We’re paying down or paying off credit cards. We’re getting rid of our mortgage or putting an extra payment toward the principal balance (which has huge cost savings advantages). Or we’re practicing other frugality rules. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the amount Americans owe on consumer loans and credit cards plummeted $21.6 billion in July of 2009 – the largest monthly drop in consumer debt since the Federal Reserve started to track it in 1943. The “cash for clunkers” will, no doubt, alter the outcomes for August and September, but the trend continues to be less appetite for debt, not more.
People are working to get the bankers out of our lives, demanding that we become someone other than a “consumer.” So while the Federal government continues to re-affirm their “wise” decisions to bailout bankers and big finance, Americans are choosing to fire their credit card companies and break their “death pledge” (aka mortgage) by paying it off early. Of course, there are also many Americans who are in so far over their heads that unfortunately, personal bankruptcy and home foreclosure are the only remedy.
I am, however, focusing on those who thrive in abundance, simplicity and sustainability when it comes to community, lifestyle and, yes, financial intelligence. As my wife and I write about in ECOpreneuring, you cannot have ecological sustainability without a large degree of social and economic equity. The ECOnomy is not about “free trade” but fair trade; it’s about commerce that restores the planet, not destroys it or exploits people.
You can join these financial freedom-seekers too, by practicing financial sustainability. As most of us intuitively recognize, the best things in life are free (or close to it).
The Best Things in Life are Free
Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with paying big bucks to catch a show on Broadway, next time you’re in New York (let’s ignore, for the moment how you got there). But don’t rule out community live performances, school musical shows and neighborhood concerts – most shared for little or no cover charge. The performers love what they’re doing, and it shows. The performances might not be “perfect,” but most of the ones I’ve seen are entertaining, provocative and enjoyable. Pocketbook damage: zilch.
Time and time again, we keep hearing that people to have lots of meaningful relationships with fellow human beings are genuinely happier and sometimes live longer, healthier lives. The great news here, is that we don’t need money to buy our friends. It doesn’t work that way. We make them, through common interests, earned mutual respect, an investment of time, or perhaps a circumstance that allows for companionship, feedback and convivial communication. Of course, good friendships, like good health, should not be taken for granted. They require commitment, just like a productive garden.
Food, glorious food. There’s nothing better in our part of southwestern Wisconsin than heading to a potluck. People, some we know and many we don’t, come together to share the harvest in the form of a dish that features a recipe favorite. It’s all about passing along the surplus to others who may have a little less, and celebrating our connection to the food that sustains us all.
Fitness and Health
Going for a brisk walk in the park, just a half an hour a day, can do wonders for your mind, body and spirit. Meet up with a friend and pass the time deep in conversation instead of text messaging from a desk or chair.
Our good health is, and should always be, the most important value we share. Sadly, it’s often not. I remember weeks that passed by as I diligently pecked away at the computer in a cubicle in a stressful corporate job, eating take-out fast food and never seeming to get to the gym or on a bicycle as often as I should have. I had taken my health for granted; greed and getting ahead were the drivers, then. Now, eating right, exercising regularly and trying to minimize stress in whatever forms it may take guides both my livelihood and lifestyle.
For me, a morning cuddle from my son, just after he wakes up in the morning is worth more than a year’s worth of Lattes. What a way to greet the day. Thanks to being my own boss of a green enterprise, Inn Serendipity, which I operate with my wife, if the weather is beautiful, I can take a two hour lunch break to enjoy it. I might water the gardens, relax under a tree with a cup of lemonade or play a game of chess outside with my son, being mindful of the breeze carrying scents of whatever flowers are in bloom. Thich Nhat Hanh, a widely respected Vietnamese Buddhist monk, refers to this mindfulness as “being peace.” And it doesn’t cost a cent.
Photography: John D. Ivanko/www.ecopreneuring.biz