Micro-Forests: New Growth in Environmental Trends

Micro-Forests are a new trend that has been popping up around urban areas. I was walking to a local shop a few weeks ago when I noticed a group of people working on a patch of land. They were planting a variety of wild, native plants in a small public space. The area wasn’t used for anything in particular and it was small. About half the size of a plot of land you could build half a city house on. It use to have a sign from a local business and a tree populating it. Other than that it’s sandwiched between two busy streets and not ideal for recreational use.

So planting a micro-forest seems a perfect fit for the town and it’s lowering emissions goals. Moreover, it seems a good fit for most towns and cities. So what exactly are micro-forests? And what effects do they have on our environment? It took a little digging, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

What are Micro-Forests?

In its most fundamental form, a micro forest is a densely planted area, of native trees, shrubs and other local fauna, so as to replicate what a forest would look like in the local, wild environment. This is also a solution to a lot of issues surrounding climate change.

From what I’m able to tell, the concept originated from Japan with a system known as the Miyawaki Method. This method uses local plant varieties to cultivate a densely populated forest in a relatively small space. Hence the term, micro-forest.

The method may have started in Japan, but its tenants are practiced world wide. One article I read said that micro-forests were being planted in countries such as France and India. Other articles have showcased these forests being planted in Australia as well as the United Kingdom. It seems that where ever you go, you’re bound to run into one.

Benefits of a Micro-Forest

Some of the benefits of these mini-forests are impressive for their size. This method plants about 30x the amount of trees than conventional methods yield. And a mature tree can sequester up to 45 pounds of Co2 annually. And with all these extra trees, they retain 30x the amount of Co2, compared with conventional forests. That’s a lot of Co2. There is loads of bio diversity in these small patches of land as well.

One micro-forest can contain a minimum of 300% the diversity, as opposed to conventional reforesting techniques. The root systems from the trees are able to clean and manage storm water run off as well. This helps to stop soil erosion.

And on top of all that, the forest is maintenance free after the first three years. In the start, the micro forest needs some attention. Weeding of invasive species, watering and pulling the material that didn’t survive the initial transplant. But after these first few years, the forest becomes completely independent. It creates its own nutrients without having to rely on chemical fertilizers. And it also lowers the over all ambient temperature of the local environment. Which could be helpful for cities that have these oasis in their midst.

Bio-Diversity

Another benefit of these forests is the diversity in which they collect. Not only the variety of plants and trees that are planted there, but from small mammals, insects and pollinators as well. As new animals that may not have been able to thrive in urban centers find their ways to the forest oasis, nature is in essence being reintroduced to the developed areas of our landscape.

These are all very compelling reasons to start planting more micro-forests, wherever we can fit them. So what’s stopping us? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Starting Your Own Little Forest

I would later read an article, about the patch I walked by on my way to the shop I spoke about in the beginning of this piece and how it was started by a local resident. She wanted to get involved so she got in touch with the city to find a suitable piece of land for her project. The city helped her find one through the “adopt an island” program and she was off and planting.

The project was totally funded by the city and provided some of the labor as well. There were a total of 15 volunteers who helped plant the nearly 600 seedlings. These cost the town a total of about $700 and were purchased locally. The town’s DPW helped turn the soil, uprooting the grass, and the forest was ready to be placed in the earth. The entire process took about a weeks time for the volunteers with little after care. The town agreed to water the patch for the three years before it becomes self sustained. After that, it should need no maintenance.

Where Are the Places in Your Community That Could Use a Micro-Forest?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that the micro-forest was planted in my town. But the fact is, it’s planted next to a stretch of woodlands. Also, the town I live in is fairly affluent. So, yes, it can definitely use more green space, but the neighboring city which is much more urban, could probably use it a little more.

The city I live next to is decidedly less affluent, has more concrete per square mile and is in need of a little TLC. So it’s with this in mind that I will be looking to replicate this idea where it’s most needed.

I’ll start by talking to the person who planted the one that sparked my interest and see how to replicate it in my near by, neighboring city. Hopefully enlisting the help of some friends along the way. While also hopefully sparking an interest in the community about a sustainable future. Win win.

Micro-Forests, Closer to Home

The question you may be asking yourself is, “how do I get involved”? I don’t have a great answer for this except, maybe search for someone doing it in your community. It seems that most of the micro-forests I researched have been built in the past few years. So the best action maybe to start your own. Talk to your local city council, see if there is something like our, adopt an island program, you could use as a starting out point. Who knows where a few well placed questions could lead.

