big questions

The Possibility of Good

The Possibility of Good

Know who’s awesome? Albus Dumbledore. Clearly. For many reasons. But this observation of his is one of my favorite quotations, something I think about a lot:

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

This could be applied to a lot of things, but since this is a personal finance blog, let’s go right ahead and apply it to personal finance.

Choosing to be financially conscious is a relatively new thing for me. And this week I decided that it’s time for a reevaluation of this still-evolving aspect of my life. Specifically, I want to ask myself: what is the impact—on myself as well as on others—of my ongoing choice to be more financially conscious?

First, let’s think about the immediate effects of me tracking my spending, trying to be mindful about money, and writing a blog that is mostly* about personal finance:

  • I feel more empowered and less anxious about my finances.
  • I spend less money.
  • I have TONS of fun writing stuff and reading other blogs and connecting with people.
  • I am out $7.07 per month for Arvixe fees.
  • My friends who I know in real life have to put up with listening to me talk about money all the time.
  • My blog posts may impact other people in some way, hopefully positively.

So far, so good. Most of these immediate effects are either decidedly positive (me feeling empowered, people potentially enjoying reading my blog) or mildly negative (though honestly I’m happy to pay Arvixe $7.07 each month to keep my domain name). Some of my friends are even interested in talking about money too, so that often works out well. (Apologies, friends who are less interested!)

But what about the bigger, longer-term effects of my ongoing choice to be financially conscious? Two main ones come to mind:

  • I will pay back my loans more quickly.
  • I will save more money, which means I will end up with more money—and/or more time, depending on how you look at it—in the long run.

Ok, let’s tackle these separately.

First, I do feel certain that the faster I pay back my loans, the better I will feel about myself and my situation. So that’s positive, and straightforward.

But the question of what I am going to DO with all this extra money and/or time in the long run is where things get tricky, and where additional choices will need to be made. And this is a critical issue, as the things that I could choose to do with a large chunk of extra money/time vary greatly. I could, for example,

  • give all the extra money to charity.
  • attempt world domination.
  • buy ALL the Beanie Babies.

As we can see from this list, extra money and time are powerful tools that can potentially be used for Good…or for Not-Good (…or for Weird).

So my question to myself today is: how can I increase the Good? This is, I think, a question that a lot of us think about. How can we use our time and resources to increase the sum total of Good in the world? How do we do this? What does it look like?

There are lots of possibilities for Good, I think:

~ I could use my extra time and/or money to take better care of myself so that I can try to be a kinder person, a more responsible citizen, and a better friend—which all will result in my living a fuller life. And to me that counts as Good.

~ I could use my extra time and/or money to attempt to create something that has a positive impact on others. I know that other blogs have created Good in the world by providing inspiration, information, and encouragement. Blonde on a Budget and Budgets are Sexy are prime examples, but there are many, many other kind, intelligent, and good-hearted people producing thoughtful and inspirational writing every day—in blogs, and also in books and poems and editorials and magazine articles.

~ I could give as much of my extra money as possible to charity a la Peter Singer.

~ I could create a whole new charity a la Joshua Becker.

~ I could do something fun and random and challenging and creative that I’ve always wanted to do. Like try to write a really awesome short story and get it published in the New Yorker. (My favorite short story writer, the amazing Alice Munro, didn’t start publishing stories until she was in her late 30s, and she won a NOBEL PRIZE while in her 80s.) In my book, making art counts as Good.

This question is on my mind in part because of a post from last week by Budgets Are Sexy that asked: Why? Why are we working to save money, to get out of debt, to [insert financial goal]? What is the point? How do we hope to spend our time after we reach that goal? Our Next Life also posted a great article recently on planning for the future that includes questions like, “how will you give back? what will you want to have accomplished, looking back on your life at age 80 or 90?”

I still don’t have any definite answers. I don’t know how best to increase the possibility for Good this week, let alone how to increase it someday when I’ve paid off my loans and have more time and money to allocate.

But I’m thinking about it. And I’d love to hear what you think too.

And for now, I’ll leave you with Nicholas Kristof’s holiday gift-giving guide for 2015, which in my opinion doubles as an excellent list of possible ways to increase the sum total of Good in the world.

