I recently wrote about the success of our garden this year and how my intentions to track our crops ROI never really happened. I mentioned that part of the reason was that our goal to start a garden wasn’t just to save money.
Personal finance is a taboo subject among friends. Josh and I never discuss my salary, spending or savings goals with my friends or family, and I don’t think many other people do either. But Josh and I recently reached a significant financial milestone that we are very proud of: we paid off Josh’s student loans and are now debt free, except for our mortgage.
Although we’ve been working hard to reach that goal, the actual moment that it happened was really anticlimactic. There was no one there to tell us congratulations, and it seemed wrong to go out and celebrate by spending more money. Instead, we sat down and started funneling that money toward our next big goal: adoption.
Private adoption, which we are leaning very heavily toward, is very expensive. We’ll need to save at least $30,000 to bring our child home, which is no small feat, as we fall on the lower end of the middle-class income bracket.
The first rule of personal finance is to spend less than you make. This is crucial for anyone who is trying to reach a financial goal, like paying off debt or saving up for a significant expense.
For us, the first step to making sure that we live below our means was to identify all the ways we were spending our money and cut out what we could. And somewhere along the way, we realized that one way to save money was to stop buying stuff.
It’s for this reason that I see a direct relationship with sustainability and personal finance.
A widely accepted viewpoint these days is that in order to live sustainably, you have to spend a lot of money. And while that can be true, the way Josh and I live proves that doesn’t have to be the case.
I do understand why that assumption is made. We’re constantly being told that you should be “eco-friendly” by purchasing a high efficiency clothes washer, or buy only organic, local food, or buy a hybrid or electric car.
But if you buy into that, then you’re just continuing to purchase new goods and discard the old, and therefore contributing to the message to “buy, buy, buy.”
This is something that Josh and I have been working really hard to avoid. Ever since we bought our house, we’ve had to resist the temptation to buy the nicest things for our home. It’s a constant challenge when we walk by the appliance section of Home Depot, or when I browse through Pinterest, but every time we say no to purchasing something, that means we’ve not only saved money, but reduced our consumption as well.
That isn’t to say we don’t spend money and that you shouldn’t either. We upgraded our windows, and just installed a new ductless heat pump. We hired a crew to trim and remove trees, we’ve overhauled our backyard and painted the inside of our house. But all of those things contribute to the comfort, safety and longevity of our home, rather than temporarily satisfying our urge to have a perfectly-decorated home.
The point is, when you don’t buy all those trivial things, you avoid creating waste, and that’s a good thing for the environment and for your bank account.
And when you avoid buying those trivial things, you can watch your bank account grow, or your loan balances decrease, and then you can finally breathe a sign of relief.
I’ve found that it’s really important to have other motivating factors when you’re trying to live sustainability. I doubt that all of the staunch environmentalists that preach conservation are doing it purely for the good of the environment. There is always something else to motivate you. And for me, it’s both to save money so Josh and I can start our family, and also to know I did my part to preserve the environment and make the world a healthy place for my child to grow up. So it’s not like recycling or composting is my favorite activity because I like to sort things, or dig through rotting vegetables. I do it because I think it will have a long-term impact on the health of our environment and in turn, on the life my future child will live.
It’s funny how living a more environmentally sustainable life, as trendy as that term is, really leads to a life that is sustainable defined by the original definition. To sustain means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level” and when you think about our current consumption habits, both in terms of waste and money, they’re certainly not sustainable over the long term.