Also, maybe your town or city has a farmer’s market or community garden. Asking around that community may yield some results as well. The point is, get involved if you feel so inclined. After all, the environmental mess we’ve gotten into won’t fix itself. We made it, we need to be active members in its solution.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be posting updates with more of what I find on this micro movement the more I learn. If you’re interested in more sustainable tips check out these articles to help keep your world a little greener. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

A More Sustainable Home

Black Friday : ( Green Friday : )

Environmental Self-Audit

Image Credits: “Micro Forest” by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Finding Purpose: Ikigai, The Japanese Concept Of A Life Well Lived

Not too long ago I was speaking with a friend about her decision to make a career switch. She’s a baker, like me, but is thinking about getting into the user interface side of the tech industry. We’re the same personality type on the Myers-Briggs so I can see her doing that type of work well. While we were on the topic, she sent me a link to an article about finding your Ikigai, a Japanese term that translates to finding your life’s purpose. And what’s more, there’s a practical guide to finding out what this is for you! I was hooked. But first, let me tell you a little about why this was so exciting for me to read about.

The Drift

Drifting through life listlessly was something that I knew all too well. I had drifted through my teens, twenties and through most of my thirties before I got a sense of how I wanted to live my life and the direction I wanted to take it in. This article, for me, was just frosting on the cupcake (thanks Sarah). A logical way to organize your passions is just the type of thing I’m passionate about and partly what this blog is about for me. But it took a lot of drifting for me to get to this point of self discovery.

The drift first started for me when I was in childhood still. My family had broke apart in what felt like one fell swoop and from that point on I had lost the support and foundation I had previously felt from my family. I was on my own from a very early age and it seemed that I was failing every test that life was throwing my way. It was a strange journey.

I remember looking at pornography as early as eight-years old, drinking when I was thirteen. Skipping school and falling in with the “wrong crowd” when I was in middle school and later, moving from sketchy apartment to unstable living situation until my late twenties. This was something that I attribute to not having many, if any stable role models growing up, showing me how to live a sustainable life. Just me, floating from uncertain situation to uncertain situation.

Role Models Matter

I’ve said before on this blog, my role models were living life like Jim Morrison, so I lived like him. And we all know how that story ended. But I studied Jim none-the-less, to find a sense of belonging as well as trying to have a good time while doing it. But as Modest mouse so aptly put it, the good times were indeed killing me.

I was drinking too much and avoiding all the relationships in my life, including the one with myself. It was a lonely place to be. I continued down this path until my early thirties, when things began to shift for me. But before that, I had literally no healthy role models to speak of and nothing to aspire to.

I kept shifting career focus in my schooling and it took me almost sixteen years to get my bachelors degree from start to finish! I changed my major twice and racking up close to 100k in debt in student loans and credit cards. This was a terrifying place to be. And all the while, no one thought to step in and intervein on my behalf. I understand that I was an adult, but I was also left to raise myself from the age of eight. Any guidance would have been helpful.

But unfortunately I was also the type of person who would scoff at the idea that I needed guidance. Mostly because I was taught that it was a sign of weakness to need somebody else’s help. This was the opposite of a healthy, well adjusted way of moving through life. I go into this some in my post on “Isolation and Being a Man“, about the unhealthy lessons I was taught on having to do it all on my own. Which is impossible, but that part of the lesson was left out of my schooling.

The Outcome

The outcome wasn’t good. I was left almost completely on my own save for a handful of supports, who thank God for them or things could have been really terrible for me. But I was still very much on my own, without any idea on how to move forward in my life.

My career was stagnant and I had little direction on where to go to do what I wanted while changing my life’s trajectory. I had some ideas on what I liked to do, but no idea how to shape that into something that I could make money from doing. This is the point where I needed to come up with a plan to make things happen for myself.

The Plan

This is where and when I started to take control of my situation by looking at what my strengths are and finding out what I liked and disliked. Luckily for me, I love it when a plan comes together : ) My MBPT is INTJ, so I’m a big picture person. This fits in beautifully with the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which in its most fundamental elements is; what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and something you can get paid for. Where all of these elements come together, this place is known as your Ikigai.

So my plan then became to look at my strengths and likes and then put them together to come up with a way to make them my focus and passion. And hopefully I’ll help some people along the way. So I began looking at the elements that come together that make me, me.

The Elements

I’ve always known that I like to organize things. Whether it’s a spice cabinet or my budget, I enjoy bringing different components together to be functional and coincide in harmony. I believe this is why bullet journaling is so appealing to me. It’s a place to organize thoughts and ideas while adding your own character to the process.

I also enjoy the different elements that come together that make a house, a home. I enjoy burning candles and the ambiance of a dimly lighted room. I enjoy engaging the senses through essential oil diffusers and softly playing music in the background. Being in the kitchen cooking meals is another source of enjoyment for me. The smells and heat from the range, smoker and oven, foods fermenting on the counter in colorful jars. The small things that come together to create a cozy environment.

Our shared green space is also something that’s been a resource for me. From some of my oldest memories of chanterelle picking with my uncle in the verdant mountains of Vermont, to hiking Killington on the Appalachian Trail a few years back, preserving these spaces is important to me. The fresh air and the scenery alone are well worth it, not to mention the environmental benefits keeping these spaces healthy brings.