*Ok, let’s be real: my blog is actually about ME and my
avocado tree and my cell phone and my teenage reading habits.
But sometimes I talk about money too.

What do you think?
How can we use our time and money to increase the Good,
both in the future when we’ve reached our financial goals,
and also right now, today?

Time is a Powerful Tool

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  • Reply Taylor @ Freedom From Money November 17, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    Haha, another great (and entertaining!) post 🙂 I know I’ve said this before, but I love your writing style and approach so much. Your first “Good” is freaking amazing: “I feel more empowered and less anxious about my finances.” Even if that was the only positive thing that came out of your more conscious approach (even though I know it won’t be) then you’ve already killed it. For me, less stress, anxiety and fear have been HUGE “Goods” that have come from my interest in personal finance and I don’t think that those benefits can ever be overstated. I know that as you move forward in your financial journey, your “Good” will only continue to grow and I can’t wait to read about it 🙂

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 7:01 PM

      Thanks, Taylor. 🙂 I can’t wait to finish up this degree next month and get a job so that I can *finally* start paying back my loans — I think that will definitely make a big difference for me! I really am excited to see what happens after that. But yes, in the meantime, I’ll definitely take less stress and anxiety. I’m glad that reduced stress/anxiety/fear has been a positive impact of financial consciousness for you too!

  • Reply Abigail @ipickuppennies November 17, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    Owning all the Beanie Babies might very well be the first step to world domination. So I vote for starting there!

    But seriously, knowing your why is integral to shaping your personal finance goals. And preferably, what you’ll do with the money. But you can debate totalitarianism vs. kids’ toys since you probably have some time to save.

    For us, it was to pay off my husband’s student loans and medical debt incurred while we were paying off those loans. Then it was to build a stable base, eventually buying a house. Then it was to restabilize our finances when we bought a house early to avoid his parents becoming homeless. Right now, it’s about saving the $25,000 for his dental implants. After that, it’ll be about building retirement accounts, paying off the mortgage and then maybe even saving toward a rental property.

    I guess my point is that the why can change. (Hence, first Beanie Babies, then the world!) But if you don’t know it, you can’t commit to the goal.

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 7:06 PM

      Hey Abigail, thanks for your comment! Hahaha, yes, Beanie Babies do seem to have a strange power, don’t they? 🙂 I definitely do have time to think about it though, that’s for sure! I’m only at the beginning of my journey now.

      I totally hear you that goals can change over time, and that once you meet one goal, a new one often appears. It sounds like you and your husband have already met quite a few financial goals, which is awesome. At this point I’m mostly focused on getting rid of my student debt, but I feel like there are other goals out there, if only I can figure out what they are.

  • Reply Alyssa @ Generation YRA November 17, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    Increase the Good – this is a wonderful theme! I couldn’t even begin to tell you the Good that has been produced since starting my blog about a year ago (intentionally & unintentionally)! I think producing the Good in your terms allows for more Good to radiate – in yourself, to others, your community, etc. It’s a powerful thing – and once the Good carries on it’s pretty difficult to harness (in the best way possible). The best part of this post is that you take the time to evaluate how you can create Good – which is amazing! That’s the biggest thing, with lifestyles becoming more busy & bustling having people stop to think about how they can manifest Good & pass it on does wonders. Since becoming more intentional & focused on my finances – I’ve been able to spend less time stressing & more time focusing on the things I value (family, love, relationships, self-confidence, health). I’ve got a plan & systems in place that allow for my finances to work in the background. The more goals I set not just with my finances, the more I feel Good is created. 🙂 Very thoughtful post!

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 7:11 PM

      Thanks, Alyssa. 🙂 I too have been overwhelmed with how much I’ve gotten out of blogging so far. (And I’ve only been doing it for about three months, so I’m excited to hear that you’ve been having a great time with it for a whole year!) That’s great to hear that you’ve become less stressed and more focused on health and self-confidence and relationships.

      I suspect that, as with finances, creating Good has a lot to do with being conscious and mindful. If we’re looking for opportunities to increase the amount of Good in the world, then when an opportunity arises, we’ll be more likely to take it.

