(I will return to the 3 part permaculture and financial independence series I initiated next month.)
Would you have guessed that there are camps at which adults gather to geek out about money and lifestyle optimization? Well there are. After learning about them the wheels in my own head started spinning with thoughts of convening such an event for those looking to dive deeper into sustainable living as a path to financial independence retire early (FIRE). When I reached out to Vicki Robin, co-author of Your Money or Your Life, about this idea she suggested I get in touch with the organizers of one of the popular, already established FIRE events – Camp Mustache (CM), named after and organized by followers of the Mr. Money Mustache blog.
Heading into this sixth year of CM the organizers of the Seattle area CM (there’s also one in Toronto) were looking to inject a broader message in addition to the basic financial tenets, lifestyle optimizations, and finding one’s purpose presentations that had made up the schedule in previous years – meaning the timing of Vicki making this connection was fortuitous for both sides. The Camp Mustache organizers invited me to make the first formal presentation of this year’s camp thus creating an environment during which the whole weekend attendees were more likely to ponder the impact that their own lives and decisions in pursuit of financial independence (FI) have in the larger eco-systems within which they find themselves.
I spoke about weaving environmental and social concerns into my FI journey focusing my remarks on my rationale for directing the majority of my investing to less or non-extractive options outside of the stock-market; the Eight forms of capital outlined by Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua and summarized in this earlier post; and some sustainable and regenerative money management and investing options. While overall, the entire message was very well received, the eight forms of capital resonated very highly with this audience so much so that it continued to be referred to during breakout sessions throughout the weekend and even made it onto the crowd-sourced mural we made.
Financial capital is one of the eight forms. Then there are seven other non-financial forms of capital (material, intellectual, experiential, living, spiritual, social, and cultural) covered in the article. Two other forms of capital that others have identified are health and time. The group quickly comprehended when I pointed out that all the other non-financial forms are the things we really want to have in our lives to make it meaningful, NOT the financial capital — that’s just a means to acquire these other forms of capital. And it’s even better if we can find ways to acquire those other forms of capital spending less or no money. We might find we don’t need as much money as we think to achieve financial independence. What one person reminded me later that I forgot to highlight for the group is that the non-financial capitals are much more resilient and less volatile as well. (So if anybody from CM 2019 is reading this please contemplate that thought as well.)
Finally, I reminded the group that it’s always healthy to regularly question assumptions even within the FI community. Early on in my remarks I had emphasized that my thinking is strongly influenced by permaculture, which I described to the group (again tipping my hat to Ethan Roland, from whom I believe this comes) as “a design science that aims to improve eco-stystems while meeting human needs.” There are 12 permaculture principles. For this group though, I opted to conclude by highlighting use edges and value the marginal because the interface between things (edges/margins) is where the most interesting events occur. Edges and margins are the most valuable, diverse, and productive elements in a system. This triple bottom line path to FI is definitely in the margins and at the edge of the FI realm, which is what makes it such an exciting place to be.
During my presentation and a number of other breakout discussions, I referenced the value of food forests. They are one of the best forms of living capital I can think of that can be established at the home and community level. These forests can reduce our grocery bills, enable us to easily access healthy and delicious food, build community, and so much more. I am fortunate to live in a home with a relatively young food forest and look forward to evolving in this space along with it. I also made the effort to visit the Beacon Food Forest while I was out in Seattle. I was very impressed with the wise decision to turn a very sloped section of a large popular park into and edible oasis in the city. Add to that the recent news that the Atlanta city council unanimously voted to convert seven acres of land into a food forest that will provide free food for all who wander into its midst.
There were two other concepts I spoke about that some people found intriguing. The first was time banking. Time banking is a way to build economies and communities without using money, because the unit of exchange is time instead. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I am a member of my local time bank. I find it a great way to build community and exchange goods and services outside of the mainstream economy (in a way that’s completely legal!). With two nutritionists in the group I had allies to back up my statements that the nutrient density of the plants we buy off grocery store shelves has been greatly depleted for a variety of reasons. That made it easier to make the case during the life-hacking breakout session for eating the weeds since these plants haven’t had the nutrients bred out of them to increase their shelf life and visual appeal. A number of people later expressed an interest in learning to forage upon returning home.
The rest of the weekend was filled with 1) breakout sessions in which we discussed topics such as the psychology of FIRE, navigating healthcare without employer based insurance, and case studies of select attendees’ financial situations 2) lots of down time to make friends and share more ideas through small informal group conversations at and after meals as well as around the campfire 3) hiking beautiful and steep Mt. Si for the more athletically inclined (not me, I went on a foraging walk instead) 4) sharing our excitement about the upcoming release of the Playing With FIRE documentary, which will probably bring the message of FI to the largest audience yet and featured some people who attended CM last year.
On the last day our CM group also discussed the importance of different voices (exploring those edges and valuing the marginal) to catch the interest of more people beyond the stereotypical software engineers and others with high-salaries whose stories have largely dominated the media to date. They have been the early pioneers of this current iteration of FI/RE that has gained popularity in this digital age. There are many other compelling stories to be told as well such as my fellow attendee Lynn’s efforts to share the concept of FIRE with nurses and guide them on a course that’s more aligned with their realities and needs. Similarly, Tami hopes to inspire those on disability to think beyond their physical limitations and see the possibilities that exist for them. (Of course there are others already leading the way in this respect as well such as the couple behind Rich & Regular bringing the voice of African Americans into this space and Military Dollar simplifying money for members of the military.) I’m also excited about the Econome event two of the attendees are creating, which will take place for the first time in Cincinnati next year and give more people access to live in person learning and interaction.
Up till now I have been targeting my blogging efforts at bringing sustainability more to the forefront of financial independence conversations. Recently though, here at our urban homestead in Florida my boyfriend and I worked with a friend to convene a day long series of workshops and garden tours. This event was attended by people interested in resilient and regenerative living, not necessarily those in pursuit of FI. I was struck that the most well attended session of the day was one I led on sustainable living as a path to financial independence. Being at CM it dawned on me that my blog could be equally useful for introducing my sustainability-minded peers to FI and offering them a roadmap to FI that aligns with their aspirations. I don’t envision changing the message of my blog. I will likely do more to make sustainably-minded individuals outside of the FI world aware of my blog as well. I think another attendee, Michelle, whose blogging about the nexus of sustainability and FI at Frugality and Freedom feels similarly.
Participating in Camp Mustache affirmed my desire to host more such workshops in person and maybe online. I’m also still considering my original idea of creating a retreat weekend here using our sustainable urban homestead as the workshop space and living demonstration site highlighting how we pursue a triple bottom line equally valuing people, planet, and profit on the path to financial independence. I’d love to create a setting that facilitated the exchange of knowledge and conversations on these topics along the lines of what I experienced at CM. Time will tell…
I created a special password-protected page for CM attendees with links to websites and other items I mentioned in my presentation. Much (but not all) of the information is currently accessible in the Resources section or other pages of my blog. The flow of this new page may (for now) be slightly more navigable so I’m sharing it here. If you’d like to access it the password is: northbend.
Towards the end of my presentation, I asked the audience to break up into small groups to discuss the following two questions:
What environmental or societal problem would you like to solve?
How could you shift your investing, spending, earning, and lifestyle to address that problem?