And finally, bringing family and friends together in a sustainable way. A way where we can enjoy each others company in a non-judgmental, caring and kind way. Where we can enjoy and take comfort in the support and love we provide for one another. These are the things I love.

I also find refuge in writing. When I’m in the middle of putting a piece together, or come up with a fresh idea to write about, there’s a feeling of novelty, a sense of a new beginning. And being able to clearly communicate to others, be heard and hear others, is also something that’s very dear to me. Giving voice to the voiceless. Oh, and building things : )

Bringing It Together

Now that I have a good idea of what the elements of my personality are and most importantly, what brings me a sense of joy, I can use these as a jumping off point, into my Ikigai.

As an example of how my interests intersect my career path, I’m currently work in a family shelter. A sort of holding place for families experiencing homelessness. Although the circumstances are definitely sad, the attitudes are generally upbeat and surprisingly positive.

One of the ways I’ve been finding fulfillment at the shelter is by going through each area in the building, finding a new section of the shelter that needs a little TLC, and then organize and clean the crap out of these spaces.

A few weeks ago I started cleaning and organizing the pantry and kitchen storage in the shelter. If you’ve read my post on rotating your food stores, you’ll know I’ve already done a version of this in my own home. There’s a certain satisfying feeling I get when I look in my fridge and cabinets and see all my foods neatly organized as though they were shelves in a grocery. This probably hits me in a most primal place of food security, survival.

The Ikigai for me here is; I love to organize things, and especially food, the families needed a kitchen that was functional and well stocked with fresh foods, and I was getting paid for it. But watching the families gather in the kitchen and use the items I recently stocked was a rewarding feeling and the drive behind wanting to organize and clean. Watching them find joy in my work.

Living in a shelter, I can only imagine the amount of insecurity they are experiencing. So having enough food to fill this basic need must be a huge burden lifted from their day to day concerns. One more thing I’m able to help them with while also experiencing a sense of joy in the task.

And what’s more is, I was offered a full time position at the shelter helping to coordinate resources for the staff and families in helping find them permanent homes. So my love of organizing helped to show my dedication to the tasks that I take on, enough to be seen as indispensable. And all this by following where my interests lay.

Doing it For Yourself

When I was drifting, I didn’t have a focus, an anchor point. So I drifted from person to person, looking to be validated externally by what their expectations of me were. As a result, I wasn’t really living a life that was true to what I wanted, or what I even liked. This was no bueno, plain and simple. But that doesn’t mean that all of my previous experiences where negative ones, or something to be dismissed.

For example, I’m a baker by trade now and have worked in a variety of different capacities over the years. From bread baker to pastry chef, I’ve made a lot of baked goods. All of these past experiences have not only given me a great deal of appreciation for cooking and a zest for eating, it’s also given me the chance to work with some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. Such is the case with my current employer. Without their guidance and wisdom, I wouldn’t have made the choices and gained the experience to make me more of the best version of myself. And I will forever be grateful for their guidance.

What this means is, even if you’re not in your dream job right now, which I imagine is the case for most of us, find what you do like about the job you’re doing now. What are the aspects or tasks you have now that spark a little bit of creativity? What are the areas that bring you a sense of satisfaction when you complete them? Find these tasks and see where you can take them. Here is the starting point to finding your Ikigai.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. If you’ve found yourself in a place where you aren’t enjoying the different aspects of your job, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper. Who knows what you’ll pull out. And maybe in the process, you just may find your calling. Peace, and thank for reading : )

Image Credits: “Ikigai- Japanese concept meaning ‘A reason for being’” by Mikel Agirregabiria Agirre is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Gathering News: How Waking Up Earlier Helped Me To Stay Informed Without Burning Out

Sleeping In and The News

I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped listening to the news. It’s not really out of character for me, as I’ve also stopped watching T.V. too. I do watch some shows once and a while, and I read headlines of news stories on my phone, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing both, listening to the news and watching T.V.. I don’t miss it, but this kind of worries me a little. Just because I don’t stay abreast of current events doesn’t mean that they go away. And it also feels good to stay informed. Not just for my sake, but for others as well.

I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the world, but the other aspect of not doing it is, I just don’t have the time. I work two jobs to pay down my student loans and the times I’m not working I’m either cooking for the next two weeks, doing laundry, cooking dinner with family, trying to cram all the tasks I didn’t do during the week into my day off, working out or blogging. It’s amazing how quickly time fills up when you’re busy living your life.

I have another confession to make. On the days I don’t have to wake up at 5:30am to start work, I sleep till around 12 noon and sometimes as late as 2pm. It’s a problem. I think the worst part of me waking up so late is, I don’t really feel that bad about it. Therein lies the problem.

In fact, it wasn’t until I rolled into work 15 minutes late again, and my boss said something about me needing to be on time that I finally felt that something needed to change. You may be asking, how does me being lazy relate to listening to more news? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how I changed both habits at the same time by waking up a little earlier.

Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed? Sleep Less

I was constantly feeling a little tired during the day and not looking forward to certain tasks. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some and I know I’m not alone. My alarm would go off at 5:30am and I would hit the snooze button thinking, “if I can just get 10 more minutes of sleep, then I’ll be satisfied.” But 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes, turned into 30 minutes. I just kept hitting snooze until finally I was showing up 15 minutes late for work almost everyday.

This was a blow to my ego, as I pride myself on my work ethic. I’m usually 15 minutes early to appointments and responsibilities. The times I used to be late for anything were few and far between. So when my boss told me we needed to talk, I knew I had to make some changes.

That Extra Half an Hour Matters

So, I hopped on the internet and started looking up ways to make it easier to feel awake in the morning. The problem I feel I’m having with waking early is, I just need more. I somehow thought, when I was under the impression that I could wake up at a reasonable hour, that my body would tell me when I’ve had enough sleep and that I would wake up feeling refreshed when I met my quota. But the more I slept, the later I would want to sleep. It was a cycle that was feeding into itself, the more I fed into it.

Some of the research I read suggested that I immediately turn on a bright light upon waking up. This sends a signal to our optic nerve that it’s time to start moving and triggers some biological functions in our bodies that help us to feel awake.

I also decided that I wanted to eat a healthier breakfast, without feeling rushed as I usually do. So I came up with a plan to wake a little earlier and start my morning routine off on the right foot. Instead of waking up at 5:30am, snoozing for 20 minutes and rushing to get out of the house, dressed and all my things gathered in 10 only to arrive at work at 6:15am, I set my alarm for 5am. This way I can wake up with ample time to get ready for the day.

Instead of hitting snooze, I get up right away and turn on the light to help my system get acclimated to being awake. I then head downstairs and make my morning cup of green tea and a green smoothie to get something healthy in me to start my day. I can then take my time getting ready for the day while I drink my tea and smoothie, without feeling rushed to get out the door and inevitably bad about being late to work. Win win.

That’s Great On Days I Work, But Can I Still Sleep In On The Weekends? Not If You Want to Stay Up On The News

Short answer, no. Some of the research I was reading suggests that you keep your schedule consistent throughout the week. Waking up at the same time everyday helps to get your body in a rhythm that will become self sustaining. So instead of waking up and wanting to hit snooze, you’ll wake up and feel more refreshed the more often you stay faithful to your schedule. And maybe you’ll just find the time to listen to the news again.

The first day I had off in which I woke early was incredible. The day prior I had slept till 2pm and felt rushed and mildly guilty about the losing so much of the day. I had forgotten about some plans I made with my father to check out the local hardware store to look for lumber to build some raised beds with. So the guilt of missing out on plans, added to the shame of me feeling as though I wasted an entire day and worked to leave me feeling pretty bad about the entire situation. It was not a good state to be in.

So that night I set an alarm for 7:30am, hoping to get a jump on the next day. Things couldn’t have worked out better. I woke at 7:30am, ate breakfast and drank tea, and got started in on my to-do list. I got more done between when I woke that day to the time I woke the day before than I had in the past three to four weeks.

I was crossing things off of my to-do list with excited fervor. I went to the local YMCA to look into a membership, I switched my current credit card to a greener, more sustainable one. I balanced my budget, put my shopping list together and chose recipes for the next two weeks. Blogged for a bit and yes, even listened to the news while I was getting things done. It. Felt. Good.

Okay, I’m Listening To The News Now, But It’s Depressing. Now What?

As soon as I started listening to the news again, I remembered why I stopped listening in the first place. There are so many negative stories happening, that it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed or fatigued by just being informed.

When I was in my twenties, I hopped on the Tom Ashbrook bandwagon and listened to a lot of On Point. I was also watching CNN, listening to NPR and just taking in as much information as possible. I took it to the extreme and my habits were definitely bordering unhealthy. This was also around the time I was mean spirited and forcefully, vocal with my opinions. Not a good combo.

What I’m realizing now is, that I was mean and opinionated to cover over the fear and uncertainty I was feeling while I was taking in all of this depressing news. I didn’t like it, but I chased after it to try and fit in with the image of who I thought I should be. So how am I now reconciling my distaste for the negative bias of the news and wanting to stay informed? Balance.

You Take The Good You Take The Bad…

I first had to find out what my reasons were for wanting to stay informed were before I could subject myself to the negativity that was omnipresent in the world of news. I ‘ve come to the conclusion that staying informed is more than just fitting the image of the responsible man I had in mind. It’s mostly about being support, for myself and others.

Just because I wasn’t listening to the news, didn’t mean those events affecting those whom are closest to me weren’t happening. I’ve come to realize that when I’m actively listening to the news, I can shape my opinions about what’s happening in the world and share them with those close in. We can offer solace to one another when terrible things are happening, as they are with the pandemic and in Ukraine currently. We can plan together when we hear about gas prices increasing or the current supply chain shortages. In short, we can help one another, be there for each other and all thanks to just by being informed.

