One evening of the mailing doubled as a Green Talk, for which Joseph was the speaker. I wrote up a summary of that as an email, which is posted below, followed by the discussion it sparked between Joseph and Angela, who also helped with the mailing.
The Green Talk Notes:
Tuesday Night, the Santa Clara County Green Party hosted its second Green Talk, Stepping Back from Overconsumption -- Reaching a Fulfilling "Enough" By Joseph Beckenbach. He began his speech by saying that he based many of his ideas on the book Your Money or Your Life by Vickie Robin and Joe Dominguez. He has been part of the sustainability movement for about three years, and it has had dramatic and satisfying effects on his life.
His first chart was a picture with personal satisfaction on the vertical axis and consumption quantity on the horizontal axis. The shape of the curve was sort of a parabola, straight on the sides with an inflection point at the top. He explained that on the left, you get a lot of satisfaction from every purchase, as each is a quantum improvement in your standard of living. (Eg. a bed makes it easier to get a good night's sleep.) Once all your needs are met, spending more on stuff leads to less enjoyment, creating the plateau at the top. Beyond a certain point, spending more just adds to the clutter in your life, beginning the tailspin that defines the falling returns of the right edge of the graph. Joseph feels that the trick is to recognize how much is enough, and stop there.
The next chart was a bubble graph, one bubble being mother earth, a second bubble being self, and the third being that great intermediating influence, money. Joseph explained that the attitudes that many people have about money are based on the assumption that what we can do is small compared to what will affect the planet. This is no longer true, and what we need to do is recognize what the impact of our lifestyle is. He pointed out the line of feedback from the self to the planet is the impact of our spending decisions. For much more on this subject, he recommended reading the economist Herman Daly.
For guidance on how to make simplicity work for the self and the planet, Joseph recommends the key values of the Green Party. Decentralization, Future Focus, and Community Based Economics all play a role. As for what to invest in, he feels that Treasury Bonds are the answer, because "only an act of God" will keep them from honoring their obligations.
NOTE: Angela's comments have the ">" by them.
>I know this is somewhat untimely
It's never too late to reduce overconsumption. Saves your money, saves our planet, and lets you live whole-heartedly.
>Mr. Dominguez used to work on Wall Street as a stockbroker and one would
>assume he earned quite a bit of money during this time. He decided to walk
>away from this lucrative career and do something much more meaningful with
>his life. He invested the money he earned and was able to live on the
>interest of his investments while leaving the principle untouched. His
>solution seemed to be: Invest all of your money and then live a simple
>lifestyle on the interest that is accrued.
This is embodied in the criteria Joe and Vicki suggested in their Step 9. They wanted to do whatever Right Work they were called to do, so the criterion of "takes no or little life-energy to get the passive income" was pretty important. US Treasuries fit that set of criteria best.
I have a somewhat different set of criteria for selecting investments for my household right now. Go down to a local bookstore and browse it for yourself.
>This raised several issues for me based on my own life experience which were
>not addressed in the interviews. I have no idea if they were included in the
Most were. See below.
>1) How does one save enough money to invest if one is living paycheck to
>paycheck? Especially if the majority of one's earnings are going for
>necessities and are not disposable income.
Stop living paycheck to paycheck -- as Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel reminds everyone, "What is truly necessary for human life is very little". That's most quickly done by paring down expenses; that itself is done through broader awareness of what is most valuable to spend on, and valuing your own life energy more wisely.
This is really the core of "Your Money or Your Life" -- realigning your use of money to your highest values. This is *not* just reducing expenses by spending more wisely, it's selling your services at the highest price you choose within the bounds of ethics and honoring yourself.
It's paying off the debts and putting money away to even out some of the bumps in life's road. It's restructuring your finances so that all parts work together in reaching your preferred goal. I remember reading about a lady on welfare who saved $3000 in four years for her daughter's college education.
One concept which will be helpful for the rest of my answerings is the distinctions between "cushion", "capital", and "cache". Cushion is money in fast-access cash-like forms, usually several months of living expenses, to even out minor turbulence. Capital breeds more money, and it provides the passive income which can partially or wholly replace a paycheck. Cache is set aside for specific purposes and covering possible weirdnesses, like the car getting totalled, or a rent increase requires some additional money into the capital, or preparations for activist travels and so on.