  • Reply Maggie @ Northern Expenditure November 17, 2015 at 5:57 PM

    Love it. Life is all about the WHY. And for us, that why is possibilities, freedom, and those things for my family. I want my kids to see the world. Nay. LIVE the world. And I want to have the funds needed to do that and also do good along the way where we see the opportunity. We plan to head to Cambodia with the family. And there is a lot of good we could do there. I want to do it!

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 7:15 PM

      That’s awesome, Maggie. It sounds like you have a plan that will increase the Good not only for your family but also for people outside your circle. I hope I get to hear more about what you’d like to do in Cambodia.

  • Reply Our Next Life November 17, 2015 at 7:27 PM

    Such a perfect question — and such a perfect way to kick it off, with Dumbledore! (Maybe we need to do a collective series on which financial Hogwarts house we’d be in — the heroically giving Gryffindor? The overspending Slytherin? The quietly frugal Hufflepuff? The overly analytical Ravenclaw? We aspire to be Gryffindors, but are probably Ravenclaws.)

    The good thing is you don’t have to decide this question right away. But framing your life this way, and thinking about what your contributions can be — large and small — is infinitely better than just living with the “me” mentality. And often spreading some good is about the free stuff, too — smiling at strangers, offering encouragement, making sure a disabled person gets across the street safely. We dream of the day when we can do a lot more good in the world, but now try to do as well as we can on the human decency stuff, the not trashing the planet stuff, and the small amount of volunteering we have time for, in addition to charitable giving.

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 11:14 PM

      Haha, that would be the coolest link-up ever! The more Harry Potter references in the world, the better. I’d probably be in Ravenclaw as well, and I suspect we’d be in good company: there are a lot of people around these parts who tend in the analytical direction. 🙂

      Yes, your point about the Free Good is well taken. And I think that in a lot of ways, that type of Good can be as meaningful — or in some cases even more so — than the more expensive types. I do also want to think hard though about what I would choose to do with my resources if I didn’t have loans, etc. to worry about. Right now it’s more of a thought experiment than anything, but who knows — it could become a reality sooner than I expect, and I want to be ready.

      • Reply Des @ Half Banked November 19, 2015 at 8:36 PM

        Oh my god you guys I am SO IN FOR THIS FINANCIAL HARRY POTTER. I feel like if anything I’m more of a Hufflepuff, if only because I feel like more of them went further in Care of Magical Creatures, and my Good is continuing to support animal rescue in more and more ways as I have the resources to do so! (But Sarah, if this gets going, let me know – I will totally do a post about Harry Potter. I’ve read the books like… probably more than 10 times each.)

        Quite honestly, I told my boyfriend that if he’s not cool with our someday-retirement featuring a big house in the country where we can take in multiple (OK, I said 17) rescue dogs who need homes, then he should just leave me now.

        He’s still here, so I figure that’s an implicit “go ahead dear.”

        • Reply Sarah November 19, 2015 at 9:53 PM

          I really don’t think Hufflepuff gets enough credit. This is really a systemic problem that pervades the entire series, and honestly the entire Wizarding world.

          I told ONL that it is up to them to start it because it was their idea, so we shall see what happens….but I am DEFINITELY on board as well. 🙂

          Honestly it’s all I can do to not write all my posts about Harry Potter. I feel like I’ve shown really admirable restraint thus far.

          • Vic @ Dad Is Cheap November 20, 2015 at 1:35 AM

            Wow. Apparently I’m a muggle in comparison to all of you! I think I’d be a Ronald Weasley version of a Gryffindor student. Not the smartest guy in the room, but content to ride the coattails of the financial wizard. I wouldn’t really do much besides a random quip here or pointing something out something completely obvious there (spend less than you earn!)…we could call the championship the FinCup! or the Goblet of Finance. I’m lame. haha.

            When are we getting together to play human Quidditch? 🙂

          • Sarah November 20, 2015 at 7:13 AM

            Hey, don’t knock Ron! Ron is awesome, and smart, and a good friend. 🙂 And yes, absolutely, I am up for FinCup, Goblet of Finance (hahaha), human Quidditch, and/or anything else Harry Potter-related!