With So Much Worry, What About The Positive?

But there needs to be some balance to the equation. I’ve recently downloaded an app called “The Good News Network” that sends push notifications with positive or uplifting headlines. This way I can get a balance, with the more sobering news from the mainstream media, paired with the uplifting ones from “The Good News Network”. It’s been a good shift, and really cute at times : )

I haven’t started yet, but my plan is to get my news in the mornings via NPR or a podcast with similar values to stay current, while reading something from “The Good News Network” in the evenings to end my day on a positive note. This way I’ll balance the stressful impact of the more difficult headlines with those of the more uplifting ones.

And there’s also an element of self-care that goes along with listening to the news. No longer will I pump large quantities of negativity into my life without checking in and giving myself the breaks I need from what’s bothering me. I think I used to operate under the assumption that “real men” could handle anything, including listening to an endless stream of horrifying headlines.

Gone are the days where I wallow in the angst and unrest of the world’s pain. Now, if something feels overwhelming I’ll take a break from the news and do some resourcing to help me through the difficult emotions.

Some of the podcasts I’ll be looking into are, NHK’s World News Japan, English News, and Morning Edition from NPR. The NHK network has a different cultural perspective than its American counter parts while NPR speaks to my more liberal-centrist views. Both networks are well respected and deliver quality news stories.

But wherever you get your news from, don’t forget that while you’re in the throws of staying up-to-date on current affairs, it’s okay to press pause if it feels like it’s too much. Listen to some music or just get lost in a crossword puzzle. But equally as important, find a news source that suits your taste. There’s no sense in trying to listen if it’s a chore tuning in.

I hope this has been helpful in some way to those needing a little extra boost to get your day started on the right foot. It isn’t always easy to make changes at first. Especially those that demand a bit of sacrificing your personal comfort. But I think you’ll find that the more you practice these new habits, the easier they’ll become. So if you’ve found yourself in some unhealthy habits when it comes to feeling more apart of the world around you, try these suggestions. You may just end up becoming a morning person : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “The news ticker in Times Square mentions the Occupy Wall Street protest happening on October 15th as protesters gather outside” by TenSafeFrogs is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans, Week Two

Last week I spoke about the situation I found myself in, looking into planning for my retirement while paying down my student loans. This week I’d like to talk about the strategies and accounts I’ll be taking and opening to help detour some of the misdirection I received in my youth. It’s scary to think how much time I’ve lost to just not knowing how to plan for the future. But it’s never too late to start and there’s no time like the present. So let’s jump in.

I’d also like to take the time to state that I am not a financial professional and these are just my opinions of how I’m planning for retirement. If you have any questions about your own financial situation, I suggest you seek out help from a professional financial adviser.

10% or 15% How Much Should I Save?

There are a couple of different views on this front. Dave Ramsey says to save 15% of your annual income after you’ve paid off your debt and set up an emergency fund. While Ramit Sethi suggests saving 10% and doing so while you’re paying down low interest debt such as student loans.

Dave’s rational is that if you’re in debt, then paying into retirement doesn’t make any sense if it means extending the life of your loans and the interest you’ll be paying on them. This makes sense, seeing how you’re not really making money if you’re still paying somebody else at the same time.

But Ramit’s point is valid as well. His angle being that the sooner you begin to invest, the more time you have to let your money grow. And it’s better to start the process of saving as early as possible. So the question remains, should we invest 10% or 15% and should I pay off debt first or jump right in with savings?

Whether you decide to start right away, while paying down low interest student loans or to pay into retirement after you’re done with debt, that’s your call. My take on the subject is, the more I save the better and the less debt I have, the easier it will be to reach those goals. If I can put away 15%, I’m going for it. Hell, if I can put away 20%, even better. But before I go ape shit and throw everything I’ve earned towards retirement, I want to make sure that I’m not spreading my finances too thin by trying to save too aggressively. Also that I’m able to enjoy my money as well.

The goal of saving for your future isn’t only about surviving, it’s about enjoying yourself. Do I really want to look back in retirement and think, “man, I’m sure glad I missed out on all those fun things I could have done instead of saving so aggressively for retirement”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I’m not going to let saving for retirement get in the way of living my life either. Just like most things in life, there’s a balance to be struck.

The Accounts I’ll be Opening

This one was a little confusing for me when I first started thinking about investing. Should I start with an account that is tax deferred, so I’m taxed when I withdraw my money? Or should I open an account where I’m taxed when I make the deposit, and withdraw without being taxed? This all depends on your situation and I suggest that you speak with a qualified financial professional about your options.

But it’s still good to do some research on the subject before hand, so you’ll know the right questions to ask. Dave Ramsey has a good list of retirement accounts and their specific details here on his website. But as for the accounts I’ll be opening, it seems as though most people are on the same page, and me as well.