>What happens if the money one
>invests does not bring an adequate return or even goes into a negative as
>with the recent downturn in dot com stocks? Not everyone has the knowledge
>or desire to be a Wall Street stockbroker.
One first sets aside some cushion to allow for some months of voluntarily or involuntarily being out of position. The ongoing reduction of expenses gives some added leeway. And the criteria selected for where to invest capital will choose the investment instruments, not the "mainstream" myths that only stocks will do and that more is always better.
Joe's criteria were: minimal risk of capital, minimal life-energy required to get the passive income, as liquid as practical (in case you need to convert capital to cache or cushion), no fees to diminish your capital and income, predictability of income, and fully under your control.
This leads (for US residents) to US Treasuries as the best-fit investment vehicle *for these criteria*. Stocks are right out on this set of criteria, on all counts.
>2) What happens if on the way to becoming financially independent one suffers
>a major set back such as a loss of a job during a major economic downturn, or
>a prolonged illness either personally or in the family? Mr. Dominguez's
>story did not appear to have any economic setbacks on his road to simplicity.
Well, Joe died of cancer a few years ago. He drew down some of his capital for treatment, donated some, and passed some along, as I understand. Many to whom he taught this framework have weathered similar serious changes in lifestyle.
The several months' cushion handles some of the set-backs. The "excess money" and purposed money in the "cache" handles other set-backs. And there's always the option to return to paid employment. Financial independence means you can choose not to accept paid employment, not that you cannot take on paid employment.
>3) Related to #2. What happens if one needs to quit his/her job, no matter
>how lucrative because they simply cannot go on doing it one more day?
>Regardless of whether they have enough money saved? I'm talking about the
>absolute need to go on a personal or spiritual quest NOW.
That's what the cushion is for, with cache to back it up. Having done this two myself, once without cushion and once with, I can heartily recommend that someone in that position just bail out, and those not in that position build up the cushion immediately. See summaries at http://contrib.bdhsw.com/FI/Articles/ for further details.
>4) What happens if while one is living off of his/her investment interest one
>has a catastrophic setback? Mr. Dominguez said at the time (mid-eighties)
>that he was living on $9,000 a year. I do not know if he had health
>insurance or owned a home. I do not think he and Vickie had children at
>least it wasn't mentioned in the interviews.
>They were living in Oregon at the time his book was published. Mr. Dominguez
>was not trying to survive in New York City on his interest income.
Correct. As I remember, he did not find a need for anything more than "catastrophic casualty" -- wise diet is better health insurance than any coverage for sickness treatment. He and Vicki were friends who shared house space (and ownership). They chose to move out of the urban areas, partly because it meant they needed to invest less capital, and partly because the service they found they could provide was needed everywhere.
>My subjective impression was that Joel Dominguez was advocating working at a
>well-paying job, investing money wisely, and then living on the interest of
>one's investments while doing non-paid volunteer work for the causes that one
>loves. There didn't seem to be any provision for getting sidetracked by
He advocated working at a level which provided *enough* for you. Other steps of "Your Money or Your Life" bring you through the necessary observation to **KNOW** how much that is, in terms of dollars of expense and capital, and thus of your time. This doesn't require investment, though: one lady featured in the book, on finally paying off her last debt, rented out her house and car and lit out to establish a dental clinic in Kenya.
Interestingly enough, the real power of this program comes from the awareness of what is *enough for you*. Just lowering expenses reduces the capital one might need for financial independence (should you choose to go for it), and it definitely lets you build up the cushion and cache more quickly.
>I agree with his philosophy that consumption does not bring happiness, love,
>or contentment. I also agree that over consumption is ruining our planet in
>so many ways. However, I never heard him address what one does if things do
>not go according to plan.
Much of handling the unplanned comes from the inherent flexibility and confidence of being able to use your own time and ingenuity, in place of money, for solving problems. A good network of friends helps, as does preventive care through wise diet and other fulfilling choices in a lifestyle with *enough* (neither too much nor too little). I personally cannot see any way that my household and I are any worse off for having used Your Money or Your Life to help with our planning and our attitudes towards money.