  • Reply Thias @It Pays Dividends November 17, 2015 at 8:22 PM

    I can’t think of a better goal than to own ALL the beanie babies…I mean that is why you get out of debt, right? 🙂

    • Reply Sarah November 17, 2015 at 10:47 PM

      hahahahahaha, yeah, that was the point of this post. I really don’t understand why other people didn’t get that. 😉

  • Reply DC @ Young Adult Money November 17, 2015 at 11:54 PM

    I’ve thought about this, specifically if I ever came into a great deal of wealth (when I sell a company for millions of dollars, of course). I think there is no shortage of nonprofits that need both money and time. I think if everyone focused enough and directed resources properly there is no doubt in my mind we could cure most disease in this world. Cancer CAN be defeated, but it will take lots of time and lots of money. I already have started to contribute to some worthy causes and if I end up with more and more money to give away, even better!

    • Reply Sarah November 18, 2015 at 7:24 AM

      Ah yes, the thought experiment of what you’d do if you suddenly had more money that you would ever need. I’ve thought about this before too, most recently this summer when I bought a Powerball ticket and, just for a couple of days, felt it was possible that I might win $40 million. (Spoiler: I did not.) 🙂 I think honestly in a lot of ways it would be a very stressful position to be in: you’d be in charge of all this wealth and you’d have the responsibility to figure out how to make the world a better place with it. I think there are charitable giving advisors whose whole job is to help people with that sort of thing, but no matter what it would be tough. Definitely a worthwhile thought experiment though.

  • Reply Vic @ Dad Is Cheap November 18, 2015 at 4:04 AM

    Great post Sarah!

    The great thing about being more money conscious is all the possibilities that lie before you. It’s a great place to be – i feel like my future is limitless now that I have a handle on my money! I think that people that don’t focus on their money tend to be people that live paycheck to paycheck – even if they make a decent income. I know plenty of people that make a lot more money than me and my wife, but still have debts and don’t save or invest.

    Even without money, you’re doing a lot of good in this world through this blog! Helping spread the word of being financially literate is a great cause. I’m sure your friends appreciate your insight. At least the ones who are open minded to bettering their situation :).

    btw – has the biggest Harry Potter fan I know, I have to say – Quidditch makes no sense. If you get 10 points for the Quaffle but 150 points for capturing the Snitch, wouldn’t it make sense for EVERYONE on the team to go for the Snitch?

    • Reply Sarah November 18, 2015 at 7:36 AM

      Haha, that’s funny, I don’t think I quite put that together about Quidditch. I wonder how those real-life Quidditch teams deal with that issue (I believe there’s an actual league, albeit without broomsticks). 🙂

      I’m mostly kidding about my friends — most of them are interested in this kind of stuff too. I’d actually say that a lot of my blog posts have been inspired by conversations I’ve had with friends. And I agree: having a handle on one’s money does open up a lot of possibilities!

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty November 18, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    I got a million things to save for so it’s a no-brainer to me. Almost all of our extra cash goes into retirement or our children’s college funds. I save because I want to be prepared, and because I don’t want to be a burden on society.

    • Reply Sarah November 18, 2015 at 9:23 AM

      I totally hear you, Holly — I don’t have kids, so my situation is pretty different, but creating a good future for your children is a very important form of Good. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  • Reply C@thesingledollar November 18, 2015 at 6:26 PM

    I read this only after writing up my An Education post, and hey, what do you know, they have something in common! The question about The Good Life is very important to me. I loved the recent Rebecca Solnit article where, as part of an overarching theme about having (or not having) children, she discussed the difference between (essentially) happiness and good.

    These days, I am actively trying to plan a little less for the future. I want to get a stable job and a home base as soon as possible, yes. But I am also somewhat content to wait for the rest of the future to arrive after those immediate goals are met. When I was freaking out a few years ago about how I had no Plan for my Life, a friend of mine told me that I ought to just do the thing that was in front of me at that time (which happened to be teaching my classes and paying off my loans) and then see what was in front of me next. I found it very helpful.

    • Reply Sarah November 18, 2015 at 8:36 PM

      Oh cool, I should look up this Rebecca Solnit article! Have you read Meghan Daum much? She has some pretty cool essays on that same children/not question.

      I very much like this Do the Thing in Front of You strategy that your friend thought up. I should definitely adopt that right now. I too would love to have a Plan, but as I do not, this seems like it may be the next best approach. 🙂

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