401k

A 401k is a retirement account that you can fund directly from your paycheck, allowing you to make contributions tax free. The benefits are, your money grows tax free and Uncle Sam takes his share when you make withdrawals. Also, you’re able to contribute up to 22,000 dollars a year as of 2022. You also have to wait until you are 59 1/2 to start making withdrawals or you will pay heavy fees.

This type of account is often offered by your employer. And some companies offer a match up to a certain percentage. This means that the company will offer you a certain amount of money based on how much you contribute to your fund. This may be a dollar amount set by the company, or a percentage of your annual salary.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs or Roth Individual Retirement Accounts, are personal accounts you take out independently, where your contributions are taxed before being added to the fund and are not taxed when you withdraw your money or while your investment is growing. You fund these accounts after taxes are taken out of your pay, unlike a 401k, and are capped at $6,000 annually as of 2022, $7,000 if you are over the age of fifty.

Roth IRAs are good options because they are available to everybody as long as you meet the income requirements. As of 2022 the limit for a single person is under $144,000 a year. They’re great savings vehicles and the sooner you get started investing in them, the better. Also you don’t have to start withdrawing until you’re 72. Unlike the age limit of 59 1/2 for 401ks.

Social Security

Also, don’t forget about social security! Where this isn’t technically an account that you open, it’s something you’ve most likely been contributing to your entire working career.

How it works is, you pay into it by having it taken out of your paycheck directly. Your contributions are listed as the “social security” line on your paystub. When you’re ready to withdraw, which you can start at age 62 to age 70, the government takes the highest earning 35 years or your working history, and averages them to calculate your payout. If you work less than 35 years, the years that you didn’t work will equal 0. This could hurt your total payout when you decide to withdraw.

This link from The Penny Hoarder goes into detail about how social security works and the questions you may have navigating it. It can be deceptively complicated, so take your time and do some research around this subject.

Other Accounts

The above accounts are what I’ll be using, but there are also a variety of other accounts that may be more suited to your situation. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you may want to open up a SEP-IRA. This is a plan for individuals who are self employed or small business owners. If your employer offers a pension, this is also something worth looking into as well. And again, if you have any questions on what’s right for you in your situation, get in touch with a financial planner who can help you make these important decisions about your future.

What’s My Strategy?

So now that we took a quick look at some of the basic retirement accounts and how they work, how do we put them all together to make a comfortable retirement? I’ll walk you through what I’m planning on doing as of now, with my investing. Of course this is unique to my situation so it will be helpful for you to take a look at what’s out there and what works best for you, speaking with a professional when necessary. Hopefully this will help give you some basic info when deciding what’s best for your plan.

And luckily, Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi both seem to agree about some basic money maneuvers when it comes to retirement. Their plans are something I’ve modeled my own after. So if these guys are on the same page, it’s likely that their advise should be taken into consideration. I’d also like to say that I’ll be meeting with a financial advisor once I hit some of my financial goals, to fine tune my plan. So let’s review what I’ve come up with.

Step One: 401k With a Match

The first step I took was to see if my employer had a 401k I could contribute to and if they had a match. Fortunately for me, my employer does have a 401k. Unfortunately, they do not offer a match. If my employer did offer a match, I would most definitely take advantage of this. Reason being, that any match they would give me would be the equivalent of getting free money. And it would just be silly for me to say no to free money. But since they do not offer anything in the way of a match, it’s on to step two for me.

Step Two: Roth IRA

The next step, and the one where I’ll be starting my savings journey is, opening a Roth IRA. You can open a Roth with just about any investment firm or bank. For example, Fidelity has a Roth account you can open with only a few pieces of identification and a bank account with which to start funding it.

As of 2022, you are only able to contribute $6,000 to your account annually and $7,000 if you’re over the age of fifty, incase you need to play catchup for starting late. For me, this means I can max out my Roth IRA contributions with $500 a month. And luckily for me, this fits just inside of my budget for my savings goals with a little extra to contribute to another account. So once I max out my Roth IRA, what’s my next step?

Step Three: 401k, Again?

After I contribute all I’m able to to my Roth, it’ll be time for me to revisit my 401k again. This is where I’ll be putting my overflow from my 15%+ savings goal that won’t fit in my Roth IRA after I’ve met my cap. Allowing my contribution to grow tax deferred is better than letting it sit in high interest savings like a money market account.

My money market account is solely for the purpose of housing my emergency fund and any long term savings goals I have. Such as saving a down payment for a house. And if you still need somewhere to stash your retirement savings after maxing out both a Roth and a 401k, congratulations! Because you are crushing it on your pay rate and planning!

Step Four: Social Security

The good news is, once you’ve established the above accounts, Roth IRA and 401k, by the time you’re ready to collect social security, you’ll be in pretty good shape. Social security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retired individuals. It’s supposed to be supplemental income to your other accounts. And there are benefits to taking out your social security at the later age of 70. So be mindful of how and when you decide to start collecting on all of these accounts. It will literally pay off in the long run.

