Vote With Your Dollar… After You Take a Look at Your Finances!

By Mercedes Anto

I found the financial independence movement after I received a very scary call on a cold December morning in 2015. My student loan service provider called me to let me know that I had missed my first student loan payment. While still on the phone with them, I frantically logged into my bank account to see if I could afford the $130 payment. Luckily, I could, but just barely. I made the payment but was left pondering how I would be able to consistently make that payment. I was living on my own, had a car loan at the time and was working at a job that wasn’t paying much. What could I do?

Like a good millennial, I went to YouTube for answers. 

I stumbled into multiple channels that had tips on how to get out of debt. I found other millennials who were struggling like I was, which was comforting. I also ran into the famous Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, found channels that hate Dave Ramsey’s method and offered other solutions. But all the channels I found had the same basic formula:

1.      Find out what you’re spending and trim where you can.

2.      Start an emergency fund.

3.      Allocate extra funds to debt.

I thought I had an idea of what I spent my money on, but it wasn’t until I wrote it all out on a spreadsheet that I really knew where my money was going. After tracking my expenses for about three months, and trimming some expenses that I could, I started automatically withdrawing $50 dollars from my checking account into a savings account every time I got paid. It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get into the habit of savings, and that was all I could afford.

To tackle my debt, I made the decision to pay-off my car first, so I started by adding $50 dollars a month into that payment. That’s when I realized that I needed to increase my income in order to speed things up. I picked up a side hustle and got a couple of raises, but it wasn’t until I changed jobs, and received a substantial raise, that my debt payoff gained momentum.  

One thing I made sure to do when I started earning more was to continue living just as budget-conscious as I was when I started my journey, and allocating those extra funds to debt. By December 2017, I paid off my car. By October 2020, I paid off my student loan debt and became debt free.

So What Does This Have to Do With Environmental Sustainability?

Environmental sustainability, minimalism, and the financial independence movements have similar principles. They’re all about being mindful of an individual’s consumption patterns. I know some people who have started their financial independence journey and have found themselves living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle without being very conscious about it. To me, that’s the goal of the environmental movement–for “eco-friendly” living to become second nature. 

When I made the conscious decision to pay off my debt, I wasn’t thinking about the environment, I was thinking about how great it would feel to not worry about money. Once I paid off my debt, I was able to allocate money to things I cared about–I was able to help a family member, donate to causes I care about, and purchased some zero-waste swaps that I had shied away from because of the high up-front costs.

Being debt free has given me some power–I always heard the phrase “vote with your dollar,” but I resented it because there were times I didn’t have a choice due to my income level. Now that I do have some expendable income, I can look into other factors about an item beyond their price. However, I’m not “rolling in the dough!” There are some items that I recently refused to purchase the eco-friendly version of because of how much more expensive it was. I am not at an income level, and I don’t think I’ll ever be, where I don’t have to look at price tags. 

I hope this blog inspires you to take a look at your finances, even if you don’t have debt. And if you are not in a financial position to make the “environmentally friendly” purchases, don’t feel guilty! If you can’t vote with your dollar, you can just vote! Do what you can, wherever you are financially, mentally, and physically. 

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