit cards. They offered me the maximum payout amount, and I took it each time. I didn’t realize that I could accept only what I needed from the loans, and not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chose differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could almost have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when it came time to retire. So when I finally took financial responsibility for my life for the first time in my early thirties, the outlook for my future was sobering.

I’m Paying Down My Debt Now, But What Do I Do About My Future?

I’m about a little less than halfway through my debt currently, and the idea of being forty, and just beginning to think about retirement, almost had me in panic mode. But here is where it is important to stay in control of your emotional world, and know that just because you’re starting late, doesn’t mean that you are destined to be poor in your old age. You have options.

The first thing I did was to come up with a date that I would be debt free. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers. Surprises will come up, and you will be met with setbacks. But finding your debt free date not only gives you a tangible goal to achieve, but also helps to keep you accountable for your progress. For me, I had a few setbacks. I had to buy a new car, and my pay fluctuated a few times when I changed jobs.

But each time a new challenge arose, I met it by reassessing where I was, what my new circumstances were, and adjusted from there. The one thing that kept me on track was staying persistent. And the closer I came to paying down my high interest debt, the closer I’ve come to saving for my retirement. This is one of the main takeaways of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. The less high interest debt you have, the more prepared you will be for saving for your retirement.

So when you’re finished paying interest on top of the money you owe, you’ll be able to save more money, and invest more later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay down your high interest debt first, to free up your capital for your future. So in a way, paying down debt is kind of like investing in your future in that you will be the beneficiary of your hard work, not a credit card company or bank.

I’ve Paid Down My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid down your debt, take a deep breath, and appreciate what you’ve just achieved for yourself and your future. This is a huge step in reaching your financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me, especially if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of your working life as I had. It’s also part of the Ramsey baby steps to have a thousand dollar emergency fund while you’re paying down your debt. Just in case something comes up that you haven’t planned for. It’s not much, but when you’re 95k in debt like I was, and you suddenly get hit with a five hundred dollar medical bill and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that emergency fund is the difference between talking the hit in your budget somewhere else and feeling secure in knowing you can take care of the small problems that come up along the way. Life happens, best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now it’s time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The difference between the two accounts are, traditional IRAs are taxed when you take your money out as opposed to Roths, where you are taxed when you put your money in.

Roths vs Traditional IRAs
Roths

From what research I’ve done, an important aspect of saving for retirement is the tax advantage you get when you decide to take your money out. If you know you are going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, for example say you will have a lot of passive income such as rental properties in retirement, something I’ll be going over later in this article, you may want to be taxed when you put your money into the account. Using a Roth IRA, you will have been taxed when you’re rate was lower, saving you money by paying less in taxes.

Traditional

But if you plan on being in a lower income bracket when you retire, a traditional IRA may be the way to go. This way you’re contribution is taxed when you receive your payments. This also has the advantage of letting your money grow tax free and with compounded interest. So you’ll earn more with your investments. Whichever path you choose, it’s best to have a plan for what your life may look like when you start pulling money out in retirement.

Savings Vehicles

How much should we contribute to our funds, once we set them up? Conventional wisdom suggests that we sock away between 15 and 20 percent of our income a year. So depending on what you are making and your savings vehicle, you may have to spread your savings out, because you are only able to contribute so much to a traditional or Roth IRA.

As of 2021, the limits are 6,000$ for each fund and 7,000$ for those over 50 years of age. And with 6,000$ a year, if you start at age 40, that could translate to a little less that 475,000$ by age 65. That is a huge improvement over receiving social security alone. For a more indepth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on investopedia that covers the essentials.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. This could be in funds, such as mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available but worth looking into.

Mutual and Money Market Funds

These types of funds are considered low risk investments. Mutual funds are a group of securities that are managed by investor professionals. They consist of things such as, stocks, bonds and securities. This vehicle is made possible for the individual by pooling together funds from many investors. As I said above, they are considered low risk so they are a great way to pad your retirement if you have more than the maximum IRA contribution to squirrel away.

Money market funds are investments in low risk security funds. So they don’t have the highest percent interest payout, but they are solid supplements to your retirement fund. They are however not backed by the FDIC so it’s best to research funds with a history of promising returns. Slow and steady is the end goal for mutual funds.

Real-Estate

There are a few ways to invest in real-estate. One way is by flipping homes as seen by Chip and Joanna Gains on “Fixer Upper”. But another way, and the one I’ll be talking about is, by buying rental properties. With rental properties, you’re able to purchase a home or apartment building and rent out the units. The idea is to have the rent paid by your tenants, used to pay off the mortgage. Then once you’ve paid for you property in full, the rent becomes income. If you’re able to pay off the mortgage before you collect your IRA, you’ll have a consistent stream of income coming in after you finish with your career.

There is a lot to consider though, when taking on a rental property. You’re responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the property. For finding tenants to occupying the building and taking care of any issues that may arise. It can be a large responsibility so it’s worth considering how much time you have to invest in this strategy. But if done right, could definitely be beneficial during your retirement years.

Physicals

What I mean by physicals is, gold, silver, copper or platinum. My father was in the jewelry and coin industry, so this is something I’ve heard a lot about growing up. It can be daunting, looking into investing in something like gold. The average price per ounce of gold, as of this article’s publishing is, around 1,900$ an ounce. With bullion being sold most commonly in ten ounce bars, according to Forbes Adviser, this can end up becoming a costly investment.

Luckily, there are some more accessible ways to invest in gold. Gold coins are one way to squirrel some money away for retirement. The American gold eagle is sold as a half ounce to an ounce, and is sold at market value. This is a great way to put up 1,000$ at a time, while also getting you closer to your retirement goals. It’s also worth noting that if you spend over a thousand in physicals, the purchase is tax exempt. So an ounce of gold is the cheapest way to buy into this market.

Here are only a few options if you’re looking into retirement a little late in the game. It may take some time and planning, but it will literally pay off in and for your future. So don’t panic and don’t give up hope. The way to retirement may seem difficult now. But with some persistence, your efforts will carry you comfortably into your golden years. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Retirement Jar” by aag_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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