Some numbers I’ve read are that social security is only supposed to account for 40%-60% of your income in retirement. This means you need a healthy amount in your retirement accounts by the time you start withdrawing from social security. So be prepared and make sure you’re spending time researching what you want your future to look like and how much it will cost to fund it.

Make a Plan and Stay Fluid

When it comes to planning for your future, it’s best to play it safe. Talk with people who know what the market looks like and who have been down this road before. I’ve been lucky enough to have some good role models in this area. One of the most valuable pieces of information being, if you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

There’s a lot of information out there and not all of it good. So be diligent and find some people you can trust to help guide you along the way. Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi are two great resources out there for handling money responsibly. Also, The Penny Hoarder and Nerd Wallet are two sites that have a wealth of general information about money matters and ones I visit when I have questions about how accounts, or things money related work.

Knowing we’re in a good place and that we’ll be able to meet our monetary needs for our future is important, and also an act of self-care. Money isn’t the most important thing in our lives, but not being responsible with it can do some serious harm. For example, I just celebrated my 42nd birthday and am $55k in debt. This can be a scary place to be if you don’t have a plan. Luckily for me, there are load of resources at my disposal. And just remember, when it feels like it’s impossible, or your feeling like giving up, know that it’s never too late to start. Just be patient. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m in a LOT of student loan debt. I had no idea what I was in for when I started taking out loans for the degree I would eventually get 7 to 9 years after I started. As Melba would say, “sometimes, it’s no easy”. But you’d also know that I’m following the Dave Ramsey method of going all out and paying off my debt with everything I can throw at it.

Fortunately for me, I’m in a situation which allows me to make large payments on my loans. This isn’t the case for everybody though, and I recognize how lucky I am. But I also took out a little more than 2x the average person takes out in student loan debt. No bueno. Also, my situation will be changing soon leaving me with a sizeable amount of debt still to repay with less income to allocate towards it. And with the Biden administration not making any progress towards some form of loan forgiveness, it seems like it’s going to be a long haul.

So with all these financial uncertainties floating around in my life, my question is, “will I be paying off my student loans when I’m ready to retire? ” The short answer, no. Hopefully I’ll have my loans paid in full in the next few years, but this was only possible due to my circumstances being favorable to me paying off debt. I could have easily found myself in over my head with just over 100k in debt, with no plan or financial resources to begin to dig myself out of the hole I dug for myself. Let alone the foresight to plan for my inevitable retirement.

So now that I’m in a place where I’m able to concentrate on my financial situation while making calculated decisions on how to proceed with the future of my finances, what am I going to do with the mess I’ve created? How do I move forward with what seems like an impossible task? Take a deep breathe, relax and take it one step at a time. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Let me show you what I’ve found.

Some Resources

I’ve just started reading “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by, Ramit Sethi on a rec from a friend of mine and it got me thinking about my situation. His book is a great place to start if you’re looking for a brass tacks way to understand your personal finances. Especially if you’re new to the world of investing and taking care of your future monetary needs. Some of the tools he introduced me to are:

Bankrate

This financial website has a lot of powerful tools you can use to get a handle on your personal finances. They have an array of calculators you can use to find out when you’ll be out of debt, like this student loan calculator. They also have an investment calculator as well. Helping you to more clearly map out your future by showing you how far your money will get you into retirement or while paying back high or low interest debt.

They also stay up to date with the latest news about the state of different aspects of finance. For example, they post weekly about the highlights of what’s changing with student loans. This way you can follow what’s happening with the department of education and if their decisions will effect you in anyway. All in all, a good tool to have that specifically deals with the subtle nuances of the financial world.

Doing Away With Fees

Ramit also goes into great detail about how to choose the right bank for your needs. The main takeaway for me was, pick a bank that’s not going to nickel and dime you to death. I remember having a bank account in my early or late twenties, where it seemed as though I was accruing an overdraft fee almost twice a week. And they really added up quickly at $30 a pop. This was mostly due to having overdraft protection, which I ended up using like a line of credit. No bueno.

Since then, and nearly a decade later I’ve finally got savvy enough to switch to a credit union that not only doesn’t have overdraft protection or fees, but reimburses me for ATM fees I incur when I use a foreign bank’s cash machine. No fees while banking is something that has been long overdue and I’m able to appreciate all the more for having to pay the exorbitant penalties I had in the past.

Credit Cards

When I took control of my finances for the first time about seven years ago and realized the mess I had made, I was more than a little concerned. I’ve said before on this blog, my credit card debt was over $20k. Add that to the rest of my loans and bills and I was just north of $100k. And what really blows my mind is, that I just stumbled my way into that massive hole. How was that even possible?

Regardless of how I got into debt, it was me who had to get myself out. I had four credit cards that I paid off in order of lowest to highest balance. This took a while. “The snowball method” was what I used and as Dave Ramsey teaches, gives you the emotional accomplishment of paying off a balance and the added bonus of adding that minimum payment from the last paid off card to the next one.

So when I started my debt free journey, I had four minimum payments to make while I was hammering away at the smallest debt. No matter which angle I look at it from, it took me a while to build momentum enough to start making real payments on my debt. I believe I started my debt snowball with my biggest payment being around $800 towards my smallest balance. Every time I paid off a card, I was able to free up the minimum payment of the card I just paid off, and dump it onto the next target.

I’m now making close to $2k payments on my loans every month. This is psychologically empowering, to see how far I’ve come from my max payment of $800. But I still have a ways to go. And now I have the past experience, as well as the habits that I’ve been building to consistently pay down my debt. And those habits will help me to save for my future once I’m done giving my money away to other people.

I now have one credit card that I treat like my debit card. I only spend what I know I can pay off at the end of each month, aka what I’ve budgeted for. I cash in on the rewards they give me for using their card and thanks to Ramit’s advice, set my card up to pay my statement balance automatically at the end of each month. So I don’t accrue any interest on purchases made. It’s been working well so far, but I’m ready to cancel my card if things change for the worse. I’m done paying high interest rates and would happily go to an all cash system.

The Plan

So now that I have my finances and spending habits under control, what’s the plan? Well, not a whole lot has changed. I’m still planning to pay off my loans first, throwing everything I have at it. Financially it makes the most sense for me. Until I’m down to zero owed, I’m still paying interest which would be about the same amount I’d be gaining on any investments I’d start. I may switch my loan to a bank with a lower interest rate, but for now, they’re in forbearance due to the COVID relief plan. So until May, 2022 I’m not paying any interest. Bonus!

B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

So if I’m paying my student loans aggressively, as was the plan since the start, I’ll be able to fund my retirement accounts more fully, sooner. With my current plan, I’ll have my loans paid off in about four years and I’ll be putting close to fourteen hundred towards it each month.

And as I’ve learned with my previous experience of paying down credit card debt, using the snowball method, I can then use those same tactics to start paying myself. First, setting up my emergency fund of six months expenses, and second, maxing out my ROTH IRA contribution and putting any overflow into my 401k through my employer. I’ve built the healthy habits paying off my debt, now it’s time to use those newly acquired skills to make sure I’m taken care of in the future.

And Don’t Forget to Budget!

Above I glanced over a few of the accounts I’ll be using to fund my future. But if you’re like me, and most Americans, you have no idea what these accounts are, or what it means to contribute to them. I’ll be covering some strategies and the accounts I’ll be using in my next post. But for now I’d like to focus on just how important it is to get on a budget and check in with it and how well you’re sticking to it at least once a week.

The $700 Whole Foods Run, AKA I’m going to the grocery, be right back

This was something I said a lot. There’s a Whole Foods about a mile from my house. So inevitably when I would run out of something, I would head down to Whole Foods to pick it up. But while I was there grabbing whatever ingredient I was low on, I would also use this opportunity to pick up a few other impulse items. Candles and essential oil were high on my list of impulse buys (I’m looking at a wooden box full of oils as I type).

Everything was going pretty smoothly until I realized one month, when I was adding up my grocery budget from the previous month’s expenses, that I had spent about $750 on groceries alone! But the real icing on the cake was that this was the second month in a row that I had gorged on my food budget. No bueno.

There were a few contributing factors as to why I was so over my food budget on a consistent basis. One of them being, going to Whole Foods three times a week to be sure. And I’d like to state that I have nothing against Whole Foods. Their products are high quality and I agree with their values and commitment to organic foods. But I can just as easily get most of the products at its more reasonable counter part for less cash. This just makes good financial sense.

Since my realization of how far I was straying from my food budget, I’ve made a few changes to my routines. First and probably most importantly, I’ve stopped frequenting Whole Foods until I’ve paid off my student loans. As I’ve said, I like the store, but as Dave Ramsey puts it, I’m broke. I can’t afford to shop there.

Second, I shop twice a week at the more reasonable grocery store in my neighborhood. Shout out to Market Basket, whose selection is amazing and matched only by their prices.

Third, I’ve upped my food budget. I was trying to live off of $200 dollars a month when I first wrote my budget. This was nearly impossible. Upping my spending in this category allowed me the freedom to buy what I needed without feeling defeated every time I would inevitably go overbudget.

I also check in with my budget once a week, usually more, to see how I’m progressing in the different areas of my spending. This is a step that is crucial in keeping yourself accountable for sticking to your budget. For instance, it’s the 9th of the month right now and I only have enough for one big shop left. So I know that I need to rely on the food I already have in my pantry to help stretch my grocery budget a little farther.

Wrapping Up By Checking In

These quick check ins are invaluable to helping you stay on track with your budget. So set a plan, follow through and check in frequently. Next week I’ll be covering some strategies to help you navigate the waters of retirement. Though I’m not a professional, these are just my opinions of what I’d like to do to plan for my retirement. It seems a little scary and overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics, you’ll see there isn’t much to it. And if you can develop some healthy savings habits, you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable retirement. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

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